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On This Day: Che Guevara Executed

Written By Kate Davey
Last updated: February 15, 2023

On Oct. 9, 1967, Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara was killed by CIA operatives and members of the Bolivian army.

Che Guevara Captured and Killed

On Oct. 8, Bolivian Rangers who had been trained by U.S. Army Special Forces found Ernesto “Che” Guevara, in Churro Ravine, Bolivia. They opened fire, wounding Guevara and killing two of his men.

According to the National Security Archive’s “The Death of Che Guevara: Declassified,” after being encircled, Guevara shouted, “Do not shoot! I am Che Guevara and worth more to you alive than dead.”

Guevara was then taken to a schoolhouse in La Higuera and held overnight. The following day, he was executed by Sgt. Jaime Teran, though details of the execution differ.

In varying accounts, Teran is portrayed as a willing executioner or as the loser of a drawing of straws who reluctantly carried out the execution. According to the U.S. Department of Defense report, Che refused to be seated for the execution, telling Teran, “I will remain standing for this … Know this now, you are killing a man.”

Teran shot Guevara multiple times with his M2 Carbine. According to Richard Harris, author of “Death of a Revolutionary: Che Guevara's Last Mission,” other soldiers fired at Guevara immediately after the execution.

In an interview with the BBC, Felix Rodriquez, a Cuban-American former CIA agent who interrogated Che, described Che’s reaction when Bolivian authorities decided there would be no trial for him, and that he would be executed: “Che turned white … before saying: ‘It’s better this way, I should have died in combat.’”

Biography: Che Guevara

Sources in this Story

  • George Washington University: National Security Archive: The Death of Che Guevara: Declassified
  • The BBC: CIA man recounts Che Guevara’s death
  • Che Guevara in Bolivia
  • Marxists Internet Archive: Che Guevara Internet Archive: Farewell letter from Che to Fidel Castro
  • PBS: American Experience: Fidel Castro: Che Guevara
  • Google Books: ‘Guerilla Warfare,’ by Ernesto Che Guevara
  • Time: Che Guevara: The Guerilla
  • Slate: The Cult of Che

Che Guevara was an Argentine doctor who, after witnessing a CIA-backed coup in Guatemala in which expropriated land was returned to the United Fruit Company, became a Marxist revolutionary. While working in Mexico City as a doctor he met Fidel and Raul Castro, who were planning to return to Cuba to overthrow United States-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.

After joining the Castro brothers in their efforts, Che soon proved himself as a brave and intelligent fighter in the Cuban Revolution and was promoted to the highest role within the rebel group: comandante.

After Castro seized control of Cuba, Guevara was put in charge of country’s economy; he nationalized industries, eliminated material incentives like raises and extra pay, and performed manual labor in an effort to inspire workers. His programs were largely unsuccessful, and the economy declined.

He was instrumental in forging a partnership with the Soviet Union, but he later “became disillusioned” with the superpower, writes PBS, questioning its commitment to global socialism.

He disappeared from Cuba in 1965. In a farewell letter to Fidel Castro, dated April 1, 1965, Che explained that he felt his role in the Cuban Revolution has been fulfilled and that he must move on. “Other nations of the world summon my modest efforts of assistance. I can do that which is denied you due to your responsibility as the head of Cuba, and the time has come for us to part,” he wrote.

He traveled to the Congo, Argentina, Bolivia and other places to incite revolution, but his efforts fell short.

In his most famous work, “Guerilla Warfare,” Guevara outlines the “fundamental lessons” from the Cuban Revolution, namely that “Popular forces can win a war against the army” and “It is not necessary to wait until all conditions for making revolution exist; the insurrection can create them.”

Che’s Legacy

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Despite being dead for over 40 years, Guevara’s role in history is still debated: Was he a hero or a failed leader? Time Magazine includes Guevara as one of its “100 Most Important People of the Century.” As Ariel Dorfman writes for Time, Che’s impact on South America is not forgotten: “I can remember fervently proclaiming it in the streets of Santiago, Chile, while similar vows exploded across Latin America. ¡No lo vamos a olvidar! We won’t let him be forgotten.”

Yet in his review of “The Motorcycle Diaries,” Slate journalist Paul Berman views Che as a totalitarian who accomplished nothing and inspired thousands of others to do the same. “And these insurgencies likewise accomplished nothing, except to bring about the death of hundreds of thousands, and to set back the cause of Latin-American democracy—a tragedy on the hugest scale,” writes Berman.

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