Che Guevara’s Last Stand: Bolivians Had to Do This One Thing To Prove Guevara Was Dead

Che Guevara’s Last Stand: Bolivians Had to Do This One Thing To Prove Guevara Was Dead

Patrick Lynch - June 7, 2017

Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara is a name that engenders fierce debate amongst his proponents and critics. Those who believe in what he stood for claim that his acts of violence were necessary evils. Those who oppose him suggest he was nothing more than a terrorist that has been romanticized since his death. In a sense, his death by execution in Bolivia on October 9, 1967, was predictable. Regardless of his initial intentions, Guevara lived his life by the gun so it was always likely that he would die in the same way.

Che Guevara’s Last Stand: Bolivians Had to Do This One Thing To Prove Guevara Was Dead

Disappointment in the Congo

Guevara gained fame as one of Fidel Castro’s most trusted men, and he helped the Cuban dictator overthrow Fulgencio Batista in early January 1959. The aftermath of the revolution was laden with bloodshed with Guevara aiding Castro in eliminating members of the old regime. Although he was considered by many as the second most powerful man in Cuba, Guevara ultimately grew restless and took on a new challenge.

Although he officially resigned from the post of Cuban minister of industry in April 1965, some historians suggest Castro dismissed him. The two men had fallen out as Guevara disagreed with Cuba’s foreign and economic policies. He was passionate about fighting against American domination in Latin America. Also, he championed revolutions by peasants in Third World countries as a means of overcoming social injustice.

Soon after his departure from Cuba, he traveled to Congo in Africa when the nation was in the midst of a brutal civil war. It was his opinion that Africa was the weak link in imperialism and he believed the continent had incredible potential for revolution. Notorious Egyptian President, Gamal Abdel Nasser, warned Guevara against the idea and said it was ‘unwise’ and ‘doomed to failure.’

Guevara ignored Nasser’s advice, but the Egyptian’s words proved prophetic as the Argentine revolutionary found nothing but failure and disappointment in Congo. He arrived on April 24, 1965, under the alias Ramon Benitez in a bid to support the Marxist Simba movement. Guevara helped Laurent-Desire Kabila and supporters of the murdered former president Patrice Lumumba. However, after several grueling months in which Guevara suffered from asthma and dysentery, he knew that Congo was not the right place for him.

He was also upset at the lack of discipline of Kabila’s troops, and after seven months, he left the country. His initial plan was to send the injured men home to Cuba and remain in Africa where he would fight until his death. Eventually, his followers persuaded him to return to Cuba, and he did so reluctantly in November 1965.

Che Guevara’s Last Stand: Bolivians Had to Do This One Thing To Prove Guevara Was Dead
Guevara in disguise in Bolivia. our statures touch the skies – blogger

Marching Towards Death

Instead of giving up, Guevara decided to travel to Bolivia with the same goals as his African mission. Once again, he elected to ignore advice from someone sympathetic to his cause, and it proved fatal. The former (and future) President of Argentina, Juan Peron, met Guevara in Spain and told the revolutionary leader that he was committing suicide by going to Bolivia. Peron urged his fellow countryman to reconsider, but the obstinate Guevara had no intention of going back on his plans.

On November 3, 1966, he arrived in La Paz under the pseudonym, Adolfo Mena Gonzalez. Guevara pretended to be a middle-aged businessman from Uruguay, and he shaved off his beard, cut off most of his hair and dyed it gray. Despite claims that he wasn’t on good terms with Castro, the Cuban dictator denied it, and in his autobiography, Castro claims that he wanted Guevara to stay in Cuba until he could assemble a large force. He did not approve of his right-hand man going to Bolivia with a tiny group.

After a short stay in La Paz, Guevara took his band of approximately 58 revolutionaries with him into the Bolivian countryside. The small group was well armed and used guerrilla tactics to surround a couple of army patrols in the early part of 1967. However, Guevara encountered the same problems as in Congo except for this time; there was no escape.

Che Guevara’s Last Stand: Bolivians Had to Do This One Thing To Prove Guevara Was Dead
Guevara is captured. BBC

Hunted By the CIA

Felix Rodriguez was chosen by the CIA to lead a mission to capture or kill Guevara. The agent claims that the Argentine was a cold-blooded assassin who enjoyed murdering people. Rodriguez claims he spoke with the Cuban man who trained Guevara and other army members and he told the American about the rebel’s fascination with violence. Soon after arriving in Bolivia, Rodriguez captured a guerrilla and interrogated him. The man told his captors about Guevara’s movement in the area.

Meanwhile, Guevara was discovering that his Bolivian mission was going the same way as the fight in Congo. He expected other Bolivian groups that opposed the government to support his small team, but no help was forthcoming. Not only did Bolivian citizens refuse to help, but some of them also became informants and told the government where the rebels were hiding.

The net started to close in on Guevara’s guerrillas, and in late September 1967, a team led by Lieutenant Eduardo Galindo killed three revolutionaries. At this stage, Rodriguez and his troops knew Guevara was in the area, so they moved in for the kill. On October 7, 1967, a farmer said he heard voices in a place called Quebrada Del Yuro, a location that was supposed to be empty. Later that evening, a team led by Gary Prado surrounded the place and a shootout occurred in the early hours of October 8.

Guevara was shot in the leg during the exchange, and his rifle jammed. Instead of being able to go out in a blaze of glory, the revolutionary leader surrendered and supposedly said: “Don’t shoot. I am Che. I am worth more to you alive than dead.” Prado took Guevara to an abandoned schoolhouse in the nearby village of La Higuera where he was kept, prisoner.

Che Guevara’s Last Stand: Bolivians Had to Do This One Thing To Prove Guevara Was Dead
Bolivians stand over the corpse of Che Guevara.

The Death of Che

Rodriguez claimed he felt sorry for Guevara when he saw him because he looked in such a desperate state. The once mighty leader didn’t have a uniform or a pair of boots; instead, he tied a piece of leather on his foot. During the interrogation, Guevara revealed that he chose Bolivia because it had a boundary with five different countries and was so far away from America that he didn’t think the U.S. would interfere. Had he been successful in Bolivia, Guevara said he planned to spread the revolution to neighboring countries like Argentina, Peru, Chile, and Brazil.

Soon, Guevara’s Bolivian jailers, led by Colonel Zenteno, decided what to do with their prisoner. Zenteno received a phone call that ordered the execution of the rebel. The government did not want to hold him too long for fear of escape nor did they want him to get the chance to speak in a trial. According to Rodriguez, Guevara’s last words to him were: “If you can, tell my wife to remarry and try to be happy.” The rebel stood back in attention in the belief that the American soldier was about to execute him.

Instead, a Bolivian sergeant named Mario Teran volunteered himself as executioner as the guerrillas had killed several of his friends. The Bolivian Government told Teran to shoot the prisoner anywhere but in the face, as they wanted to claim the rebel died in combat. Teran shot Guevara nine times in total. The first few bullets hit the arms and legs, but Teran finally finished the job when his prisoner was writhing on the floor. As the Bolivians believed that Castro would try to deny that the dead man was Guevara, they decided to cut off his hands as proof. Their initial idea was to chop off his head and keep it in formaldehyde.

The hands were sent to Buenos Aires while the Bolivians buried the body in a secret location. When Castro proclaimed Guevara dead on October 15, the result was three days of mourning in Cuba. On October 18, Castro read the eulogy in front of millions of people in Havana. In 1997, it was revealed that Guevara’s body was buried in the Bolivian town of Vallegrande under a landing strip. It was returned to Cuba and buried at in the mausoleum of Santa Clara.