On October 9th, 1967, Ernesto "Che" Guevara was put to death by Bolivian soldiers, trained, equipped and guided by U.S. Green Beret and CIA operatives.
His execution remains a historic and controversial event; and thirty five years later, the circumstances of his guerrilla foray into Bolivia, his capture, killing, and burial are the subject of Romano Scavolini’s intense and reavealing reconstruction
the last hours
Written and Directed by
Produced by Francesco Papa
Edited by Paolo Maselli
Music by Paul Freeman
Morphing by Sebastiano Pinori
Estratto della prima parte
Shot in Bolivia at Vallegrande, La Higuera,
La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz.
with interviews to
Gen. Gary Prado, Gen. Jaime Niño de Guzman,
Gen. Fernando Arana Serrudo,
Col. Ayoroa, Froilan Gonzalez, Julia Cortez,
Jorge Quiroga, Irma Rosado, Policarpio Cortez
Coordination in Bolivia: Favio Giorgio
The Last Hours of Che Guevara: A Chronology
OCTOBER 3, 1965: In a public speech, Fidel Castro reads a "Farewell" letter written by “Che” in April, in which Che resigns from all of his official positions within the Cuban government.
FALL, 1966: “Che” Guevara arrives in Bolivia sometime between the second week of September and the first of November of 1966, according to different sources. He enters the country with forged Uruguayan passports to organize and lead a guerrilla movement.
SPRING, 1967: From March to August of 1967, “Che” Guevara and his guerrilla group strike against the Bolivian Armed Forces, which totals about twenty thousand men. The guerrillas lose only one man compared to 30 of the Bolivians during these six months.
APRIL 28, 1967: General Ovando, of the Bolivian Armed Forces, and the U.S. Army Section signed a Memorandum of Understanding with regard to the 2nd Ranger Battalion of the Bolivian Army "which clearly defines the terms of U.S.-Bolivian Armed Forces cooperation in the activation, organization, and training of this unit."
MAY 11, 1967: Walt Rostow, presidential advisor to Lyndon B. Johnson, sends a message to the President saying that he received the first credible report that "Che" Guevara is alive and operating in South America, although more evidence is needed.
JUNE, 1967: Cuban-American CIA agent Felix Rodriguez receives a special assignment: to assist the Bolivians in tracking down and capturing “Che” Guevara and his men. His cover name is "Felix Ramos Medina."
AUGUST 31, 1967: The Bolivian army scores its first victory against the guerrillas, wiping out one-third of “Che”’s men. Josè Castillo Chavez, also known as Paco, is captured and the guerrillas are forced to retreat. “Che”’s health begins to deteriorate.
SEPTEMBER 3, 1967: Felix Rodriguez flies with Major Arnaldo Saucedo from Santa Cruz to Vallegrande to interrogate Paco.
SEPTEMBER 15, 1967: The Bolivian Government air-drops leaflets offering a $4,200 reward for the capture of “Che” Guevara.
SEPTEMBER 18, 1967: Fifteen members of the external supporting group, who were providing supplies to the guerrillas in the southeastern jungles of Bolivia, are arrested.
SEPTEMBER 22, 1967: “Che”’s guerrillas arrive at Alto Seco village. Inti Peredo, a Bolivian guerrilla, gives the villagers a lecture on the objectives of the guerrilla movement. The group leaves later that night after purchasing a large amount of food.
SEPTEMBER 22, 1967: Guevara Arze, the Bolivian Foreign Minister, provides evidence to the Organization of American States to prove that “Che” Guevara is indeed leading the guerrilla operations in Bolivia. Excerpts taken from captured documents, including comparisons of handwriting, fingerprints and photographs, suggests that the guerrillas are comprised of Cubans, Peruvians, Argentineans and Bolivians.
SEPTEMBER 24, 1967: “Che” and his men arrive, exhausted and sick, at Loma Larga, a ranch close to Alto Seco.
SEPTEMBER 26, 1967: The guerrillas move to the village of La Higuera. The villagers have previously been warned that the guerrillas are in the area and they should send any information on them to Vallegrande. The remaining villagers tell the guerrillas that most of the people are at a celebration in a nearby town called Jahue.
1 p.m.: As they are about to depart for Jahue, the rebels hear shots coming from the road and are forced to stay in the village and defend themselves. Three guerrillas are killed in the gun battle: Roberto (Coco) Peredo, a Bolivian guerrilla leader who was one of “Che”’s most important men; "Antonio," believed to be Cuban; and "Julio," likely a Bolivian. “Che” orders his men to evacuate the village along a road leading to Rio Grande. The army high command and the Barriento’s government consider this encounter a significant victory. Indeed, “Che” notes in his diary that La Higuera has caused great losses for him in respect to his rebel cell.
SEPTEMBER 26-27, 1967: After the battle of La Higueras, the Ranger Battalion sets up a screening force along the river San Antonio to prevent getaway of the guerrilla force. During the mission, the troops fights and captures two guerrillas known as "Gamba" and “Leon”.
SEPTEMBER 29, 1967: Colonel Zenteno, persuaded by Rodriguez, moves the 2nd Ranger battalion to Vallegrande. Rodriguez joins these men who have been trained by U.S. Special Forces Major Shelton.
SEPTEMBER 30, 1967: “Che” and his group are trapped by the army in a jungle canyon in Valle Serrano, south of the Grande River.
OCTOBER 7, 1967: The last entry in “Che”’s diary is recorded exactly eleven months since the inauguration of the guerrilla movement.
Evening: “Che” and his men stop to rest in a ravine in Quebrada del Yuro.
OCTOBER 8, 1967: 1:30 p.m.: Che’s final battle commences in Quebrada del Yuro.
The troops receive information that there is a band of 17 guerrillas in the Churro Ravine. They enter the area and encounters a group of 6 to 8 guerrillas, opens fire, and killed two Cubans, "Antonio" and "Arturo." "Ramon" (Guevara) and "Willy" try to break out in the direction of the mortar section, where Guevara is wounded in the lower calf.
Captain Prado orders his radio operator to signal the divisional headquarters in Vallegrande informing them that “Che” is captured. The coded message sent is "Hello Saturno, we have Papa!" Saturno is the code for Colonel Joaquin Zenteno, commandant of the Eighth Bolivian Army Division, and “Papa” is code for “Che”. Colonel Zenteno radios Capt. Prado and tells him to immediately transfer “Che” and any other prisoners to La Higuera.
Just after dark the group arrives in La Higuera and both “Che” and Willy Cuba are put into the school’s one-room schoolhouse. Later that night, el Chino Chang is brought in.
Official army dispatches falsely report that “Che” is killed in the clash in southeastern Bolivia, and other official reports confirm the killing of “Che” and state that the Bolivian army has his body.
OCTOBER 9, 1967: 6:15 a.m.: Felix Rodriguez arrives by helicopter in La Higuera, along with Colonel Joaquin Zenteno Anaya. Rodriguez brings a powerful portable field radio and a camera with a special four-footed tripod used to photograph documents.
10 am: The Bolivian officers are faced with the question of what to do with “Che”. It is concluded that “Che” must be executed immediately.
According to one source, the top ranking officers in La Higuera instruct the Non-commissioned officers to carry out the order and straws are drawn to determine who will execute “Che”. Just before noon, having drawn the shortest straw, Sergeant Jaime Teran goes to the schoolhouse to execute “Che”. Teran finds “Che” propped up against the wall and asks him to wait a moment until he stands up. Teran is frightened, runs away and is ordered back by Colonel Selich and Colonel Zenteno. "Still trembling" he returns to the schoolhouse and without looking at “Che”’s face he fires into his chest and side. Several soldiers, also wanting to shoot “Che”, enter the room and shoot him.
In Jon Lee Anderson’s account, Sergeant Teran volunteers to shoot. “Che”'s last words, which are addressed to Teran, are: "I know you've come to kill me. Shoot, you are only going to kill a man." Teran shoots “Che” in the arms and legs and then in the thorax, filling his lungs with blood.
Other account telle aq different story: OCTOBER 9, 1967: Early in the morning, the unit receives the order to execute Guevara and the other prisoners. When Sgt. Teran (the executioner) enters the room, Guevara stands up with his hands tied and states, "I know what you have come for I am ready." Teran tells him to be seated and leaves the room for a few moments. While Teran was outside, Sgt. Huanca enters another small house, where "Willy" and Chino Chang were being held, and shoot them. When Teran comes back, Guevara stands up and refuses to be seated saying: "I will remain standing for this." Terran gets angry and tells Guevara to be seated again. Finally, Guevara tells him: "Know this now, you are killing a man." Teran fires his M2 Carbine and kills him.
LIST OF SOURCES
Anderson=Anderson, Jon Lee, Che Guevara : A Revolutionary Life, Grove Press, 1997.
Harris=Harris, Richard, Death of a Revolutionary: Che Guevara's Last Mission, W.W. Norton and Company Inc.,1970.
James= James, Daniel, Che Guevara: A Biography, Stein and Day, 1970
National Security Files, "Bolivia, Vol. 4" Box 8. NYT=New York Times
Rodriguez:1=Rodriguez, Felix I.,Shadow Warrior, Simon and Schuster Inc., 1989
Rodriguez:2=Rodriguez, Felix. BBC documentary, "Executive Action," 1992.
Rojo=Rojo, Ricardo, My Friend Che, The Dial Press, Inc., 1968
Gen Gray Prado
Gen. Nino De Guzman
Gen. Fernando Arana Serrudo
Mi Amada (Central Theme of Che: the last hours )courtesy of © Paul Freeman