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Che's Habanos

During his Years in the Jungle, Cigars Were Che Guevara's Faithful Companion
Jesus Arboleya, Roberto F. Campos
From the Print Edition:
Michael Richards, Sep/Oct 97

(continued from page 2)

On those occasions when he remained in camp, Che had the custom of saving his habanos and smoking them during the night, as he wrote or read about the most diverse topics. This humble ritual included sipping unsweetened tea, an undrinkable beverage by Cuban standards. By day or on campaign, he regained the habit of smoking a pipe. The wooden bowl protected the tobacco from the jungle humidity, hid the glow of the combustion and allowed him to smoke the butt to the end.

Once his mission to the Congo ended, he began a journey that would eventually take him to Bolivia. Just as before, Fidel Castro continued to be Che's tobacconist of last resort, and he sent Che the last Cuban cigar that he would smoke in his life. According to Tamayo, one of the few survivors of the ill-fated Bolivian crusade, the event took place in the Andean mountains on March 22, 1967, when Guevara received a box of Churchills from the Cuban leader and consumed his share while dividing the rest among his troops.

The gift, sent via sophisticated clandestine channels, included three bottles of Havana Club, prompting Che, who was not prone to drinking hard liquor, to make a rare exception and accompany his luscious cigar with a sip of the choice Cuban rum.

Never again would he enjoy wrapped tobacco. From that moment he could obtain only the pressed leaves, which he smoked in his pipe, that the guerrilla fighters would buy in the poor country stores or from the peasants. He always followed the norm of dividing equally the tobacco and cigarettes, but he never smoked the latter, preferring to trade for leaves with those who preferred cigarettes.

In the hardest times the smokers spent months unable to obtain tobacco and would stuff their pipes with any dried leaves, at the risk of burning their tongues. But Che never complained of shortages of books or cigars, Tamayo claims. His only references to them were to mention the suffering of the others, although obviously he too endured these scarcities.

He bought tobacco for the last time in La Higuera, a hamlet lost in the Andes. It was here some days later that he was assassinated (Editor's note: He was executed by a Bolivian military officer) after being captured wounded. All of the witnesses agree that the 39-year-old Che faced death calmly and courageously. In the schoolhouse converted into a makeshift cell, one of his captors fulfilled his wish and handed him some tobacco. Smoking constituted the last pleasure of his life.

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