Che Guevara is dead, 1967

Che Guevara disappeared from the political scene in April 1965 and his whereabouts have been much debated since. His death has been reported several times during the past two-and-a-half years, in the Congo and in the Dominican Republic, but has never been proven. After leading communist insurrections in Guatemala, Cuba and Congo, Che Guevara’s next stop was Bolivia, where he was less than successful. 

On October 7 1967, his campsite was attacked, and Guevara was wounded and taken prisoner. He shouted “Do not shoot! I am Che Guevara and worth more to you alive than dead.” However, he refused to be interrogated and the Bolivian government was in a bind. If they tried him in Bolivia, they risked thousands of protesters’ storming embassies all over the world and perhaps even the Cubans sending a special-ops team to rescue him. Handing him over to the Americans and fly him to the Panama Canal Zone or Guantánamo Bay would have been too controversial. So, they decided to execute him, carefully orchestrating the execution to make sure that the bullet wounds appear consistent with the official story which stated that Che had been killed in action.

After his execution, Che’s body was then lashed to the landing skids of a helicopter and flown to nearby Vallegrande. On October 10, it was put on display for several photographers in the laundry room of the a hospital.

They uncovered his face, now clear and serene, and bared the chest wracked by 40 years of asthma and months of hunger in the wilds of the Bolivian southeast. Then they laid him out in the laundry room at the hospital of Nuestra Señora de Malta, raising his head so all could look upon the fallen prey. As they placed him on the concrete slab, they asked the nurse to wash him, comb his hair, and trim the sparse beard. By the time journalists and curious townspeople began to file past, the metamorphosis was complete: the dejected, angry and disheveled man of the day before was now the Christ of Vallegrande … The Bolivian army had made its only field error after capturing its greatest war trophy. It had transformed the resigned and cornered revolutionary … into the magical image of life beyond death. His executioners had bestowed a human face upon the myth that would circle the world.”

Thus wrote Jorge Castañeda in his biography of Che: “Companero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara“. 

The most widely-published photo was made by Marc Hutten, for Agence France-Presse. Hutten’s is the only version in color. “We were around 30 journalists, only three of us foreign correspondents,” Hutten recalled. He was accompanied by Brian Moser, a filmmaker with Granada Television, Guardian reporter Richard Gott, Reuters’ Christopher Roper, Time’s Caracas Bureau Chief, Mo Garcia. The most famous shots of the occassion were taken by a local photographer, Freddy Alberto. Alborta’s contact sheets are revealing.

After the photos, Che’s hands were cut off, so that they could be taken to Buenos Aires for fingerprint identification. The Bolivians claimed for 40 years that his body had been cremated in order to avoid the emergence of a memorial of any sort. It turned out, according to the Cubans, that he was not cremated at all. His remains were recovered near a cemetery in Vallegrande and taken to Cuba in 2007, where a shrine was built to house them.

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