Rodolfo Saldaña (1932–2000) was a founding member of the ELN (National Liberation Army) of Bolivia, led by Ernesto Che Guevara and Bolivian revolutionary Inti Peredo. Saldaña was among the initial Bolivian cadres of the 1966–67 revolutionary front in that country and was slated to join the guerrilla effort as a...
Rodolfo Saldaña (1932–2000) was a founding member of the ELN (National Liberation Army) of Bolivia, led by Ernesto Che Guevara and Bolivian revolutionary Inti Peredo. Saldaña was among the initial Bolivian cadres of the 1966–67 revolutionary front in that country and was slated to join the guerrilla effort as a combatant. His responsibilities in face of the vicissitudes of the guerrilla front, however, kept him at the head of the ELN’s underground network in the cities and tin mining regions. In this capacity, he organized to recruit fighters among working people and youth, particularly miners, as well as provide logistical support to the guerrillas. Following the death of Guevara and most of the remaining combatants in October 1967, Saldaña worked to consolidate new forces in Bolivia and relaunch the revolutionary struggle.
Born March 29, 1932, in Sucre, Bolivia, Saldaña spent his childhood in the Cinti region, where his mother worked a small plot of land together with her brother. Saldaña grew up speaking both Spanish and Quechua, the language of the large majority of Bolivia’s indigenous population.
He became active in politics as a high school student. In 1950 he joined the newly formed Communist Party of Bolivia and was a founder and leader of the Bolivian Communist Youth. As a student leader in the early 1950s, he attended international meetings of the World Federation of Democratic Youth. In 1953 he graduated from the polytechnic institute of La Paz and the following year enrolled in engineering at the University of San Andrés there, soon dropping out to engage in political work.
From 1955 to 1958, by decision of the party, Saldaña worked in the Siglo XX tin mine, Bolivia’s largest, where he was instrumental in recruiting leaders of the mineworkers and establishing the Communist Party in the mines. He became a leader of the Federation of Mine Workers of Bolivia (FSTMB) and participated in numerous national meetings of the miners’ union as well as the Bolivian Workers Federation (COB). He was elected to the Central Committee of the party.
Following the victory of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Rodolfo Saldaña became actively involved in supporting the broadening and accelerating revolutionary struggles throughout Latin America. He took part in logistical preparations and support work for both the 1963 Peruvian guerrilla movement defeated at Puerto Maldonado, and the 1963–64 Argentine guerrilla front led by Jorge Ricardo Masetti.
In late 1965 Saldaña and several other CP cadres went to Cuba, where they requested and, with the agreement of the Bolivian Communist Party leadership, received military training. On returning to Bolivia in July 1966, they began preparations for what would later that year become the guerrilla front commanded by the Argentine-Cuban leader Ernesto Che Guevara. A few weeks after Guevara’s arrival in November 1966, Saldaña met with him at the guerrillas’ base camp on the Ñancahuazú River. Saldaña left the Communist Party in the fall of 1966, when the party leadership, under the direction of its general secretary Mario Monje, refused to support the effort led by Guevara.
Following the eleven-month guerrilla campaign, Saldaña received further military training in Cuba in 1969 and returned clandestinely to Bolivia. Arrested by the dictatorship in May 1970, he was freed in July in exchange for employees of a US gold-mining company who had been taken hostage by the ELN. He subsequently received asylum in Cuba.
From 1970 to 1983 Saldaña lived in Cuba, collaborating with the Organization of Solidarity with the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAAL), the Latin American Continental Organization of Students (OCLAE), and the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP). He worked for Radio Havana, where he broadcast to Bolivia in Quechua and translated other materials into that language. He also graduated with a degree in sociology from the University of Havana.
In 1983, following the end of the series of military dictatorships in Bolivia, Saldaña returned. He was a founder of the Bolivian-Cuban Cultural and Friendship Association and taught at the University of San Andrés in La Paz. In 1990 he moved back to Cuba, where he worked at the news agency InterPress Service and at Radio Havana.
Rodolfo Saldaña died in Havana on June 29, 2000.