9 – His Death was neither Brave nor Noble
Given the heroic light he is held in according to the legend, it is no surprise to learn that the events surrounding his death are also mythologized. For example, it is claimed that he told his executioners to shoot him because “he is only a man.” The reality is very different according to people who were there. When enemy soldiers found him, he said: “Do not shoot! I am Che Guevara, and I am worth more to you alive than dead.”
The famed rebel was a pitiful sight upon capture as a lack of food and supplies took its toll while he hid in the jungle. After being caught, he was tied up and held in a local schoolhouse. During his internment, he kicked an officer who tried to take his pipe and spat at another man who tried to question him. On October 9, 1967, the President of Bolivia ordered the execution of Guevara.
According to Felix Rodriguez, who was involved in the capture of Che at La Figuera, Guevara “turned white like a piece of paper” when he went to speak with him around 30 minutes before the execution. Eventually, Che said: “It’s better this way. I should never have been captured alive.” Mario Teran, who was an alcoholic, volunteered to kill Guevara because three of his friends had died in a previous battle with the rebels.
Rodriguez ordered Teran to avoid shooting him in the head. Instead, he was supposed to make it look as if the rebel leader had died during a fight with the Bolivian Army. Teran shot him in the legs and then the torso, but in doing so, he merely added to the legend. Instead of dying as a pathetic wreck in an abandoned schoolhouse, it initially seemed as if Che Guevara had died bravely in battle.
Overall, the notion that Che Guevara was a champion of freedom is completely erroneous. He had no problem forcing the people of Cuba to work long hours for little or no pay. Che was also opposed to free speech, religion, the press, protest, and assembly. As soon as the new regime assumed power, Che was instrumental in crushing dissenting voices and ensuring Cuba remained under the iron yoke of a dictator.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading