Tania-Undercover for Che Guevara in Bolivia, Ulises Estrada, 1st ed. 2005, Ocean Press, Melbourne… pages 331, price Rupees 295/
Ulises Estrada, editor of Tricontinental, joined Cuban revolution from the very beginning as part of 26th July movement in 1953. He was part of Cuban liberation war 1957-59 and later worked with Che Guevara in many assignments including in Congo. He was close friend of Tania, fiancée in today’s terminology and they were supposed to marry after the success of Tania’s mission in Bolivia, which unfortunately resulted in her, Che Guevara and many more guerrillas’ assassination at the hands of Bolivian army. After their assassination, USA and western media vilified Che and Tania to demoralise revolutionary forces and to hid their own crimes behind smokescreen of this vilification. However Tania’s mother fought for the reputation of her daughter and got the vilifires convicted.
Tania’s real name was Haydee Tamara Bunke, she was born in Argentina from German communist couple, who have to go to Argentina to save themselves from Hitler’s fascism. Tamara was born on 19th November, 1937 and was martyred on 31st August 1967 in the jungles of Bolivia by Bolivian army, before completing even 30 years of her life.
In 1970, Estrada with another writer has published-Tania-The Unforgettable Guerrilla. That time many things could not be made public, now in this expanded and exhaustive biography with lot of secret documents made public for the first time in Appendices, Tania’s heroism, bravery and sacrificing spirit comes to fore. Her letters, her personal account of life, all make this book more enriching.
The book is rightly dedicated to Nadia Bunke, mother of Tamara-Tania, who knew Tamara had wanted to marry Estrada, ‘who treated me as her own son for more than 35 years’, in author’s words, who has written a detailed and touching dedication with the regret that Nadia Bunke would not be able to see the book, as he passed away before the publication of the book. Exhauvtine contents of the book include-Acknowldgements Preface by author, Prologue by editor-Luis Suarez and Tania’s biography in 14 chapters and 137 pages. There are 17 documents as Appendixes in Appendices, Notes, List of Acroynms and List of Aliases in further abut 2oo pages. One feature of Ocean publications missing in this book is Choronology, which is generally part of all books on Che and Castro, in case of Tania, that was even more necessary. But in totality, with nearly 30 rare photographs, makes the book a significant contribution to biographical literature.
In Preface, Ulises Estrada narrates his intense personal relationship with Tamara, bunking the western sensalization of Tania-Che romantic liaison. Ulises aexplains that except for few companerosand Tania family, no body knew about this relationship till 1969, two years after the assassination of Tania. Only when the author collaborated in first book on Tania, author published Tania’s letter about their relationship to her mother. After that Tania’s mother identified the “negrito” (Afro-Cuban), whom Tania dreamt of marrying and producing many “mulatito” (kids).
As per the author Che and Tania were discredited for political objectives or profit motives by many writers like French Pierre Kalfon, Mexican intellectual Jorge Castaneda. Later in last chapter of the book, author detailed how West German publisher in 1997 published the libel by Uruguyan writer Jose A. Friedl Zapata under title- ‘Tania the woman-Che Guevara Loved’. Nadia at 81 years of age dragged the publisher to the court and won the case by getting 14 defamations removed from the book in 1998 and also getting him fined. There were many more in the west, who through their cheap sensational writings had vilified the revolutionary spirit of the two great revolutionaries of the world. But it is not new phenomenon. Karl Marx was described as ‘Red bandit’ and all communist leaders have been vilified, US has vilified and continue till now to vilify Fidel Castro.
In Prologue Luis Suatez has mentioned Tania was denigrated by some intellectuals in pay roll of ruling classes in US, Europe and Latin America by describing her as ‘femme fatale’, who had ‘useless sacrifice’ for “her secret and sordid extramarital affair with Che.” She was also described as ‘Triple Agent for Cuba, East Germany and KGB of ex Soviet Union. These villifiers described Che Guevara also as ‘seeking death’, because of his differences with Cuban leadership. All these lies have been bunked with documents bow being published from Cuba, putting an egg on the faces of these so called ‘intellectuals’ and ‘writers’ holding rabid anti communist views. On the contrary great writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez have upheld Cuban revolution and its heroic leaders, including Fidel and Che Guevara.
Chapter 1-Historical context
In this introductory chapter Ulises has explaned Che’s plans to expand liberation guerrilla struggles to other parts of the world as true internationalist. First they tried in Congo, where popular freedom fighter and Prime Minister Patric Lumumba was brutally assassinated by CIA in 1964. There were dictators in Haiti, Nicaragua like places. Ulises has travelled with Che secretly to Congo through Tanzania; stayed clandsinely in Prague.Che spoke of his best relations with Fidel and Raul during those days. These days in these preparations writer got linked to Tamara, who had come to Havana.
Chapter 2- Operation Fantasma
Tamara was mentioned by Pineoro for the operation recommended by Che.
Chapter 3.The Tania Case-
Tamara born in Argentina, came to East Germany with her parents when 14 years old and joined youth organisation, visited Soviet Union as youth delegation, heard about Cuban struggle, well informed about war in Sierra Maestra and demonstrated solidarity. In 1959, she acted as interpretor for Che Guevara, when he visted East Germany. She became enthused to come to Cuba and finally arrived in 1961, at 24 years. Worked as interpretor/translator, associated with ‘Assocation of Young Rebels’ turned into ‘Union of Young Communists’ (UJC), on 4th April 1962… Tamara highly educated, knew many languages-German, French, Spanish, and English, well versed in music and literature, and studied philosophy at Humboldt University. She was working with Sandanista, planned to fight in Nicaragua. Che interviewed for mission in Bolivia and she end up by saying-I will not betray this trust while I am alive and breathing’-Page 29
Chapter 4-Operational Training in Cuba-
Tamara worked with Ulises during training period and they came close, though violating revolutionary code of not being personally close. Tania sung Argentine folk songs, played Guitar
Chapter 5-Preparing for Latin America-
Che told her about her mission in Bolivia and to take up legal residency there.
Chapter 6-Tania and Ulises-
Author honestly tells that ‘we both knew that our relationship was forbidden in clandestine work, but we also knew that we could no longer retrain ourselves. We were convinced of the purity of our feeling and that these would not affect our professional relationship’-Page 56. Ulyses shared with his senior comrade Diosdado, Tamara shared with her parents by writing to her mother on 11th April 1964 from Prague. Writer knew about this letter only when he joined Marta Rojas and Mirta Rodriguez Caldron in writing the book-Tania: the Unforgettable Guerrilla, published in 1970, where this letter was published. Ulises divorced his wife and remarried years after Tania were killed. Ulises Writes longingly: ‘i have to confess that she still remains alive within me. Not just as Tania, but also as Haydee Tamara Bunke Bider, the exceptional woman, compenera, and friend I once loved with all my heart.’-Page 59
Chapter 7-Failed Cover
Tania was sent ot Prague for further training, but this time Diosdado was assigned the task to train her, writer was heart broken, he also felt it as punishment for breaking the rules. Diosdado sent positive reports about Tania’s progress.
Chapter 8- The Birth of Laura Gutierrez Bauer
Tania was first planned as Italian cover Vittoria Pancini, which was dropped due to language deficiency and other practical problems.This time it was planned as Argentine woman, she was well versed with country and language. There have been funny instances of Tania-Diosdado stay in Prague. Tania always made Diosdado read her letters to her parents, even to Ulises, despite his reluctance to do so.
Chapter 9 Tania’s first year in Bolivia
Riding aa mule, Tania entered Bolivian border from Peru on 17th November 1964. Got into touch with all high and mighty in that society, through showing her interest in Folk lore and met painters, writers, journalists, once even had dinner with dictator Barrientos, with a ‘friend’. Her network included intellectuals, professionals, politicians of right wing; she always projected her as anti communist. For legal residency, she even married an enginnering student Mario Martinez Alvarez, who helped her in exit procedures, she had new passport now, travelled to Brazil as translator. Comrade Mercy sent a positive report about her.
Chapter 10-An encounter with Ariel-Tania came to Mexico from Brazil in 1966 to meet Cuban officer. Che was clandestinely working from Cuban embassy in Tanzania. Tania did not know that Che was behind her selection for the mission and he had been involved in Operation Fantasma, which determnined the following years of Tania’s life, her sacrifice, and her transformation into Tania the Guerrilla.
Chapter 11- Reunion with Che-
Che checked about Tania’s well being and about her marriage, whether it was with her free will. In 1966, as planned earlier, Tania got divorce from her husband, but helped him in his training in Bulgaria by arranging scholasrship for him. Che arrived in La paz on a passport of business person with Uruguyan passport as Adolfo Mena Gonzalez. Che probable met Tania on 4th November. Tania arranged for Che travel documents to travel the whole of Bolivia. The letter present to Sr. Adolfo mena mentions ‘special envoy of OAS to research on economic and social situation in Bolivarian countryside’, recommending all possible cooperation for research from all national and private institutions. Page 107
On November 20-19th December she brought ranch to jungles, not supposed to do then she accompanied Mario Munje, Bolivian cp leader on 31st December 1966 crucial meeting, disagreed, tense. Bolivian Communist party inside Moscow line and Peking line, Monje Moscow line. Che predicted ‘difficult time’ ahead and announced to work for ‘the unity of all those who want a revolution’. Tania later visited Argentina to arrange Che’s liasions with revolutionary support. AS PER WRITER TANIA FOLLOWED DIRECT INSTRUCTIONS OF Che from 2nd January 1967 to 19th March 1967. Tania brought Regis Debray and Ciro Roberto Bustos, both now ‘regret’ to committement to revolution. Che criticised Tania for being there, as two Bolivians deserted and difficult situation developed.
Chapter 12-Tania the Guerrilla-
23rd March 1967, first encounter with army-25th March Bolivian ELN, liberation front announced in meeting of 43 Bolivian, Cuban and Peruvian combatants. On 27th March, situation worsened. On 31st March Tania given M-1 rifle and became combatant. She had fever of 102 and Che attached her to Cuban Joaquin’s command on 17th April, where she remained till 31st ambush by army, in which ten of the combatants were killed by army. Tania fought, falling with bullets in river, body found after aweek on 7th September. Bolivian peasant Honorato Rojas betrayed and led army to ambush gurrellis. 35 members of army killed 7 of 10 member Joaquin’s column combatants. Che‘s impression of Rojas on 10th February was ‘a potentially dangerous man’.
On 8th October Che ambushed, killed brutally on 9th October. With that out of 49 Cuban, Peruvian, Bolivian, majority of guerrillas killed.
Chapter 13-Return to Cuba
Officially death of Tania declared on 7th September, people wanted her body to be treated with respect, but army officer cruel. For pubilicity stunt Bolivian dictator Barrientos photographed with Tania corpse on 10th September, saying he ordered burial of Laura G baeur, Argentine woman with Tania alias ‘with military honour’. But Christian burial was given to Tania due to pressure of women of area Vallegrande. But no one knew the remains later till 1997, when President Lozada has to order investigation.On 28th June 1997, Che’s remains discovered and buried with honour in Santa Clara on October 8, 1997 on 30th death anniversary of Che. Tania’s remains found on 19th September 1998, brought to Cuba in December 1998.
Chapter 14-‘My Little Ita’
On 29th December 1998, Tania’s remains interned in Santa Clara alongwith Che and other guerrillas in presence of her mother Nadia Bunke. Nadia died in 2003, her deepest feeling expressed in her ‘little ita’, an autobiographical note- They came to Argentina in 1935.Erich got job as teacher, had two children-Tamara and boy Olaf, pet name Tamarita, she too little say ita, she signed as Ita, happy optimist, energetic, tireless, vibrant, romantic, liked Argentine folk songs and folk music, attached to Latin America. Ulises assures Nadia and Erich that ‘Tania is and will always be alive among us’-Page 144.
- Personal Records prepared for the Tania case –Secret
Tamara Bunke wrote this autobiographical note in preparation for her new identity as Tania.-
Born in Buenos Aires, parents Communist, anti fascists, helped Jew refuegees, returned to Germany in1952, settled in Stalinstad, arrived in Cuba on 12th May 1961
Appendix 2-Tania’a Operational Plan for the Cienufegos Practical exercise
Secret-Havana-12th February 1964
Appendix 3-Tania’s report on the Cienfuegos Exercises-
To Ulises-Tania’s report on work from 21st Feb. To 1st March 1964
Appendix 4- Tania’s Message from Prague after her first trip to Western Europe
To: MOE from Bolivar
Secret message 3
Appendix 5-Tania’s message from Prague before her second trip to West Germany
Secret To: MOE meant for Ulises Estrada
Appendix 6-The Laura Guetierrez bauer Cover Story
July 25, 1964
To M1 Copy 1- From MOE page 1
Appendix 7- Message to Mercy from HQ regarding Future contact with Tania in Bolivia
Mercy Message 5, November 1965, start
Appendix 8- Mercy’s report on contact with Tania in Bolivia and Brazil-To MOE From Mercy Report on the various contacts made between 7 January and the last days of March 1966
Appendix 9-Tania’s oral report on her first year of work in Bolivia given to Ariel on 16th April 1966 in Mexico
Appendix 10 Document Denying Tania’s link to Stasi-GDR agency-1997
Appendix 11- Document denyingTania’s link to KGB
Russian Fedration –Dec. 5, 1997
Appendix 12-Document denying Tania’s link to Soviet intelligence -1997
Appendix 13- My Battle for Truth-An interview with Nadia Gunke
Interview by Chritoph Wiesner, published on 7-8 March 1998, in Junge Welt
There are many groups and institutions that are named after Tamara Bunke or Tania in Cuba, also in Bolivia, lot of children are named Tania or Ernesto
Appendix 14-Nadia Bunke’s letter to Fidel Castro on Tania’s remains be buried in Cuba-25th December 1995
Appendix 15-Fidel Castro’s Reply to Nadia Bunke-1st April 1996
Apendix 16-Fidel Castro’s speech at the burial of the remains of Che Guevara and his Companeros-Santa Clara-17th October 1997
I see Che as a moral giant who grows with each passing day, whose image, strength, and influence have multiplied throughout the earth.
Che was a true Communist and is today an example and a paradigm of the revolutionary and the communist, -Page 285
Che is taking up and winning more battles than ever.
This land is your land, these people are your people, and this revolution is your revolution. We continue to fly socialist banner with honor and pride-page 287
Appendix 17- Ramiro Valdes’s speech at the Burial of the remains of Tania and others internationalist combatants-30th December 1998
Tania, she filled a glorious page in the history of Che’s actions in Bolivia, giving her life in hostile environment, side by side with other Bolivian, Peruvian and Cuban Companeros
Welcomt Tania, immortal example of a woman and a communist-page 293-Socialism or death, homeland or death, we shall overcome
Patrice Lumumba founded Congo on 30th June 1960, assassinated on 17th January 1961 Mobutu Seiku became dictator and was overthrown in 1997 by Laurent Kabila, with whom Che had differences
Ciro Bustos drew sketches for army and US services, confirming Che’s presence in Bolivia.
A well written book and an apt tribute to Tania!
Chaman Lal,Honorary Advisor, Bhagat Singh Archives and Resource Centre, Delhi Archives, New Delhi