2017 marks 50 years since the death of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, bringing to an end the career of arguably the world's most iconic revolutionary. Best known for his role alongside Fidel Castro in Cuba, Che actually died in Bolivia, at the hands of CIA-trained Bolivian Special Forces, amid the jungles and ravines of the Quebrada del Yuro. This wild and remote part of Bolivia has always been difficult to reach, but this year, South America specialists RealWorld will be running special anniversary tours to the area, and to all the sites associated with Che in Bolivia.
Following the success of the Cuban Revolution in 1964, Che Guevara became disenchanted with life in Cuba and in 1965, he left to try and apply the revolutionary and guerrilla warfare techniques which had been so successful there. His first destination was the Congo, where he tried to work alongside Kabila's rebels, but after he was unsuccessful there, he decided to target Bolivia, arriving in the country on the 3rd November 1966, in the guise of a Uruguayan businessman.
He knew the south-eastern jungles of Bolivia had always been largely outside of government control, and planned to base himself in the remote Ñancahuazu valley, together with a band of around 50 guerillas: a mix of Cubans, Bolivians and a handful of other nationalities. Although they had a few successes attacking Bolivian army patrols in Samaipata and Lagunillas, it didn't take long for problems to arise. Their radio receivers both broke, which caused huge supply problems, compounded by the fact that although Che had insisted his troops learned some Quechua (one of the most widely-spoken indigenous languages in Bolivia), the local villagers actually spoke a type of Tupi-Guarani and perhaps as a result were unhelpful to the point of unfriendliness. Che complained in his diary that: "Talking to these peasants is like talking to statues. They do not give us any help. Worse still, many of them are turning into informants."
Sadly for the rebels, Che's suspicions were correct, and Bolivian Special Forces were closing in on their positions. On the morning of 8th October 1967, the Bolivian troops encircled the rebel's new camp in the Quebrada del Yuro and advanced. Che was wounded and his rifle was also put out of action. He was captured and taken under guard to a schoolhouse in the nearby village of La Higuera.
The CIA were actively involved in Bolivia at the time, and wanted Che to be taken to Panama, where they could interrogate him further, but the Bolivian generals and politicians were terrified that he would somehow escape and make them look foolish. Che also literally spat in the face of one of the generals who came to question him in La Higuera, which probably didn't help his prospects. Late in the morning of the 9th October, the decision was taken to execute him, and the sentence was carried out by a soldier who had earlier lost comrades to the guerrillas, although he was told to shoot Che several times to make it look like he had been killed in combat.