The Miami Herald
March 25, 2001

Guevara's captor decries execution


 MEXICO CITY -- Retired Gen. Gary Prado, Bolivia's new ambassador to Mexico and commander of the army battalion that captured Ché Guevara in 1967, said killing the Cuban guerrilla leader was "a historic mistake'' and claimed he would never have pulled the trigger if ordered to do so.

 Prado's appointment as ambassador has sparked protests from the Mexican left, which holds him responsible for the execution of Guevara, who was captured while
 leading a band of Marxist guerrillas battling Bolivia's government.

 In a wide-ranging interview on the subject, Prado called the decision by Bolivia's top military commanders to execute Guevara ``a historic mistake,'' one that he would have resisted. But, Prado said, he was out on patrol when the order was given.

 Guevara, one of the principal leaders of the guerrilla forces that brought Fidel Castro to power, left Cuba in 1965, intent on ramrodding other Third World revolutions. After an unsuccessful attempt in Africa, he moved to Bolivia.


 The Bolivian army wasn't even certain Guevara was still in the country until reading articles by French intellectual Regis Debray, who had interviewed him in the jungle, Prado said.

 The army quickly assembled a task force and cornered Guevara and his small band of guerrillas near La Higuera, Bolivia, on Oct. 8, 1967.

 The rebels were surrounded at the gorge of the Yura River, outside the village. Guevara, who was wounded in the leg, did not resist when he and some of his men were taken by surprise as they attempted to flee, Yura said.

 After his capture, Guevara appeared "depressed and downhearted. He kept repeating that his struggle was over,'' Prado said. But a few hours later "we talked about his diary; he smoked his pipe and seemed to cheer up,'' Prado added.

 What surprised him most that night, Prado said, was Guevara's ignorance about Bolivian reality.

 Guevara "admitted that he was unaware of conditions in Bolivia,'' Prado recalled, adding he was convinced that was one reason the Cuban revolutionary's efforts failed.

 "Bolivian peasants had land and distrusted the bearded foreigners more than they did the army, so they gave us information that led to his capture,'' Prado insisted.

 As they talked that night, Prado had no idea that Guevara would be executed the next day, he said. Neither did Guevara.

 "He asked me what his trial would be like, whether it would be a court-martial and where it would be held,'' recalled Prado.


 But, Prado said, when he returned from a patrol the next day, he learned Guevara had been shot hours earlier on orders of the high command. He covered Guevara's head with a handkerchief "to keep his face from becoming deformed,'' Prado said.

 Killing the revolutionary was "a historic mistake'' on the part of the Bolivian government, headed by then-President René Barrientos, "who feared the international
 repercussions of a trial and thought there was no appropriate place in Bolivia to confine Ché,'' Prado continued.

 "I don't understand the reasons that led to his killing,'' Prado said. The government "should have consulted those of us who were involved'' before taking action, he said.

 A former presidential advisor, cabinet minister and ambassador to Great Britain, Prado complained about being primarily associated with Ché's capture, saying, "I have done much more important things than capture Che.''

                                    © 2001