‘The Only Thing Taken to Cuba Were Che’s Hands,’ Says the Man Who Captured Him

Cuban-American Félix Rodríguez, the CIA agent who led the operation in Bolivia to capture Guevara. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Jorge I. Pérez, Miami, 7 July 2022 –Cuban-American Félix Rodríguez, the CIA agent who led the operation in Bolivia to capture Ernesto Che Guevara that culminated in his execution in 1967, told Efe on Wednesday that “the only thing that could be buried in Cuba” are the hands of the guerrilla.

“The body was never where they say they found it,” he stresses in a telephone conversation. According to Rodríguez emphatically, the Argentine guerrilla “was not buried at the side of the runway with seven other bodies as Fidel (Castro) said; Che was buried at the head of the runway with two more corpses, there were only three.”

A few days before the 25th anniversary of the discovery of Che’s body at the Vallegrande airport (Bolivia), the 81-year-old former CIA agent, retired in Miami, denies the official version of what happened on 28 June 1997.

According to the official Cuban version, the body of the revolutionary leader was found that day in a mass grave at the Vallegrande airport and, after being identified in a hospital in Bolivia, his remains were sent to Cuba, where a mausoleum was erected in his honor in Santa Clara.

According to the media outlet Cubavisión Internacional, the remains of the Argentine guerrilla were found on an abandoned runway in Vallegrande. There, says the media, a group of Cuban experts found the grave where seven guerrilla men were buried, including their leader Ernesto Che Guevara.

“Obviously, if he (Fidel Castro) buried his hands, then there is a part of Che in the Santa Clara monument, because the hands were taken there by the (then) Minister of the Interior (Antonio) Arguedas,” along with a copy of the guerrilla’s diary in Bolivia, says Rodríguez.

According to the former CIA agent, “at dawn a Bolivian doctor went with my partner, (Gustavo) Villoldo, and then they cut off his hands, put them in formalin and put them in a volqueta (dump truck), as they call the pickups, they took Che to the end of the runway where there was a bulldozer that was widening the runway for larger planes to land. continue reading

“And there they buried him, at the end of the runway next to two corpses and Fidel says they found him to one side with seven more. That was not Che Guevara,” he says.

On how it became known that Che was in Bolivia, Rodríguez, whose mission was to save his life, although he now says that his execution was “the best thing that could happen,” recalls that it had to do with the French philosopher and writer Régis Debray.

“It was confirmed when they took (Argentine intellectual Ciro) Busto and Régis Debray prisoner; they went to visit Che and when they were taken prisoner they confirmed that the person was Che Guevara. If it wasn’t for them, it wouldn’t have been known that Che was in Bolivia,” he says.

On October 9, 1967, Rodríguez landed in Bolivia to capture Che and later saw him “tied hand and foot.”

“My mission was to save his life at the request of the US government. It was very important to keep him alive, killing him was a decision of the Bolivian president, General René Barrientos,” he said. It was the Bolivian sergeant Mario Terán who executed Guevara in La Higuera that same day.

According to Rodríguez, the burial of the body “was not a military secret, they simply did not tell anyone.”

“They took a driver that day and buried him at the end of the runway, and gave out the news that he had been cremated and that the ashes had been thrown from a helicopter into the air, which was not true,” he says.

And he adds: “That was the official news that was given to the Bolivian people: that (Che) was cremated and his ashes scattered over the Bolivian jungle, but the truth is that he was buried at the head of the runway, you can put it to bed,” he asserted.


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‘The Body Never Forgets’, an Essay on the Concentration Camps in Cuba

The official Cuban press extolling the work of the UMAP camps in the 1960s. Headline: Where work makes the man.

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Jorge I. Pérez, Miami, 5 April 2022 — The forced labor camps in which, as in the Soviet gulag, dissidents, religious, homosexuals and artists were confined in the Cuba of the 1960s, left “a lot of pain and trauma” not yet healed, affirms the Cuban historian Abel Sierra Madero, who has just published an essay on this subject with the title El cuerpo nunca olvida [The body never forgets].

Subtitled Trabajo forzado, hombre nuevo y memoria en Cuba (1959-1980) [Forced work, new man and memory in Cuba (1959-1980)], the book brings together, for the first time, memorabilia, personal photos, testimonial sources and fictional literature on what was officially called Military Production Assistance Units (UMAP), “Because it must be said that I handle fiction as truth,” Sierra told Efe in an interview.

A specialist in studies of sexuality, concentration camps, the Cold War, memory and trauma, Sierra, who has lived in the US for years, interviewed more than 30 people or relatives of people who between 1965 and 1968 were in the UMAP. The interviews were conducted between Cuba, Miami, New Jersey and New York.

According to Sierra (1976) in the book’s introduction, “the UMAPs formed part of a more complex economic system within a broad project of social engineering.”

For this purpose, dozens of forced labor camps were created in the Camagüey plain, the Cuban province where sugar cane was best grown, and some 30,000 people passed through them between 1965 and 1968, according to data from the author. continue reading

“The UMAPs had a double meaning: re-educational, political and ideological, and also an economic one,” he comments.

“They were plantation enclaves. In the book I call it ’the development of the socialist plantation’, based on a colonial market which was that of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe,” he says.

“The implementation of these camps allowed the State to appropriate a large part of the workforce without having to compensate them financially,” he says.

“There is still a lot of pain and trauma. An interesting part in this book is the theme of silence; you can see how silences speak. I was interested in taking the witness to that place of remembrance and denunciation,” Sierra details.

The volume shows “how the notion of the ’New Man’, which was the fundamental term to establish the revolutionary ideological structure and architecture, also served to implement forced labor camps, to manage power and create control mechanisms.”

Retrieving “los escombros,” something he prefers to call, in English, “the debris,” processing the information and writing a 528-page essay took him about a decade, he confessed shortly before presenting his book this Saturday at the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora, in Miami.

The cover is an image by Canadian photojournalist Paul Kidd taken at the entrance to one of the camps in 1966. It shows an armed soldier next to a fence of 21 strands of barbed wire.

Sierra comments that the photo is the product of Kidd’s audacity, who appeared there alone and without warning.

Hundreds of homosexuals were taken to these gulags to be “cured” according to the concept of the Cuban revolution that saw the nation as a sick body and the State as a medical benefactor, the book’s publisher, Rialta, said in a presentation on Facebook.

Benjamín de la Torre, “a boy who moved in art circles, committed suicide after that experience,” Sierra points out.

Singer-songwriter Pablo Milanés entered the UMAP at the age of 23, but according to Sierra his stay there “was an open secret until he considered it important for his career to unfreeze this issue.”

About the experience, Milanés wrote the song 14 pelos y un día, in which he invokes the wire fences, which were reduced from 21 strands to 14 when international criticism began to surface, according to 14ymedio.

Sierra was unable to interview Milanés after two attempts. “He was so traumatized that when everything was ready for the interview he canceled at the last minute,” he says.

The few available sources, beyond the official newspaper archives that “tell a different story from the UMAP,” were texts written by religious inmates of the camps “from a narrative of forgiveness.”

“Then I realized that I had to carry out a deep investigation that collected the before and after of the camps, the inside and the outside,” explains the author, who included a bonus track touching on the Mariel exodus in his essay (1980).

“An archive is created to be able to be destroyed, and that is the logic in which the Cuban regime has operated: Create a mystique around the archive, create a morbidity about its existence or disappearance to make believe reconstruction is an impossibility.”

“It has been shown how a history without an archive can be reconstructed, and that is what I have done, a history of the UMAP without an official archive. I have created my own,” says this professor at Florida International University (FIU).


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.