The last journey of Che Guevara

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The Independent Online
The body of Che Guevara, which has now finally been discovered beneath the airstrip at the Bolivian town of Vallegrande, was buried by a Cuban-American agent of the CIA, Gustave Villoldo, who was the head of the CIA's "country team" in Bolivia. According to the most recent biography of Guevara, by the Mexican political scientist Jorge Castaneda, Villoldo revealed that he had taken part in the burial.

"I buried Che Guevara," he told Castaneda. "He was not cremated; I would not have allowed it, and I was also opposed to any mutilation of his body."

General Alfredo Ovando, the Bolivian commander-in-chief at the time, had ordered that Guevara's head should be cut off for identification purposes. Bolivian officers on the spot objected, and in any case this proved inappropriate after an attempt had been made to make a death mask. This operation was so bungled that Guevara's skin and eyebrows were entirely removed, leaving nothing but raw flesh. His head, so beautiful in the photographs, would no longer have served its purpose as identification.

I was there. I met Villoldo in Vallegrande on the day that Guevara was executed at the village of La Higuera, Monday 9 October, 1967. He was then operating under the pseudonym of "Eduardo Gonzalez". Four hours after the Cuban guerrilla leader was executed, his cadaver was brought to Vallegrande by helicopter and Villoldo immediately took charge of the proceedings. He travelled in the back of a small Chevrolet van containing Guevara's corpse, and organised its deposition in the small laundry hut of the local hospital. There two local doctors prepared it for embalming, and it was on view to the small group of reporters who happened to be in Vallegrande

The following day, Tuesday, the Bolivian government flew in a plane- load of reporters from La Paz, and the famous photograph that went round the world, later perceived to be reminiscent of Rembrandt's Anatomy Lesson, was taken.

That night the two doctors carried out an autopsy on Guevara's body, confirming for the first time that a bullet had gone through his heart. When this news leaked out at the end of the week, it became clear that Guevara had been executed. He did not die of his wounds, as the Bolivian army had at first maintained.

The attempt to take a death mask having failed, the doctors were then ordered to cut off his hands. These were subsequently examined by a team of finger-print experts from the Argentinian police who arrived at Vallegrande on Saturday 14 October, bearing Guevara's military service fingerprints of 1947.

A few hours after the autopsy, early on the morning of Wednesday 11 October, according to the evidence of the CIA agent interviewed by Jorge Castaneda, he was buried. "I took the body," said Villoldo, "together with that of two other guerrillas, in a lorry. I was accompanied by a Bolivian driver, and a lieutenant who may have been called Barrientos. We arrived at the airfield, and there we buried them. I would recognise the spot immediately. If they continue looking they will find him. They will be able to recognise him by the clinical removal of his hands."

The body found in Vallegrande has no hands.