HI S PLACE IN LEGEND. HOWEVER, PARTICURO SE LOVETT EXPLORES THE SHADY LIFE OF be ‘Tania the Guerrilla’, the communist revolutionary who astounded her comrades and her commandante with her bravery and dedication. She was, however, first and foremost, a spy. Because of this, the seven years before her death are “compartmentalised” and tantalizingly few details are known of her life undercover. The rest is mostly conjecture. When Tamara, a star graduate and civil servant, left Germany for Cuba in 1961, the persona of ‘Tania’
was born. From this point on, biographical details are hazy. We know she worked for the Cuban government, undertook gruelling training in clandestine operations – from making dead drops to transmitting secret radio messages – and impressed those around her with her strength and drive. She longed for an active mission in Latin America, and when Che sent for her, she was ready. Creating a new identity during a secretive and testing time in Prague, Tania reemerged disguised as the Argentinian Laura Gutiérrez Bauer. She was sent to Bolivia in 1964 in order to prepare for the guerrilla contingent who hoped to sow the seeds of armed revolt among the populace. Under the persona of a conservative anti-communist, Tania covertly established ties with both potential collaborators and useful bourgeois enemies. An ever flirtatious femme fatale, she charmed the men around her, even marrying an unsuspecting student in 1966 to strengthen her cover. Tania’s dream was to fight in combat as a guerrillera (female guerrilla). However, this was a role that Che was reluctant to grant because of the dangers he associated with having a woman in his ranks. In an uncommon act of defiance, Tania joined her compañeros in the forest in March 1967. She was a stoic recruit, never complaining even when she was struck by illness and extreme fatigue and refusing privileges given on the basis of her sex. Ironically, and in a reflection of the machismo attitude of the fighters, as the sole woman she was given responsibilities for sewing clothes and cooking for the camp. Despite, or because of, this sexism, her presence encouraged the men to outdo her and demoralised the Bolivian soldiers, to whom she called and taunted during combat. The end was near, however. At some point between March and August the guerrillas were betrayed. Separated from the other columns, weakened, trapped and prepared to fight to the death, Tania and her men were killed before she even had time to raise her
machine gun. And then the rumours began. As the news of the guerrillas’ death surfaced, so too did whispers of an affair between Tania and the married Che. Some claimed Tania had been several months pregnant when she died, others that she was suffering from cervical cancer. Now, the image of two, passionate guerrillas, united first by their cause and then in death, is a romantic one indeed. However, it has been reported that Bolivian authorities tortured individuals for a “confession” that the pair were in a sexual relationship. Tania was defamed and portrayed in propaganda as a slut. who consciously betrayed her comrades by leaving evidence of their whereabouts behind in a safe house. More recently it was suggested that she was a triple agent who loved Che but saw no contradiction in spying on on him for the KGB and the Soviet Union. We will never know the truth, but the various legends still persist.
TRAGIC, A HEROINE AND A MARTYR, SUCH IS TAMARA’S LEGEND as portrayed by BRAVE
the Cuban government. To the peublos she is “Tania, immortal example of a woman and a communist!” In the media-hungry world outside Tania’s island idyll, however, most interest is paid to her as “the woman Che Guevara loved.” It is both inevitable and sad that in the public imagination Tania will always be defined by her “lover”. The figure of Che is one that inspires millions, but also threatens to shadow the remembrance of those who surrounded him. The quest for the “true” Tania seems destined to fail. However, as a tough, feminine and unsurmountable figure of resistance she is an icon in her own right. Haydée Tamara Bunke Bider may have vanished many years ago, but at least one of her names will never be forgotten. V
NE - LETTING HER DOWN, LETTING HER GO. THINK ABOUT THE MAN WHO FELL ASLEEP ON THE TRAIN, THE TIM