Thu, Oct 05, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Reporter details Che encounter

AFP, PARIS and VALLEGRANDE, Bolivia

The body of Argentine Marxist revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara is exposed on a laundry sink in the village of Valle Grande, Bolivia, on Oct. 10, 1967.

Photo: AFP / MARC HUTTEN

On Oct. 10, 1967 the Bolivian army presented the body of Argentine Marxist revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara to reporters in a makeshift morgue in a small town.

Agence France-Presse correspondent Marc Hutten was among the group flown to Vallegrande, Bolivia, about 700km southeast of the capital La Paz, to report on the final demise of the Cuban revolutionary.

The army insisted that the 39-year-old Guevara had died of injuries after a battle in the Bolivian bush where he had been clandestinely operating with the aim of igniting a new uprising. It came out later that he had been captured and executed.

Guevara was buried in Vallegrande for 30 years, before his remains were found and taken to a mausoleum in Santa Clara, Cuba.

Hutten’s few photographs of Guevara’s body provided proof for the world of the death of the Argentine fighter; his accounts described that extraordinary media event 50 years ago.

This is one of the pieces written by Hutten, who died in 2012.

I saw yesterday afternoon the bullet-riddled and lifeless body of a guerrilla called Ramon, presumed nom de guerre of Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

We were about 30 journalists, only three of us foreign correspondents, who traveled to Vallegrande, a town slumbering in the southeastern Bolivia heat, to record the death of one of the most distinguished of guerrillas.

Descended from the military airport at La Paz — 4,100m above sea level — our Dakota touched down at Vallegrande at siesta time.

At the other end of the town, its streets deserted, a gate at which stood about 50 curious onlookers opened onto a piece of ground at the other end of which was, on a hillside, a makeshift morgue in a former cowshed where officers and armed soldiers meet us.

The corpse of a bearded man with long hair, dressed only in olive-green pants, lay on a stretcher placed on a cement sink. A smell of formaldehyde hung above the bullet-riddled and pale body, at the foot of which are two others, thrown on the floor.

The officers tasked with dismissing any objections we might have about the identity of “Ramon” are at pains to point out the resemblance of the body with that of the guerrilla. Doubt was no longer possible, they tell us: The fingerprints of the body match those of Guevara.

“Ramon” was fatally wounded in a battle on Sunday last week (Oct. 8, 1967), a couple of kilometres from La Higuera, close to Vallegrande.

He died of his wounds in the early hours of Monday (Oct. 9, 1967).

“He was not executed,” said Colonel Arnaldo Saucedo, commander of the second battalion of rangers operating in this sector.

“I am Che Guevara, I failed,” he is said to have muttered to the soldiers who had taken him prisoner.

That is the version of then-Bolivian armed forces commander in chief General Alfredo Ovando. However, questioned about this at a news conference a little earlier, colonel Saucedo declared that “Ramon” had never regained consciousness.

The reporters milling around the morgue, photographers and cameramen among them, displayed a mixture of stupefaction and disbelief, but it seems impossible there could be any mistaken identity.

A list of 33 guerrillas, among them more than a dozen Cubans, killed since the start of hostilities on March 23, 1967 was made public at Villegrande.

Ovando said the Bolivian guerrilla movement as unexpectedly few in number, claiming they were never more than about 60 men. Its failure was due to the lack of any popular support and the harshness of the terrain.

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