Mario Terán was the person despatched to kill Che Guevara

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THEY HAD SPENT the evening celebrating the arrest of their extraordinary prisoner, however within the bleary morning of October ninth 1967 a wake-up order got here for A and B Firm of the Bolivian Manchego Regiment. The phrases had been “Saluden a Papá”, despatched by President René Barrientos himself. They meant “Say hiya to Dad”, and kill him. The unique thought, backed by the USA, had been to ship Che Guevara for court-martial; however Barrientos needed this toxic affect stamped out immediately. Somebody needed to kill each Che and Willy, a guerrilla arrested with him; and when seven males had been requested, and all volunteered, Colonel Zenteno’s finger had pointed at Mario Terán. “Usted al Che,” he stated; you do Che.

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For 40 minutes he had hung about, hoping the order could be annulled. This solely infuriated his superiors. So from their camp at La Higuera, a village of not more than 20 dwellings within the dry damaged hills of southern Bolivia, he was now climbing as much as the schoolhouse. It was a humble place, constructed of mud and thatch, and silent now the kids had been away. However inside it was a legend, essentially the most well-known guerrilla chief anyplace, whose revolutionary socialist concepts had unfold from Cuba throughout Latin America after which past. He had been absent for years, fomenting bother on Fidel Castro’s orders in Congo, Tanzania, Vietnam and even Europe. Now he had turned up in Bolivia with a ragtag band of guerrillas, and the day earlier than A and B Firm had run into them.

The combat had been fierce. Terán, a 26-year-old non-commissioned officer in Firm A, noticed two good pals killed in entrance of him. However Che had misplaced extra, and was wounded and his carbine-barrel shattered, so he surrendered. He regarded virtually abnormal then, like some tramp, unkempt and rasping with bronchial asthma in a dirty uniform. However when he was given some tobacco for his pipe, and cheekily requested whether or not anybody had any Astoria, the previous appeal got here out once more.

To the person who now needed to kill him, the duty was dreadful. He wanted a stiff drink, however might discover solely beer, so he shouldered his M2 computerized and struggled on with a slopping bottle in every hand. He had tried to discover a higher rifle, too, however had no luck. No luck with something that day.

Why he had been picked remained a thriller. He was soldier, his superiors stated, environment friendly and calm, did his duties properly. His father was in commerce, however he had chosen the military in his teenagers, gone to the Sergeants’ College in his house city of Cochabamba, and had made sufficient progress to grow to be an teacher there. He was nothing particular, although, and no extra keen than anybody else to volunteer. Or maybe a bit extra, along with his pals simply killed and his spouse Julia about to present delivery again at house. No matter had drawn him to the colonel’s discover, it led him now to the schoolhouse door.

If he had identified then how his life was about to vary, he would by no means have raised his hand. Virtually all the remainder of his existence was spent in hiding and denial. In December that yr he let Michelle Rey from Paris Match take his image and label him as Che’s killer. It remained the one clear photograph of him till his pensioner’s ID many years later. In between, in impact, he disappeared. He gave no trace of his story both publicly and even privately, to his six kids or their kids. There was stated to be a “curse of Che”, by which individuals concerned in his dying met sudden or violent ends. He didn’t have to consider in that to really feel he was a marked man.

Till he retired from the military in 1997 with the rank of senior warrant officer, each the military and the federal government protected him. He additionally stayed in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia’s largest metropolis, however moved about in its labyrinth of streets, giving out no handle besides to assert his old-age profit. Typically he glided by the identify “Pedro Salazar”. When two reporters from Spain’s El Mundo newspaper tracked him down in 2014, they discovered him in a middle-class road in a home behind excessive inexperienced railings, with a frisky Rottweiler patrolling however no door-knocker or bell.

To these reporters he gave the story he had instructed himself for many years. He was not the killer of Che, not for certain. Sure, he was the person within the Paris Match {photograph}, who bore a robust resemblance to the officer at Che’s laying-out (above) who stood behind his lifeless head, seeming to elucidate. He additionally had the identical identify as the person who had written a long-secret report on the killing to his superiors, and had been given Che’s handmade pipe by an embedded CIA agent. However there have been two different Mario Teráns within the Bolivian military, distinguished solely by their maternal surnames: Mario Terán Ortuño and Mario Terán Reque. As he instructed the reporters with out blinking, it might properly have been certainly one of them.

It was due to this fact not him for sure who, based on the key report, entered the schoolhouse in La Higuera to seek out Che sitting on a bench. He stated, “You’ve come to kill me.” To this his killer might solely bow his head and make no reply. He was unable to fireside. The determine of Che appeared all of a sudden gigantic. These eyes shone so intensely that he felt dizzy, overwhelmed. He thought his M2 is perhaps wrenched away by one motion of Che’s hand. (The guards stated later that he rushed from the constructing, soaked in sweat, and that he did so greater than as soon as.) Ultimately Che stated: “Relax and goal properly! You’re going to kill a person.”

The person who was not him for sure aimed his carbine at Che’s legs, recalling the order that he ought to achieve this to unfold the official story that he had died of battle wounds. With the primary burst he made him topple writhing to the bottom, his legs destroyed and blood streaming throughout the ground. His killer regained his spirits then, and unleashed a second burst that discovered Che’s arm, his shoulder and his coronary heart. Then the large was lifeless, and he left.

Loss of life in such a style, and particularly the laying-out afterwards, mightily magnified the parable of Che. La Higuera turned a shrine and a tourist-trap, with the guerrillero heroico its patron saint. As for the soldier who was not his killer, not for sure, he went again down the hill believing he would always remember, and proceeded to work on his forgetting for 55 years.

This text appeared within the Obituary part of the print version underneath the headline “Man and delusion”

20220409 cna1280 - Mario Terán was the person despatched to kill Che Guevara

From the April seventh 2022 version

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