Declassified documents show initial US doubts about Che Guevara’s death

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On the 53rd anniversary of Che Guevara’s death, declassified US documents released this Friday show that US authorities intensively followed the movements of the Argentine guerrilla, initially doubted the announcement of his death and later they hoped that his demise would undermine the revolutionary movement in Latin America.

According to the documents released this Friday by the National Security Archive (NSA), the then US president, Lyndon Johnson, he regularly received information about the trace of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara since in 1965 he stopped being seen in public in Cuba.

One of 29 documents identified by the NSA, some of them previously declassified but now with fewer censored sections, and dated to April 22, 1967, collects how the Bolivian president, the dictator René Barrientos, informed the US general William Tope of the situation of the guerrillas in the country.

According to the document, Barrientos indicated that indigenous people from the department of Chuquisaca had reported the existence of “a group of bearded and armed men in the area” and that the guerrillas are a “well-organized, highly trained and well-equipped group that is equipped with modern automatic weapons, excellent medical kits and other modern accessories.”

Barrientos took advantage of the meeting to request the United States modern weapons although the US military expressed his reservations that the weapons would be ineffective if Bolivian soldiers were not trained in counterinsurgency work.

On May 10, 1967, the American CIA receives the first report “from people who say have seen and talked to Che Guevara since he disappeared in March 1965 “.

“The famous Cuban guerrilla leader, born in Argentina, Ernesto Che Guevara was present with the main group of the Bolivian guerrilla in southeastern Bolivia from the end of March until at least April 20, 1967. He was seen in the camp by Jules Regis Debray and Ciro Roberto Bustos during this period, “the document states.

A day after the CIA received the report, the information from the “first report that Che Guevara is alive and operating in South America “ it is relayed to President Johnson in the White House.

The communication to Johnson indicates that “the information comes from the interrogation of guerrillas captured in Bolivia” and that “more evidence is required before concluding that Guevara is operational and not dead, as the intelligence community, over time, has been increasingly inclined to think. “

On May 17, a CIA document details the questioning Debray was subjected to, “the young French Marxist who has been close to (Fidel) Castro” and that he was captured by the Bolivian army.

On October 9, the CIA reported on the combat that took place the day before in the vicinity of Higueras between Bolivian soldiers and a guerrilla group and indicated that “three guerrillas were killed and two captured. One of those captured may be Ernesto Che Guevara who he is seriously injured or very sick and may die. “

That information was transmitted urgently that same day by the National Security Advisor, Walt Rostow, to President Johnson: “This provisional information that the Bolivians captured Che Guevara will interest you. It is not confirmed yet. “

It is October 11 when the director of the CIA, Richard Helms, informs the Secretaries of State, Defense, as well as Rostow, that Che was captured with a leg wound, but it was in good condition and that the Bolivian military authorities ordered the assassination of the guerrilla.

Guevara was executed “with a burst from an M-2 automatic rifle.”

When Rostow receives the CIA memorandum that same day, he transmits the information to Johnson stating that he is “99% sure” of Che’s death in Bolivia and that considered “stupid” that the Bolivians killed the Argentine revolutionary after a brief interrogation.

One day later, on October 12, the State Department’s director of intelligence and investigation produced a report entitled The death of Guevara, the meaning for Latin America, who anticipated that Che’s disappearance could mean “a serious setback for the hopes of Fidel Castro to foment a violent revolution “in Latin America.

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