Monday, November 12, 2012

Two Guerrilla Fighters Named Tania and Tanja

And How They Ended Up In Havana
     Tanja Nijimeijer [above] is in Havana this week. She is a fearless guerrilla fighter and she is representing The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in its negotiations with the Colombian government. Cuba, at the request of Colombia and the UN, is hosting the session that seeks to end a bloody half-century of Civil War in that important Latin American nation. Tanya is an amazing lady, now 29-years-old. Since the age of 20 she has been a daunting guerrilla fighter for FARC in the jungles of Colombia, earning fame from both sides for her fierce skills and leadership. Leon Valencia, an analyst and former guerrilla, wrote a book about her, stating "she has no limits" and repeatedly proclaiming how "fearless" she is. Her legend was embellished by a 2010 documentary that she agreed to do only so her parents in Holland could see her for the first time in years. In the documentary, Tanja expertly played a guitar and sang the song "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" for her parents.
      Tanja was raised by a close-knit, well-to-do family in a small Dutch town. Smart and well educated, she was in Colombia to teach English when she was shocked to observe the disparity between the rich and the poor. That revelation transformed her into a guerrilla fighter with the FARC, which she believes for a half century has been fighting for social justice, agrarian reform, and the poor. She has participated in fierce battles and extreme jungle hardship. Filmmaker and writer Jorge Enrique Botero spent time with her in the jungle. She told Botero, "I am consumed with the fever of the revolution." Despite her fame, many will be shocked in Havana this week to see Tanja representing FARC in these crucial negotiations. But for sure...along with her gender and her is her passion for the poor that will be on display. Deep in the heart of the Colombian jungle, Botero says he is still awed by how "beautifully" she played the guitar and "so soulfully" sang "Don't Cry For Me Argentina." [On You Tube you can hear Tanja sing "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" by typing in "Tanja Niyimeijer zingt lied voor haar ouders." Another You Tube video of Tanja singing and playing the guitar in the jungle when she is backed up by another woman and two men is very professionally performed. Tanja -- an amazing, ongoing odyssey!]
      Tanja's appearance in Havana for the session due to start Nov. 15-2012 will remind Cubans of Haydee Tamara Bunke Bider [above]. Better known as Tania, Ms. Bunke is the famed guerrilla fighter who was ambushed and killed in Bolivia on August 31, 1967, while fighting for her beloved but doomed Che Guevara. Tania was born on Nov. 19-1937 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Her parents, Erich and Nadia Bider, had escaped Hitler's Germany when the Nazis came to power in 1933. They returned to Germany in 1952. A brilliant student, Tania became fluent in four very pertinent languages. Like Tanja, Tania was appalled over the disparity between the rich and the poor. The victorious Cuban Revolution in January of 1959 caught her eye. Soon her fluency in the four languages opened numerous doors...including an adventurous trip to Havana where she expertly translated Spanish, English, German, and Russian.
      Awed by what Revolutionary Cuba was doing for the Cuban peasants, especially the women and children, Tania joined the Cuban Defense Militia. The above black-and-white photo shows Tania in 1962 wearing the beret that signified her eagerness to fight for Revolutionary Cuba. She did some translating for famed Cuban rebel Che Guevara, the Argentine doctor. She fell madly in love with both Che and his wife Aleida March, particularly admiring how they both seemed to give all of their personal wealth, which wasn't much, to poor Cubans.
    Tania [above] soon became more than just a translator on behalf of Revolutionary Cuba. She was willing and eager to fight to the death for its ideals, especially as personified by Che. The sheer brilliance of her mind and character had found its outlet.  
       Tania evolved not only as a leader in Havana but also spied for Cuba on dangerous missions under various disguises and aliases such as those depicted above [left to right]: As a Czech woman Marta Iriarte; as a Spanish woman Haydee Gonzalez; and as an Italian citizen traveling throughout Europe using multiple aliases.
        In October of 1964 Che sent her to Bolivia under the name Laura Gutierrez Bauer. In La Paz, she became friends with Bolivian President Rene Barrientos and even accompanied him on a trip to Peru. From an apartment in La Paz, she created a rebel cell and radioed coded messages to Che, Celia Sanchez, and Fidel Castro in Havana. When Che famously left Cuba for the last time in 1966 on his ill-fated attempt to replicate the Cuban Revolution in Bolivia, Tania joined his tiny guerrilla campaign in the Bolivian mountains. She was a brilliant fighter and she and Che became lovers. But the CIA-directed Bolivian army monitored their every trail. In late August of 1967 Tania was pregnant with Che's child and fierce defensive fighting and short rations had left her with a high fever, a leg wound, and painful effects of the Chigoe flea parasite. With Che seeking food and medicine near an alpine village, Tania tried to lead fifteen other guerrillas across the Rio Grande River near the town of Vado del Yeso in hopes of evading a pursuing Bolivian army unit. At 5:20 P. M. on August 31, 1967, she was wading the river holding her rifle, ammunition belt, and a bag of biscuits  above her head. A bullet from across the river ripped through her left arm, piercing her lung. Then two more bullets hit her. She and eight other rebels were killed in the river. Her body floated downstream and was recovered on Sept. 6-1967. The plan was to dump her body in a pit with the other slain guerrillas but local campesino women demanded that Tania's body be given a Christian burial. When Che heard about her death, he refused to believe it but soon Fidel Castro and Celia Sanchez in Havana confirmed it and declared Tania "A Hero of the Cuban Revolution."
      Even during the seven dangerous years she lived as a spy and a guerrilla fighter, Tania had a playful nature and made friends easily. Above she was taking a photo of someone who was taking a photo of her. She much preferred anonymity to celebrity.
     Marta Rojas, my friend who is the legendary Cuban journalist-historian, has written perhaps the best book and the best essays about Tania.
       Like the present-day guerrilla fighter Tanya, Tania was also an expert guitar player and singer. And she wrote poems after battles. Her very last poem included these sad words: 
"Will my name one day be forgotten
and nothing of me remain on the Earth?"
      Today her name has not been forgotten. Her real name Tamara,  her nickname Tania, and many of her aliases are enshrined in history books such as "Tania: The Unforgettable Guerrilla" published in 1973 by Random House and written by the aforementioned Marta Rojas; "Tania, the Woman Che Guevara Loved" by Uruguay author Jose A. Friedl; and many others. The CIA, as part of its disinformation campaign against Che Guevara, painted Tania as "a latter-day Mata Hari." During her celebrated involvement with the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974, Patty Hearst famously took on the alias "Tania." In 1974 a planet discovered by astronomer Lyudmila Zhuravlyova was named "2283 Bunke" after her. In the 2008 Steven Soderbergh movie "Che" Tania was portrayed by the actress Franka Potente. In Germany Tania is such a folk legend that 200 youth clubs were named after her. So her fear in her last poem that her name would be "forgotten" did not come to fruition. And her fear that "nothing of me" would "remain on the earth" also has not been realized. 
       The great journalist/historian Jon Lee Anderson [aboveis the most notable expert regarding Che Guevara and thus Tania.
        Research related to Jon Lee Anderson's seminal biography "Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life" in 1997 finally uncovered the remains of Che Guevara and Tania in an obscure, unmarked grave in a small pit on the periphery of the Vallegrande Army Base in Bolivia. Once the bones were identified via DNA, they were transferred to Cuba and are now interred in the Che Guevara Mausoleum in Santa Clara, the Cuban city where a rebel unit led by Che Guevara won the last battle of the Cuban Revolution, the victory that predicated dictator Fulgencio Batista's flight to the Dominican Republic and co-dictator Meyer Lansky's flight to Miami, along with five planeloads and at least eight shiploads of their friends and countless tons of loot to join millions of dollars known to have been already wired to banks in Switzerland, Miami, and Union City (New Jersey). That money, of course, in the decades to come would purchase a lot of college degrees as well as massive political influence in Miami, Union City, and Washington.
      Aleida March, a Cuban born in 1937 in Santa Clara, was a female guerrilla fighter with Che Guevara in the Sierra Maestra Mountains of eastern Cuba.
       In June-1959, after the victorious revolution, Aleida and Che got married.
In quick succession, Aleida and Che had four children.
    In April of 2012 the now 75-year-old Aleida March's outstanding book -- REMEMBERING CHE:My Life With Che Guevara -- was published and it remains a best-seller on Amazon. A renowned guerrilla fighter in her own right, Aleida and her four children still live in Cuba. Aleida says that Che would have been an Argentine doctor and not a revolutionary if he had not witnessed the CIA overthrow of the Guatemalan government in 1954. In 1998 Fidel Castro asked Aleida if Tania's bones could be buried with Che's in Santa Clara. She replied, "Yes. She became one of us."
       Above is the Che Guevara Monument and Mausoleum in Santa Clara, Cuba, where Tania's remains also reside.
     Aleida and Che's oldest child [above], also named Aleida Guevara, is today a leading medical doctor in Cuba. From Sept 9-19 in 2012 Dr. Aleida Guevara toured the UK on a "Remembering Che" tour and received standing ovations at all five events held in Brighton, Nottingham, Newcastle, Scotland, and Oxford.
   Which brings us back around to Tanja Nijmeijer, the extraordinary Dutch guitar-playing, folk-singing legendary FARC guerrilla fighter in Havana this week trying to negotiate an end to the bloody half-century of Civil War in Colombia. She is a reminder that the Cuban Revolution -- whether you love it, hate it, or don't care about it -- has had more of an influence on women than just about any revolution in history, bar none!
    For example, the first three democratically elected female Presidents in Latin America -- in the starkly important countries of Brazil, Argentina, and Chile -- all were inspired by and remain supreme admirers of the Cuban Revolution.
      For sure, women like Haydee Santamaria and Celia Sanchez were the most fierce guerrilla fighters against Dictator Batista.
   From 1959 till their deaths in 1980, Celia Sanchez and Haydee Santamaria had Fidel Castro's backing as the prime decision-makers in Cuba, with Celia, beyond question, exercising that prerogative on the top issues involving Revolutionary Cuba.
   As a teenage girl in the Sierra Maestra in 1957-58, Tete Puebla [abovewas such a ferociously effective guerrilla fighter that she is still a legend and...oh, yes...she is today a very active General in the Cuban army.
     Fidel Castro is the first to admit that he owes his success and his longevity to the fact that he has always mostly surrounded himself with Cuban women, "the half of the Cuban population that my enemies bequeathed to me because of the way they treated them. I accepted that gift and if I had not no one off this island would ever have heard of me."
     There are no statues of Fidel Castro in Cuba today but there are many of Celia Sanchez.
      Constant street marches by incredibly brave Cuban women inspired the revolutionary zeal in Fidel Castro as well as the backing of vital sources such as Herbert Mathews, the very influential writer for the New York Times who famously championed the Cuban Revolution before and after the Batistianos were long gone.
Today young women are included in all Cuban army units.
     In the Cuban Revolutionary War, all-female rebel units fought fiercely.
Today, all-female fighting units protect Revolutionary Cuba.
      The above photo shows one of Cuba's most famous beaches as it looks today. Cubans call it "Playa Largo." Americans call it "The Bay of Pigs."
      In April of 1961 Playa Largo/The Bay of Pigs was where Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution made an indelible impression on both the world and on history. That defensive victory, over the CIA-directed U. S./Cuban-exile offensive attack, forever embellished the legend and the legacy of Fidel Castro, above and beyond the legendary legacy the flight of the Batista-Mafia dictatorship had already gifted him with. Such legends as Fidel Castro are not born. They are the result of events. The Batista-Mafia dictatorship was an event. So, in April of 1961, was a lonely beach named Playa Largo, otherwise known as the Bay of Pigs.
   Incredibly, the 1200 or so CIA/Cuban-exile prisoners captured at the Bay of Pigs were not shot. They were traded back to the U. S. for $53 million, most of it in the form of baby food and children's medicine.
     Gerber Baby Food accounted for much of the payment Cuba received in exchange for those Bay of Pigs prisoners, many of whom returned to the CIA and South Florida and then spent decades trying to overthrow or assassinate Fidel Castro.
     Josefina Vidal [abovetoday is Cuba's very significant Minister of North American Affairs. Back on October 20th in 2002 Ms. Vidal turned out to be the most heralded speaker at a star-studded historical affair at the Kennedy Library in Boston that also featured famed historians Arthur M. Schlesinger, Theodore Sorensen, and Sergei Khrushchev as well as President Kennedy's only daughter Caroline. The moderator, historian James G. Blight, introduced Josefina Vidal as one of Cuba's "Gerber Babies," pointing out that she was one of the Cuban babies who grew up eating Gerber Baby Food products that Cuba had received for so kindly and incredibly returning the Bay of Pigs prisoners to the United States. Did I say kindly? Yes, Celia Sanchez at the time thought the kind gesture would encourage the U. S. to become Cuba's friend. And did I say incredibly? Yes, incredible but true. And so are many aspects of the Cuban Revolution...from the 1950s till this very day.
       As the spirit of Tania the Guerrilla Fighter would know, Bolivia is today still a very poor but very important land-locked nation in Latin America, bordered by Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, and Peru.
      When Tania fought and died in Bolivia, the majority poor Aymara Indians were not allowed to vote. But today, as indicated above, even the Aymaras can democratically vote in Bolivia where for decades they were maligned outcasts.
      Thus an Aymara Indian named Evo Morales [above] has been the President of Bolivia since January 22, 2006. He won his first election with 53.7% of the vote; he won his second presidency with 63.0%. The now 53-year-old Evo Morales has never graduated from high school. When he should have been in high school he was in the jungles of Bolivia as a guerrilla fighter on behalf of his Aymaran people. Evo Morales worships Fidel Castro and got his inspiration as a rebel and as a politician from "The Cuban Revolution's do-or-die fight for sovereignty."  Unlike Tania, Evo Morales fought and lived.
     President Evo Morales in Bolivia idolizes Fidel Castro because, to him, Fidel Castro represented the antithesis to foreign-backed dictatorships that dominated [a euphemism for "plundered" and 'brutalized"Latin America and the Caribbean for generations -- until first the Cuban Revolutionary victory in 1959 and then, beginning in the 1980s, sovereignty-inspired waves of successful democratic elections washed over the region like a long-awaited giant tsunami. Just as right-wing imperialism gave birth to a dynamic Fidel Castro and later to democratic Presidents like Evo Morales, the Castro legacy will likely be buttressed and enhanced by right-wing Republicans in the U. S. who have taken over control of their party and seek to take over control of their country. Neither Fidel Castro nor Evo Morales were born leaders; they were created by right-wing imperialism. Those who fail to learn from history may well suffer the consequences in future generations. As long as the world's superpower produces vibrant right-wing entities such as Fox News, the Tea Party, and Karl Rove, there will always be a Fidel Castro ready to be born, and an Evo Morales waiting to be created, and do-or-die female guerrilla fighters like Tania  and Tanya ready to join the fray. 

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