United States Intervention in Bolivia


Thirty years ago, on October 8, 1967, gunfire echoed through a steep ravine of the Andes Mountains in southern Bolivia. The guerrilla band led by Ernesto "Che" Guevara – a chief lieutenant in the Sierra Maestra, author of a book on guerilla tactics, one-time president of Cuba’s National Bank and later Minister of Industries under Castro, and who renounced his Cuban citizenship and set off to devote his services to the revolutionary cause in other lands – was pinned down and surrounded by U.S.-trained Bolivian Army Rangers. Less than a year earlier, Guevara and a team of cadres had secretly traveled from Cuba to Bolivia to launch a guerrilla war, hoping to topple Bolivia\'s pro-U.S. military government. Guevara had gone up into the mountains with about 50 supporters. Within months they were discovered by Bolivian troops and an intense pursuit started. Trying to escape the government forces, Guevara divided his supporters into two groups, and was never able to reunite them. His diary records that, by late August, his group was exhausted, demoralized and down to 22 men. On August 31 the other group was ambushed and wiped out crossing a river. On September 26, Bolivian army units ambushed Che\'s remaining forces near the isolated mountain huts of La Higuera. The guerrillas found no way out of the encirclement. Several died in the shooting. Guevara himself was wounded in the leg. He and two other fighters were captured on October 8 and taken to an old one-room schoolhouse in La Higuera. The next day, October 9, a helicopter flew in a man called "Felix Ramos" who wore the uniform of a Bolivian officer. "Ramos" took charge of the prisoner. Two hours later, Che Guevara and both other guerrillas were executed.


The weapons and equipment of the killers were American-made. The Bolivian officer who took Guevara prisoner had been trained at Fort Bragg – at a U.S. school for army coups, murder and counterinsurgency. And the man in charge at the scene, "Captain Ramos," was a veteran CIA field agent, Felix Rodriguez. For years, the U.S. government had armed the Bolivian military and riddled it with their paid agents. As soon as Guevara\'s new guerrilla force was discovered, Washington sent new teams of CIA and Green Berets killers into Bolivia – including Rodriguez and his fellow Cuban-American agent, Gustavo Villoldo – to assist the capture of Guevara and destruction of his guerrilla band. U.S. transport planes arrived loaded with more arms, radio equipment, and napalm. Rodriguez, who was masquerading as a Bolivian army captain, had previously led a CIA death squad in Vietnam (later, this same Felix Rodriguez would be personally appointed by George Bush Sr. to be the key CIA operative at El Salvador\'s Ilopango Air Force base during the 1980s, where Rodriguez oversaw the CIA\'s notorious cocaine-for-arms air flights). Rodriguez and Villoldo became part of a CIA task force in Bolivia that included the case officer for the operation, “Jim”, another Cuban American, Mario Osiris Riveron, and two agents in charge of communications in Santa Clara.


Rodriguez emerged as the most important member of the group. After a lengthy interrogation of one captured guerrilla, he was instrumental in focusing the efforts of the 2nd Ranger Battalion on the Villagrande region where he believed Guevara’s rebels were operating. Although he apparently was under CIA instructions to “do everything possible to keep him alive,” it was Rodriguez who transmitted the order to execute Guevara from the Bolivian High Command to the soldiers at La Higueras – he also directed them not to shoot Guevara in the face so that his execution wounds would look like they were received in combat – and personally informed Che that he would be killed. It was Rodriguez who pocketed Che Guevara\'s wristwatch as a souvenir (which he often proudly showed to reporters during the ensuing years) and flew Guevara\'s body to the nearby military base at Vallegrande. Early on October 11, after cutting off Guevara\'s hands as evidence, the killers dumped his body in an unmarked grave near Vallegrande\'s airstrip where it was not discovered until June 1997. Publicly, the Bolivian government insisted his body had been burned.


By killing Che Guevara and his fellow guerrillas, the leaders of the United States intended