On October 9, 1967, hirelings in the employ of Bolivian dictator Rene Barrientos, supported and instigated by the United States government via C.I.A. operative Felix Rodriguez, carried out the cold blooded murder of comandante Ernesto “Che” Guevara. A drunken army sergeant fired the shots, while Rodriguez made off with Che’s watch.
Che was a young Argentine physician who had visited most of the countries of South and Central America in his youth. What he saw of sickness, exploitation and poverty helped to turn him into a revolutionary. He was in Guatemala in 1954 when the Central Intelligence Agency overthrew the progressive and democratic government of President Jacobo Arbenz, setting off a civil war that took 200,000 civilian lives, and whose violent reverberations still shake that Central American nation. This experience helped solidify the young revolutionary’s determination to work to end U.S. domination not only in the Western Hemisphere but worldwide.
Che joined Fidel and Raul Castro in their return to Cuba in the 60-foot cabin cruiser “Granma”, and was one of the few who survived the traumatic first weeks of the insurgency. Though trained as a doctor, he opted to fight along his Cuban comrades, which was made very difficult by his chronic and severe asthma. As a revolutionary comandante, he struck many blows against the U.S. supported dictator of Cuba, Fulgencio Batista, especially in the key battle of Santa Clara in December of 1958.
When the revolution triumphed, Che headed the revolutionary tribunals which tried, and sometimes executed, imprisoned or, in other cases, exonerated people accused of crimes of oppression under the Batista Regime. He also played an important role in organizing the new revolutionary government’s economic and social policies. More than that, Che was a major Marxist theoretician and philosopher, who reminded people that revolutionary transformations are not matters of bread alone.
But Che belonged to all of struggling humanity, not just to his native Argentina or his adopted country, Cuba. So his thoughts were never far from other countries where imperialism and colonialism held brutal sway. He toured Africa and worked to create a revolutionary force in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in that case without success.
Che Guevara went to Bolivia in November, 1966, with the idea that if a rural insurgency, guided by Marxist and Anti-imperialist theory, could develop in that country, it could help to spur similar movements in neighboring lands, including Argentina, land of his birth. But his revolutionary mission in Bolivia went tragically wrong. On October 7, 1967 Bolivian security forces, accompanied by the C.I.A.s Felix Rodriguez, captured Che after a brief fire fight, and took him to the village of la Higuera, in Santa Cruz province.
Later, Rodriguez wrote a self-serving memoir of what words passed between the two of them; nobody knows what was really said. But any rate, the dictator, Barrientos, gave orders for Ernesto Che Guevara to be shot dead. His hands were cut off as proof that he had really died, and his body was buried in a secret grave. In 1995, Che’s remains were discovered, exhumed and sent to Cuba for a moving state funeral. The diary he had kept during his Bolivia campaign has become a revolutionary classic.
Barrientos was killed in a helicopter accident in April of 1969. Fidel and Raul Castro still live and work toward the goals that they shared with Che. The C.I.A. agent, Felix Rodriguez, who went on to play an ignoble role in the U.S. government’s bloody interventions in Central America, is also still alive.
Many of the countries through which Che Guevara had traveled, including Bolivia, are very different places now, with progressive governments that have been working mightily to empower and improve the living standards of the sectors of their populations which were living in grinding povery in Che’s day. Che’s image is everywhere.
Imperialism still lives also, given a new lease on life by the collapse of the Soviet Union and its socialist allies in Europe. But even though as of this past Wednesday, October 9, Che’s has been dead for 43 years, he is still with the Cuban people and the oppressed peoples of the world in all their struggles.
As Carlos Puebla put it in his beautiful 1965 song, “Hasta Siempre Comandante”:
“We will keep going forward, as we did with you before, and with Fidel we say to you: ‘until forever, comandante”. (“Seguiremos adelante, como junto a tí seguimos, y con Fidel te decimos ‘hasta siempre, comandante.'”)
Photo: Ernest Che Guevara delivers a speech on behalf of Cuba at the United Nations, Dec. 11, 1964. (United Nations on YouTube screenshot)