The fatality of Che Guevara DeclassifiedThe death of Che Guevara Declassified

A top-secret CIA memo reflects that united state officials considered his execution a an essential victory—but they to be mistaken in believing Che’s ideas could be buried together with his body.

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A lock that Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s hair sits alongside photos that Guevara’s dead body and fingerprints taken ~ his death. (Reuters / Jessica Rinaldi)

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About 10 year ago, i traveled with the producer of the Hollywood movie on Che Guevara—starring the actor Benicio del Toro and directed by Steven Soderbergh—to Miami to acquire further information for the movie about the scenarios of Che’s execution. At a restaurant in little Havana, the stronghold of the anti-Castro exile ar in the unified States, us met through Gustavo Villoldo, who had actually been the senior Cuban-American CIA operative assigned to Bolivia in 1967 to assist in tracking down and also capturing the top revolutionary. Villoldo arrived transferring a thick white binder, filled through memorabilia of Che’s execution ~ above October 9, 1967—original photographs, secret telexes, news clips, and also even the official fingerprints taken from Che’s dead hands. The scrapbook tape-recorded the historic results the the CIA’s covert initiatives to train and assist the Bolivian special forces in remove Che and also his small band the guerrilla fighters.
In macabre detail, the retired concealed agent defined his discussions with Bolivian military officers as soon as Guevara’s human body arrived, via helicopter, from the pueblo that La Higuera, wherein he had actually been captured and also shot, to the Bolivian city of Villegrande. The Bolivians wanted to cut off Che’s head, the said, and also preserve it as proof that Guevara was dead and also gone. Follow to Villoldo, he encouraged them rather that they might create a “death mask” that plaster, and also that cutting off and preserving Che’s hands would certainly be enough evidence. Villoldo explained how he arranged to covertly bury the body whereby it would never be found. Indeed, for 30 year Che’s continues to be were “disappeared”; in July 1997, his bones, minus hands, were situated in a makeshift grave together an airstrip on the suburbs of Villegrande.

At one allude during the conversation, Villoldo opened the binder and pulled the end a white envelope. Within was a clump the brown hair. As the can be fried souvenir of this Cold battle victory, Villoldo proud stated, the had reduced off strands the Che’s hair before disposing the his body. “I basically took it since the prize of the change was this bearded, long-haired male coming down the mountain,” Villoldo later on explained. “To me, ns was cutting turn off the an extremely symbol of the Cuban revolution.”
Fifty year ago, united state officials common that sentiment. They thought about the capture and also execution that Che Guevara together arguably the most vital victory the the United claims over Cuba and Latin America’s militant left during the era of us intervention and counterinsurgency warfare in the 1960s. Top CIA and White home officials drafted numerous mystery documents assessing the significance of Che’s demise—for Fidel Castro and Cuba, and for us interests in impede the spread of transformation in Latin America.This memorandum—classified SECRET-SENSITIVE/Eyes Only—was ready for President lindon Johnson 5 days after Che’s death. That transmitted a short summary from CIA manager Richard Helms confirming the details that Che’s last hours. Helms’s enclosed report, “Capture and also Execution the Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara,” shown that Guevara had actually not died from “battle wounds” throughout a clash with the Bolivian army, as the press had reported native Bolivia, but rather had been executed “at 1315 hours…with a explode of fire indigenous an M-2 automatic rifle.”The White house memo additionally confirmed the the Bolivian federal government was spanning up its role in Che’s execution by explain his body had been cremated and could no be repatriated come his countryside of Argentina, or come Cuba. Che’s brother, Roberto, had actually traveled come Bolivia come ask that his corpse it is in turned end to the family; the socialist senator indigenous Chile Salvador Allende had formally asked for that the human body be turned end to Chile, i m sorry Washington understood as an effort by Fidel Castro to recoup Che’s remains. “The Bolivians do not desire an elevation autopsy to show that they executed ‘Che’ and also they are intent on no permitting the continues to be to be exploited by the communist movement,” chairman Johnson to be informed.

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The October 14, 1967 Che Memorandum. (National defense Archive)

Guevara’s death “represents a major blow come Castro,” follow to the report to president Johnson. The CIA had actually intercepted clandestine messages from Havana come Bolivia the revealed the Fidel had actually intended the insurrection in Bolivia to it is in “a Cuban show designed come spark a motion of ‘continental magnitude.’” Castro had also summoned ranking members the the Bolivian Communist Party come Havana to recommend them not to existing the insurrection together a nationalist movement, follow to these intercepted messages. Rather, he referred to it together an “internationalist movement.”“The fatality of Guevara dead these far-ranging implications,” White residence aide Walt Rostow reported to Johnson in a separate memo to reinforce this point.It marks the passing of one more of the aggressive, romantic revolutionaries prefer Sukarno, Nkrumah, Ben Bella—and reinforces this trend.In the Latin American context, that will have actually a solid impact in discouraging would-be guerrillas.It shows the soundness of ours ‘preventative medicine’ help to nations facing incipient insurgency—it to be the Bolivian 2nd Ranger Battalion, trained by our environment-friendly Berets native June-September of this year, that cornered and also got him.How would certainly Fidel react? united state officials worried that “he might try to recoup shed prestige” by undertaking a dramatic act versus the joined States—“such as bombing one of our Embassies or kidnapping of diplomatic personnel.” The State Department sent out a preventive security alert to united state ambassadors in the region.The Cuban revolution, however, to be not well-known to engage in global terrorism; no bombs were detonated at us embassies and no diplomats were targeted. Fidel’s initial reaction was to provide a fiery, solemn, and also poignant speech during a memorial rally because that Guevara ~ above October 18, speaking directly to several of the points elevated in the share reports circulating at the highest levels of the us government.Che’s death, Fidel declared, to be “a hard blow, a significant blow for the revolutionary movement.” But, that added, “those that boast that victory space mistaken. They are mistaken when they think the his fatality is the finish of his ideas, the end of his tactics, the end of his guerrilla concepts, the end of his theory.”
Insurgencies continued, as did US-led counterinsurgency operations, particularly in central American countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, and also Nicaragua. Indeed, through Cuban logistical and also training support, within a decade of Che’s execution the Sandinista national Liberation prior had come to be a formidable movement and would eventually overthrow the Somoza dynasty. Officials in Washington to be mistaken if they thought Guevara’s ideas, concepts, and committed resistance would certainly be buried in addition to his body. His failed guerrilla-warfare tactics might not have actually been inspirational, however his martyrdom in ~ the hands of the CIA certainly concerned be.In Cuba, the commemoration the the 50th anniversary of Che’s fatality underscored a proceeding effort come energize the change and its commitment come stand as much as the united States. In ~ a rally in Santa Clara, wherein Guevara is buried, Cuban Vice chairman Miguel Díaz-Canel quoted the revolutionary’s admonition the “imperialism have the right to never it is in trusted, not even a tiny bit, never.” In the confront of Trump’s bullying rhetoric and punitive policies versus Cuba, Díaz-Canel reiterated the “Cuba will certainly not do concessions come its sovereignty and independence, no one negotiate its principles.”The fate that Gustavo Villoldo’s memorabilia likewise illustrates Guevara’s iconic and also romanticized legacy. Villoldo eventually made decision to auction turn off his scrapbook top top the execution the Che; the auction was conducted on October 25, 2007, by legacy Auction Galleries the Dallas. Present Issue


Initially, the minimum required bid was $50,000. But after the auction company received an inquiry of attention from the government of the late Hugo Chávez in Venezuela—Chávez presumably to plan to gain the hair and also return it to Che’s family members in Santa Clara, Cuba—the minimum bid was doubled come $100,000. When the scrapbook went on the auction block, however, there was only one bidder—a Texas bookstore owner named Bill Butler, that agreed to pay the $100,000 add to a $19,500 sales commission.Butler stated he plan to display the binder in his Houston bookstore. He had made this unique and expensive purchase, he told reporters, since Che Guevara was “one that the best revolutionaries in the 20th century.”
Peter KornbluhTwitterPeter Kornbluh, a longtime contributor come The Nation ~ above Cuba, is co-author, with William M. LeoGrande, of Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden history of Negotiations between Washington and Havana. Kornbluh is likewise the author of The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier top top Atrocity and Accountability.

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