In Search of the Complete Revolutionary
By John Oliver Hodges
In search of the revolutionary Abraham Guillén—our dad was also under contract with William Morrow to assemble an anthology of documents to be titled National Liberation Fronts (1960-1970) —he took us to Lima, Peru on April 19th, 1971, and rented an apartment in a nice suburb called San Isidro. Here he left us with our mother then traveled to La Paz where he gave a lecture at Universidad Mayor de San Andres on the managerial revolution.
Napurí happened to be in attendance. Ricardo Napurí was an amazing human being. He was young, about forty, strong, handsome, blond, would’ve been a model for Hitler’s superman, had been in the Peruvian Air Force, had gone through the career of an air force officer, but in 1949, when the largest party in Peru, the APRA, ordered him to bomb a huge demonstration of about 50,000 people, he refused to do it. He’d been up in the plane and everything. When he landed, mission unaccomplished, he was court marshaled, then exiled.
This was our dad’s second time meeting with Napurí. Also in attendance was
the head of the Trotskyist Party of Bolivia, Guillermo Lora, who was close friends with Napurí, and had been organizing workers in some other city in Bolivia. Lora had gotten cancer of the throat from talking so much.
“I’m trying to get in touch with Abraham Guillén,” our dad told them.
“Oh, he’s in Montevideo,” Lora said, whispery because of his throat condition. “He’s a hard man to find. You know, there are more than a million people living there. But guess what? I have a little surprise for you. Tomorrow we eat lunch together, yes? I will take you to a fancy Spanish restaurant. Extraordinary cuisine. I am certain you will enjoy it very much.”
“A surprise?” our dad said. “What is it? Can’t you tell me now?”
“Oh, it would not be a surprise if I told you now. You will have to wait for tomorrow.”
Napurí laughed again. “Where are you staying tonight, Don?” he asked.
“At a hotel.”
“I need a bed. How about sharing your bed with me?”
Our dad had never shared his bed with any man in his life. He didn’t care if they were revolutionaries or not, he bowed out. But no matter for Napurí. Napurí managed to get a bed with three gorgeous young women who were members of the party. Napurí was taken well care of.
The next day our dad went to the fancy Spanish restaurant on the main drag with Lora and Napurí. On the way there, Lora revealed the surprise. “This restaurant is run by Guillén’s sister,” he said. “Not only that, but revolutionaries eat free.”
Our dad, always one to admire a bargain, felt deeply honored to eat free at the restaurant of Guillén’s sister. The downside was that Guillén’s sister could not tell him how to get in touch with her brother, for she had married Enrique Lister, the Communist General responsible for dissolving the self-managed anarchist collectives in Aragón and Catalonia. As a result, she and her brother had not spoken for years.
But Guillermo Lora was right. The food at her restaurant was superb. And free.
After two weeks in La Paz, our dad arrived in Buenos Aires where he again failed to get Guillén’s address. The local Trotskyists did, however, tell him of Guillén’s plan for launching guerilla warfare against the coup that deposed the populist president, Juan Domingo Perón, in September 1955. Guillén, they said, while eating lunch in a downtown cafeteria, had drawn a map of the access streets to the presidential mansion. Guillén’s plan was to seize half a dozen minibuses, empty them of passengers, load them with dynamite, drive them within sight of the mansion, and dismount after fixing the pedals and steering wheels its direction. “Propaganda of the dead,” Guillén called the planned assault aimed at demonstrating to the public that a movement of popular resistance was in progress.
After a week in Buenos Aires collecting additional documents for his anthology, our dad, having put the addresses and telephone numbers of prospective contacts to memory, took a night boat from Buenos Aires to Montevideo. By six in the morning he could tell that the boat was in the harbor, so he got dressed in about five minutes and went on deck. He was the only one standing there, and he looked quite the gringo, quite odd. He could see the dock, the longshoremen arguing with one another about who was gonna take his luggage and get a big tip.
As matters had it, our dad’s only baggage was a hand valise with all his NLF documents at the bottom and a few clothes at the top to cover it up. Much of the literature was about the Tupamaros, twenty or so pieces involving guerilla warfare in Argentina and Uruguay.
So the boat docks at 6:15, and our dad is the first one on the gangplank with his little valise. Our dad walks the hundred feet or so to the customs inspector, and is standing there, and the inspector says, “Abre la.”
“Bien,” our dad says, and opens the valise. The inspector’s sidekick puts his hands in and uncovers all this literature. Upon closer examination, they see that it is about the Tupamaros and they inform our dad that they’re going to have to detain him for questioning, upon which our dad says, “You can have it all, I’m returning to Buenos Aires,” and starts running for the gangplank as fast as he can. The guys jump over the table and pursue him. They grab him just as he gets to the gangplank, and haul him off to the police station at the port.
Our dad is taken to a room about eight feet by ten and forced to sit down. The customs officials leave him with these other guys that are cops, port policemen in uniform, and he sees on the wall these pictures, forty people, he counts them, more than half of them young women, Tupamaros, pretty, and wanted in Uruguay as guerrillas: Los Tupamaros mas buscados en Uruguay.
“We’re going to have to escort you to the fourth floor,” our dad is finally told.
“What fourth floor? This building has only—”
“The fourth floor of the building where the Tupamaros are processed before they are sent off to jail.”
“We don’t bother with those.”
Our dad is put in a paddy wagon and taken to another building, where he is taken up the elevator to the fourth floor and required to give information under a bright lamp shined at his face. This goes on intermittently for hours, his two interrogators being naval and military intelligence agents. The military intelligence agent is black, and our dad can hardly believe it because he had lived in Argentina for eleven years and never seen a black face. In the course of the interrogation, the black agent tells our dad that he worked for the pentagon for three years, and our dad shows interest. Playing the absent minded scholar, he tells the man how remarkable that is. “What are you doing in Uruguay?” our dad wants to know.
“You’re not entitled to ask any questions,” the man says. “Right now you’re looking at fifteen years in prison for the intention of aiding and abetting the Tupamaros.”
“But I told you, I’m doing an intellectual study. I’m on contract with a major American publishing company to gather material. I’m a professor!”
“We have no evidence,” the agent says, “that you are a professor of anything.”
“I have a wife and three children waiting for me back in Peru,” our dad says.
“Well, that’s your business.”
Our dad says, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. I believe at the bottom of my valise is a book, it’s the first book I edited. I co-edited it with a colleague of mine, and it will tell you that I’m a professor at Florida State University.”
The agents leave the room, and come back after a while with the book, Readings in U.S. Imperialism, whose cover sports an image of an American flag, its stripes fashioned into bars behind which a Hispanic-looking fellow is imprisoned.
“This book has articles by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in it,” the black agent says. “This book must be anti-imperialist, eh?”
“No, it’s not anti-imperialist,” our dad says. “It’s just objective, academic. People need to know what’s going on with this stuff in the world.”
“He doesn’t look like any guerilla I’ve ever seen,” the white agent says.
“Yes, he looks like an imperialist,” the black agent says. “Look at his hair.”
“My father was the president of the Brazilian division of Swift International,” our dad says, playing up the appearance of the haughty aristocrat now. “He played golf with Prince Edward in 1931.”
“I would never dream of aiding the Tupamaros,” our dad says.
“Oh? Did you know that we can put you in prison for six months just for speaking that word?”
“No, no,” our dad says. “I had no idea.”
“He seems to have stumbled into this in complete ignorance,” the black agent says.
“As an American citizen I’m entitled to a phone call, am I not?” our dad asks.
“That’s up to us,” the white agent says, but being as they are by now half-convinced of our dad’s innocence, they let him call the American embassy. Our dad pleads his case over the phone. The agents end up having to speak with the American ambassador, whom they are intimidated by, and the ambassador asks them to release our dad.
Through it all, not once did our dad feel fear, not once did he feel that he didn’t have things under control, even when he was running for the gangplank, which was odd, for panic was not unknown him. He would panic over trifles, but in a real crisis, he knew he had to have his intelligence and his will power and his emotions absolutely under control. It was an amazing experience to be so in control under such terrible stress.
They released our dad that night about nine. He hadn’t had any food, no breakfast that day, no lunch, no dinner, and he felt starved. Two blocks from the place he’d been detained was a hotel, and he checked into a room. It wasn’t until now that the panic began. Looking out of the window of his room he could see the window of another building within ten feet. They’re spying on me, he thought. They weren’t, of course, but he was terrified. He pulled the shades down, then realized that the gesture of pulling down shades was systematic of wanting to hide something. So he shot the shades back up and went to bed, had a terrible nightmare in which he was tortured.
The next day our dad had to make a decision. Am I going to interview the mentor of the Uruguayan Tupamaros which I came to Uruguay to do, or do I get on the next boat and go back to Buenos Aires?
Our dad decided to take the risk, but first he went to the U.S. embassy and spoke with the ambassador who’d been so nice as to have him released. The ambassador, respecting our dad’s presence in Uruguay as an academician, issued him a Salgo Conducta (safe conduct pass). The ambassador said if anything happens, you switch this thing out and you will be immune from troubles. Our dad carried the pass with him in his breast pocket.
But our dad still did not have Guillén’s address. So what did he do? He did what he did in every foreign country he visited. He went to a Leftist bookstore. He said, “I’d like to get in touch with Abraham Guillén. Maybe you can tell me a phone number or something?”
Our dad was told that Guillén wrote a column for Acción, the newspaper of the Colorado Party’s liberal wing under Jorge Batlle, whose leaders were sympathetic to the former Spanish Republic.
Obliged to conceal his identity, Guillén wrote under the pseudonym “Arapey.” Like “Tupac Aramu” (the Inca namesake of the Tupamaros) who rose against the Spanish occupation, “Arapey” was a Charrua leader of an independent people in Uruguay in the epoch of the conquest.
At the newspaper’s office, our dad obtained Guillén’s telephone number, called him, told him what he was doing in Uruguay, plus that he’d been detained by the secret police, which our dad felt, along with his book, Readings In U.S. Imperialism, gave him a badge of authenticity.
After meeting our dad at a public place, and convinced that our dad was a comrade, Guillén invited him for lunch at his apartment at Callo Zabala 1313, Apto. 1.
Our dad took a taxi, knocked on the door and Guillén answered with another fellow who’d also fought in the Spanish Civil War, and was now a businessman in Buenos Aires temporarily visiting Guillén. They had a huge map spread over the dining room table and were fighting the wars all over again. Guillén had fought in every major battle, and he was not just reminiscing, but the two of them were going over the mistakes they’d made and how they could have won! For three years Guillén had fought Franco, achieving the rank of commissar. When the war was over, Franco’s forces condemned him to death, but ultimately he wound up with a ten year prison sentence. He escaped in 1945, and lived as an exile in France for the next three years.
So our dad finally met the author of The Strategy of the Urban Guerilla, whose first edition had been published in 1966.
Guillén himself, though full of energy, was skin and bones. He was about five foot seven and couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred and twenty pounds. Over lunch, his wife complained about Guillén’s weight, and his feebleness. His health had been deteriorating from overwork, from a sense that there wasn’t a minute to spare, that the Latin American Revolution was at hand, and it was up to him to make it happen.
Guillén’s apartment, where he lived with his wife and two sons, was small. His office was no bigger than a standing coffin. It had a manual typewriter (one of those ugly, huge typewriters, the worst possible kind) and a light hanging down with a cord, what one might see in a Humphrey Bogart film. And he worked with the cheapest paper; practically semi-brown to begin with, it tended to deteriorate into flakes. For the next 20 and some plus years, up until his death in 1993, Guillén would write our dad dozens of letters. Guillén’s letters would be optimistic and full of enthusiasm, expressing a passionate faith in Anarchism to revolutionize the world on a global scale, beginning with making the U.S. the first Socialist country in the world. His letters would be sharply critical of what the guerrillas in South America were doing wrong, and full of appreciation for what our dad was doing to help popularize his work in the United States. A major thesis of Guillén’s, contrary to the rural strategies of Che Guevara, was that guerilla warfare ought to take place within the cities, that guerrillas ought to spread out among the people like the “spots on a leopard,” and that every revolution called for decidedly different tactics. Guillén would send our dad a letter from Montevideo on 19 January 1972, stating:
There is a part of my life that the secret services would like to know. They say that I secretly interviewed “Che” Guevara at a high government level to dissuade him from launching a rural guerilla, and that history has shown that I am right. It is true that we got together; but concerning what transpired I should write in due course a booklet entitled Three Days that Shook the World. It concerns the 1962 Caribbean Crisis when the Cubans behaved like Russian guinea-pigs and novices in matters of strategy. I found myself on very bad terms with them. One day I must give an account of what happened in order to show that Fidel lacked the qualities of a complete revolutionary.
Guillén had studied the transitions of power in all historical epochs, and felt certain, based on the fact that a peasant revolution had never succeeded, not even during the Middle Ages when 90% of the population was in the countryside, that following such a course was tantamount to cutting off the heads of your own guerilla soldiers.
Our dad was much impressed with Guillén and, returning to his family in Peru, resolved to do what he could to bring out an anthology of Guillén’s works. Our dad felt that, as a U.S. professor, he, more than anybody else, was in a position to make this happen. Hadn’t he penetrated the establishment precisely to carry out some such important task? He subsequently queried William Morrow, who agreed to publish Strategy of the Urban Guerilla: The Revolutionary Writings of Abraham Guillén, with our dad’s introductory essay.
Our dad kept in touch with Abraham Guillén, the complete revolutionary, and made plans to visit him in Buenos Aires in December, 1974. Guillén wrote our dad at the last moment and cancelled, saying he’d received a written death threat from the “ARGENTINE ANTICOMMUNIST ALLIANCE.” It was too dangerous to meet, so as an alternative venue Guillén gave our dad an address in Lima, Peru, where he would be living in yet a new domicile of exile. Thus began our dad’s second South American adventure in which he sought out Guillén for materials for his books. This particular adventure would include a very sexy Brazilian woman whom he bedded, a bout of the crabs, a trip to the Belgrano Athletic Club in Buenos Aires where he’d won the Junior Tennis Championship in 1941, and yet another exciting meeting with the illustrious Abraham Guillén.
About the author:
John Oliver Hodges is the author of ‘War of the Crazies’, a novella about commune life in upstate New York during the Reagan years, and ‘The Love Box’, a collection of short stories published by Livingston Press in 2013. “In Search of the Complete Revolutionary” is excerpted from the biography he is writing on Donald Clark Hodges, his father (1923-2009). Its title is ‘The Last American Stalinist’.
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