Letter from Prague Che Guevara’s central Bohemian hideaway
Ernesto “Che” Guevara is to many people a symbol of revolution. In fact his handsome, defiant face topped by a beret is said to be one of the most reproduced images in the world. The Argentinean Marxist famously took part in the Cuban revolution, and died trying to foment another uprising in Bolivia. What is perhaps less well known is his connection to a small town south of Prague.
Recent research has shown that the guerrilla revolutionary arrived in what was then communist Czechoslovakia in March 1966 and stayed until July that year. His home during that period was a one-storey villa in Ládví, which is near Benešov.
The villa already had an interesting history, as it was previously owned by Jaroslav Krejčí. Krejčí headed the government in Prague when Bohemia and Moravia were occupied by the Nazis and later died in Pankrác prison, while his home was nationalised by the Communists.
According to Czech media reports, the Interior Ministry used it as a safe house in a 1960s operation called Manuel, in which over a thousand left-wing revolutionaries from Cuba and elsewhere in Latin America stayed in Czechoslovakia under false identities; they were either in transit or needed a place to hole up for a while.
With his hair cut, clean shaven and wearing fake glasses, Che Guevara stayed there clandestinely between a failed attempt to export revolution to Congo in 1965 and his ill-fated mission to Bolivia. His aim was evidently to recover from a bout of asthma and gather his strength before returning to South America. He was joined by an East German girlfriend, who apparently received training from the local secret services. However, not much is known of how the Argentine spent his time here.
What is known is that Fidel Castro later pushed the authorities in Czechoslovakia to erect a plaque on the house on Lomená St in Ládví where Guevara hid out in 1966. Prague resisted: making the information public could have led to a marked deterioration of relations with several Latin American states where presumably he was not regarded as a hero.
But as historian Prokop Tomek wrote in a piece in the newspaper Lidové noviny, given the huge global icon that Che Guevara has become in the last four decades, perhaps some day we will see a plaque in his honour on the wall of that villa.