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Che Ernesto Guevara was born in Rosario, Argentina, and trained there as a doctor, but left his homeland in 1953 because of his opposition to the right-wing president Juan Perón. In effecting the Cuban revolution of 1959 against the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, he was second only to Fidel Castro and Castro’s brother Raúl.
He was an orthodox Marxist and renowned for his guerrilla techniques. Between 1961 and 1965, he served as Cuba’s ministry of industry.
In 1965, he went to the Congo to fight against white mercenaries, and then to Bolivia, where he set about forming a guerrilla army.
Operating as the ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional de Bolivia or “National Liberation Army of Bolivia”), Guevara and his guerillas were well equipped and scored a number of early successes against the Bolivian army in the mountainous Camiri region.
But Guevara was unaware that the US government had sent a team of the CIA’s Special Activities Division commandos and other operatives into Bolivia to aid the anti-insurrection effort. The Bolivian Army was also being trained, advised, and supplied by US Army Special Forces, including an elite battalion of US Rangers trained in jungle warfare.
He was also unable to attract local Bolivians to join his militia and many of them willingly informed the authorities and military about the guerrillas and their movements in the area.
On 7 October 1967, an informant revealed the location of Guevara’s guerrilla encampment to the Bolivian Special Forces and on the morning of 8 October, they encircled the area with 180 soldiers and took part in a battle where Guevara was wounded and taken prisoner.
Two days later, Bolivian President René Barrientos gave the order to kill Guevara. He was shot nine times, including five times in his legs, once in the right shoulder and arm, and once in the chest and throat.
After his execution, Guevara’s body was taken to Vallegrande, where photographs were taken of him lying on a concrete slab in the laundry room of the hospital.
After a military doctor dismembered his hands, Bolivian army officers transferred Guevara’s body to an undisclosed location and refused to reveal whether his remains had been buried or cremated. The hands were sent to Buenos Aires for fingerprint identification. They were later sent to Cuba.
In November 1995 the location of the mass grave in which Guevara’s body was buried was revealed by a witness to the burial to be in the village of Valle Grande in Bolivia. The remains of Guevara were unearthed in 1997 and returned to Cuba for a hero’s burial in a specially built mausoleum in the city of Santa Clara.