Friday, November 10, 2006

Capture and execution

The Bolivian Special Forces were notified of the location of Guevara's guerrilla encampment by an informant. On 8 October, the encampment was encircled, and Guevara was captured while leading a detachment with Simeón Cuba Sarabia in the Quebrada del Yuro ravine. He was taken prisoner after being wounded in the legs and having his rifle destroyed by a bullet. According to some soldiers present at the capture, during the skirmish as they approached Guevara, he allegedly shouted, "Do not shoot! I am Che Guevara and worth more to you alive than dead."

Barrientos promptly ordered his execution upon being informed of his capture.Barrientos Guevara was taken to a dilapidated schoolhouse in the nearby village of La Higuera where he was held overnight. Early the next afternoon he was executed. The executioner was Mario Terán, a Sergeant in the Bolivian army who had drawn a short straw after arguments over who got the honour of killing Guevara broke out among the soldiers. Guevara received multiple shots to the legs, so as to avoid maiming his face for identification purposes and simulate combat wounds in an attempt to conceal his execution. Che Guevara did have some last words before his death; he allegedly said to his executioner, "I know you are here to kill me. Shoot, coward, you are only going to kill a man." His body was lashed to the landing skids of a helicopter and flown to neighboring Vallegrande where it was laid out on a laundry tub in the local hospital and displayed to the press. Photographs taken at that time gave rise to legends such as those of San Ernesto de La Higuera and El Cristo de Vallegrande (Local people came to refer to Guevara as a saint, "San Ernesto de La Higuera", whom they ask for favors. Others claim his ghost walks the area.). After a military doctor surgically amputated his hands, Bolivian army officers transferred Guevara's cadaver to an undisclosed location and refused to reveal whether his remains had been buried or cremated.Amputation

The hunt for Guevara in Bolivia was headed by Félix Rodríguez, a CIA agent, who previously had infiltrated Cuba to prepare contacts with the rebels in the Escambray Mountains and the anti-Castro underground in Havana prior to the Bay of Pigs invasion, and had been successfully extracted from Cuba afterwards. Upon hearing of Guevara's capture, Rodríguez relayed the information to CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia, via CIA stations in various South American nations. After the execution, Rodríguez took Guevara's Rolex watch and several other personal items, often proudly showing them to reporters during the ensuing years. Today, some of these belongings, including his flashlight, are on display at the CIA.

On October 15, Castro acknowledged that Guevara was dead and proclaimed three days of public mourning throughout Cuba. The death of Guevara was regarded as a severe blow to the socialist revolutionary movements in Latin America and the rest of the third world.

In 1997, the skeletal remains of Guevara's handless body were exhumed from beneath an air strip near Vallegrande, positively identified by DNA matching, and returned to Cuba. On 17 October 1997, his remains, along with those of six of his fellow combatants killed during the guerrilla campaign in Bolivia, were laid to rest with full military honors in a specially built mausoleumMausoleum in the city of Santa Clara, where he had won the decisive battle of the Cuban Revolution.