Part 4 of 4 of the Strategists podcast, military history

We must first return to the term guerrilla warfare, which has its own history. First, it defines the processes of “small war” in the literal sense partisan in Spanish, that is, reconnaissance, reconnaissance, pursuit, ambush, deception and sabotage operations, often based on the effect of surprise and carried out by special units of regular armies. The purpose of these maneuvers is to weaken the enemy, and sometimes to prevent him by dividing his forces.

It was the Napoleonic Wars, particularly the Spanish War of Independence between 1808 and 1814, that changed the meaning of the term to what we know today, which involves asymmetric warfare between a small group of rebels and rebels. disputed authority defended by the regular army. The Spanish indeed developed resistance tactics to fight against Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops and thus succeeded in withdrawing the imperial troops with the help of a coalition of allies. The main difference between this guerrilla warfare and “petite guerre” operations is that these methods are now used not only by professional soldiers, but also by armed civilians.

Partisan in Latin America

At the same time, at the beginning of the 19th century, guerrilla warfare, in the modern sense of the term, manifested itself in Spanish America. Later, we observe the transformation of the guerrilla concept from a simple combat technique to an ideological tool, then a revolutionary tool, an ideal that illuminates the face of the heroic people who take up arms to defend their country or the transcendent. political cause. Another feature of guerrilla warfare as we understand it today is gradually emerging: the importance of local roots associated with a certain area and a certain population. Partisan also becomes a tool to legitimize power that replaces democratic practices, as it derives its legitimacy from the sovereignty of the people.

Guerrillas first flourished in Latin America in the context of the wars of independence against Spain. Guerrilla methods can be used both by royalists who have Spanish absolutism and by republican separatists. Guerrillas are sometimes limited to civil war.

The separatists, on the other hand, add another component to guerrilla warfare, which for them becomes a sacred and even sacrificial political cause. Guerrilla became a means of struggle against the authoritarian regimes of Latin America and became a symbol of the socialist and communist struggle, especially during the Cuban revolution of the late 1950s.

59 min

Cuban revolution, successful guerrilla?

The Cuban incident is emblematic of the successful guerrilla war that brought Che Guevara to the forefront of the international scene. It was published in 1961 Guerrilla warfare, a revolutionary manual in which he summarized his experience in Cuba and proposed a theory of guerrilla warfare, often summarized under the term “foquismo”. According to Che Guevara, this is to encourage the creation of centers of rural insurrection (attention in Spanish), will then allow the spread of revolutionary ideas and the victory of the partisans.

After the success in Cuba, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara want to continue the struggle against imperialism, spread communist ideas, and spread the guerrilla struggle to other countries. Thus, Che Guevara would try to guide his theory and guerrilla experience, especially in the Congo, where he led the Simba rebellion in 1965, and in Bolivia in 1967.Ejército de Liberation Nacional (ELN), National Liberation Army.

These efforts ended in failure in the Congo and the death of Che Guevara in Bolivia on October 9, 1967, when he was captured and executed by the CIA-backed Bolivian army. The strategic theory developed by Che Guevara in his book Guerrilla warfare therefore, it could not be changed so easily and was not a source of new victories for the communist camp. The figure of Che remains because he is still today the object of a cult of personality that emphasizes the saintly and messianic imagination associated with the guerrilla.

5 minutes

Talk about him

Janette Habel political scientist, assistant researcher at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Latin America (IHEAL), specialist in Latin America and Cuba.
In particular, he published:

  • Guerrilla warfare (Che Guevara, foreword by Janette Habel, Flammarion, 2010)

  • Breaks in Cuba. Castroism in Crisis (The Broach-PEC, 1989)

Marie-Danielle Demelas He is a historian specializing in the political and military history of Latin America and Spain and professor emeritus at the Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3 University.
In particular, he published:

How Why: History

All of Gérard Noiriel’s chronicles are a must listen


Sound references

  • Excerpt from the documentary Cuba, Revolution and the World By Delphine Jaudeau and Mie Gold, 2019
  • Show credits: Origami by Rone

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