Cuba: Che Guevara

John Heelan writes: As the declassified NSA report says "On October 9th, 1967, Ernesto "Che" Guevara was put to death by Bolivian soldiers, trained, equipped and guided by U.S. Green Beret and CIA operatives".   Another declassified CIA briefing- CIA Debriefing of Félix Rodríguez, June 3, 1975- comments, "When Che Guevara was executed in La Higuera, one CIA official was present--a Cuban-American operative named Félix Rodríguez. Rodríguez, who used the codename "Félix Ramos" in Bolivia and posed as a Bolivian military officer, was secretly debriefed on his role by the CIA's office of the Inspector General in June, 1975. (At the time the CIA was the focus of a major Congressional investigation into its assassination operations against foreign leaders.)

"Execution" implies the result of a judicial process; "assassination" is reserved for the killing of political or religious leaders.  So, I suggest, that Guevara was not "executed" but "assassinated" while lying wounded, directly or indirectly by the CIA.

Although opinions will vary on the justness of the killing (in my opinion he sought eventual martyrdom), it is perhaps worth reflecting on the notion that there are interesting parallels between Castro/Guevara and Franco/José Antonio Primo de Rivera.

Both Guevara and José Antonio were fundamental to the success of left-wing and right-wing uprisings;  both had charismatic personalities and garnered much popular support: Castro considered Guevara as a potential rival for the top job: Franco similarly considered José Antonio a potential rival.  Franco did little or nothing to prevent José Antonio being executed (there was a previous judicial process albeit perhaps corrupt) and Castro virtually banished Guevara from Cuba in the latter years and probably breathed a sigh of relief to learn of his death.

Guevara's iconic popularity around the world probably rested on three major elements; the Korda picture, his death as a young man and its coincidence with the sometimes violent student disaffection extant in the West during the 60s.  As with all idols, the worshippers ignored its feet of clay.  It is interesting to speculate what would have happened if Guevara had survived to the present day, avoiding death by military action and assassination attempts by friends and enemies.  As a 76-year old man, would he have the iconic rebel status he enjoyed in his 30s and 40s?  I suspect not.

John Heelan

Your comments are invited. Read the home page of the World Association of International Studies (WAIS) by simply double-clicking on: Mail to Ronald Hilton, Hoover Institution, Stanford, CA 94305-6010. Please inform us of any change of e-mail address.

Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: December 5, 2004