Monument in La Higuera

Monument in La Higuera

The next step is the trek to the Quebrada del Churo where the final battle of the guerrilla war was waged. We walk down a very steep track for about an hour through thick undergrowth to a place by a river where Che with about 16 of his few remaining guerrillas were encircled by a couple of thousand US trained Bolivian rangers, according to our guide 72 year-old Policarpio (possibly an exaggeration). Che was wounded in the calf early on, and surrendered to save the rest of his men (eight were able to break through the cordon after the firing stopped). He apparently said, ‘No tiren. Soy el Che. Valgo mas vivo que muerto.’ Until then it was not known for absolutely sure whether it was Che himself leading the guerrillas, since he went by the nom de guerre Ramón and never wore his beret with the star in Bolivia.

Again, it was surreal to lie there in the sun on the stone, under which Che had taken refuge when his rifle was shot out of his hands, and listen to Policarpio recounting how the local people betrayed the guerrillas because the army told them they would take their women, their animals, their land. All the statues and slogans cannot hide the fact that the guerrillas never got support from the local population as they did in the Cuban revolutionary war. That is said to be one of the reasons for the defeat. Added to which, although the majority of the guerrillas were Bolivians, they were perceived as Cuban and, as such, an invading force. Coming here did away with one misconception I had had. When I read that Che had found the Bolivians hermetic, fearful and unresponsive, I (and I think many Europeans) assumed he was dealing with the Quechua and Aymará people we associate in our minds with Bolivia. I really didn’t know that in these parts they are mestizo campesinos mixed with Guarani Indians: not the Andean Indians as I had imagined.

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