Che laid out in the wash house in Vallegrande’s hospital

Che laid out in the wash house in Vallegrande’s hospital

My head spinning with so much talk of Che, I took the plane to Santa Cruz, capital of the large eastern province of Bolivia, which unlike the freezing Andean part, is warm, humid and even semi-tropical in areas, and where the desire for autonomy is a big issue. From there I had a five hour bus journey into the mountains to Vallegrande, now a sleepy agricultural town in a beautiful green valley. In 1967, however, it was bristling with soldiers of the Bolivian army’s anti-guerrilla campaign.

By starting in Vallegrande, I would in fact be following Che’s footsteps backwards. After Che was shot, his body was thrown in an unmarked common grave together with eight other guerrillas killed in the last combat of the guerrilla war. For thirty years, its whereabouts was a Bolivian state secret until permission was finally given for, first Argentine, and then Cuban forensic scientists, to search an area near the town’s airport where it was thought to be. The bodies were eventually unearthed in 1997. Che’s remains were taken to Cuba where they lie in state in a mausoleum in Santa Clara, scene of Che’s great victory, but Vallegrande boasts a tasteful commemorative building to mark the site, part tomb, part photographic exhibition paid for by the Cubans. Close by is another garden with the graves of eight more guerrillas – Cubans, Bolivians, Peruvians, and Tania, the German-Argentine who was the only female guerrilla.

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