In the footsteps of Che: Nancy Violeta Herrera, 1942 to 2023

By Barry Healy

When Nancy Herrera was a child in Argentina her father was widely known in their community as a motorcycle fanatic. On a couple of occasions, she met a young university student who came around for advice before he set off on a motorcycle tour of Latin America in 1952.

In later years, Nancy’s mother took her to a demonstration, and she saw the same young man standing on a car haranguing the people to greater militancy. She recalled saying to her mother: “When I grow up I’m going to be just like that man.”

That man Nancy always familiarly referred to as ‘Ernesto’. He was better known to the world as Che Guevara.

Later, as an adult, Nancy joined the leftist movement in Argentina. By then Che was a government minister in revolutionary Cuba. He wrote regular letters to her organisation, which were circulated among the membership. Nancy was ideologically formed by Che’s politics as she worked in poverty-stricken communities trying to build a base.

Nancy became a Montessori preschool teacher and union militant. On one occasion she participated in a teachers’ strike and demonstration that was violently attacked by the police.

She witnessed teachers being shot dead in front of her. She had been trained by her political organisation to control her feelings so that she could react appropriately and give leadership in times of danger. However, in later years her trauma from those times came back to haunt her.

During the period of the Argentine ‘Dirty War’, when the military seized power and ruthlessly slaughtered leftists, Nancy worked as an underground intelligence operative, again exercising her self-control.

Eventually, Nancy and her family left Argentina and migrated to Australia. In the late 1990s, following a divorce, Nancy joined the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) and was active in the Australia Cuba Friendship Society.

During the period in the early 2000s when the DSP was debating dissolving into the Socialist Alliance, Nancy fiercely opposed the Leninist Party Faction (LPF), the DSP minority that criticised this move. However, she also strongly criticised the majority leadership for failing to immediately expel the LPF, saying that a clear political break was necessary.

It is a measure of how tight-lipped Nancy was as a product of her early political formation that she shared few stories of her experiences. Her son, Oliver Villar, urged her to write her memoirs, but she refused.

In later years Nancy was wracked with arthritic pain and other ailments. She dropped away from her political attachments to be with her daughter Giselle and her grandchildren, who, with Oliver, were the greatest objects of her affections.

Her fierce sense of independence remained as she refused to follow her doctors’ advice!

Nancy died of a stroke on April 12. In life, she contributed a great deal to the sum total of human progress, and she was a living link between this generation and Che. Her grandson’s middle name is Ernesto.

A memorial celebration of Nancy’s life will be held at Leanne O’Dea, Albany Highway, Cannington, Perth on Friday 21st April. There will be a viewing commencing at 5:30pm and the tribute service will commence at 6:00pm. A live streaming will be available for those who cannot attend (link here).

Her daughter Giselle says all are welcome. “Mum would want everyone to wear the loudest, brightest colours, so no black allowed at the service, this is something Mum felt very strongly about”.

One comment

  1. Devastating news, however what an incredible human being and what a life she led. She rarely shared stories but I was always in awe when she did. I remember the story of the violent strikes. I also remember that, as a child, her father was a guide for Che and on a visit, ruffled Nancy’s hair, such a sweet story and what a historical moment for a child. I feel much richer for having known this incredible wonderful human being, Vale ❤

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