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THE CHE TRAIL in BOLIVIA - La Ruta del Che en Bolivia
Late in 1967 the now legendary Argentinian born revolutionary Ernesto 'Che' Guevara was captured by Bolivian security forces in the scrub forest of the eastern Andes mountains. A few days later he was fatally shot in a tiny, out of the way village nestled in some arid foothills. The route Che followed, the place where he died and at the end of the trail, the dismal open air laundry where his body was displayed to the Press have become a pilgrimage trail for the curious as well as would-be followers. International funds are promoting the region for tourism with the intention of helping the local economy.
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Bolivia is the fifth largest South American country and is about twice the size of France. In 1967 the population was tiny, only 4 million and with large numbers of poorly educated people ekeing out a living below the poverty line. From his base in Cuba and with previous knowledge of Bolivia Che believed he had a chance to light the revolutionary fuse and ignite the rest of the region. With great secrecy Che and a small band of guerrillas arrived in Bolivia in late 1966 and made their base in an isolated settlement roughly 180 kms southeast from Santa Cruz. Quite why Che chose this area is not clear as it is sparsely populated even now and back in the 1960's it was out of touch with the world. Though poor, the country folk were not discontent and while the arrival of the guerrillas was a novelty it was not one they welcomed with open arms. But news of the intruders had already spread and the Bolivian govermment were aware they were about.The army was despatched and the elite 'Rangers', like modern day special forces, closed in. Eventualy after a cat and mouse game through forests and rocky canyons Che and his band were cornered near the small village of La Higuera. There are many accounts of the capture and ultimate fate of Che Guevara with different sides to the story. Much is now available on the internet

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Colour photographs of the route by Steve Harrison Special Correspondent for South American Pictures
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Santa Cruz is now the largest city in Bolivia and one of the fastest growing in South America. When Che Guevara passed this way secretly in 1966, en route to La Paz the Bolivian capital, many of the streets close to the centre were still unpaved and American made WW2 Willys Jeeps were common. Santa Cruz is a good starting point for the Che Trail. Samaipata is a small town in the foothills of the Andes mountains, about 120 kms from Santa Cruz. On 6 July 1967 the guerrillas attacked a small army post and took ten prisoners. They captured some weapons and a truck. They left the prisoners naked by the road about a kilometre from the town
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The road to La Higuera - the name comes from a type of fruit or 'fig'. It is a tiny village near the spot where the Rio Grande - an Amazon tributary begins to leave the Andes mountains The Bolivian army eventually cornered the band in a narrow canyon the Quebrada de Yuro [also as Churo] pointed out by local woman. Che was wounded and gave himself up. The spot is about 8kms from La Higuera
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La Higuera survives on the legend of Che. It is still a quiet backwater where life continues peacefully. Back in 1967 the Bolivian army took the wounded Che Guevara to the tiny schoolhouse in La Higuera. A statue to the hero now stands outside
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A nearby shop is decorated with Che memorabilia and the owner holds the key to the schoolhouse museum The schoolhouse has been transformed with funds from the United Kingdom [Reino Unido] and FundeCHE*
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While wounded and bound in the schoolhouse Che Guevara was shot in the chest several times. He died in the schoolhouse and as a memorial a large moulded bust stands on a rock outside. His body was strapped to the skids of an helicopter and flown to Vallegrande a small town 34 kms away. Vallegrande is approximately 125 kms southeast of Santa Cruz
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The corpse was moved to a small open air laundry - the white painted building - in the grounds of the hospital of Our Lord of Malta, Vallegrande.
The laundry is now disused and maintained as part of the Ruta del Che
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A commemorative plaque of ceramic tiles on the Hospital Señor de Malta, Vallegrande
The hospital [Our Lord of Malta] Vallegrande. The name Malta originates from the 11th century Knights of St John - The Knights Hospitalier of Jerusalem. After 1530 they were known as the Knights of Malta - as used in the Mediterranean island
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The body of Che Guevara was laid across two shallow basins of the laundry and local officials and then the Press were allowed to see the corpse. Many photographs were taken some with members of the army alongside. The news quickly sped around the world. But far from being the end of the affair Che Guevara became an even greater hero and martyr for the cause of international revolution.
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Señora Susana Osanaga who now owns a shop was a young nurse at the time. She was given the job of washing the corpse before it was displayed in the laundry. The laundry is now a shrine and many visitors try to leave their mark, sometimes with just a name and occasionally a sentiment or two by scratching the plaster wall
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After the Press had reported from Vallegrande the authorities decided not to bury Che Guevara and others of the revolutionary group in the local cemetery.They were afraid that it could become a place of pilgrimage for potential rebels so instead they took the bodies to a corner of the airfield and buried them hastily. In 1997/1998 the Bolivian President was persuaded to disinter the remains and return those of Che Guevara to Cuba. An impressive protective cover has since been built over the site of the graves and visitors can see the pit where the bodies were found. The spot marked for Che is at the bottom of the photograph. Others who were buried here included 'Willy' Simon Cuba Sarabia who helped Che when he was wounded in the Quebrada de Yuro. Others were Orlando Tamayo "Antonio'; Aniceto Reynago Gordillo "Aniceto"; Rene Martinez Tamayo; Alberto Fernández Moises de Oca "Pacho" and Juan Pablo Chang Navarro.
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In Argentina 17th October 1967 the weekly magazine Siete Dias ran the story with the title ' La Ultima Muerte del Che Guevara' - His last death. In Cuba dated November 1967 - a special commemorative book was published covering the life of Che Guevara. His quote 'Hasta la victoria siempre' is prominent on the cover. 'Until Victory, Always.'
Far from being dead and forgotten Che Guevara images spread around the world in their millions. The most famous and now iconic phoptograph was taken in March 1960 by Cuban photographer Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez known as Korda
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*Funds for the Ruta del Che were contributed by DFID the Department for International Development [The British Government, London, England] and FundeCHE a foundation created by the Emerging Markets Group-EMG [London,England, Brussels, Belgium and Arlington,VA, USA]. The bust of Che in La Higuera stands on a rock beside a Cross marking a holy place with the words painted below: 'Tu exemplo alumbrar. Un nuevo amanacer - Your example lights the way. A New dawn. On the right is some memorabilia from Santa Cruz. A painting of Che copied from the Korda image and the iconic table of 'The Last Supper'. A curious twist to the story
Tony and Marion Morrison were filming wildlife in Bolivia at the time of the death of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara . The South American Pictures archive includes many references to 'Che' including contemporary news items, images of his birthplace in Argentina, memorials in Cuba and memorabilia from many countries. Special thanks are given to the small museum in La Higuera.

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