Revolutionary Rolex…

Castro1The dichotomy of Communism is no better illustrated than the fact that legendary socialist revolutionaries Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and Fidel Castro both wore Rolex watches. In fact Fidel Castro wore a sport model Rolex Submariner when he overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista during the Cuban Revolution in 1959. In this image from the LIFE Magazine archives we see Submariner wearing Castro standing on the balcony of the Hilton Hotel with friends after his triumphant entry into Havana, Cuba.

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His favoured timepiece however was a a no-crown guard Rolex GMT-Master 6542, although he did have a penchant for wearing two Rolex’s at the same time on the same wrist, a Rolex Day Date and a Submariner as seen at the Kremlin with Khruschev.

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While some might say “Communism for the masses and capitalism for the bosses”, it makes sense that in 1959 and through the 1960s that Fidel Castro and Che Guevara wore their Rolex watches as sturdy tool watches, because they were precise timing instruments. Remember this was before quartz watches. Also, in the early 1960s Rolex watches were not nearly as much of a status symbol or “Luxury Watch” as they are today, they were reliable machines built for a purpose and a great ally for a soldier, sailor or pilot.

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Che Guevara and Fidel Castro were fellow revolutionaries and long-time friends. After the Cuban revolution Che became the economic controller of Cuba before he took on a new mission in Bolivia. The photo below is the earliest known of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara together, and neither of them have what would later become their trademark beards. Fidel Castro was a lawyer, and Che Guevara was a doctor.

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Che’s Rolex of choice was an Espresso GMT Master

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The supreme irony is that Rolex became The International Mark Of Success not only in the West but in the Communist world. The father of the Chinese Communist Revolution Chairman Mao wore yellow gold Rolex watches as did Russian President Boris Yeltsin and the Korean Supreme Commander. At least Che and Fidel had good taste!
Vive La Revolución!

Che Guevara, Félix Rodríguez and the Rolex GMT

Havana, 1941 marks the birth of a boy called Félix Ismael Rodríguez. Born into a wealthy Cuban family that had ties with the president and dictator Fulgencio Batista, his life became at risk when political activist and law student Fidel Castro began a revolution with the help of friend Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. Batista was closely supported by the United States government and was considered by Castro and his supporters to be an oppressor of the people, so they took power from him and exiled him from Cuba in 1959. The connection between the Rodríguez family and Batista made them a political target for the new communist regime, and, after Félix Rodríguez fled the country, they were executed.

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Once Rodríguez had reached the safety of the U.S., he started attending college and trained to be an engineer, but his political views and hatred of Castro steered him towards taking part in activism against Castro’s government. In 1960 he, with thirty-nine other Cuban exiles and U.S. federal agents, received military training from the CIA under the moniker, ‘Brigade 2506.’ When they were ready, they covertly entered Cuba to begin ‘Operation 40.’

The friendship between Castro and Guevara was forged by their common disgust at the quality of living that many Cubans faced under Batista. Guevara had seen many examples of poverty throughout Cuba during his training as a physician, and so the two men gathered together a group called the ‘July 26th Movement,’ that went on to take power from Batista. The two men were revered by the people for their ruthless guerrilla tactics, but there were a few that did not like having them in government.

In April 1961, Operation 40 began. After Castro had overthrown Batista, guerrilla anti-Castro factions began to form in the Escambray Mountains, and, equipped with U.S. supplied weapons, they sporadically tried to seize control from Castro. The U.S. forces used this situation to launch a covert attack on Cuba during the night of the 16th of April, distracting Cuban troops with dummy rafts that broadcast the sounds of an invading fleet whilst they landed elsewhere at the Bay of Pigs. The attack did not go to plan. After three days of fighting, Brigade 2506 retreated, having run short of ammunition and facing slaughter by the Cuban troops.

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Whilst Castro continued to maintain defiance against the U.S., Guevara headed to the Congo in 1956 to assist with the on-going guerrilla warfare between the Simba rebellion and president Mobutu Sese Seko. With the assistance of the CIA and also due to the disorganisation of the rebellion, Sese Seko’s forces were gaining ground with no hope of the rebels winning it back. Guevara, who was recovering from dysentery, left the country.

Because he had left Cuba in secret, Guevara had left a letter with Castro that was only to be opened in the event of his death. Castro, however, had other ideas, and had broadcast its contents to the nation. In it, Guevara explained his intentions to leave Cuba to assist revolutionaries around the world, and since he had completely detached himself from the Cuban people in it, there was no chance of his return. He meandered around Europe and South America until 1966, when he arrived in La Paz, Bolivia, under the pseudonym of Adolfo Mena González, posing as a Uruguayan businessman. Despite his best efforts, Guevara’s attempts to conceal his movements were not quite cautious enough to thwart the expertise of the CIA.

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Rodríguez was drafted by the CIA to put together a team that would capture Guevara once and for all. Guevara had gathered together a guerrilla force of fifty Bolivian tin miners, who had begun to launch successful attacks against the ill-equipped and poorly trained Bolivian army. Based in the difficult and treacherous terrain of the Camiri mountains, Guevara’s troops used the geological formation to their tactical advantage, picking off any groups that came their way. What he didn’t know was that the CIA had begun to train the Bolivian Army using U.S. Army Special Forces techniques, and, by September 1967, the Bolivian troops had begun to turn the tide, having killed two groups of guerrilla fighters. The moral amongst Guevara’s men was low.

On October the 8th, 1967, Rodríguez assembled one thousand, eight hundred U.S. trained Bolivian troops around Guevara’s encampment, and it wasn’t long before Guevara was captured. As Rodríguez was under cover as a Bolivian Army Major, when the orders came in from the Bolivian President, René Barrientos, that Guevara was to be executed on the spot, there was little he could do to stop it. He appealed to Barrientos to let him take Guevara to Panama for questioning, but his mind was made up; Guevara had to die.

Under Barrientos’ instructions, Guevara was shot nine times all over his body to give the appearance that he had died in a gunfight. He writhed on the floor as each subsequent round was pumped into him, into his legs, his arms, his throat and fatally, into his chest. He died at 1:10pm on October the 9th, seven years after Rodríguez has first begun his manhunt. The last thing Rodríguez did before leaving Guevara’s corpse was to take the watch off his wrist; a Rolex GMT Master 1675 that he had been wearing since the Cuban revolution. Rodríguez still has it to this day.

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