Bolivia starts digging for Che's remains


Latin America Correspondent

For 28 years and 50 days, Bolivian domestic aircraft may have been landing on Che Guevara's remains at the dusty Vallegrande airstrip more than 400 miles south of the capital, La Paz.

Yesterday, officials began digging up part of the dirt runway for what is left of the Argentine-born revolutionary who became a worldwide Sixties symbol of social change after joining Fidel Castro in the Cuban revolution.

The Bolivians did not expect to find much. Che's hands were cut off after he was killed in 1967 and Bolivian army officers tried to burn his body before tossing him into a grave with other Marxist guerrillas. His thick black beard and wavy hair may help with identification.

Almost three decades later, President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada decided Ernesto "Che" (the Argentine version of "Buddy") Guevara's remains should be returned to his family for a Catholic burial.

Retired General Mario Vargas, 62, who as a 34-year-old army captain witnessed the secret burial at 11pm on 11 October 1967, led investigators from a presidential commission to the site. At first, he could not recall the spot but apparently had his memory jogged by two local people who had watched the night-time burial.

Although Bolivian army officers had put Che's body on public display in a Vallegrande hospital laundry room, and published famous photographs to prove to the world he was dead, they later panicked as the dead guerrilla's Christ-like image as a corpse only increased his mystique. They buried him in a secret communal grave and remained silent until General Vargas led the presidential investigators to the site.

Trained as a doctor in Argentina, Guevara joined Fidel Castro's revolutionary forces in Mexico before landing in Cuba and helping to overthrow the dictator, Fulgencio Batista, in 1959. As Mr Castro's right-hand man, he served in the government before returning to Argentina to fight for Marxist revolution in 1964. In early 1967, he tried to "export the revolution" to Bolivia but was captured on 8 October that year, a useless, rusting carbine in his hands. He was shot the following day, his last words: "Go ahead and shoot. You are a coward but you are shooting a man."

Guevara has relatives in both Argentina and Cuba. His eldest daughter, Hilda, died of cancer at the age of 39 in Havana in August, leaving behind Che's grandson, Canek Guevara, a 21-year-old rock guitarist.

Cuba and left-wing politicians in Argentina have requested his remains. His hands, at first sent to Argentina for fingerprint checks, ended up in Cuba, where Mr Castro preserved and retained them in a secret vault.

Mr Castro has encouraged Guevara's martyr image even more than his own - Che's face looks down from buildings around Cuba and from ubiquitous T-shirts.

Way down in Vallegrande, the tourism potential is not lost on Mayor Hoover Cabrera. He wants Che's remains untouched and a Che museum at the "historic site".

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Process Improvement Analyst (Testing)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Service Delivery Manager - Derivatives, Support,

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Delivery Manager - (Derivatives, Support...

Technical Account Manager - Java, FIX Protocol, FIX 5.0, C++

£30000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Technical Account Manager - Java,...

WPF .NET Developer

£300 - £350 per day: Harrington Starr: WPF Analyst Programmer NET, WPF, C#, M...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform