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Guevara teaching guerrilla tactics to Congolese forces. His plan was to use the liberated zone on the western shores of Lake Tanganyika as a training ground for the Congolese and fighters from other liberation movements. To his left is Santiago Terry (codename: "Aly"), to his right, Angel Felipe Hernández ("Sitaini").

The foco theory of revolution by way of guerrilla warfare, also known as focalism (Spanish: foquismo), was inspired by Marxist revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, based upon his experiences surrounding the rebel army's victory in the 1959 Cuban Revolution, and formalized as such by Régis Debray. Its central principle is that vanguardism by cadres of small, fast-moving paramilitary groups can provide a focus (in Spanish, foco) for popular discontent against a sitting regime, and thereby lead a general insurrection. Although the original approach was to mobilize and launch attacks from rural areas, many foco ideas were adapted into urban guerrilla warfare movements by the late 1960s.


Cuban revolution inspiration

Foquismo, which was theorized by Régis Debray, draws on Ernesto Guevara's experience of the Cuban Revolution, where a small group of 82 members landed in Cuba on board of the Granma, in December 1956, and initiated a guerrilla war in the Sierra Maestra. During two years, the poorly armed escopeteros, at times less than 200 men, managed to win victories against Batista 's army and police force, which numbered between 30,000 and 40,000 in strength [1] The small group finally managed to take La Havana after the December 1958 Battle of Yaguajay. This surprising success led to the foquismo theory which, inspired by Mao's doctrine of People's war, counted on the support of the people to win the war. But the foquismo theory stated that this popular support would be created during the armed struggle itself: thus, against predominant Marxism theory, there was no need to wait for the "objective conditions" of a popular uprising to engage the last stage of the revolutionary struggle (i.e. armed struggle). In other words, a small group of revolutionaries was considered to be enough to jumpstart a revolution since this group could begin the revolutionary struggle while at the same time developing the conditions necessary for popular support for the revolution. This theory focused heavily on the notion of vanguardism and on the moral value of the example.


While focalism drew from previous Marxist-Leninist ideas, including a unique, adaptive blend of the Stalinist tactics of the popular front with other opposition groups against the Batista regime combined with the Maoist strategy of "protracted people's war", it also broke with many of the mid-Cold War era's established communist parties. Despite Nikita Khruschev's eager support for "wars of national liberation" and the focalists' own enthusiasm for Soviet patronage, Cuba's own Partido Socialista Popular had retreated from active confrontation with the Fulgencio Batista regime, so Castroism/Guevarism substituted the foquista militia for the more traditional vanguard party. In La Guerra de guerrillas (Guerrilla Warfare), Ernesto Guevara did not count on a Leninist insurrection based on cities as had happened during the 1917 October Revolution, but on a popular uprisings which would gain strength in rural areas and would overtopple the regime: the vanguard guerrilla was supposed to bolster the population's morale, not to take control of the state apparatus by itself, without any exterior help. According to him, the guerrillas were to be supported by conventional armed forces:

"It is well established that guerrilla warfare constitutes one of the phases of war; this phase can not, on its own, lead to victory." [2]

Che Guevara added that this theory was formulated for developing countries, and that the guerrilleros had to look for support among both the workers and the peasants[3]

In power, Castro sided with the USSR in the 1961 Sino-Soviet split, while Guevara sympathized with the People's Republic of China. Perhaps accelerated by this divide, the latter man shifted his energies away from Cuba to adventurism, promoting guerrilla focos overseas. Though this method had triumphed in Cuba, Guevara saw it subsequently fail in Africa and Latin America. Laurent-Désiré Kabila put it in practice in Congo. Despite the backing of the Castro regime, an attempt to forge an insurgency in Bolivia led to Guevara's capture and execution in 1967.

Foco after Guevara

The failure dampened Cuba's overt support of focalist uprisings internationally for several years, and many revolutionary movements split into different factions, particularly New Left, Maoist and/or urban guerrilla breakaways from previous Moscow-line parties and/or foco groups. By the mid-1970s, however, Cuba revived and further escalated its previous zeal, directly deploying its military in Africa before the collapse of détente--e.g., propping up the MPLA guerrillas in Angola--while reinvigorating its insurgent proxy war policy in the Caribbean region by the end of the decade.


In Argentina, the People's Revolutionary Army (ERP), led by Roberto Santucho attempted to create a foco in the Tucumán Province, near the border of Bolivia. The attempt failed after the government of Isabel Peron signed in February 1975 the secret presidential decree 261, which ordered the army to neutralize and/or annihilate the ERP insurgency (which was not supported by a foreign power, but also lacked popular support [4]). Operativo Independencia gave power to the Argentine Armed Forces to "execute all military operations necessary for the effects of neutralizing or annihilating the accion of subversive elements acting in the Province of Tucumán." [5] General Acdel Vilas immediately deployed over 3,000 soldiers, including conscripts from the Fifth Infantry Brigade and two companies of elite commandos. While fighting the guerrilla in the jungle, Vilas concentrated on uprooting the ERP support network in the towns, using state terror tactics, inspired by the 1961 Battle of Algiers, later adopted nation-wide, as well as a civic action campaign. The ERP was quickly defeated, but this military campaign marked the beginning of the "Dirty War" in Argentina.

Central America and the Caraibes

After victories for a once-divided, recently-reunited Sandinista movement in Nicaragua and the United Front-style New Jewel Movement in Grenada in 1979, Castro effectively supported the creation of the FMLN of El Salvador by pushing for the merge of five other communist factions between December, 1979 and October, 1980. Similarly, Cuba supported four rival guerrilla groups' decision to form the URNG coalition of Guatemala in 1982.


  1. ^ Bockman, chapter 2.
  2. ^ Ernesto Che Guevara (French ed.: Oeuvres I, Petite collection Maspero, 34, 1968, p.32
  3. ^ Guevara, Che. "Guerrilla War: A Method."
  4. ^, documents of the Trial of the Juntas. El Estado de necesidad.
  5. ^ Decree No. 261/75., Decretos de aniquilamiento.

See also


  • Guevara, Ernesto: Guerrilla Warfare, Souvenir Press Ltd, paperback, ISBN 978-0-285-63680-4.

External links

Alternate: FoCo- abbreviation and common nickname for Fort Collins, Colorado.



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