Fidel Castro A Cuban veteran remembers 'Che' and late leader

Monteagudo, 78, grieved when Guevara was killed in the mountains of Bolivia in 1967 and now he is mourning Castro

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Luis Monteagudo Arteaga, a Cuban former guerrilla fighter, who joined Argentinean guerrilla leader Che Guevara in Congo, holds a newspaper with the frontpage dedicated to late Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro at his home November 30, 2016 play

Luis Monteagudo Arteaga, a Cuban former guerrilla fighter, who joined Argentinean guerrilla leader Che Guevara in Congo, holds a newspaper with the frontpage dedicated to late Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro at his home November 30, 2016

(AFP)
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Luis Monteagudo, a hardened Cuban military veteran, remembers with pride fighting alongside revolution icon Ernesto "Che" Guevara and watching maximum leader Fidel Castro fire a gun.

Monteagudo, 78, grieved when Guevara was killed in the mountains of Bolivia in 1967 and now he is mourning Castro, who died on Friday at age 90.

"The blow has been so overwhelming that you can't think," said Monteagudo with teary eyes as he adjusted his hearing aid in his home in the central city of Santa Clara.

A military jeep took the ashes to Santa Clara early Thursday, the first stop in a cross-country trip that will end with a burial in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba on Sunday.

"We still miss Fidel, just as we miss Che," said Cuban military veteran Luis Monteagudo at his home in Santa Clara, Cuba play

"We still miss Fidel, just as we miss Che," said Cuban military veteran Luis Monteagudo at his home in Santa Clara, Cuba

(AFP)

Santa Clara is also home to the remains of Guevara, the Argentine doctor and Castro's comrade-in-arms whose victory against the army of dictator Fulgencio Batista in Santa Clara in 1958 became a major turning point in the revolution.

"We still miss Fidel, just as we miss Che," said Monteagudo, who joined Guevara's rebel force when he freed his home town of Cabaiguan in 1958.

Failure in Congo

The veteran is black, like most of the more than 100 Cubans who accompanied Guevara to help rebels in what is today the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1965.

The attempt to export Cuba's revolution to Africa was a failure, which the Argentine fighter himself admitted.

It cost Monteagudo his hearing, damaged by the sound of canons.

Sitting in his small home, the bony former fighter recalled meeting Castro while he was training in a camp in Pinar del Rio in western Cuba.

A portrait of revolutionary leaders Fidel Castro (R) and Ernesto "Che" Guevara are seen at the Cuban embassy in Buenos Aires on November 29, 2016 as people arrive to pay homage Castro play

A portrait of revolutionary leaders Fidel Castro (R) and Ernesto "Che" Guevara are seen at the Cuban embassy in Buenos Aires on November 29, 2016 as people arrive to pay homage Castro

(AFP/File)

"He visited us weekly and trained with us," he said. "We were impressed by his confidence when he spoke. He could be contagious."

Monteagudo also was impressed by Fidel Castro's marksmanship, but the leader told him that he was sending a chief who was "better than him."

They only found out it was Guevara when he arrived in Congo.

"Che was an expert in everything, very demanding. He was an enemy of lies and flattery," Monteagudo said.

From fighter to singer

When he returned from Congo, Monteagudo taught marksmanship at special camps in Cuba to future Latin American and African guerrillas.

He learned about Guevara's death while training Angolan troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The aging former soldier likes to sing verses called "decimas" to hail his heroes. But he has yet to write one for Fidel Castro.

"I haven't been able to do so because of the shock."

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