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 years later, the circumstances of
his guerrilla foray into Bolivia, his capture,
killing, and burial are still the subject of intense public interest
and discussion around the
As part of the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Che Guevara, the National Security Archive's Cuba Documentation Project is posting a selection of key CIA, State Department, and Pentagon documentation relating to Guevara and his death. This electronic documents book is compiled from declassified records obtained by the National Security Archive, and by authors of two new books on Guevara: Jorge Castañeda's Compañero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara (Knopf), and Henry Butterfield Ryan's The Fall of Che Guevara (Oxford University Press). The selected documents, presented in order of the events they depict, provide only a partial picture of U.S. intelligence and military assessments, reports and extensive operations to track and "destroy" Che Guevara's guerrillas in Bolivia; thousands of CIA and military records on Guevara remain classified. But they do offer significant and valuable information on the high-level U.S. interest in tracking his revolutionary activities, and U.S. and Bolivian actions leading up to his death.
The man who killed che Guevara.
Throughout the rebel armies and refugee camps of the world, Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s name has come to symbolize struggle against oppression, and his face just might be the most recognizable on the planet. The fact that Che advocated nuking New York and brutally slaughtered his own men on the slightest suspicion of disloyalty, and that even Fidel Castro — hardly a model of restraint — noted his “tendency toward foolhardiness,” hasn’t done much to hurt his image, and he remains one of the most famous characters of the 20th century.Less well-known, though, is Sergeant Mario Terán — the Bolivian soldier who shot Che nine times in a dilapidated mud schoolhouse in 1967. Che had gone to Bolivia to command a 50-man guerrilla team a start new revolution there, but hadn’t counted on the lack of support he received from rural Bolivians — a problem worsened by the fact that no one in his all-Cuban officer pool spoke the local Quechua language. He also hadn’t counted on the intervention of the CIA, which provided the intelligence and Bolivian military training that led to his capture. After several months of skirmishes, the army nabbed an exhausted Che — ragged and lacking medicine for his asthma — and locked him up in a local school while the government decided what to do with him.
Two days later, orders for Che’s execution came down from Bolivian president René Barrientos. Terán and his squad mates — nervous about killing the symbol of a worldwide revolutionary communist movement — drew straws to see who would do the deed, and Terán’s straw came up short.
Moments before Guevara was executed he was asked if he was thinking about his own immortality. “No”, he replied, “I’m thinking about the immortality of the revolution.” Che Guevara also allegedly said to his executioner, “I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot, coward, you are only going to kill a man.” Terán hesitated, then pulled the trigger of his semiautomatic rifle, hitting Guevara in the arms and legs. Guevara writhed on the ground, apparently biting one of his wrists to avoid crying out. Terán shot him again, this time hitting him fatally in the chest – at 1:10 pm, according to Rodríguez. In all Guevara was shot nine times. This included five times in the legs, once in the right shoulder and arm, once in the chest, and lastly in the throat.Mario Terán spent the next several decades in silence and obscurity, and the Bolivian government worked hard to protect his identity from would-be revenge-seekers. His name didn’t resurface until 2007, when his son wrote a letter to a local newspaper thanking communist Cuban doctors for saving his father’s sight as part of a non-profit medical relief program called “Operation Miracle.”