Forty-five years after Che Guevara’s death, a senior former Soviet/Russian intelligence officer paid tribute to the legendary revolutionary, disclosing some details of his life and death in an exclusive interview with RIA-Novosti. Lieutenant General (retired) Nikolai Leonov, of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), a successor to the KGB, first met Che long before the victory of the Cuban revolution, describing him as an “overwhelming figure” that belongs to all generations. Leonov, who retired as the head of the KGB Analytical Directorate in August 1991, said, “He was the embodiment of mythical and literary types that always struck a chord with people. In such cases I think of Christ the Saviour and Don Quixote”.
Leonov said he was the first Russian to meet Che, in 1956, in Mexico, saying, “He was just another guy. At the time we were both average young men”, adding that no one who had ever known him could think of a case where Che Guevara was cruel. Che was an absolutely independent, “holistic” political figure, who “always acted in Cuba’s national interests, as well as in the interests of all Latin American nations”. The Soviet reaction to the victory of the Cuban revolution greatly impressed Guevara, in particular, the readiness of then-Soviet leaders Nikita Khrushchyov and Aleksei Kosygin to provide all-out support and assistance. Che flew to Moscow not as a diplomat, but on a mission to sell 2 million tons of sugar that Cuba couldn’t sell in the USA. Waxing sentimental about the USSR, Leonov noted that Che was amazed at how more than 260 million Soviet citizens were able to live without having to worry about becoming rich at the expense of others. Che dreamed about freeing mankind from the lust for money. “Money is a horrible thing that sticks to you like toxic glue”, Leonov cited Che as saying.
Commenting on Che Guevara’s revolutionary activity in the Congo, Bolivia, and other Latin American countries, Leonov said it would be wrong to compare it to the export of colour revolutions by the Americans across the world, noting, “Che had very clear social goals… to make life better for the people, for the majority. None of those who are now organising colour revolutions cry at the sight of other people’s distress, but Che Guevara cried. That was why he went to the Congo, Bolivia, and Cuba”. Leonov claimed that the Bolivians killed Che on orders from the CIA. Although Bolivian President General René Barrientos Ortuño formally issued the order, he acted on peremptory advice from the CIA station chief in Bolivia, who was in charge of the operation. The USA acted in a great hurry to get rid of Che, seeing him as “a colossal danger… greater than a nuclear bomb dropped on American territory. His image still haunts the USA now”.
9 October 2012