The Final Days of Major Ernesto Che Guevara
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7 - 9 October 1967:
The combined units of Company A and the supporting units from Company B [a combined force of 1,300 Bolivian men, tranined by US Special Forces and directed by the CIA for the specific task of capturing Che Guevara. Che's guerilla squad had 17 men.] moved into the area of the Churro Ravine using two squads of Company A as a blocking force a few kms north of the small Geino Ravine. Cpt. Prado set up his mortar section east of the Churro Ravine, with 3rd Platoon of Company B to his rear in support, under the command of Sgt. Huauca. 1st Platoon of Company A, under the command of Lt. Perez, entered the Churro Ravine to the north at the confluence of two small streams. Lt. Perez initiated the pursuit and began driving the guerrilla force south while Cpt. Prado's mortars shelled the ravine. At this point a machine gun was brought up to also cover the ravine and hold the left flank of Prado's mortar section and supporting troops. As the 1st Platoon of Company A pushed south they came under fire and lost 3 soldiers immediately. Cpt. Prado then ordered Sgt. Huauca to move down the small Tuscal Ravine and wait at the entrance of the Churro Ravine. The 3rd Platoon of Company B carried out this order and after finding nothing, was ordered to enter the Churro Ravine and gain pursuit in the direction of Lt. Perez's platoon. Sgt. Huauca immediately encountered a group of 6 to 8 guerillas and opened fire. At this point they killed "Anotondo" and "Orturo", two Cubans. Sgt. Huauca lost one soldier here and another was wounded. "Ramon" (Guevara) and "Willy" tried to break out in the direction of the mortar section. They were sighted by the machine gun crew which took them under fire. "Ramon" (Guevara) was hit in the lower calf and was helped by "Willy" [Sarabia] toward the Tuscal Ravine where apparently they rested for a few minutes. They then moved north, directly in front of Cpt. Prado who ordered several soldiers to chase them. Soldiers Encinos, Cheques, and Balboa were the first Bolivians to lay hands on Guevara. "Willy" and "Ramon" (Guevara) were later transported back to La Higueras with Cpt. Prado and the elements of Companies A and B. The Bolivians did not remain in position after nightfall. From 1900 hrs until 0400 hrs on the 9th, there were no significant Bolivian troops in the area of the fire fight. This gave the guerilla force ample time to escape the area, but either due to confusion after the battle or poor evaluation of the situation by their leaders, the guerilla force remained in the Churro Ravine.
On 30 October 67, at a small pavilion in La Esperanza, Bolivia, Lt. Ral. Espinoza Lord, Company B, 2nd Ranger Bn, stated the following in regards to the handling of Ernest "Che" guevara. Guevara and "Willy" were transported back to La Hiqueras on the afternoon of the 8th, after the battle at the Churro Ravine. Guevara had a slight wound in the lower calf, which was treated upon returning to La Hiqueras. Lt. Espinoza talked at length with Guevara, though Guevara did not reveal any pertinent information. Espinoza felt a high regard for Guevara as a soldier and a man, and was anxious to know more of this "legendary figure". Guevara answered all of his question[s] with remarks such as "perhaps" or "possibly". Early in the morning of the 9th of October, the unit received the order to execute Guevara and the other captives. Previously, Col. Santana, Commander of the 8th Division, had given express orders to keep the prisoners alive. The Officers involved did not know where the order originated, but felt that it came from the highest echelons [A]. Cpt. Frado gave the order to execute Guevara to Lt. Perez, but he was unable to carry out the order and in turn gave it to Sgt. Terran, Company A. At this time Perez asked Guevara if there was anything he wished before his execution. Guevara replied that he only wished to "die with a full stomach". Perez asked him if he was a "materialist", by having requested only food. Guevara returned to his previous tranquil manner and answered only "perhaps". Perez then called him a "poor shit" and left the room. By this time, Sgt. Terran had fortified his courage with several beers and returned to the room where Guevara stood up, hands tied in front, and stated, "I know what you have come for, I am ready." Terran looked at him for a few minutes and then said, "No you are mistaken, be seated." Sgt. Terran then left the room for a few moments.
"Willy", the prisoner taken with Guevara, was being held in a small house a few metres away. While Terran was waiting outside to get his nerves back, Sgt. Huauca entered and shot "Willy." "Willy" was a Cuban and according to the sources had been an instigator of the riots among the miners in Bolivia. Guevara heard the burst of fire in his room and for the first time appeared to be frightened. Sgt. Terran returned to the room where Guevara was being held. When he entered, Guevara stood and faced him. Sgt. Terran told Guevara to be seated but he refused to sit down and stated, "I will remain standing for this." The Sgt. began to get angry and told him to be seated again, but Guevara would say nothing. Finally Guevara told him, "Know this now, you are [only] killing a man." Terran then fired a burst from his M2 carbine, knocking Guevara back into the wall of the small house.[B]
Although he apparently was under CIA instructions to "do everything possible to keep him alive," Rodriguez transmitted the order to execute Guevara from the Bolivian High Command to the soldiers at La Higueras — he also directed them not to shoot Guevara in the face so that his wounds would appear to be combat-related [to cover up the illegal execution without trial] — and personally informed Che that he would be killed. After the execution, Rodriguez took Che's Rolex watch, often proudly showing it to reporters during the ensuing years.
[B] An alternative version of these events, as told by CIA Agent Felix Rodriguez, who ordered Che's execution:
1:30 p.m.: Che's final battle commences in Quebrada del Yuro. Simon Cuba (Willy) Sarabia, a Bolivian miner, leads the rebel group. Che is behind him and is shot in the leg several times. Sarabia picks up Che and tries to carry him away from the line of fire. The firing starts again and Che's beret is knocked off. Sarabia sits Che on the ground so he can return the fire. Encircled at less than ten yards distance, the Rangers concentrate their fire on him, riddling him with bullets. Che attempts to keep firing, but cannot keep his gun up with only one arm. He is hit again on his right leg, his gun is knocked out of his hand and his right forearm is pierced. As soldiers approach Che, he shouts, "Do not shoot! I am Che Guevara and worth more to you alive than dead." The battle ends at approximately 3:30 p.m. Che is taken prisoner....
Rodriguez enters the schoolhouse to tell Che of the orders from the Bolivian high command. Che understands and says, "It is better like this ... I never should have been captured alive." Che gives Rodriguez a message for his wife and for Fidel, they embrace, and Rodriguez leaves the room.