Execution of Che Guevara Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Che Guevara rose to prominence as Fidel Castro’s right-hand man during the Cuban Revolution. His capture and execution at the hands of the Bolivian government in 1967 marked the end of one of the twentieth century’s most intriguing figures and propelled him to unparalleled adulation as an icon for revolutionary ideals.

Summary of Event

In the afternoon hours of October 8, 1967, the Bolivian army engaged a small, beleaguered band of guerrilla fighters on the outskirts of La Higuera. Many of the rebels were killed in the ensuing skirmish; the rest were taken into custody. Three soldiers cornered the last two remaining guerrillas, including the group’s leader, the infamous revolutionary Che Guevara. Capital punishment Executions;Che Guevara[Guevara] Bolivian insurgency (1966-1967) Civil unrest;Bolivia [kw]Execution of Che Guevara (Oct. 9, 1967) [kw]Guevara, Execution of Che (Oct. 9, 1967) Capital punishment Executions;Che Guevara[Guevara] Bolivian insurgency (1966-1967) Civil unrest;Bolivia [g]Latin America;Oct. 9, 1967: Execution of Che Guevara[09450] [g]Bolivia;Oct. 9, 1967: Execution of Che Guevara[09450] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Oct. 9, 1967: Execution of Che Guevara[09450] Guevara, Che Castro, Fidel Barrientos Ortuño, René Prado Salmón, Gary Rodríguez, Félix

Guevara had achieved international prominence as Fidel Castro’s field general during the successful overthrow of Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar’s corrupt regime in Cuba. Guevara was a devoted Marxist who believed that universal equality could be achieved through armed resistance. He sought to create a socialist utopia throughout Latin America. His message appealed to the poor and displaced peasantry of Cuba and was integral to rallying the nation to their cause. Guevara served as Cuba’s foreign minister and leader of the Communist Party until he resigned his post in 1965. He had grown restless and disillusioned with politics and sought to export his brand of guerrilla warfare to other nations struggling against oppression. After an attempted revolution in the Congo failed to materialize, Guevara set his sights on Bolivia.

The Bolivian campaign was plagued by pitfalls from its inception. Guevara assumed that by appealing to the country’s impoverished population, he could ensure popular support and would be heralded as a liberator. However, despite a growing resistance, many Bolivians supported President René Barrientos Ortuño, who was generally regarded as a benevolent and reform-minded leader. Guevara never achieved the support he sought and was reduced to leading a meager force of fifty men, many of whom were Cubans who had fought with Guevara in their homeland. By the end, all of Guevara’s Bolivian support had deserted him.

The Bolivian insurgency began in November of 1966 and proceeded slowly, with the rebels gaining little ground through September of 1967. A firefight with an army dispatch in the village of La Higuera on September 26 reduced Guevara’s ranks to sixteen sick and weary men. To his credit, Guevara suffered alongside his fellow soldiers and by all accounts was emaciated and barely able to walk on his own.

The end came on October 8, 1967, in a valley outside La Higuera, as the army encircled the guerrillas and Guevara was captured. As he was being dragged away, Guevara identified himself and assured the soldiers that he was worth more to them alive than dead. He was turned over to Gary Prado Salmón, a Bolivian general. He was locked in the basement of a schoolhouse in La Higuera, while the Bolivian government debated his fate. Guevara was interrogated throughout the night, as his captors unsuccessfully tried to gain information about the opposition movement.

The following morning, October 9, Guevara was informed of the government’s decision. According to eyewitnesses, most notably Félix Rodríguez, a Cuban American radio operator working for the Central Intelligence Agency Central Intelligence Agency;Bolivia (CIA), Guevara took the news calmly and resigned himself to his fate. His last words were directed toward Fidel Castro, as he urged his old friend to carry on with the revolution. He also urged his wife to move on with her life and to make sure their children received a good education. The soldiers who had assembled in the schoolhouse drew lots to determine who would perform the execution. The job fell to a young lieutenant named Mario Terán Terán, Mario who, after hesitating for a moment, shot the guerrilla leader six times in the torso, killing him instantly.

Bolivia had been tacitly supported by the U.S. government since the beginning of the uprising. The United States had already been humiliated in its own backyard by Guevara and Castro. With the specter of the Cold War still looming, the Americans could scarcely afford another communist state in the Western Hemisphere. To prevent this from happening, the CIA secretly trained and supported the Bolivian army against Guevara. There is no evidence to suggest, however, that the United States ordered his execution. The Bolivian government decided that it was in its best interests to execute Guevara rather than let him become a political prisoner or a trophy for the Americans.

At the age of thirty-nine, Che Guevara was dead. His body was transported by helicopter to the town of Vallegrande, where it was washed and put on display in the local hospital. Afterward, his hands were removed for identification purposes and his body was buried outside Vallegrande. His remains were recovered, identified, and returned to Cuba for proper burial in 1997.

Significance

Che Guevara died a martyr’s death in 1967, going to his grave as an exemplar for revolutionaries everywhere. Upon hearing of his death, Castro eulogized Guevara and offered him up as a hero and an example to future generations of revolutionary activists. His fame and glory have not faded with time, as October 8 is still celebrated as the Day of the Heroic Guerrilla Day of the Heroic Guerrilla in Cuba.

Following his death, revolutionary and rebellious movements the world over adopted Guevara as a symbol of their struggle. In the United States, proponents of the New Left, civil rights activists, anti-Vietnam War protestors, and campus radicals embraced the man and his vision of the world. His iconic visage, captured in paintings and photographs, became a pop culture icon. His face has adorned banners and flags, posters and placards, t-shirts and key chains. Murals and statues of Guevara are commonplace throughout Latin America, partly as a memorial, but also as a symbol of the ongoing struggle for equality and social justice. Guevara is a touchstone, a larger-than-life symbol of personal and national liberation in the face of overwhelming odds. Capital punishment Executions;Che Guevara[Guevara] Bolivian insurgency (1966-1967) Civil unrest;Bolivia

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Anderson, Jon Lee. Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life. New York: Grove Press, 1997. An exhaustively researched and thoroughly detailed biography. Makes use of previously unknown sources from Guevara’s friends and family, as well as government documents from the United States and Cuba. Achieves the task of dispelling many of the myths about Guevara. Includes photographs, selected bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Castañeda, Jorge G. Compañero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara. Translated by Marina Castañeda. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997. Reprint. New York: Vintage Books, 1998. A well-researched and detailed account of Guevara’s life. An entirely comprehensible biography that moves the reader along seamlessly. Includes interviews with witnesses and contemporaries that add new insight. Extensively indexed.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Guevara, Ernesto. The Bolivian Diary: The Authorized Edition. Rev ed. New York: Ocean Press, 2005. Revised edition of the original 1968 edition of Guevara’s diary, which was recovered after his execution. Includes detailed account of entire eleven-month endeavor up until the day before he was captured as well as photographs, maps, documents, and reminiscences from Guevara’s widow, eldest son, and guerrilla fighters who served with Guevara.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Harris, Richard L. Death of a Revolutionary: Che Guevara’s Last Mission. Reprint. New York: W. W. Norton, 2000. Biographical account that focuses on the Bolivian campaign. Fair and balanced treatment. The revised edition examines Guevara’s legacy in the twenty-first century. Includes bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ryan, Henry Butterfield. The Fall of Che Guevara: A Story of Soldiers, Spies, and Diplomats. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Approaches the death of Che Guevara from a diplomatic and international relations perspective. Examines the exact extent of American involvement in the Bolivian affair and in Guevara’s execution. Contains a complete bibliography and index.

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