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“If you tremble with indignation at every injustice then you are a comrade of mine.” ― Ernesto Che Guevara

February 2, 2017

“If you tremble with indignation at every injustice then you are a comrade of mine.” ― Ernesto Che Guevara

 

Ernesto “Che” Guevara (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈtʃe ɣeˈβaɾa][4] June 14, 1928 – October 9, 1967),[1] also known as El Che, was an Argentine Marxist revolutionary, physician, author, guerrilla leader, diplomat, and military theorist. A major figure of the Cuban Revolution, his stylized visage has become a ubiquitous countercultural symbol of rebellion and global insignia in popular culture.[5]

As a young medical student, Guevara traveled throughout South America and was radicalized by the poverty, hunger, and disease he witnessed.[6] His burgeoning desire to help overturn what he saw as the capitalist exploitation of Latin America by the United States prompted his involvement in Guatemala‘s social reforms under President Jacobo Árbenz, whose eventual CIA-assisted overthrow at the behest of the United Fruit Company solidified Guevara’s political ideology.[6] Later, in Mexico City, he met Raúl and Fidel Castro, joined their 26th of July Movement, and sailed to Cuba aboard the yacht Granma, with the intention of overthrowing U.S.-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.[7] Guevara soon rose to prominence among the insurgents, was promoted to second-in-command, and played a pivotal role in the victorious two-year guerrilla campaign that deposed the Batista regime.[8]

Following the Cuban Revolution, Guevara performed a number of key roles in the new government. These included reviewing the appeals and firing squads for those convicted as war criminals during the revolutionary tribunals,[9] instituting agrarian land reform as minister of industries, helping spearhead a successful nationwide literacy campaign, serving as both national bank president and instructional director for Cuba’s armed forces, and traversing the globe as a diplomat on behalf of Cuban socialism. Such positions also allowed him to play a central role in training the militia forces who repelled the Bay of Pigs Invasion[10] and bringing the Soviet nuclear-armed ballistic missiles to Cuba which precipitated the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.[11] Additionally, he was a prolific writer and diarist, composing a seminal manual on guerrilla warfare, along with a best-selling memoir about his youthful continental motorcycle journey. His experiences and studying of Marxism–Leninism led him to posit that the Third World‘s underdevelopment and dependence was an intrinsic result of imperialism, neocolonialism, and monopoly capitalism, with the only remedy being proletarian internationalism and world revolution.[12][13] Guevara left Cuba in 1965 to foment revolution abroad, first unsuccessfully in Congo-Kinshasa and later in Bolivia, where he was captured by CIA-assisted Bolivian forces and summarily executed.[14]

Guevara remains both a revered and reviled historical figure, polarized in the collective imagination in a multitude of biographies, memoirs, essays, documentaries, songs, and films. As a result of his perceived martyrdom, poetic invocations for class struggle, and desire to create the consciousness of a “new man” driven by moral rather than material incentives,[15] he has evolved into a quintessential icon of various leftist-inspired movements. Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century,[16] while an Alberto Korda photograph of him, titled Guerrillero Heroico (shown), was cited by the Maryland Institute College of Art as “the most famous photograph in the world”.[17]

 

CheHigh.jpg

Che Guevara was an Argentinean-born, Cuban revolutionary leader who became a left-wing hero. A photograph of him by Alberto Korda became an iconic image of the 20th century.

Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, known as Che Guevara, was born on 14 June 1928 in Rosario, Argentina into a middle-class family. He studied medicine at Buenos Aires University and during this time travelled widely in South and Central America. The widespread poverty and oppression he witnessed, fused with his interest in Marxism, convinced him that the only solution to South and Central America’s problems was armed revolution.

In 1954 he went to Mexico and the following year he met Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. Guevara joined Castro’s ’26th July Movement’ and played a key role in the eventual success of its guerrilla war against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Castro overthrew Batista in 1959 and took power in Cuba. From 1959-1961, Guevara was president of the National Bank of Cuba, and then minister of industry. In this position, he travelled the world as an ambassador for Cuba. At home, he carried out plans for land redistribution and the nationalisation of industry.

A strong opponent of the United States, he guided the Castro regime towards alignment with the Soviet Union. The Cuban economy faltered as a result of American trade sanctions and unsuccessful reforms. During this difficult time Guevara began to fall out with the other Cuban leaders. He later expressed his desire to spread revolution in other parts of the developing world, and in 1965 Castro announced that Guevara had left Cuba.

Guevara then spent several months in Africa, particularly the Congo, attempting to train rebel forces in guerrilla warfare. His efforts failed and in 1966 he secretly returned to Cuba. From Cuba he travelled to Bolivia to lead forces rebelling against the government of René Barrientos Ortuño. With US assistance, the Bolivian army captured Guevara and his remaining fighters. He was executed on 9 October 1967 in the Bolivian village of La Higuera and his body was buried in a secret location. In 1997 his remains were discovered, exhumed and returned to Cuba, where he was reburied.

 

 Che Guevara has the most effective public relations department on earth. The Argentine guerrilla and modern Cuba’s co-founding father has been fashioned into a hipster icon, a counter-cultural hero, an anti-establishment rebel, and a champion of the poor. As James Callaghan once put it, “A lie can be halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on.”

The truth about Che now has its boots on. He helped free Cubans from the repressive Batista regime, only to enslave them in a totalitarian police state worst than the last. He was Fidel Castro’s chief executioner, a mass-murderer who in theory could have commanded any number of Latin American death squads, from Peru’s Shining Path on the political left to Guatemala’s White Hand on the right.

“Just as Jacobin Paris had Louis Antoine de Saint-Just,” wrote French historian Pascal Fontaine, “revolutionary Havana had Che Guevara, a Latin American version of Nechaev, the nineteenth century nihilist terrorist who inspired Dostoevsky’s The Devils. As Guevara wrote to a friend in 1957, ‘My ideological training means that I am one of those people who believe that the solution to the world’s problems is to be found behind the Iron Curtain.’…He was a great admirer of the Cultural Revolution [in China]. According to Regis Debray, ‘It was he and not Fidel who in 1960 invented Cuba’s first corrective work camp,’ or what the Americans would call a slave labor camp and the Russians called the gulag.”

 

He was killed in Bolivia by the army in 1967 when he tried to overthrow yet another government and replace it with a communist state.

I saw only a handful of posters of Fidel Castro in Cuba and none whatsoever of his younger brother, Raul, who is now Cuba’s president, but I saw hundreds of portraits of Che, as if he, rather than one of the Castros, were the acting dictator today. The cult of personality revolves entirely around the dead guy. It’s convenient and clever. He can’t do anything new to discredit himself and it gives the Castro family a false air of modesty.

My tour of the Cuban countryside took me to Che’s final resting place in a mausoleum behind an imposing momument on the outskirts of Santa Clara. Before I stepped off the bus I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t argue with a single person, Cuban or foreign, at the memorial—not so much out of respect for the dead, but because I didn’t want to be “that guy.” Better to just zip it for an hour and tell the truth about Che later in writing.

Not sixty seconds after I swore to keep quiet, an American tourist sitting next to me said something so naïve that I almost bled in my mouth. “It’s amazing, isn’t it? We don’t have anyone in American history who is loved like the Cubans love Che.”

Cuba is a police state and Che was its co-founder. Cubans “love” him the same way Romanians “loved” Nicolae Ceausescu and East Germans “loved” Berlin Wall architect Erich Honecker.  

You know what happens to Cubans who display open hatred of Che?

They get arrested.

When he was still alive, they were executed or herded into slave-labor camps.

So yeah, everyone “loves” him. It’s required by law. Woe to those who disobey State Security. 

The human spirit is a powerful force, though, and some Cubans can’t take it. A million and a half fled to the United States to escape the instruments of Che Guevara’s repression, many across the Florida Straits where the odds of survival are no better than two out of three. Others resisted at home, especially during the 1960s, the decade of global rebellion.

“They corrupt the morals of young girls!” Castro shouted against rebellious youth at the time, “and destroy posters of Che! What do they think? That this is a bourgeois liberal regime? NO! There is nothing liberal in us! We are collectivists! We are communists! There will be no Prague Spring here!”

Angel Ciutat advised Che about the construction of Cuba’s secret police, which he learned from the most sinister secret police chief of all—Lavrenty Beria, head of Josef Stalin’s NKVD. Nearly all Che’s victims were Cuban. Would Americans love a foreign implant who murdered thousands, forced thousands more into slavery, and drove more than a million to exile?

Of course not. 

The memorial is in a square the size of a shopping mall. There are no trees or shade. It’s an enormous heat trap that absorbs and reflects back the blazing tropical sunshine. An imposing statue of Che—complete with a cast on his broken left arm—is placed atop a gigantic pedestal. Standing below, it’s as if he’s a god. The steps leading up to it are huge. I felt tiny and low by comparison. Thomas Jefferson’s memorial this isn’t. The whole scene intimidates by design.

Up near the front is a billboard featuring the smiling face of the now-dead Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s wannabe communist-dictator, introduced to Cubans as “our best friend.” At the far end of the square is a billboard with a quote by Fidel Castro: “I want you to be like Che.”

I have to ask: Does Fidel want Cubans to be like the real Che or the fake Che?

*

A whole shelf of books have been written about Che Guevara. Most are hagiographic.

Humberto Fontova’s Exposing the Real Che Guevara is an exception. It’s relentlessly critical, not only of the killer himself, but of his fans. He spends hundreds of pages debunking Castro’s state mythology with footnoted sources and interviews with eye-witnesses, but Che’s own words are enough to condemn him.

“A revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate.”

“We will bring the war to the imperialist enemies’ very home, to his places of work and recreation. We must never give him a minute of peace or tranquility. This is a total war to the death.”

“If the nuclear missiles had remained, we would have used them against the very heart of America, including New York City…We will march the path of victory even if it costs millions of atomic victims…We must keep our hatred alive and fan it to paroxysm.”

Here’s one more from Fontaine in France: “In his will, the graduate of the school of terror praised the ‘extremely useful hatred that turns men into effective, violent, merciless, and cold killing machines.’ He was dogmatic, cold, and intolerant, and there was almost nothing in him of the traditionally open and warm Cuban temperament.”

I could go on (and Fontova does for quite a long time) but you get the idea.

Che’s comrades and associates were equally ruthless. Venezuelan-born Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, also known as Carlos the Jackal, was trained in one of Che’s guerrilla camps outside Havana. He emerged from his studies a monster and became the most wanted terrorist on earth. “Bin Laden has followed a trail I myself blazed,” he said following Al Qaeda’s assault on New York and Washington. “I followed news of the September 11 attacks on the United States nonstop from the beginning. I can’t describe that wonderful feeling of relief.”

He is serving a life sentence in the French penal system for murder.

And yet anti-establishment young people all over the world have Che’s face on their walls and their T-shirts. Most of them don’t know anything real about the man they admire. They have no idea he was one of the most violently illiberal establishment figures in the Western Hemisphere’s history. They admire the image, which is and always has been a fraud.

Fontova quotes a Cuban exile who goes by the moniker Charlie Bravo who says Che’s fans in the West need a kick in the ass by reality. “I’d loved to have seen those Sorbonne and Berkeley and Berlin student protesters with their ‘groovy’ Che posters try their ‘anti-authority’ grandstanding in Cuba at the time. I’d love to have seen Che and his goons get their hands on them. They’d have gotten a quick lesson about the ‘fascism’ they were constantly complaining about—and firsthand. They would have quickly found themselves sweating and gasping from forced labor in Castros and Che’s concentration camps, or jabbed in the butt by ‘groovy’ bayonets when they dared slow down and perhaps getting their teeth shattered by a ‘groovy’ machine-gun butt if they adopted the same attitude in front of Che’s militia as they adopted in front of those campus cops.”

I’m relying heavily on Fontova here because most of what has been written about Che is absolute horseshit. I spoke to him recently and asked him what’s up with that.

“Is your book on Che the only one that exposes him? I couldn’t find any others.”

“Yes, he said. “It’s the only book of that sort. Jon Lee Anderson’s book is considered the bible on Che, but it was written in cooperation with the Castro regime while Anderson was living in Cuba. When William Shirer wrote The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, he didn’t rely on Nazis for the information in his book, even though a lot of them were still around in 1957. He relied primarily on enemies and victims of the Nazis for his information. When Robert Conquest wrote The Great Terror about Stalinism, he didn’t rely on Nikita Khrushchev or any other Soviet communists. He relied on Russian and Ukrainian exiles. That’s the normal manner of writing books about totalitarian regimes. But when it comes to Cuba for some insane reason, you’re supposed to collaborate with the totalitarian regime to be considered scholarly.”

“How did that happen?” I said.

“I devoted my latest book to this issue. It’s about the mainstream media and Fidel Castro. Here is a quote from Fidel Castro in 1955 when he was in prison in Cuba. He said, ‘Propaganda is vital—the heart of our struggle. We can never abandon propaganda…Use a lot of sleight of hand and smiles with everybody. We must follow the same tactic we employed in our trial; defend our points of view without raising hackles. There will be plenty of time later to crush all the cockroaches.’

“And here’s Che Guevara from his own diaries in 1958. He said, ‘Much more valuable than rural recruits for our guerrilla force were American media recruits to export our propaganda.’ Castro and Guevara cultivated and shmoozed the foreign media. They made it a goal from day one. They needed to export their propaganda and make it not seem like propaganda.”

It worked too. Maybe because Cuban communism was seen, rightly or wrongly, as less severe than the Soviet version. Perhaps it’s because Che died at a young age, so the Cuban regime’s official state narrative was frozen in amber. Had he lived longer and committed yet more atrocities, perhaps the truth about him would be more obvious and well-known. 

There’s no denying Che’s charisma, at least in his photographs. Not even a propaganda genius like Castro could convince young Europeans and Americans to lionize the likes of Pol Pot, Leonid Brezhnev, or Castro’s own brother Raul.

Whatever the reason for the success of their ludicrous narrative, it drives Cuban exiles in the West over the edge when they see their tormentor lionized by naifs.

“If Cuban Americans strike you as too passionate, over the top, even a little crazy, there is a reason,” Fontova wrote in his Introduction. “Practically every day, we turn on our televisions or go out to the street only to see the image of the very man who trained the secret police to murder our relatives—thousands of men, women, and boys. This man committed many of these murders with his own hands. And yet we see him celebrated everywhere as the quintessence of humanity, progress, and compassion.”

 *

Behind Che’s statue in Santa Clara is a factually-challenged museum celebrating his image. He’s portrayed as a doctor (though he had no medical degree), a kind soul who cared for the poor and the oppressed, and a brave guerrilla leader who helped liberate a long-suffering people from an oppressive tyrant. I’d think he was awesome if those things were true, or if I knew nothing about him except what I learned there.

That’s what Cubans are taught about him in school. Those who adore him are adoring a lie just like Westerners who emblazon his face on their t-shirts.

Most interesting about the museum is what’s not there. I found no mention whatsoever that Che was Fidel’s chief executioner, nor any reference to his construction of slave labor camps. The Cuban regime knows that the real Che was a despicable human being and knows that civilized people find villains like him appalling. Otherwise, those salient facts about his life and “career” would have been included. The truth is a dirty secret that the regime wants to keep buried. There’d be no point in lying by omission if the truth about Che made him look like a hero.

Older Cubans—especially those who fled to the United States—know the real story, of course, but younger Cubans might not. I have no idea, really, what they think or know about him. I asked a handful and they were cagey about it. Almost everyone I met complained about the government, but not about Fidel personally, and especially not about Che. 

One of the guides at the museum said something strange. “He invented a new kind of holiday,” she said. “He sacrificed everything for Cuba, so to honor him once a week we do extra work at our jobs for no pay.”

Extra work for no pay in Cuba? Cubans are hardly paid anyway. Most of them work for the state and earn a maximum wage of twenty dollars a month. Cuba’s maximum wage is less than one percent of America’s minimum wage. So they’re already working for free. What difference does a couple more hours make?

“It’s part of his philosophy of the New Man,” she added.

Che’s selfless and collectivist New Man is a utopian fantasy. Humans will only work long and hard hours for no pay if they’re forced—hence Cuba’s repressive political system.

Che’s body was returned from Bolivia in 1997. He is entombed in a mausoleum behind the memorial.

“You can go inside but you can’t talk,” a guide warned me. “It’s about respect. There are microphones inside and they are listening. You’ll be in big trouble if you say anything.”

I went inside feeling slightly nervous about the warning to keep quiet.

Inside is peaceful and candlelit. It looks and feels like a shrine. Photography is strictly forbidden. The walls are made of stone. They’re soundproof. I heard no noise whatsoever from outside. The air is cool and dry. The ambience itself inspires silence. I’d feel like an oaf if I opened my mouth.

A policewoman sat on a chair in the back. She looked severe, as if she’d punch me if I misbehaved.

She stood up and marched toward me and belted out a shattering sound.

“Aqui!” she said. Here.  

What? She’s talking? Why is she talking in here?

She pointed at the wall in the center of the room where Che is entombed. I was taking in the whole scene, but she wanted me to look there and not anywhere else, as if I were insulting Che’s legacy by paying attention to anything else. 

I nodded a silent thanks, looked at Che’s name carved into stone, and found it hard to believe that the remains of such an infamous person was mere inches in front of me.

I didn’t stay long. The policewoman made me uncomfortable, especially for yelling at me after I was told to shut up. So I left and returned to the hot and humid world outside that almost never cools off during the day. 

Down the road a ways from the memorial is a little park built around a derailed train. During the revolution, Che and his men supposedly forced it off the tracks by placing a bulldozer in its path. Across the street from the park is a large painted sign on a wall that says, “Our Socialism is Irrevocable!”

Who are they trying to convince? Tourists? The locals? Capitalist running dogs like myself?

All of the above, more likely than not. Either way, the regime’s defensiveness shows. You don’t see the governments of the United States, Canada, Belgium, or Switzerland shouting “Our Democracy is Irrevocable!” for the rather obvious reason that not even crazy people think it’s revocable. 

La Cabaña is the old Spanish military fortress above the east side of Havana’s harbor that Che turned into a prison. Fontova calls it the Caribbean Lubyanka. Thousands of men and boys were executed against its walls with firing squads.

“To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary,” Che famously said. “These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail.”

Contrary to conventional firing squads, where all rifles but one are loaded with blanks, Che ensured every executioner in the squad fired live ammunition.

“As soon as [Castro and Guevara] seized power,” writes Fontaine, “they began to conduct mass executions inside the two main prisons, La Cabaña and Santa Clara…In the words of Jeannine Verdes-Laroux, ‘The form of the trials, and the procedures by which they were conducted, were highly significant. The totalitarian nature of the regime was inscribed there from the very beginning.’”

The body count is hard to pin down with accuracy, but Che himself admitted to ordering thousands of executions at La Cabaña during the first year alone. Those who managed to survive say he frequently delivered the killing blow himself in the side of the victim’s head with his pistol.

Prisons are unpleasant places everywhere in the world. They’re supposed to be. But Che’s were as brutal and dehumanizing as the Soviet versions on which they were modeled.

Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas, played by the magnificent Javier Bardem in the film Before Night Falls, spent some unpleasant time in Fidel and Che’s dungeons. Artists tend to be anti-authoritarian, and naturally police states fear and loathe them, so Arenas was hauled off to prison. A memorable bit of dialogue from the film sums up Cuban due process for him in eight words.

“You’re under arrest.”

Why?

“Because I say so.”

Arenas, in his book of the same name, writes about the conditions inside. “It was a sweltering place without a bathroom. Gays were not treated like human beings, they were treated like beasts. They were the last ones to come out for meals, so we saw them walk by, and the most insignificant incident was an excuse to beat them mercilessly.”

And he writes about the prison system’s crushing of his colleague in letters Heberto Padilla. “[He] was locked up in a cell, intimidated, and beaten. Thirty days later he emerged from that cell a human wreck. The night [he] made his confession was unforgettable. That vital man, who had written beautiful poetry, apologized for everything he had done, his entire previous work, throwing the blame upon himself, branding himself a despicable coward and traitor. He said that during his detention at State Security he had come to understand the beauty of the Revolution… Padilla not only retracted all he had said in his previous work but publicly denounced his friends and even his wife.”

Today La Cabaña is a tourist attraction. You can see the skyline of restored Old Havana across the harbor. The fort itself is well-preserved and aesthetically pleasing. Yet it lies by omission just like the museum at Che’s memorial.

I saw and heard no mention there about the thousands of people the regime killed even though so many were killed on one of its walls. I couldn’t even figure out which wall. It’s unmarked. The blood and gore are long gone.

One day—perhaps not soon, but someday—that is going to change. The myth of the kind and benevolent and compassionate Che will eventually slide into oblivion because a democratic government in Havana will not lie, by either omission or commission, about the man who co-founded Cuba’s final dictatorship. When that day arrives, tourists who visit will finally learn something real.

 

 

The Death of Che Guevara: Declassified

By Peter Kornbluh

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 5

For more information contact:
Peter Kornbluh 202/994-7000 or nsarchiv@gwu.edu

Washington, D.C. – On October 9th, 1967, Ernesto “Che” Guevara was put to death by Bolivian soldiers, trained, equipped and guided by U.S. Green Beret and CIA operatives. His execution remains a historic and controversial event; and thirty years later, the circumstances of his guerrilla foray into Bolivia, his capture, killing, and burial are still the subject of intense public interest and discussion around the world.

As part of the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Che Guevara, the National Security Archive’s Cuba Documentation Project is posting a selection of key CIA, State Department, and Pentagon documentation relating to Guevara and his death. This electronic documents book is compiled from declassified records obtained by the National Security Archive, and by authors of two new books on Guevara: Jorge Castañeda’s Compañero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara (Knopf), and Henry Butterfield Ryan’s The Fall of Che Guevara (Oxford University Press). The selected documents, presented in order of the events they depict, provide only a partial picture of U.S. intelligence and military assessments, reports and extensive operations to track and “destroy” Che Guevara’s guerrillas in Bolivia; thousands of CIA and military records on Guevara remain classified. But they do offer significant and valuable information on the high-level U.S. interest in tracking his revolutionary activities, and U.S. and Bolivian actions leading up to his death.

 


DECLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS

CIA, The Fall of Che Guevara and the Changing Face of the Cuban Revolution, October 18, 1965

This intelligence memorandum, written by a young CIA analyst, Brian Latell, presents an assessment that Guevara’s preeminence as a leader of the Cuban revolution has waned, and his internal and international policies have been abandoned. In domestic policy, his economic strategy of rapid industrialization has “brought the economy to its lowest point since Castro came to power,” the paper argues. In foreign policy, he “never wavered from his firm revolutionary stand, even as other Cuban leaders began to devote most of their attention to the internal problems of the revolution.” With Guevara no longer in Cuba, the CIA’s assessment concludes, “there is no doubt that Castro’s more cautious position on exporting revolution, as well as his different economic approach, led to Che’s downfall.”

 

U.S. Army, Memorandum of Understanding Concerning the Activation, Organization and Training of the 2d Battalion – Bolivian Army, April 28, 1967

This memorandum of understanding, written by the head of the U.S. MILGP (Military Group) in Bolivia and signed by the commander of the Bolivian armed forces, created the Second Ranger Battalion to pursue Che Guevara’s guerrilla band. The agreement specifies the mission of a sixteen-member Green Beret team of U.S. special forces, drawn from the 8th Special Forces division of the U.S. Army Forces at Southcom in Panama, to “produce a rapid reaction force capable of counterinsurgency operations and skilled to the degree that four months of intensive training can be absorbed by the personnel presented by the Bolivian Armed Forces.” In October, the 2nd Battalion, aided by U.S. military and CIA personnel, did engage and capture Che Guevara’s small band of rebels.

 

White House Memorandum, May 11, 1967

This short memo to President Lyndon Johnson records U.S. efforts to track Guevara’s movements, and keep the President informed of his whereabouts. Written by presidential advisor, Walt Rostow, the memo reports that Guevara may be “operational” and not dead as the CIA apparently believed after his disappearance from Cuba.

 

CIA, Intelligence Information Cable, October 17, 1967

This CIA cable summarizes intelligence, gathered from September 1966 through June 1967, on the disagreement between the Soviet Union and Cuba over Che Guevara’s mission to Bolivia. The cable provides specific information on Leonid Brezhnev’s objections to “the dispatch of Ernesto Che Guevara to Bolivia” and Brezhnev’s decision to send the Soviet Premier Aleksey Kosygin’s visit to Cuba in June, 1967 to discuss the Kremlin’s opposition with Castro. CIA sources reported that Kosygin accused Castro of “harming the communist cause through his sponsorship of guerrilla activity…and through providing support to various anti-government groups, which although they claimed to be ‘socialist’ or communist, were engaged in disputes with the ‘legitimate’ Latin American communist parties…favored by the USSR.” In replying Castro stated that Cuba would support the “right of every Latin American to contribute to the liberation of his country.” Castro also “accused the USSR of having turned its back upon its own revolutionary tradition and of having moved to a point where it would refuse to support any revolutionary movement unless the actions of the latter contributed to the achievement of Soviet objectives….”

 

White House Memorandum, October 9, 1967

Walt Rostow reports in this memorandum to President Johnson that unconfirmed information suggests that the Bolivian battalion–“the one we have been training”–“got Che Guevara.”

 

White House Memorandum, October 10, 1967

In a short update to Walt Rostow, William Bowdler reports there is still uncertainty about whether Che Guevara was “among the casualties of the October 8 engagement.”

 

White House Memorandum, October 11, 1967

In another daily update, Walt Rostow reports to President Johnson that “we are 99% sure that ‘Che’ Guevara is dead.” Rostow believes the decision to execute Guevara “is stupid,” but he also points out his death “shows the soundness of our ‘preventive medicine’ assistance to countries facing incipient insurgency–it was the Bolivian 2nd Ranger Battalion, trained by our Green Berets from June-September of this year, that cornered him and got him.”

 

White House Memorandum, October 13, 1967

In a final update, Walt Rostow informs Lyndon Johnson that the White House has intelligence information–still censored–that “removes any doubt that ‘Che’ Guevara is dead.”

 

CIA Debriefing of Félix Rodríguez, June 3, 1975

When Che Guevara was executed in La Higuera, one CIA official was present–a Cuban-American operative named Félix Rodríguez. Rodríguez, who used the codename “Félix Ramos” in Bolivia and posed as a Bolivian military officer, was secretly debriefed on his role by the CIA’s office of the Inspector General in June, 1975. (At the time the CIA was the focus of a major Congressional investigation into its assassination operations against foreign leaders.) In this debriefing–discovered in a declassified file marked ‘Félix Rodríguez’ by journalist David Corn–Rodríguez recounts the details of his mission to Bolivia where the CIA sent him, and another Cuban-American agent, Gustavo Villoldo, to assist the capture of Guevara and destruction of his guerrilla band. Rodríguez and Villoldo became part of a CIA task force in Bolivia that included the case officer for the operation, “Jim”, another Cuban American, Mario Osiris Riveron, and two agents in charge of communications in Santa Clara. Rodríguez emerged as the most important member of the group; after a lengthy interrogation of one captured guerrilla, he was instrumental in focusing the efforts to the 2nd Ranger Battalion focus on the Villagrande region where he believed Guevara’s rebels were operating. Although he apparently was under CIA instructions to “do everything possible to keep him alive,” Rodríguez transmitted the order to execute Guevara from the Bolivian High Command to the soldiers at La Higueras–he also directed them not to shoot Guevara in the face so that his wounds would appear to be combat-related–and personally informed Che that he would be killed. After the execution, Rodríguez took Che’s Rolex watch, often proudly showing it to reporters during the ensuing years.

 

State Department Cable, Official Confirmation of Death of Che Guevara, October 18, 1967

Ten days after his capture, U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia, Douglas Henderson, transmitted confirmation of Guevara’s death to Washington. The evidence included autopsy reports, and fingerprint analysis conducted by Argentine police officials on Che’s amputated hands. (Che’s hands were cut off to provide proof that he was actually dead; under the supervision of CIA agent Gustavo Villoldo, his body was then secretly buried by at a desolate airstrip at Villagrande where it was only discovered in June 1997.) The various death documents, notes Ambassador Henderson, leave “unsaid the time of death”–“an attempt to bridge the difference between a series of earlier divergent statements from Armed Forces sources, ranging from assertions that he died during or shortly after battle to those suggesting he survived at least twenty-four hours.”

 

Southern Command, Activities of the 2nd Ranger Battalion and Death of Che Guevara

The U.S. Special Forces Group, which trained the Bolivan military units that captured Che Guevara, conducted an extensive debriefing of members of the 2nd Ranger Battalion. This report, based on interviews by a member of the U.S. Mobile Training Team in Bolivia with key Bolivian commanders, documents the military movements, and engagement with Che Guevara’s guerrilla band. The sources also provide key details and descriptions of his capture, interrogation and execution, although it makes no mention of the CIA official, Félix Rodríguez, who was present. Guevara’s last words to the soldier who shot him are reported as: “Know this now, you are killing a man.”

 

Department of State, Guevara’s Death–The Meaning for Latin America, October 12, 1967

In this interpretive report for Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Thomas Hughes, the Latin America specialist at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, summarizes the importance of “the defeat of the foremost tactician of the Cuban revolutionary strategy.” The analyst predicts that Guevara “will be eulogized as the model revolutionary who met a heroic death.” The circumstances of his failure in Bolivia, however, will strengthen the position of “peaceful line” communist party groups in the Hemisphere. Castro, he argues, will be subject to “we told you so” criticism from older leftist parties, but his “spell on the more youthful elements in the hemisphere will not be broken.” The analysis fails to incorporate evidence of the disagreement between Castro and Guevara on the prospects for revolution in Latin America, or the Soviet pressure on Cuba to reduce support for insurgent movements in the Hemisphere.

 

CIA, Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Fidel Castro Delivers Eulogy on Che Guevara, October 19, 1967

On October 18, 1967, the third day of national mourning, Fidel Castro delivered a eulogy to a crowd of almost one million at the Plaza de La Revolución in Havana. The next day, the speech is transcribed and distributed by FBIS, a CIA transcription agency that records, and translates news and television from around the world. Calling Guevara “an artist of revolutionary warfare,” Castro warns that “they who sing victory” over his death–a reference to the U.S.–” are mistaken. They are mistaken who believe that his death is the defeat of his ideas, the defeat of his tactics, the defeat of his guerrilla concepts.” This speech contributes immeasurably to the making of the revolutionary icon that Che Guevara became in the ensuing years. “If we want to know how we want our children to be,” Castro concludes, “we should say, with all our revolutionary mind and heart: We want them to be like Che.”

 


THE DEATH OF CHE GUEVARA:

A CHRONOLOGY

Compiled by:

Paola Evans, Kim Healey, Peter Kornbluh, Ramón Cruz and Hannah Elinson

 

OCTOBER 3, 1965: In a public speech, Fidel Castro reads a “Farewell” letter written by Che in April, in which Che resigns from all of his official positions within the Cuban government. The letter, which Che apparently never intended to be made public, states that “I have fulfilled the part of my duty that tied me to the Cuban revolution…and I say goodbye to you, to the comrades, to your people, who are now mine.” (CIA Intelligence Memorandum, “Castro and Communism: The Cuban Revolution in Perspective,” 5/9/66)

 

OCTOBER 18, 1965: A CIA Intelligence Memorandum discusses what analysts perceive as Che Guevara’s fall from power within the Cuban government beginning in 1964. It states that at the end of 1963, Guevara’s plan of “rapid industrialization and centralization during the first years of the Revolution brought the economy to its lowest point since Castro came to power.” “Guevara’s outlook, which approximated present -day Chinese–rather than Soviet–economic practice, was behind the controversy.” In July 1964, “two important cabinet appointments signaled the power struggle over internal economic policy which culminated in Guevara’s elimination.” Another conflict was that Guevara wanted to export the Cuban Revolution to different parts of Latin America and Africa, while “other Cuban leaders began to devote most of their attention to the internal problems of the Revolution.” In December, 1964, Guevara departed on a three-month trip to the United States, Africa, and China. When he returned, according to the CIA report, his economic and foreign policies were in disfavor and he left to start revolutionary struggles in other parts of the world. (CIA Intelligence Memorandum, “The Fall of Che Guevara and the Changing Face of the Cuban Revolution,” 10/18/65)

 

FALL, 1966: Che Guevara arrives in Bolivia sometime between the second week of September and the first of November of 1966, according to different sources. He enters the country with forged Uruguayan passports to organize and lead a communist guerrilla movement. Che chooses Bolivia as the revolutionary base for various reasons. First, Bolivia is of lower priority than Caribbean Basin countries to US security interests and poses a less immediate threat, “… the Yanquis wouldn’t concern themselves… .” Second, Bolivia’s social conditions and poverty are such that Bolivia is considered susceptible to revolutionary ideology. Finally, Bolivia shares a border with five other countries, which would allow the revolution to spread easily if the guerrillas are successful. (Harris, 60, 73; Rojo 193-194; Rodríguez:1, 157;Rodríguez:1, 198)

 

SPRING, 1967: From March to August of 1967, Che Guevara and his guerrilla band strike “pretty much at will” against the Bolivian Armed Forces, which totals about twenty thousand men. The guerrillas lose only one man compared to 30 of the Bolivians during these six months. (James, 250, NYT 9/16/67)

 

APRIL 28, 1967: General Ovando, of the Bolivian Armed Forces, and the U.S. Army Section signed a Memorandum of Understanding with regard to the 2nd Ranger Battalion of the Bolivian Army “which clearly defines the terms of U.S.-Bolivian Armed Forces cooperation in the activation, organization, and training of this unit.”

 

MAY 11, 1967: Walt Rostow, presidential advisor to Lyndon B. Johnson, sends a message to the President saying that he received the first credible report that “Che” Guevara is alive and operating in South America, although more evidence is needed. (Rostow 05/11/67)

 

JUNE, 1967: Cuban-American CIA agent Félix Rodríguez receives a phone call from a CIA officer, Larry S., who proposes a special assignment for him in South America in which he will use his skills in unconventional warfare, counter-guerrilla operations and communications. The assignment is to assist the Bolivians in tracking down and capturing Che Guevara and his band. His partner will be “Eduardo González” and Rodríguez is to use the cover name “Félix Ramos Medina.” (Rodríguez:1, 148)

 

JUNE 26-30, 1967: Soviet Premier Aleksey Kosygin visits Cuba for discussions with Fidel Castro. According to a CIA intelligence cable, the primary purpose of his “trip to Havana June 26-30, 1967 was to inform Castro concerning the Middle East Crisis…A secondary but important reason for the trip was to discuss with Castro the subject of Cuban revolutionary activity in Latin America.” The Soviet Premier criticizes the dispatch of Che Guevara to Bolivia and accuses Castro of “harming the communist cause through his sponsorship of guerrilla activity…and through providing support to various anti-government groups, which although they claimed to be “socialist” or communist, were engaged in disputes with the “legitimate” Latin American communist parties, those favored by the USSR.” In reply Castro stated that Cuba will support the “right of every Latin American to contribute to the liberation of his country.” (CIA Intelligence Information Cable, 10/17/67)

 

AUGUST 2, 1967: Rodríguez and González arrive in La Paz, Bolivia. They are met by their case officer, Jim, another CIA agent, and a Bolivian immigration officer. The CIA station in La Paz is run by John Tilton; eventually the CIA’s Guevara task force is joined by another anti-Castro Cuban-American agent, Gustavo Villoldo. (Rodríguez:1, 162)

 

AUGUST 31, 1967: The Bolivian army scores its first victory against the guerrillas, wiping out one-third of Che’s men. José Castillo Chávez, also known as Paco, is captured and the guerrillas are forced to retreat. Che’s health begins to deteriorate. (James, 250, 269)

 

SEPTEMBER 3, 1967: Félix Rodríguez flies with Major Arnaldo Saucedo from Santa Cruz to Vallegrande to interrogate Paco. (Rodríguez: 1, 167)

 

SEPTEMBER 15, 1967: The Bolivian Government air-drops leaflets offering a $4,200 reward for the capture of Che Guevara. (NYT 9/16/67)

 

SEPTEMBER 18, 1967: Fifteen members of a Communist group, who were providing supplies to the guerrillas in the southeastern jungles of Bolivia, are arrested. (NYT 9/19/67)

 

SEPTEMBER 22, 1967: Che’s guerrillas arrive at Alto Seco village in Bolivia. Inti Peredo, a Bolivian guerrilla, gives the villagers a lecture on the objectives of the guerrilla movement. The group leaves later that night after purchasing a large amount of food. (Harris, 123)

According to Jon Lee Anderson’s account, Che takes the food from a grocery store without paying for it after discovering that the local authorities in Alto Seco have left to inform the army about the guerrilla’s position. (Anderson, 785)

 

SEPTEMBER 22, 1967: Guevara Arze, the Bolivian Foreign Minister, provides evidence to the Organization of American States to prove that Che Guevara is indeed leading the guerrilla operations in Bolivia. Excerpts taken from captured documents, including comparisons of handwriting, fingerprints and photographs, suggests that the guerrillas are comprised of Cubans, Peruvians, Argentineans and Bolivians. The foreign minister’s presentation draws a loud applause from the Bolivian audience, and he gives his assurance that “we’re not going to let anybody steal our country away from us. Nobody, at any time.” (NYT 9/23/67)

 

SEPTEMBER 24, 1967: Che and his men arrive, exhausted and sick, at Loma Larga, a ranch close to Alto Seco. All but one of the peasants flee upon their arrival. (Harris, 123)

 

SEPTEMBER 26, 1967: The guerrillas move to the village of La Higuera and immediately notice that all the men are gone. The villagers have previously been warned that the guerrillas are in the area and they should send any information on them to Vallegrande. The remaining villagers tell the guerrillas that most of the people are at a celebration in a neighboring town called Jahue. (Harris, 123)

1 p.m.: As they are about to depart for Jahue, the rebels hear shots coming from the road and are forced to stay in the village and defend themselves. Three guerrillas are killed in the gun battle: Roberto (Coco) Peredo, a Bolivian guerrilla leader who was one of Che’s most important men; “Antonio,” believed to be Cuban; and “Julio,” likely a Bolivian. Che orders his men to evacuate the village along a road leading to Rio Grande. The army high command and the Barriento government consider this encounter a significant victory. Indeed, Che notes in his diary that La Higuera has caused great losses for him in respect to his rebel cell. (Harris 123,124; NYT 9/28/67)

CIA agent, Félix Rodríguez, under the alias, “Captain Ramos,” urges Colonel Zenteno to move his Rangers battalion from La Esperanza headquarters to Vallegrande. The death of Antonio, the vanguard commander [also called Miguel by Rodríguez], prompts Rodríguez to conclude that Che must be close by. Colonel Zenteno argues that the battalion has not yet finished their training, but he will move them as soon as this training is complete. Convinced that he knows Che’s next move, Rodríguez continues pressuring Zenteno to order the 2nd Ranger battalion into combat. (Rodríguez:1, 184)

 

SEPTEMBER 26-27, 1967: After the battle of La Higueras, the Ranger Battalion sets up a screening force along the river San Antonio to prevent exfiltration of the guerrilla force. During the mission, the troops captures a guerrilla known as “Gamba.” He appears to be in poor health and is poorly clothed. This produces an immediate morale effect on the troops because they notice that the guerrillas are not as strong as they thought. “Gamba” says that he had separated from the group and was traveling in hope of contacting “Ramón” (Guevara). (Dept. of Defense Intelligence Information Report – 11/28/67).

 

SEPTEMBER 29, 1967: Colonel Zenteno is finally persuaded by Rodríguez, and he moves the 2nd Ranger battalion to Vallegrande. Rodríguez joins these six hundred and fifty men who have been trained by U.S. Special Forces Major “Pappy” Shelton. (Rodríguez:1, 184)

 

SEPTEMBER 30, 1967: Che and his group are trapped by the army in a jungle canyon in Valle Serrano, south of the Grande River. (NYT 10/1/67)

 

OCTOBER 7, 1967: The last entry in Che’s diary is recorded exactly eleven months since the inauguration of the guerrilla movement. The guerrillas run into an old woman herding goats. They ask her if there are soldiers in the area but are unable to get any reliable information. Scared that she will report them, they pay her 50 pesos to keep quiet. In Che’s diary it is noted that he has “little hope” that she will do so. (Harris, 126; CIA Weekly Review, “The Che Guevara Diary,” 12/15/67)

Evening: Che and his men stop to rest in a ravine in Quebrada del Yuro. (Harris, 126)

 

OCTOBER 8, 1967: The troops receive information that there is a band of 17 guerrillas in the Churro Ravine. They enter the area and encounters a group of 6 to 8 guerrillas, opens fire, and killed two Cubans, “Antonio” and “Orturo.” “Ramon” (Guevara) and “Willy” try to break out in the direction of the mortar section, where Guevara is wounded in the lower calf. (Dept. of Defense Intelligence Information Report – 11/28/67)

 

OCTOBER 8, 1967: A peasant women alerts the army that she heard voices along the banks of the Yuro close to the spot where it runs along the San Antonio river. It is unknown whether it is the same peasant woman that the guerrillas ran into previously. (Rojo 218)

By morning, several companies of Bolivian Rangers are deployed through the area that Guevara’s Guerrillas are in. They take up positions in the same ravine as the guerrillas in Quebrada del Yuro. (Harris,126)

About 12 p.m.: A unit from General Prado’s company, all recent graduates of the U.S. Army Special Forces training camp, confronts the guerrillas, killing two soldiers and wounding many others. (Harris, 127)

1:30 p.m.: Che’s final battle commences in Quebrada del Yuro. Simon Cuba (Willy) Sarabia, a Bolivian miner, leads the rebel group. Che is behind him and is shot in the leg several times. Sarabia picks up Che and tries to carry him away from the line of fire. The firing starts again and Che’s beret is knocked off. Sarabia sits Che on the ground so he can return the fire. Encircled at less than ten yards distance, the Rangers concentrate their fire on him, riddling him with bullets. Che attempts to keep firing, but cannot keep his gun up with only one arm. He is hit again on his right leg, his gun is knocked out of his hand and his right forearm is pierced. As soldiers approach Che he shouts, “Do not shoot! I am Che Guevara and worth more to you alive than dead.” The battle ends at approximately 3:30 p.m. Che is taken prisoner. (Rojo, 219; James, 14)

Other sources claim that Sarabia is captured alive and at about 4 p.m. he and Che are brought before Captain Prado. Captain Prado orders his radio operator to signal the divisional headquarters in Vallegrande informing them that Che is captured. The coded message sent is “Hello Saturno, we have Papá !” Saturno is the code for Colonel Joaquin Zenteno, commandant of the Eighth Bolivian Army Division, and Papá is code for Che. In disbelief, Colonel Zenteno asks Capt. Prado to confirm the message. With confirmation, “general euphoria” erupts among the divisional headquarters staff. Colonel Zenteno radios Capt. Prado and tells him to immediately transfer Che and any other prisoners to La Higuera. (Harris, 127)

In Vallegrande, Félix Rodríguez receives the message over the radio: “Papá cansado,” which means “Dad is tired.” Papá is the code for foreigner, implying Che. Tired signifies captured or wounded. (Rodríguez:1, 185)

Stretched out on a blanket, Che is carried by four soldiers to La Higuera, seven kilometers away. Sarabia is forced to walk behind with his hands tied against his back. Just after dark the group arrives in La Higuera and both Che and Sarabia are put into the one-room schoolhouse. Later that night, five more guerrillas are brought in. (Harris, 127)

Official army dispatches falsely report that Che is killed in the clash in southeastern Bolivia, and other official reports confirm the killing of Che and state that the Bolivian army has his body. However, the army high command does not confirm this report. (NYT 10/10/67)

 

OCTOBER 9, 1967: Walt Rostow sends a memorandum to the President with tentative information that the Bolivians have captured Che Guevara. The Bolivian unit engaged in the operation was the one that had been trained by the U.S. (Rostow 10/9/67)

 

OCTOBER 9, 1967: 6:15 a.m.: Félix Rodríguez arrives by helicopter in La Higuera, along with Colonel Joaquín Zenteno Anaya. Rodríguez brings a powerful portable field radio and a camera with a special four-footed stand used to photograph documents. He quietly observes the scene in the schoolhouse, and records what he sees, finding the situation “gruesome” with Che lying in dirt, his arms tied behind his back and his feet bound together, next to the bodies of his friends. He looks “like a piece of trash” with matted hair, torn clothes, and wearing only pieces of leather on his feet for shoes. In one interview, Rodríguez states that, ” I had mixed emotions when I first arrived there. Here was the man who had assassinated many of my countrymen. And nevertheless, when I saw him, the way he looked….I felt really sorry for him.” (Rodríguez:2)

Rodríguez sets up his radio and transmits a coded message to the CIA station in either Peru or Brazil to be retransmitted to Langley headquarters. Rodríguez also starts to photograph Che’s diary and other captured documents. Later, Rodríguez spends time talking with Che and takes a picture with him. The photos that Rodríguez takes are preserved by the CIA. (Anderson, 793; Rodríguez:1, 193)

10 am: The Bolivian officers are faced with the question of what to do with Che. The possibility of prosecuting him is ruled out because a trial would focus world attention on him and could generate sympathetic propaganda for Che and for Cuba. It is concluded that Che must be executed immediately, but it is agreed upon that the official story will be that he died from wounds received in battle. Félix Rodríguez receives a call from Vallegrande and is ordered by the Superior Command to conduct Operation Five Hundred and Six Hundred. Five hundred is the Bolivian code for Che and six hundred is the order to kill him. Rodríguez informs Colonel Zenteno of the order, but also tells him that the U.S. government has instructed him to keep Che alive at all costs. The CIA and the U.S. government have arranged helicopters and airplanes to take Che to Panama for interrogation. However, Colonel Zenteno says he must obey his own orders and Rodríguez decides, “to let history take its course,” and to leave the matter in the hands of the Bolivians. (Anderson, 795; Harris 128, 129; Rodríguez:1, 193; Rodríguez:2)

Rodríguez realizes that he cannot stall any longer when a school teacher informs him that she has heard a news report on Che’s death on her radio. Rodríguez enters the schoolhouse to tell Che of the orders from the Bolivian high command. Che understands and says, “It is better like this … I never should have been captured alive.” Che gives Rodríguez a message for his wife and for Fidel, they embrace and Rodríguez leaves the room. (Rodríguez:2; Anderson, 796)

According to one source, the top ranking officers in La Higuera instruct the noncommissioned officers to carry out the order and straws are drawn to determine who will execute Che. Just before noon, having drawn the shortest straw, Sergeant Jaime Terán goes to the schoolhouse to execute Che. Terán finds Che propped up against the wall and Che asks him to wait a moment until he stands up. Terán is frightened, runs away and is ordered back by Colonel Selich and Colonel Zenteno. “Still trembling” he returns to the schoolhouse and without looking at Che’s face he fires into his chest and side. Several soldiers, also wanting to shoot Che, enter the room and shoot him. (Harris, 129)

Félix Rodríguez has stated that, “I told the Sargento to shoot….and I understand that he borrowed an M-2 carbine from a Lt. Pérez who was in the area.” Rodríguez places the time of the shooting at 1:10 p.m. Bolivian time. (Rodríguez:2)

In Jon Lee Anderson’s account, Sergeant Terán volunteers to shoot Che. Che’s last words, which are addressed to Terán, are “I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot, you are only going to kill a man.” Terán shoots Che in the arms and legs and then in Che’s thorax, filling his lungs with blood. (Anderson, 796)

 

OCTOBER 9, 1967: Early in the morning, the unit receives the order to execute Guevara and the other prisoners. Lt. Pérez asks Guevara if he wishes anything before his execution. Guevara replies that he only wishes to “die with a full stomach.” Pérez asks him if he is a “materialist” and Guevara answers only “perhaps.” When Sgt. Terán (the executioner) enters the room, Guevara stands up with his hands tied and states, “I know what you have come for I am ready.” Terán tells him to be seated and leaves the room for a few moments. While Terán was outside, Sgt. Huacka enters another small house, where “Willy” was being held, and shoots him. When Terán comes back, Guevara stands up and refuses to be seated saying: “I will remain standing for this.” Terán gets angry and tells Guevara to be seated again. Finally, Guevara tells him: “Know this now, you are killing a man.” Terán fires his M2 Carbine and kills him. (Dept. of Defense Intelligence Information Report – 11/28/67).

Later that afternoon: Senior army officers and CIA Agent, Félix Rodríguez, leave La Higuera by helicopter for army headquarters in Vallegrande. Upon landing, Rodríguez quickly leaves the helicopter knowing that Castro’s people will be there looking for CIA agents. Pulling a Bolivian army cap over his face, he is not noticed by anyone. (Rodríguez:1, 12; Harris, 130)

Che’s body is flown to Vallegrande by helicopter and later fingerprinted and embalmed. (NYT 10/11/67)

General Ovando, Chief of Bolivian Armed Forces, states that just before he died, Che said, “I am Che Guevara and I have failed.” (James, 8)

 

OCTOBER 10, 1967: W.G. Bowdler sends a note to Walt Rostow saying that they do not know if Che Guevara was “among the casualties of the October 8 engagement.” They think that there are no guerrilla survivors. By October 9, they thought two guerrilla were wounded and possibly one of them is Che. (Bowdler, The White House 10/10/67)

 

OCTOBER 10, 1967: Two doctors,. Moisés Abraham Baptista and José Martínez Cazo, at the Hospital Knights of Malta, Vallegrande, Bolivia, sign a death certificate for Che Guevara. The document states that “on October 9 at 5:30 p.m., there arrived…Ernesto Guevara Lynch, approximately 40 years of age, the cause of death being multiple bullet wounds in the thorax and extremities. Preservative was applied to the body.” On the same day, and autopsy report records the multiple bullets wounds found in Guevara’s body. “The cause of death,” states the autopsy report, “was the thorax wounds and consequent hemorrhaging.” (U.S. Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia, Airgram, 10/18/67)

 

OCTOBER 10, 1967: General Ovando announces that Che died the day before at 1:30 p.m. This means that Che lived for twenty-two hours after the battle in Quebrada del Yuro, which contradicts Colonel Zenteno’s story. Colonel Zenteno changes his story to support General Ovando’s. (James, 15)

The New York Times reports that the Bolivian Army High Command dispatches officially confirm that Che was killed in the battle on Sunday October 8th. General Ovando states that Che admitted his identity and the failure of his guerrilla campaign before dying of his wounds. (NYT 10/10/67)

Ernesto Guevara, the father of Che, denies the death of his son, stating that there is no evidence to prove the killing. (NYT 10/11/67)

 

OCTOBER 11, 1967: General Ovando claims that on this day Che’s body is buried in the Vallegrande area. (James, 19)

 

OCTOBER 11, 1967: President Lyndon Johnson receives a memorandum from Walt W. Rostow: “This morning we are about 99% sure that “Che” Guevara is dead.” The memo informs the President that according to the CIA, Che was taken alive and after a short interrogation General Ovando ordered his execution. (Rostow, “Death of Che Guevara,” 10/11/67)

 

OCTOBER 11, 1967: Walt Rostow sends a memorandum to the President stating that they “are 99% sure that ‘Che’ Guevara is dead.” He explains that Guevara’s death carries significant implications: “It marks the passing of another of the aggressive, romantic revolutionaries…In the Latin American context, it will have a strong impact in discouraging would -be guerrillas. It shows the soundness of our ‘preventive medicine’ assistance to countries facing incipient insurgency–it was the Bolivian 2nd Ranger Battalion, trained by our Green Berets from June-September of this year, that cornered him and got him.” (Rostow 10/11/67)

 

OCTOBER 12, 1967: Che’s brother, Roberto, arrives in Bolivia to take the body back to Argentina. However, General Ovando tells him that the body has been cremated. (Anderson, 799)

 

OCTOBER 13, 1967: Walt Rostow sends a note to the President with intelligence information that “removes any doubt that ‘Che” Guevara is dead.” (Rostow 10/13/67)

 

OCTOBER 14, 1967: Annex No.3 – three officials of the Argentine Federal police, at the request of the Bolivian Government, visited Bolivian military headquarters in La Paz to help identify the handwriting and fingerprints of Che Guevara. “They were shown a metal container in which were two amputated hands in a liquid solution, apparently formaldehyde.” The experts compared the fingerprints with the ones in Guevara’s Argentine identity record, No. 3.524.272, and they were the same. (U.S. Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia, Airgram, 10/18/67)

 

OCTOBER 14, 1967: Students at Central University of Venezuela protest the U.S. involvement in Che’s death. Demonstrations are organized against a U.S. business, the home of a U.S. citizen, the U.S. Embassy and other similar targets.

 

OCTOBER 15, 1967: Bolivian President Barrientos claims that Che’s ashes are buried in a hidden place somewhere in the Vallegrande region. (Harris, 130)

 

OCTOBER 16, 1967: The Bolivian Armed Forces released a communiqué together with three annexes on the death of Che Guevara. The communiqué is “based on documents released by the Military High Command on October9…concerning the combat that took place at La Higuera between units of the Armed Forces and the red group commanded by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, as a result of which he, among others, lost his life…” The report states that Guevara died “more or less at 8 p.m. on Sunday, October 8…as a result of his wounds.” Also, in order to identify his body it requested the cooperation of Argentine technical organizations to identify the remains to certify that the handwriting of the campaign diary coincides with Guevara’s. Henderson, the U.S. Embassy agent in La Paz, comments that “it will be widely noted that neither the death certificate nor the autopsy report state a time of death.” This “would appear to be an attempt to bridge the difference between a series of earlier divergent statements from Armed Forces sources, ranging from assertions that he died during or shortly after battle to those suggesting he survived at least twenty-four hours.” He also notes that some early reports indicate that Guevara was captured with minor injuries, while later statements , including the autopsy report, affirm that he suffered multiple wounds. He agrees with a comment by Preséncia, that these statements are “going to be the new focus of polemics in the coming days.” (U.S. Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia, Airgram, 10/18/67)

 

OCTOBER 18, 1967: The U.S. Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia sends an airgram to the Department of State with the Official Confirmation of Death of Che Guevara. (U.S. Embassy, La Paz, Bolivia, 10/18/97)

 

OCTOBER 18, 1967: A CIA cable highlights the errors leading to Guevara’s defeat. “There were negative factors and tremendous errors involved in the death of Ernesto “Che” Guevara Serna and the defeat of the guerrillas in Bolivia… .” Che’s presence at the guerrilla front in Bolivia, ” … precluded all hope of saving him and the other leaders in the event of an ambush and virtually condemned them to die or exist uselessly as fugitives.” The fact that the guerrillas were so dependent on the local peasant population also proved to be a mistake according to the CIA. Another error described in this cable is Che’s over-confidence in the Bolivian Communist Party, which was relatively new, inexperienced, lacking strong leadership and was internally divided into Trotskyite and Pro-Chinese factions. Finally, the cable states that the victory of the Bolivian army should not be credited to their actions, but to the errors of Castroism. ” The guerrilla failure in Bolivia is definitely a leadership failure…”(“Comments on the death of Ernesto “Che” Guevara Serna,” 10/18/67)

 

OCTOBER 18, 1967: Fidel Castro delivers a eulogy for Che Guevara to nearly a million people –one of his largest audiences ever–in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución. Castro proclaims that Che’s life-long struggle against imperialism and his ideals will be the inspiration for future generations of revolutionaries. His life was a “glorious page of history” because of his extraordinary military accomplishments, and his unequaled combination of virtues which made him an “artist in guerrilla warfare.” Castro professes that Che’s murderers’ will be disappointed when they realize that “the art to which he dedicated his life and intelligence cannot die.” (Anderson, 798; Castro’s Eulogy, 10/18/67)

 

OCTOBER 19, 1967: Intelligence and Research’s Cuba specialist, Thomas L. Hughes, writes a memorandum to Secretary of State, Dean Rusk. Hughes outlines two significant outcomes of Che Guevara’s death that will affect Fidel Castro’s future political strategies. One is that “Guevara will be eulogized as the model revolutionary who met a heroic death,” particularly among future generations of Latin American youth. Castro can utilize this to continue justifying his defiance of the usual suspects–“US imperialism, the Green Berets, the CIA.” Another outcome is that Castro will reassess his expectations of exporting revolutions to other Latin American countries. Some Latin American leftists “will be able to argue that any insurgency must be indigenous and that only local parties know when local conditions are right for revolution.” (Intelligence and Research Memorandum, “Guevara’s Death–The Meaning for Latin America”, 10/19/97)

 

NOVEMBER 8, 1967: The CIA reports that Cuba is threatening assassin a prominent Bolivian figure, such as President Barrientos or General Ovando, in revenge of Che Guevara’s death. ( CIA cable, 11/8/67)

 

JULY 1, 1995: In an interview with biographer Jon Lee Anderson, Bolivian General Mario Vargas Salinas reveals that “he had been a part of a nocturnal burial detail, that Che’s body and those of several of his comrades were buried in a mass grave near the dirt airstrip outside the little mountain town of Vallegrande in Central Bolivia.” A subsequent Anderson article in the New York Times sets off a two-year search to find and identify Guevara’s remains. (Anderson,1)

 

JULY 5, 1997: Che Guevara biographer, Jon Lee Anderson, reports for the New York Times that although the remains have not been exhumed and definitely identified, two experts are “100 percent sure” that they have discovered Che’s remains in Vallegrande. The fact that one of the skeletons is missing both of its hands is cited as the most compelling evidence. (NYT 7/5/97)

 

JULY 13, 1997: A ceremony in Havana, attended by Fidel Castro and other Cuban officials, marks the return of Che’s remains to Cuba. (NYT 7/14/97)

 

OCTOBER 17, 1997: In a ceremony attended by Castro and thousands of Cubans, Che Guevara is reburied in Santa Clara, Cuba. (NYT, 10/18/97)

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