The Che Guevara Monument

The Che Guevara Monument

The Che Guevara Monument (Monumento Ernesto Che Guevara) in Santa Clara in Cuba is dedicated to iconic political activist, Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, more commonly known as Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

History of the Che Guevara Monument

Che Guevara (1928 – 1967) was an Argentinean medical student who became a leading figure of the Cuban Revolution to overthrow the right-wing dictator, Fulgencio Batista. Often known simply as “Che”, he was a revolutionary who joined Fidel Castro’s Marxist 26th July Movement which eventually culminated in Castro replacing Batista as Cuba’s leader.

The Che Guevara Monument is a complex comprised of several monuments to Che, including an 82-foot statue of the man himself and his mausoleum. Che was executed on 9 October 1967 in Bolivia following his attempt to overthrow dictator, René Barrientos Ortuño, which was thwarted by the CIA and Bolivian forces.

At first, the location of his body was kept a secret, but it was later found and, together with the remains of the other revolutionaries who died in the Bolivia operation, was moved to Cuba. Santa Clara was chosen as the site for the Che Guevara Monument as it was the site of a major victory for the revolutionary, leading to it often being called the “City of Che”.

The Che Guevara Monument today

The 22-foot high bronze statue of Che was completed in 1988: designed by leading architects, the residents of Santa Clara also contributed around 400,000 hours of voluntary work between them towards the construction of the structure. The figure of Che is directed to point towards South America, reflecting his dream of a united, independent Latin America.

The carved relief panels depict important scenes in Che’s life. Look out for the eternal flame burning in his memory, which is housed on site.

The site is located on the site of the final conflict of the Cuban Revolution: the derailed boxcars and bulldozer nearby are testament to Batista’s failed final attempts to stop revolutionary forces.

The museum is relatively compact and contains an assortment of Che’s personal items and photographs – it’s ordered chronologically and is easy to follow. Note that you’ll have to surrender any personal belongings with you on arrival – including wallet & phone. You’ll pick them up again on your way out, so be prepared. Any infringements of the rules within the museum/mausoleum complex are taken extremely seriously.

Getting to the Che Guevara Monument

The complex is just off the Campo de Tiro in western Santa Clara – it’s a 2km walk from the city centre, otherwise you can normally pick up a ride from a local bus or horse and cart.

New York Honors Che Guevara with a Statue

On Friday November 21st, while strolling through Central Park's Doris C. Freedman Plaza, Commentary Magazine's online editor Abe Greenwald noticed a statue and did a double take. "Is that. Che Guevara?"

Imagine a monument to Hideki Tojo at the Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor. Imagine one to Luftwaffe Chief, Herman Goering in London's Hyde Park. Heck, imagine one to Osama bin Laden in New York. In the fall of 1962 only Khrushchev's prudence and the FBI's competence saved New York from a Che-instigated murder toll that would have dwarfed Pearl Harbor's, London's during the Blitz , and 9/11's -- combined. The planning and will for the fiery mass-murder of thousands of New Yorkers were certainly there, only the means were foiled at the last minute. Morally speaking, this leaves the man honored in Central Park's Doris C. Freedman Plaza (from Nov. 20 th 2008 till May 2009) culpable of crimes bin Laden envisions only in his sweetest dreams.

"The U.S. is the great enemy of mankind!" raved Ernesto "Che" Guevara in 1961. "Against those hyenas there is no option but extermination. We will bring the war to the imperialist enemies' very home, to his places of work and recreation. The imperialist enemy must feel like a hunted animal wherever he moves. Thus we'll destroy him! We must keep our hatred against them [the U.S.] alive and fan it to paroxysms!"

Quadros mistook Camelot's "Best and Brightest" for Americans in general. But he certainly nailed New York's Council for the Arts and the Bloomberg team. Had the wishes of the man commemorated in that Central Park statue prevailed, Central Park itself might still be radioactive, and the charred remains of many Central Park frolickers (not to mention Doris C Freedman, many members of the New York Arts Council, and perhaps Michael Bloomberg himself) would all fit in a milk carton.

Photo credit: Jose Reyes of

On Friday November 21st, while strolling through Central Park's Doris C. Freedman Plaza, Commentary Magazine's online editor Abe Greenwald noticed a statue and did a double take. "Is that. Che Guevara?"

Imagine a monument to Hideki Tojo at the Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor. Imagine one to Luftwaffe Chief, Herman Goering in London's Hyde Park. Heck, imagine one to Osama bin Laden in New York. In the fall of 1962 only Khrushchev's prudence and the FBI's competence saved New York from a Che-instigated murder toll that would have dwarfed Pearl Harbor's, London's during the Blitz , and 9/11's -- combined. The planning and will for the fiery mass-murder of thousands of New Yorkers were certainly there, only the means were foiled at the last minute. Morally speaking, this leaves the man honored in Central Park's Doris C. Freedman Plaza (from Nov. 20 th 2008 till May 2009) culpable of crimes bin Laden envisions only in his sweetest dreams.

"The U.S. is the great enemy of mankind!" raved Ernesto "Che" Guevara in 1961. "Against those hyenas there is no option but extermination. We will bring the war to the imperialist enemies' very home, to his places of work and recreation. The imperialist enemy must feel like a hunted animal wherever he moves. Thus we'll destroy him! We must keep our hatred against them [the U.S.] alive and fan it to paroxysms!"

Quadros mistook Camelot's "Best and Brightest" for Americans in general. But he certainly nailed New York's Council for the Arts and the Bloomberg team. Had the wishes of the man commemorated in that Central Park statue prevailed, Central Park itself might still be radioactive, and the charred remains of many Central Park frolickers (not to mention Doris C Freedman, many members of the New York Arts Council, and perhaps Michael Bloomberg himself) would all fit in a milk carton.

Guevara monument in Venezuela destroyed

A glass monument to revolutionary icon Ernesto “Ché” Guevara was destroyed less than two weeks after it was unveiled by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s government.

Images of the 8-foot-tall glass plate bearing Guevara’s image, now toppled and shattered, were shown Friday on state television, which said the entire country “repudiated” the vandalism.

The monument on an Andean mountain highway near the city of Merida was unveiled Oct. 8 by Vice President Jorge Rodriguez and Cuba’s ambassador to Venezuela to mark the 40th anniversary of Guevara’s death.

Chavez venerates Guevara as a model socialist for all Venezuelans. He named a state-funded adult education program “Mission Ché Guevara,” and murals of the iconic revolutionary have become a common sight in Venezuela.

Police said they had yet to identify those responsible. The Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional published a copy of what it said was a flier found by the monument signed by the previously unknown “Paramo Patriotic Front.”

“We don’t want any monument to Ché, he isn’t an example for our children,” the flier read. It called Guevara a “cold-blooded killer” and said the government should raise a monument in Chavez’s hometown of Sabaneta, in the nearby lowland plains, if it wants to commemorate the Argentine-born revolutionary.

Venezuela to replace monument
But the government will put up the monument again in the same spot, Deputy Culture Minister Ivan Padilla Bravo told the state-run Bolivarian News Agency. He said the vandals not only shot at the glass plate but also appear to have taken a sledgehammer to it.

Although no suspects have been identified, Padilla said it must be the work of a group with links to Venezuelans and Cubans living in Miami, who oppose both Chavez’s government and that of Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

The 1.5-inch-thick stele was erected near the top of El Aguila Peak, a popular tourist spot and one of the highest points in Venezuela at 13,143 feet feet above sea level.

Guevara visited this spot in 1952 during his travels through South America, which he recorded in his diary, before joining the Cuban revolutionary struggle led by Castro.

Che the icon: legacy

Guevara would live on as a powerful symbol, bigger in some ways in death than in life. He was almost always referenced simply as Che—like Elvis Presley, so popular an icon that his first name alone was identifier enough. Many on the political right condemned him as brutal, cruel, murderous, and all too willing to employ violence to reach revolutionary ends. On the other hand, Guevara’s romanticized image as a revolutionary loomed especially large for the generation of young leftist radicals in western Europe and North America in the turbulent 1960s. Almost from the time of Guevara’s death, his whiskered face adorned T-shirts and posters. Framed by a red-star-studded beret and long hair, his face frozen in a resolute expression, the iconic image was derived from a photo taken by Cuban photographer Alberto Korda on March 5, 1960, at a ceremony for those killed when a ship that had brought arms to Havana exploded. At first the image of Che was worn as a statement of rebellion, then as the epitome of radical chic, and, with the passage of time, as a kind of abstract logo whose original significance may even have been lost on its wearer, though for some he remains an enduring inspiration for revolutionary action.

Che in Pop Culture

In the 21st century, Che-themed art exhibits in many major world capitals testify that the revolutionary still captures the imaginations of people everywhere. London, New York City, Milan, Amsterdam, Miami, Vienna, Amsterdam, Moscow, Istanbul and Havana are among the cities that hosted such events in the 2000s. Additionally, Che's image continues to appear on all sorts of souvenirs, commodities, advertisements and clothing in mainstream markets.

Fortunately, the man who fought against the domination of U.S. capitalist concerns in Central and South America did not live to see his image adopted in the 21st century for commercial purposes. Capitalist corporations have used Che's face to market everything from perfume to running shoes. The long list of brands that have co-opted the Guevara cachet include Adidas, automaker Dacia, Smirnoff, Fischer skis, Taco Bell, Bobblehead LLC and Tartan Army. Club Che restaurants in Russia and a Che Café in San Diego, Cal., are a few of the hospitality establishments profiting from the revolutionary icon's legacy.

In addition, a number of actors have portrayed Guevara in various films and shows. From Omar Sharif in the 1968 movie, "Che!," to Antonio Banderas in the 1998 film, "Evita," the idealized image of the revolutionary has become increasing embedded in American culture. His image has graced the covers of Time and Rolling Stone magazines. The Che Guevara influence is also apparent on television, in the theater and in the music industry.

The Inconvenient Truth Behind Revolutionary Icon Che Guevara

As the literal face of revolution, Ernesto Guevara — you probably know him by his familiar nom de guerre, Che — is hard to miss. His bearded, semi-beatific mug can be found anywhere that people long to bring down oppressors and prop up the little guy. And in a lot of places, too, where it's simply cool to wear Che on a T-shirt.

As a real flesh-and-blood revolutionary, though, Che Guevara was not all that. His short, clench-fisted life battling "the man" was littered with more defeat than victory, and pockmarked throughout (something his millions of admirers often forget) with some dastardly, decidedly unheroic criminal acts. Even his death, at age 39 in 1967, was in reality just sad and unceremonious, hardly the stuff of, say, Scottish hero William Wallace.

Still, in death, this unquestioned thorn in the status quo's side has become the inescapable symbol of everything that dreamers think a revolutionary should be: strong, principled, a threat to the rich and powerful, a champion of the weak, a leader of the downtrodden.

"In the course of my professional interest in revolution, I've been all over the world. Peru. Colombia. Mexico. Pakistan. Multiple trips to Afghanistan. Iraq. Cambodia. Southern Philippines. All over the place," says Gordon McCormick, who has taught a course on guerrilla warfare at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, for almost 30 years. "No matter where you go, you see photos of Che. This guy has an international appeal, particularly in Latin America. You can go down to Mexico and you see cars driving around with mudguards with his image on them. He's everywhere. He is a motivator for would-be revolutionaries the world over."

Who Was Che Guevara?

Born in Argentina to well-to-do left-leaning parents, Guevara early on developed an unquenchable reading habit that included poetry and the classics. In his early 20s, he traveled throughout South America, where he was introduced to the plight of the poor and working class. (The 2004 movie "The Motorcycle Diaries" chronicled one of his trips.)

Guevara returned to Argentina to complete a degree in medicine, then headed out for more travels around Latin America. The poverty he witnessed, and the often corrupt and unseeing governments throughout the area, led him to embrace the ideas of Marxism and revolution.

It wasn't until 1955, though that Guevara finally had a chance to act on his burgeoning revolutionary ideas. While in Mexico City working as a doctor, Guevara met Cuba's Fidel Castro. After a long night of discussions, Guevara agreed to help Castro in his fight to overthrow the U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.

On Jan. 1, 1959, Castro and his revolutionary army pushed Batista out of power. Guevara, as comandante of Castro's second army column, moved into Havana the next day. A new Cuba was born, and Guevara became — perhaps more than Castro — the world's most recognized revolutionary.

The Real vs. Romanticized Che Guevara

Castro immediately put Guevara in charge of doling out justice against Batista loyalists who remained in Cuba, and that's where the romanticized image of Che begins to fray. Reports vary, but as supreme prosecutor on the island, Guevara was responsible for executions that numbered in the dozens — at least — and may have been in the hundreds, or maybe more. For those familiar with Che, it was not out of character. During the revolutionary war, Che also was said to have executed deserters, many by his own hand.

For all who lift up Che as an example of the righteous revolutionary, there are those — many Cuban American exiles — who see him only for what he did to their beloved Cuba. Author Humberto Fontova in "Exposing the Real Che Guevara: And the Useful Idiots who Idolize Him:"

Jon Lee Anderson, who wrote what many consider the definitive biography of Che in 1997, titled "Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life," addressed Che's brutality in the introduction to the graphic version of his biography in 2016:

Guevara Tries to Extend His Power Beyond Cuba

A few months after taking over, Castro appointed Guevara to head the new government's agrarian reform, among other posts. But Guevara, a full-fledged hero of the revolution, soon grew tired of the daily grind of governing.

"Castro, his objective was to win in Cuba, govern the country. Che Guevara could care less. He was a complete failure as a bureaucrat. Didn't like it. Didn't do a good job," McCormick says. "He was, in his own mind, and actually in fact who he was . an international action figure.

"He had created this role for himself. He, in a sense, had created his own identity. And then he lived by it. And in that sense was authentic. He actually was authentic."

The Cuban Revolution pushed Guevara into a position of international prominence. He spoke before the United Nations, in his trademark military fatigues, in 1964. He traveled all over the world. But he was a revolutionary without a revolution.

When he jumped back into the trenches as a kind of revolutionary soldier of fortune, Guevara's passion and authenticity, the loyalty he commanded among his followers, did not translate into victory. A trip to support insurgents in the Congo in 1965 lasted seven months and ended in total failure.

And his decision to take a small band of soldiers to help in Bolivia's uprising put an end to Guevara.

"It is ironic that Che Guevara comes down to us as a model of the ideal revolutionary, on the one hand," McCormick says, "and yet his theory of revolution — as demonstrated by what occurred in Bolivia, and prior to that in Congo, and arguably should have happened in Cuba — is a theory of failure."

The Death of Che Guevara

Guevara took about 50 men to support a revolutionary army against the Bolivian government, and quickly slipped deep into the jungles of the country to employ the guerrilla tactics he had used in Cuba and elsewhere (as described in his book "Guerrilla Warfare," originally published in 1961).

But his strategy and tactics were doomed almost from the start. He didn't recruit a single local to help in his fight, largely because no one in his group spoke the dialect of the Bolivians in that part of the country. He failed to coordinate with the communist party there. And he probably didn't realize that it wasn't just the Bolivians that he was fighting. The U.S. had supplied, trained and supported many of the forces employed against the Bolivian insurgents.

After several months of skirmishes and the death of several of his men, a wounded and bedraggled Guevara was captured by the Bolivian army Oct. 8, 1967. He was executed under orders from Bolivian President René Barrientos, on the afternoon of Oct. 9, 1967. According to a U.S. Department of Defense intelligence report, Guevara said to his executioner — a young Bolivian sergeant who had volunteered to shoot the prisoner — "Know this now, you are killing a man."

After the execution, his body was flown to a nearby town, where it was put on display at the local hospital. His hands were dismembered and flown to Argentina for fingerprint verification. He then was buried in an unmarked grave. Guevara's remains weren't discovered until a retired Bolivian general told the author Anderson of their location in 1995.

It is, as McCormick points out, the perfect coda to a modern-day Greek tragedy.

"And then, of course, at the very, very end of the play, he is killed in cold blood. Face to face. And according to eyewitness reports, takes it in stride," says McCormick, who wrote a paper on Guevara titled "Ernesto (Che) Guevara: The Last "Heroic" Guerrilla," in 2017. "It's the perfect tragedy. And you don't have to know Greek tragedy, or even know a lot about what happened to Che Guevara, to at some visceral level to appreciate that quality.

"It resonates with people. I think that explains in part his enduring appeal, even among those who in no way respect his politics or even many of his methods."

Che's Dual Legacy

Boxer Mike Tyson has a prominent Che tattoo. So does Argentine football star Diego Maradona. Omar Sharif portrayed Che in a 1969 film, and Benicio Del Toro did so to acclaim in 2008. Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen once sported a runway bikini with Che's image on it. His face has adorned T-shirts and been on countless storefronts. It's been on "South Park" and on "The Simpsons."

Guevara, these days, is the personification of utter cool to all those who want to defy the establishment. Yet that image doesn't do him justice. In its simplicity, it is not just.

Che Guevara was an intellect, a poet, a physician, a visionary a leader. "He smiles, he's well-educated, he's well read, he has a sense of humor," McCormick says. "He's the kind of guy you'd like to sit down and have a tequila with and share a cigar."

But more than any of that, Che Guevara was a true revolutionary. That's not to be forgotten.

"The guy's a killer. He's absolutely ruthless. He is absolutely ruthless, which is part and parcel to who in fact he made himself to be," McCormick says. "He is a first-generation international revolutionary fighting against 'the man.' And he has to be ruthless. It's not an act. That is what makes him authentic."

The iconic portrait of Guevara that has launched so many T-shirts (and now memes) — eyes cast upward, omnipresent beret atop a head of scraggly hair and mottled beard, a slightly angry expression on his face — was shot by Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez, who later changed his name to Alberto Korda. He was a fashion photographer recruited temporarily into duty as a journalist for a Castro speech in March 1960. The portrait, which is in the public domain, is a slightly cropped version of the original.

Che Guevara Cultural Memorial

The largest monument to Che Guevara is found in the town of Santa Clara. History lovers take note—the Che Guevara Cultural Memorial is a fascinating and impressive memorial to Che, and one that’s worth spending an hour or two exploring.

Santa Clara played an important part in Che’s fight for the Revolution. On December 28, 1958 Che’s army attacked the town and interrupted a train that was carrying weapons and supplies to Batista’s troops in the east. A two-day battle ensued, and Che’s army eventually captured the city. At the time, Santa Clara was known as el último reducto de la tiranía batistiana (the last fortress of Batista’s tyranny). Within a day of this victory, Batista fled Cuba.

The Che Guevara Cultural Memorial is a larger-than-life memorial to Che. The Monumento de Che looms over the Plaza de la Revolución in Santa Clara. It includes a 22-foot-tall (7-m) bronze statue of Che wearing military fatigues and holding a rifle. Che’s farewell letter to Fidel (written in 1965) is inscribed on a large concrete block, and there’s a large bas-relief depiction of significant Revolutionary moments nearby.

Beneath the Monumento de Che is the Museo de Che. You enter the museum on the north side of the complex, and may have to wait in line for a few minutes, as only a limited number of visitors are allowed inside the museum at one time. This museum is professional and well presented. Che’s history is on display all the way from childhood to death. Among other things, you’ll see the guns he used and the medical equipment he practiced with. There are numerous photos from his time in the Sierra Maestra, as well as an account of his capture of Santa Clara from Batista’s forces in 1958.

An adjacent mausoleum is home to Che’s remains, which were discovered in Bolivia and placed here in 1997. It’s a beautiful place, with granite walls and soft lighting. It also has empty space for the 37 guerillas that died during Che’s last battle. Che’s remains are marked with a star and illuminated by a beam of light. Do note that photos are not allowed in either the museum or the mausoleum.

Across the street from the museum is the “Garden of Tombs.” This outdoor area contains rows of marble tombs—each of the 220 tombs symbolize one of Che’s soldiers. The tombs face an eternal flame and are surrounding by attractive gardens.


Source: Lyndon Baines Johnson Library: Lyndon B. Johnson Papers: National Security File (hereafter LBJL: LBJP: NSF) : Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia v. 4 (1/66-12/68).

After visiting Bolivia and meeting President Barrientos, U.S. General William Tope assesses the guerrilla situation in the Andes, warning of major challenges ahead. Barrientos informs the Americans that the Bolivian Army is investigating reports of “a group of bearded armed men…” spotted around Chuquisaca. Barrientos says the guerrillas are a “well organized, highly trained and well supplied group… and are at present maintaining contact with Salta, Argentina Venezuela and even Cuba.” Concerned about the broader security implications of the guerrilleros, Barrientos stresses that “the army must come up with some kind of a quick success.” Yet, General Tope counsels that “unfortunately, all of their quick fixes are unsound, would waste precious resources and probably would get them in worse trouble than they already have.” Tope further laments that “Since we have not yet figured out how to pull a rabbit out of the hat for them either, they are very difficult to divert from this line of thinking.” He recommends that Barrientos use “individuals who have received counterinsurgency training from us in the past,” to which the Bolivian responds that they had already done so. Fearing Bolivian incompetence, Tope concludes the telegram by highlighting the need for a significant U.S. role, “It is obvious we must take a practical, pragmatcw [sic] approach, building on what they now have, forcing improvements toward sound objectives, assisting all we can when there is the goal, and preventing the waste of either US or Bolivian resources when it is not.”

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 1 of 3.”

In this sobering memo on the counter-insurgency capabilities of the Bolivian government, staffer William G. Bowdler forwards to National Security Adviser Rostow the Embassy’s April 22 cable (see Document 1), which he calls a “grim report,” and warns that “The problem is not only adequacy of the troops in the field, but the attitude of those at the top, including Barrientos.” Bowdler explains that supplies have been sent to support U.S. troops already in the field and “We are concentrating on the training and equipping of a new Ranger battalion.”

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 3 of 3.”

This is the first CIA field report of “persons who claimed to have seen and talked with ‘Che’ Guevara since he disappeared in March 1965.” Based in large part on the interrogations of several captured persons, including Régis Debray, the CIA explains that Guevara “was present with the main group of Bolivian guerrillas in Southeast Bolivia from late March until at least 20 April 1967.”

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia, v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 3 of 3.”

In this memo, National Security Adviser Walt Rostow explains to the President that there is a credible report (Document 3) that Guevara is “alive and operating in South America” (highlight in original). Rostow concludes by noting that “we need more evidence before concluding that Guevara is operational – and not dead, as the intelligence community, with the passage of time, has been more and more inclined to believe.” A previous release of this document redacted the source for this report – “interrogation of guerrillas captured in Bolivia, among them Jules Debray, the young French Marxist who has been close to Castro.”

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 2 of 3.”

This intelligence summary based on the interrogation of Régis Debray describes three meetings the French intellectual had with Guevara. Debray explains that Guevara is trying to create a movement and funding source outside of Cuba as, “Guevara and Fidel Castro were not in total agreement, and that Guevara was trying to build mechanisms independent of Cuba, to support his personal revolutionary efforts.” The support was to come mainly from Europe, according to Debray, as the movement, “was to be organized and backed by Bertrand Russell of England, Jean Paul Sartre of France and Alberto Moravia of Italy, and was to support ‘Che’ Guevara and his guerrilla movement in Latin America … the moral and financial support was to come from individuals in Europe.”

Source: NSF: Intelligence file, b. 2, f.: “Guerrilla Problem in Latin America.”

This dire CIA intelligence assessment warns that there are currently seven distinct guerrilla groups in Bolivia and “Their presence poses a grave threat to Bolivian stability.” The analysts highlight the role played by Cuba and worry that the USSR could also intervene, “It has been evident from the outset that Cuba has played a key role in the initiation, implementation and execution of guerrilla activity in Bolivia.” The report explains that “Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara according to several reports from different sources, is personally directing Bolivian guerrilla activities and has been physically present with the guerrillas in Bolivia.” Consistent with past intelligence assessments, the CIA sees the government of President Barrientos as incompetent, having “repeatedly demonstrated its total inability to cope with the guerrillas.” The analysts think it is possible that the guerrilla situation could create a climate for a left-wing coup in Bolivia and broader regional instability, “This could lead to a government composed of a loose coalition of leftist parties. Both President Juan Carlos Ongania, of Argentina and President Eduardo Frei, of Chile agreed at a summit conference in Uruguay in April 1967, that if Barrientos is overthrown and replaced with a left-wing leader like Juan Lechin Oquendo, they will intervene with their armed forces.”

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 2 of 3.”

This memo to the president from his national security adviser presents an update on the Bolivian guerrilla situation and highlights the “interrogation of several deserters and prisoners, including a young [sic] French communist – Jules Régis Debray – closely associated with Fidel Castro and suspected of serving as a Cuban courier.” The interrogation of these individuals “strongly suggests that the guerrillas are Cuban-sponsored, although this is hard to document. There is some evidence that ‘Che’ Guevara may have been with the group. Debray reports seeing him.” Rostow then explains U.S. efforts: “Soon after the presence of guerrillas had been established we sent a special team and some equipment to help organize another Ranger-type Battalion. On the military side, we are helping about as fast as the Bolivians are able to absorb our assistance” and “CIA has increased its operations.” Rostow concludes by noting that “while the outlook is not clear,” U.S. efforts should make a positive difference.

Source: LBJL: NSF: Intelligence File, b. 2, f.: “Guerrilla Problem in Latin America.”

This intelligence assessment from the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) downplays some of CIA’s more dire conclusions. On the threat posed by guerrilla movements, it notes, “There have been rumors of possible new guerrilla ‘fronts’, but such reports seem somewhat overdrawn and unrealistic in view of the small size of the guerrilla movement, estimated to number about 60 members. We have seen no evidence of successful recruiting efforts by the guerrillas … The present guerrilla movement can probably evade and harass the counterinsurgent forces for an indefinite period, but it does not in itself and at its present size constitute a serious threat to the government.” Ultimately, the analysts at State conclude that the stability of Bolivia is dependent on whether Barrientos makes concessions with disaffected groups or uses repression. “The greatest danger in the short term would lie in the coalescence of groups or movements capable of violence. If the government should take harshly repressive measures against the miners, that coalescence [sic] might occur. However, Barrientos has not authorized such measures thus far and his chances of avoiding drastic action seem somewhat better than even.”

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 3 of 3.”

This startling memcon by Bowdler summarizes his discussion with Bolivian Ambassador Julio Sanjines-Goytia, who requests U.S. assistance for the establishment of “what he called a ‘hunter killer’ team to ferret out guerrillas.” The ambassador explained that “this idea was not original with him, but came from friends of his in CIA.” Bowdler then asks if “the Ranger Battalion now in training were not sufficient,” to which Ambassador Sanjines-Coytia replies that what he had in mind are, “50 or 60 young army officers, with sufficient intelligence, motivation and drive, who could be trained quickly and could be counted on to search out the guerrillas with tenacity and courage.” Bowdler tells the ambassador that “his idea may have merit, but needs further careful examination.”

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia v.4 (1/66-12/68) 2 of 3.”

This brief cover note from Bowdler refers to its lengthy CIA attachment: “This does not constitute proof that Che Guevara is alive and operating in Bolivia but it certainly heightens the possibility. I think the President night like to read this one.” The report is based on the written statement by captured Argentine revolutionary Ciro Roverto Bustos, who explained that when he arrived at the Bolivian guerrilla camp, one guerrillero with a Cuban accent told him that the commander, “Ramon,” was none other than Guevara. Guevara did not want his presence known because, “the struggle should be a Bolivian movement, and only when it was well developed and his participation, along with his Cubans, was a simple fact of proletarian-revolutionary internationalism, should his presence be made known.” The report explains in detail Guevara’s strategic objective which places the U.S. at the center of the revolutionary struggle: “the underlying political basis for this is that the struggle against imperialism is the factor common to all Latin American nations. Imperialism is the real enemy, not the oligarchies, which are enemies of form rather than substance. Because the real enemy is a common one for all of Latin America, a new strategy is necessary. This strategy must start from the premise that in Latin America no single country can now or in the future carry out the revolution alone, not even a government supported by its own army and by its people. It would merely produce palliatives and imitations of change, but it would not make revolution. One country alone is quickly surrounded, strangled, and subjugated by the imperialists because revolution is a socio-economic fact and not a romantic, patriotic event. Economic underdevelopment in Latin America is caused by imperialism and its total control. Change will be possible only when there is total opposition. It is necessary, therefore, to unite the total strength of the Latin American nations in a decisive confrontation against the United States” [underlining in the original].

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 3 of 3.”

In this intelligence assessment, the CIA concludes that, the success of the guerrilla movement in Bolivia “is due largely to the ineptitude of the Bolivian military.” Conversely, Bowdler in his cover note to Rostow, describes the report as “the next thing to a whitewash and is being rewritten. Autocriticism is sometimes hard to take. A great deal of the fault lies with the Bolivians. But there are areas where we clearly fall down.” In the report, CIA analysts highlight the unique strengths of the Bolivian guerrillas: “one major point is clear. The Bolivian guerrillas are a well trained and disciplined group. The insurgents are better led and better equipped than the untrained, poorly organized Bolivian military forces” [underlining in original]. On the leadership of the guerrillas, the CIA carefully qualifies the intelligence on Guevara: “A few known Bolivian Communists have been identified as leaders of the insurgents. Other reports from within Bolivia and elsewhere allege that one of the leaders is Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, the Argentine-born revolutionary who was a key figure in the Castro government in Cuba until he dropped out of sight in March 1965. These reports, which come from sources of varying credibility, are in essential agreement on the details of where and when Guevara is supposed to have been with the guerrillas, but conclusive evidence of Che’s direct participation has not been obtained. Whether Guevara is a participant, or indeed whether he is even alive, it is plain in any case that the guerrilla leaders are well-schooled in the insurgency techniques and doctrines previously espoused by Guevara” [underlining in original]. The agency concludes by suggesting that this case might have broader repercussions: “because worldwide publicity has been given both to the alleged presence of Che Guevara with the guerrillas and to the capture of [Régis] Debray, this insurgency movement will be kept in the public eye. It could become a focus for the continuing polemical debate in the Communist world over the wisdom of political versus militant revolutionary action.”

Source: LBJL: NSF: Intelligence File, b. 2, f.: “Guerrilla Problem in Latin America.”

This memorandum presents several proposals for handling captured documents taken from Che Guevara’s camp by Bolivian troops in early August and turned over to the Americans. The concern is that the revelation of the U.S. as the sole authentication source of the documents might carry some risks. The strategic value of the documents is assessed. Recommendations are that Bolivia only make public some documents and that La Paz should seek public assistance from the U.S. and other countries simultaneously in order to minimize U.S. exposure. Option 3, in which Bolivia announces possession of captured documents and publicly asks the U.S. for help analyzing them, and Option 4, in which Bolivia would expand the circle to include all OAS members, garner the most support. American officials are aware of the Bolivian desire that the documents be used as evidence in the Régis Debray trial. The U.S. role should be protected given that, “The Communists, for example, may assert we fabricated the documents. The French press may charge we are out to get Debray, etc.”

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia, v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 3 of 3.”

In this memorandum for the president, Rostow explains two major developments concerning the Bolivian situation. First, after the capture of several guerrilla documents, “The preliminary reading from CIA shows rather conclusively that ‘Che’ Guevara travelled to Bolivia via Spain and Brazil in late 1966 using false documents.” Second, “Bolivian armed forces on August 30 finally scored their first victory and it seems to have been a big one. An army unit caught up with the rearguard of the guerrillas and killed 10 and captured one … two of the dead guerrillas are Bolivians and the rest either Cubans or Argentines.” Rostow recommends that “it is not in our interest, or the Bolivians’, to have the U.S. appear as the sole authenticating agent for the documents.”

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Intelligence File, b. 2, f.: “Guerrilla Problem in Latin America.”

This memo shows that after further analysis of the captured guerrilla documents in Bolivia, “two of the passports bearing different names carry the same photograph and fingerprints.” The Agency has concluded that, “the fingerprints are identical to examples of prints of Guevara furnished to CIA [REDACTED] in 1954 and [REDACTED] in 1965.” The photographs, the CIA assesses are “most probably” of Guevara “in disguise.”

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia, v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 2 of 3.

Bowdler makes no comment in forwarding these field reports of rebel activities in Bolivia to National Security Adviser Rostow, but the attached CIA intelligence cables reveal the dire straits into which Che Guevara’s band had fallen. One tells the story of the battle with Bolivian army troops which effectively destroyed Guevara’s rearguard. The other, reporting information from the interrogation of one of the guerrillas, gives an inside account of developments within the rebel band. Che Guevara is discussed under his nom de guerre “Ramon.” He is reported to be angry and upset at various developments in the movement.

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 3 of 3.”

Bowdler sends Rostow a copy of the CIA’s preliminary analysis of the documents that were captured from Che Guevara’s rebel band in Bolivia. The agency focuses on evidence related to the question of whether Che is actually in that country, which has been one of the major mysteries from the beginning. The evidence includes two passports, identity cards, health certificates and photographs. The passports show a correspondence to fingerprints Argentine authorities gave CIA in 1954 and 1965, and indicate that Che most likely went from Brazil to Bolivia in November 1966. “These findings lead to a strong presumption . . . but they are still short of conclusive proof. The CIA report does not draw conclusions at this stage.” Bowdler also tells Rostow the Bolivians want to use the captured documents in the trial of Régis Debray. The staffer worries the documents may be tarred as a CIA hoax, and recommends that Rostow approve a course of action under which countries other than the U.S. authenticate the material, as in an option approved by the 303 Committee by telephone the previous day.

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia, v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 1 of 3.”

This State Department cable to Ambassador Henderson in La Paz makes clear Washington’s determination to get maximum use out of Che’s captured documents. State Department officials deem it essential that the documents be publicized before they are brought into the Organization of American States (OAS). To this end the Department wants to make use of President Barrientos’s and General Ovando’s desire to put the documents into evidence at the trial of Régis Debray. While U.S. officials admit the documents have no direct evidence against Debray, “the trial would be [the] most convenient setting for making [the] documents public.” Henderson is to see Bolivian officials and urge them to surface the documents in the Debray trial, and take the occasion to advise the Bolivians to inform other OAS member states that they intend to bring these materials before the regional group as proof of Cuban subversion in the hemisphere.

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File, Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia, v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 1 of 3.”

State Department instructions to Embassy La Paz inform Ambassador Henderson that Bolivian Foreign Minister Guevara-Arce is being given a “narrative” and “props” he can use at the Organization of American States (OAS) conference. The narrative is to account for where the materials being presented came from, how the Bolivian government dealt with them, and what they show. The Bolivians are supposed to rewrite this exposition so it appears to come from them. The props are versions of the captured documents. Ambassador Henderson is ordered to present copies of the same material to Bolivian leader Barrientos and military strongman General Ovando, and to obtain from them a clear understanding that Bolivia will take complete responsibility and make no attribution whatever to the United States.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Library, Gerald R. Ford Papers, President’s Handwriting File, b. 31, f.: National Security, Intelligence (8).”

At the State Department, INR officers responsible for the Department’s dealings with the 303 Committee prepare a memorandum reminding committee members of the proposals made for the documents captured in Bolivia (Document 16), affirming that 303 had made a telephonic decision, confirmed at a September 8 meeting, and now noting actions taken on that basis that will enable the Bolivian government to unveil the documents at the Organization of American States meeting the next day. INR specifies that the Bolivian government will take complete responsibility for the documents but calls it an acceptable risk if circumstances oblige the United States to admit it has given Bolivia an opinion interpreting the material.

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia, v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 3 of 3.”

In a brief note forwarding copies of field reports, NSC staffer William Bowdler informs Rostow that Bolivian leader René Barrientos is claiming Che’s capture in a battle with Bolivian troops in the mountains. Bowdler affirms that the unit which engaged the guerrillas is the same Ranger battalion the United States had helped train. He reports that, before confirming the presence of Che Guevara among the wounded, the CIA wants to verify his fingerprints.

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 2 of 3.”

In a brief field report the CIA in Bolivia confirms a battle action in the highlands east of La Paz on October 8. The battle lasted through the afternoon and resulted in several guerrillas killed and two captured. “One of those captured may be Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara de la Serna, who is either seriously wounded or very ill and may die.” The rebel remnants appeared to be trapped and were expected to be wiped out the next day.

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia, v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 3 of 3.”

Here National Security Advisor Rostow reports the tentative information that Guevara had been taken by the Bolivian military and was dead, attributed to President Barrientos’s private contacts with journalists in La Paz the morning of the 9 th . The note correctly identifies several members of Che’s guerrilla band, including the man who had been with him when he was captured. Nightfall, according to this report, prevented the Bolivians from evacuating the prisoners and wounded from the highlands. (In reality, the Rangers were awaiting instructions on whether to kill the rebels.)

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivie, v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 3 of 3.”

The CIA monitoring service known as the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) typically listens in to radio broadcasts from many different sources. This compendium on Guevara’s death included material from La Paz radio (La Cruz del Sur), the French press agency AFP, and the Argentinian agency ANSA. Bolivian military officers holding a press conference not only claimed Guevara had died of battle wounds, they revealed that his diary had been captured. A French reporter recorded that the diary book was colored red and had been manufactured in Germany. Another report noted the diary contained daily entries that had detailed events in his Bolivian guerrilla campaign.

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia, v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 3 of 3.”

In this memo, CIA Director Helms calls attention to the fact that published accounts of Che’s death have been based on a Bolivian army press conference the previous day, which attributed his death to battle wounds and claimed Guevara had been in a coma when captured. Helms noted the agency had received contrary information from its officer, Felix Rodriguez, who was with the 2 nd Ranger Battalion. Helms now reported Che had been taken with a leg wound “but was otherwise in fair condition.” The CIA added that orders had come through from Bolivian Army Headquarters to kill the Argentine revolutionary and that they had been carried out the same day “with a burst of fire from an M-2 automatic rifle.”

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia, v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 3 of 3.”

Walt Rostow reports to President Johnson that “CIA will not give us a categorical answer” as to whether Che is dead. Rostow is “99 percent sure,” but that is deemed not good enough. CIA reported that Che was taken alive, questioned for a short time to establish his identity, and then killed on the orders of Bolivian chief General Ovando. “I regard this as stupid,” Rostow adds, “but it is understandable from a Bolivian standpoint.” He notes that this “marks the passing of another of the aggressive, romantic revolutionaries” and that “it will have a strong impact in discouraging would-be guerrillas.”

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File, Latin America, b. 8., f.: “Bolivia, v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 2 of 3.”

“‘Che’ Guevara’s death was a crippling—perhaps fatal—blow to the Bolivian guerrilla movement and may prove a serious setback for Fidel Castro’s hopes to foment violent revolution” in Latin America, proclaimed this State Department wrap-up analysis. INR observes that Bolivia has been a testing ground for the foco theory of revolution. While Castro would not escape the “I told you so” criticisms of Latin communists, INR predicts, he would still hold the esteem of Latino youth. Guevara’s demise would set up a test, however. “If the Bolivian guerrilla movement is soon eliminated as a serious subversive threat, the death of Guevara will have even more important repercussions among Latin American communists. The dominant peaceful line groups, who were either in total disagreement with Castro or paid only lip service to the guerrilla struggle, will be able to argue with more authority against the Castro-Guevara-Debray thesis.”


Here the CIA director recounts for senior administration officials some of what Che Guevara said at La Higuera while he lay wounded on October 9. Helms affirms that Guevara refused to be interrogated but did not mind a conversation reflecting on recent history. Che talked about the Cuban economy, the relationship between Castro and Camilo Cienfuegos (whom some thought Castro had had executed, but Guevara insisted had died in a plane crash), and Castro himself, whom Che said had not been a communist until after the success of the revolution, breaking another frequently-held belief in the U.S. Guevara spoke of his campaign in the Congo, the treatment of prisoners in Cuba, and the future of the guerrilla movement in Bolivia—“he predicted a resurgence in the future.” Helms also details the telegraphic code the Bolivians used to decree life or death for Che.

Source: LBJL: LBJP: NSF: Country File: Latin America, b. 8, f.: “Bolivia v. 4 (1/66-12/68) 1 of 3.”

Che Guevara’s diary, among his effects taken at La Higuera, would be published widely, including by Cuba, in the U.S. by the magazine Ramparts, in book form by Ramparts editors, and by others. Before any of those publications, however, the U.S. Government already knew what was in the diary, because the CIA made a copy and summarized it for Washington officials. In this field report, which Walt Rostow forwarded to President Johnson, there are highlights of the Guevara diary. The account began by putting a date on Che’s arrival in Bolivia and focused on details such as who had accompanied him, Che’s account of his break with the Bolivian communists, and the precarious situation at the end of September. Another, more extensive, summary appeared in a CIA report on November 9 (also part of the Digital National Security Archive’s CIA Set III) as the full diary was still being translated. Comparison of these summaries with the diary readily confirms the CIA was working from the actual diary materials.

Source: Assassination Records Review Board release, NARA.

In 1975, the “Year of Intelligence” (see Digital National Security Archive CIA Set II), both the Church Committee and the Rockefeller Commission investigated assassination plots attributed to the CIA. At this time Felix Rodriguez (“Benton H. Mizones”) was interviewed on his Bolivia assignment by colleagues at the Latin America Division, for the Inspector General’s office to compile a record of his time fighting Che. Rodriguez was of interest because it was he who had passed along instructions from the Bolivian high command that Guevara be killed. The Rodriguez interview record provides a straightforward chronology of his work in Bolivia, commencing with his recruitment by CIA, his trip to La Paz, meeting with President Barrientos, and his work with the 2 nd Ranger Battalion. In the account which the CIA Inspector General passed along to the Church committee, Rodriguez takes credit for saving the life of one guerrilla prisoner, from whom he recounts obtaining information critical to catching Che, and for the suggestion to put the Rangers into action, which led to the gun battle in which Che Guevara would be wounded and captured. Rodriguez would be the only American to see Che alive, and the only one to speak with him before his death. In these interviews the CIA contract officer says little about what he and Che discussed, but a fuller account of that conversation was reported by Director Helms in Document 27. This release of the Rodriguez statement goes further than previous versions of the document in revealing the name of CIA colleague Villoldo, and mentioning the Deputy Chief of Station in La Paz.

Not everyone supported the brutal ways revolutionary Che Guevara went about attaining power, making this statue a polarizing tribute.

Che Guevara's legacy is complicated. He advocated for social equality but also guerrilla warfare. He was close with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Some call him a hero, and others call him a "squalid killer."

La Higuera, Bolivia, has been home to a memorial to Guevara since 1997. It is also the town in which Guevara was killed, allegedly with help from the CIA. The town's economy relies on this event, having become somewhat of a tourist attraction.

It's tough to say whether it's right to capitalize on his death, as well as whether he should be memorialized at all.

The Che Guevara Mausoleum

In 1995 a confession from someone who knew the location led to the search for Che’s remains (which were buried in an unmarked grave beside a military airstrip). This was of course not an appropriate final resting place for Cuba’s most famous adopted son. In 1997 Che’s remains were sent back to Cuba, and were installed at the purpose-built Che Guevara Mausoleum in Santa Clara. This place is well worth your time, and even if you don’t agree with the man’s motives or methods, he is a fascinatingly contradictory figure. Yes, he was harsh in many ways, but the end result has made him so beloved throughout Cuba (and most of Latin America). There had been a memorial to Che in this spot since 1988, although then it could not have been known that his remains would one day be discovered and that the memorial would in fact become a mausoleum.

The man is such a rich cultural icon that the Che Guevara Mausoleum really has to be seen on your Cuban trip. There is an eternal flame (lit by Fidel Castro himself) along with a museum dedicated to the life of Che. It’s a fascinating insight into the life of a man who you might be more used to seeing as a type of hipster logo an iconic face that has graced a countless number of t-shirts. It’s impossible to speculate what would have become of Guevara had he not met his end in Bolivia.

He would still no doubt be beloved in Cuba, but the Che Guevara Mausoleum would merely be a Che Guevara Monument, and he might have even been on hand to open it, since he would have only been around 60 years old at the time. Unlike Fidel Castro and his brother Raul (who would eventually succeed him as leader), Che was not Cuban, and so the future of this magical country was perhaps not something he could truly become invested in for the long-term.

And now we have the ornate and yet austere beauty of the Che Guevara Mausoleum as a testament to a revolutionary spirit that will never truly fade.

Watch the video: Che Guevara Mausoleum, Hasta la Victoria Siempre!