Camiri Central Plaza

Camiri Central Plaza

It was, however, practically the only picture of Che in Camiri. Unlike all the Che kafuffle around Vallegrande and La Higuera, Camiri is certainly not a tourist spot, although it was to the north of there that much of the fighting took place. It is very much a military town, having been founded in 1935 by decree by President German Busch who served in the area during the Chaco War and saw that the embryo oil refinery needed a town to service it. There is a statue to Busch in the main square opposite the headquarters of the 4th Brigade and it was in the Brigade’s officers’ club opposite that Regis Debray and Ciro Bustos (whose book I am translating) were kept when they were detained leaving Che’s camp. There is a plaque on the wall, but only inside. Debray and Bustos lived in two rooms of the club for two years before and during the trial. Debray had his food provided by the French embassy, while Bustos was able to improve his food with money he earned by drawing portraits of local people, apparently.

The actual trial was held in the library of the headquarters of the Bolivian oilworkers union a couple of blocks away, just near the refinery. There is nothing to mark the fact. Strange because not only is there the Che link, but it was the first open oral military trial in Latin American history. Debray and Bustos were condemned to thirty years prison and removed to another army building opposite the officer’s club, but still in the square. In the end they served three before being deported.

I remarked on this lack of attention to Bolivian patrimony to Karin Wachtel de la Quintana who, as a friend of a friend of a friend, was showing me round. She had been Vice-minister of Tourism and said that despite definitely not being a fan of Che because of the trauma and death he brought to her town when she was a child, she did see him as part of the region’s history and had introduced the Ruta del Che in Santa Cruz province, paid for by the aid agency CARE, in an attempt to stimulate development projects for the Guarani as an off shoot. The scheme had worked around Vallegrande, aided by Cuban-generated funds, but had stalled in the Camiri area. Karin said the town’s strong historical links with the army partly explained why the plan was stymied.

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