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Fiction: The Death of Che Guevara By Lewis Shiner

Interview with Haydée Tamara Bunke Bider, January 7, 1988, for the Argentine newspaper Clarín. Translated from the original Spanish.

How did you come to take the name Tania?

When they recruited me for the mission in Bolivia, I asked if I could pick my own nom de guerre. I chose Tania in honor of Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya Anatolyevna, who used the name when she was a partisan in the Great Patriotic War. She was tortured and executed by the Nazis in 1941 in the German-occupied Soviet Union.

In those days, the early sixties, we were all in love with the Soviet Union and Mao, and maybe also a little in love with death. I think that was especially true of Che. 

What made you become a revolutionary?

I came by it naturally. My parents are both Communists, and had to escape Hitler’s Germany because of that, and because my mother is Jewish. Here in Buenos Aires they were both members of the Communist Party and actively supported the guerrillas. In 1952, when I was 14, we moved back to the German Democratic Republic, and I joined the socialist youth organization—the Free German Youth—and later I was allowed to join the Party.

I grew up accepting Marxist historical analysis as the natural order of things. As I learned how the poor are treated in imperialist countries, and saw more and more of that as I traveled, it reinforced all those ideas and hardened my determination to change things.

You have to understand how exciting the Cuban Revolution was to all of us when it won its first victories in 1957 and ‘58. There they were, only 90 miles from the US, defying the most powerful oppressor on Earth and getting away with it.

Then, in 1960, I met Che in Berlin. He had found his purpose in life and he was radiant. After that I wanted nothing more than to go to Cuba. I used to sign all my letters with the slogans of the Revolution: Patria o muerte[homeland or death], and Venceremos [we shall overcome].

In May of 1961 my dream came true and I got to visit Cuba. That was all it took for me—Cuba became my home. 

What kind of a man was Ernesto “Che” Guevara?

Magnetic. Everyone says this about him, and everyone is right. On the one hand, he was incredibly strong because of his will and his absolute devotion to the Revolution. On the other hand he was physically weak because of his asthma. The strength and weakness were forever at war inside him. You could see the pain of it in his eyes, and it made him sensitive to the pain of others, especially the helpless.

To the powerful, he was not so kind.

He did everything with intensity. He was like a crazy man in combat, but when he listened to you he was quiet and looked in your face and he was entirely yours. This was very attractive, to men and women alike. Those who were close to him were passionate about him. 

What about the stories that the two of you were romantically involved?

I’ve seen the stories. Ridiculous, and full of errors. The writers clearly did not know what they were talking about. 

You and Che both nearly died in Bolivia.

Bolivia was a mistake.

Che believed absolutely in exporting the Cuban Revolution throughout America. As soon as they consolidated their power in Cuba, Che began talking to Fonseca in Nicaragua and Ramirez in the Dominican Republic, and also to rebels in Paraguay and Haiti.

But Bolivia was his obsession. He’d been nursing it for years, all because of geography. He looked at the Bolivian altiplano and thought how a revolution there could spread in all directions—to Brazil, Peru, Chile, Paraguay, and most of all to his homeland in Argentina.

From the start there were problems. The Bolivian Communist Party wanted to pursue an electoral strategy and didn’t want to support us. And the CIA was tracking us the entire time.

My mission was in the cities. I had been in Bolivia since November of 1964 under deep cover as an ethnologist, making contacts in the government and universities. Che arrived two years later, operating in the countryside. But they had one setback after another, and then in March of 1967 everything started to come apart.

Three compañeros arrived in La Paz with no one to take them into the jungle. So I did it, and once I got there I was delayed, and the result of that was that my cover was blown. So I stayed with the guerrillas. That was very exciting for me, to finally get my own M-1 rifle and be a part of the fighting. It was what I’d been waiting for all my life.

Then, in April, on a long march, another compañero and I got sick. We had high fevers, and Che made us stay behind with a second group. We were supposed to reconnect, but it was difficult—the radios never worked properly, new recruits deserted, and the peasants would constantly betray us.

For example, in August we met a man named Rojas who gave us food and put us up at his house and promised to guide us across the river the next day. But there was something about him I didn’t like, and the more we questioned him, the more evasive he got, until he finally admitted that he had alerted the army about us and they were waiting in ambush for us. Without a doubt, if we had trusted him we would all have been slaughtered.

The very next day we finally met up with Che’s group. We were badly shaken from our close call, and they were in terrible shape as well. Che was sick with asthma, everyone was hungry, exhausted, and in low spirits.

We argued for days after that. Che wanted to stay. He didn’t care about the risk, he only wanted to finish what he’d started. It was one of his flaws—he could be fatally stubborn. We kept telling him, over and over, that he was endangering everything. If he died in Bolivia there would be no revolution in Argentina, and the struggle for the rest of Latin America would be set back years, maybe decades.

Finally he was so sick that he couldn’t argue any more. We took him across the border into Argentina, where the montoneros [rural rebels] met us with medicine and food and guns and many men. I think he saw then that we had made the right decision. 

How was it when you and Che met with Perón?

The entire event was dreamlike. The montoneros first smuggled us into Cordoba, and we flew from there to Mexico DF, and from there to Spain. We were travelling for over 24 hours with little sleep. Che was in his “Ramón Benitez” disguise, where he shaved back his hairline and had gray at the temples and thick, black-rimmed glasses. I was “Marta Iriarte” with blonde hair and cat-eye sunglasses. Our own parents would not have known us.

One of Perón’s associates, Ramón Landajo, brought us into his study. I was so nervous. I don’t have to explain to you, you’re Argentine, but it’s hard for the rest of the world to understand the sheer force of gravity that man had. The poor of Argentina, his descamisados [shirtless ones], loved him with such intensity, and that love was the fuel that he burned. When I was a girl in Buenos Aires, every time it was a beautiful spring day, one of my friends would say, “¡Qué día peronista!” As if Juan Perón had made the day especially for her.

Now, let me say that my parents thought him a fascist. They would talk about how he learned his political philosophy from Mussolini, and how he never really cut his ties to the Army. Some of that is true enough, but why did the Army hate and fear him so much that his political party was outlawed, that during most of the time he was in exile it was dangerous to even speak his name in public?

Which is to say, I didn’t come to the meeting as an acolyte of Perón. Still, Che and I both liked the fact that he always refused to deal with the Yanqui imperialists. It was only after he let the Army force him out in 1955 that the North American corporations began to siphon the wealth out of our country. Privatization—that is the English word for “looting.”

He was quite old by this time, 72, and the years had been hard on him. He was still a very large man, but his strength was failing. He stood up when we came in the room, and you could see that even that effort cost him.

He was very cordial, very respectful, very gracious. We had coffee, exchanged a few pleasantries. He asked about the flight, we talked about the weather in Madrid, Che gave him a box of Montecristos. But there was still tension. Like so many, he had a hatred of Communism that went beyond the rational, as if it were some kind of contagious cancer.

It was Perón who made the first move. “You know,” he said, “I am uncomfortable with what you are up to in Argentina. I have many questions.”

“That’s why we’re here,” Che told him. “Our hope is that we can answer all your questions and come away with your blessing and support.”

“If you win your Revolution, what happens then?”

“The first order of business,” Che said, “is to reverse the damage that Onganía did in 1966. Expel the imperialist corporations, starting with the oil companies. Nationalize the industries that the military auctioned off. Create jobs for the descamisados. Make Argentina truly independent of the US. These are all things that you would do yourself, are they not?”

And Che drew him out like that, got Perón to talk about his own dreams for Argentina. It was beautiful to watch. The subject got on to land reform, and Perón asked, “What of the land owners? What of the estancias in the countryside? Do you intend to confiscate all that land for the State?”

“Let me tell you something,” Che said. “In Cuba, we left the small farmers alone. We didn’t advertise the fact, but it’s true. We only broke up the big plantations, starting with the ones owned by foreigners, like United Fruit. Again, our goals are no different than those of the left wing of theperonsitas, who operate under your name.”

We talked then about life with the montoneros, and the news we had ofcompañeros that Perón knew. It was going really well, until finally—and we knew this had to happen—he said, “What about the firing squads?”

Even Fidel had been concerned about the number of men that Che sentenced to death, starting in the Sierra Maestra and continuing through the trials and mass executions after the Revolution. But Che was inflexible.

“I was in Guatemala in 1954 when the Arbenz government was brought down by United Fruit and the CIA. It would never have happened if Arbenz had been strong enough to eliminate the men who were his sworn enemies, the men who continued to plot against him, the men who betrayed him and tried to assassinate him. How do you think the Cuban Revolution survived when the US has overthrown every other popular government in America? You have to kill them before they kill you.”

Perón was shaking his head. “You would make Argentina run with rivers of blood.”

I could see Che getting worked up and I didn’t know how to stop him. “There are already rivers of blood in Argentina,” he said. “And in Guatemala and Nicaragua and El Salvador. It’s the blood of the poor. It’s the blood of the innocent, who are kidnapped and tortured by government death squads paid in Yanqui dollars. That’s what Arbenz gave Guatemala when he resigned. That is the legacy of cowardice.”

He’d gone too far. I could see Perón’s face go stiff. Because of course that’s what Perón himself had done in 1955, resign rather than let Argentina be plunged into civil war. “You are a very unforgiving young man,” Perón said. “I hope the years bring you more compassion.”

And that was all. Perón said he had much work to do and Landajo took us back to our hotel.

Che was angry with himself for getting carried away, angry with me for not stopping him, and I was angry with him for blaming me for his own mistakes. Altogether it was a long, miserable night. Che, of course, had insisted on our staying in a cheap hotel and the beds had fleas—misery upon misery.

You can only imagine our amazement the next morning when there was Landajo again, arriving in the middle of breakfast, saying that Perón wanted to see us again.

“You do the talking this time,” Che said to me as we were getting in the car. “I will keep my mouth shut.”

In the end there was little for us to say. Perón had clearly had a bad night too. He seemed very frail.

“I don’t have much longer,” was nearly the first thing he said. “I want to go home.”

“Join us,” I said. “We can find you a cabinet position if you want, though that seems demeaning for a man of your stature. We could make you a Hero of the Revolution, with a generous pension, and of course you would be one of our trusted advisors, a full participant in the government.”

He said, “I don’t see how I could be a part of a Communist government.”

“We don’t have to use the word Communist,” I told him. I could see Che straining not to cut me off, wishing he had never let me talk. “We will call it a socialist government.”

And that was how it went. Point by point we hammered out a compromise that Perón could live with. 

How did Argentina react to the news?

The people were overjoyed. Che and Perón together? The only thing we lacked was bringing Evita back from the dead. Everyone wanted to join us—grandmothers, little kids, middle class shop owners.

For three months we built our strength, moving slowly down from the mountains. There was little resistance from the government—I think they knew they were doomed. On March 19, 1968, just as the first leaves were starting to turn with the fall, we marched into Buenos Aires and took the Casa Rosada without firing a shot. Perón flew in the next day from Madrid.

Shots were fired later, however.

There were executions. The Argentine military had allowed themselves to get in the habit of taking over the government every few years. It was a bad habit, and Che intended to break them of it. 

What was Perón’s role in the new government?

To be honest, it was very small. He did convince Che to hold elections, which Che was not keen on doing. And he suggested we run John William Cooke for President, which was quite a brilliant idea. Cooke was Argentine-born, Perón’s handpicked representative during the exile, yet he had been in Cuba since 1960 and was close to both Che and Fidel. He was the perfect blend of socialism and peronismo.

We were surprised how conservative Perón had become in his old age. He worried that business would suffer under Che’s direction, he worried about the US invading us—

Quite rightly, as it turned out.

True, but that was no reason to appease them. It was a full time job, keeping Perón on our side. If he’d lived longer he would probably have started his own faction and started a long and bitter power struggle. I don’t mean to sound callous, but it’s just as well he only lasted a year after he came home. 

How did you feel when the US invaded that July?

We had already lived through one US invasion back in Cuba, so we were not intimidated. If anything, the invasion at La Plata was even more pathetic than the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

The US was in the middle of the Tet Offensive at the same time, and already sending their young men to Vietnam as fast as they could draft them, so they had no reserves available. They ended up with a few hundred mercenaries from Tachito Samoza in Nicaragua and Stroessner in Paraguay, a collection of poorly trained rejects that hated each other more than they hated us. The US military was in a hurry, you see, because it was an election year and Eugene McCarthy had come out in support of the Revolution. They wanted to knock McCarthy out of contention with a quick victory.

And they underestimated us. The CIA knew that Che had disbanded the army and executed the top generals. They didn’t seem to understand that Che had also created a citizen’s militia, like we had in Cuba, consisting of a hundred thousand armed men and women who were completely loyal to Che and Perón and who passionately hated the US.

Also, as crazy as it sounds, I don’t think the US officers in charge fully understood that it gets very, very cold in Buenos Aires in July.

The invasion was good for us in the end, because when it failed, it got McCarthy elected. That ended the imperialist invasion of Vietnam and kept the US mostly out of Latin America for a few years. 

Mostly?

Well, the CIA simply hid what they were doing from McCarthy and continued to raise money for their favorite dictators any way they could—selling drugs and weapons, getting contributions from imperialist corporations like Ford, Bank of America, ITT. 

What was your role after the Revolution?

I had developed a taste for combat. By 1969 things were stable at home and we decided on Paraguay for our next focal point. Stroessner was one of the worst dictators on the continent, with a laundry list of human rights violations: kidnapping, torture, murder, corruption, on and on. He was of course one of the favorites of the US. And we wanted to pay him back a little for sending his soldiers against us.

Those were very happy days for me. To see the first light of hope in the face of a peasant who has been held down his entire life. To see his pride and gratitude when you put a gun in his hands and suddenly freedom becomes something real and attainable.

It took two years to bring Stroessner down, and in that time the entire balance of power shifted. Allende won a free election in Chile, and suddenly there were four socialist countries in America.

It’s funny, because the US used to threaten people with their so-called domino theory, the idea that if they let Vietnam fall to Communism, the rest of the countries in Southeast Asia would topple one by one. The left made cruel fun of this idea, and yet it came to pass here. We had barely finished celebrating in Paraguay when the Sandanistas won in Nicaragua.

Honestly, it blurs a little for me after that. Was Duarte in El Salvador next, or was it the Bandera Roja in Peru? Then Bolivia, at last, and Guatemala. 

Where were you when McCarthy was assassinated?

That was December of 1972, after he’d just won his second term. I was in Chiapas, in Mexico. As in so many of our campaigns, all the money had been spent on guns and we were left with a miserable radio that never worked properly. We were deep in the jungle, trying to get news of what was happening in the US, and all we could get were bits and pieces, then everything would turn to static. The Mexican soldiers were terrified when they heard that there was martial law in the US and the military had taken over the White House. They thought it was going to be the end of everything.

In fact, it was not so bad for us. The US had to bring all of their troops home just to stop the rioting, and when the news came out that it was the CIA who shot McCarthy, they really had their hands full.

Plus, it was a moral victory for us, in a way. It was the US being forced to admit what we had always known, that pure, free-market capitalism is not compatible with democracy. Chicago School Economics really needs a dictator, and now the US had its own in General Westmoreland.

People in Latin America had seen enough dictators. It brought many of them over to our side. 

What was your reaction to the Southern Wall?

Well, the irony, of course, is that same year, 1975, the Berlin Wall finally came down. I flew home to be a part of it, and I got to be with my parents in the crowd that welcomed West Berlin and West Germany to the Eastern Bloc. Everyone was holding candles and singing the “Internationale,” chorus after chorus, in one language after another—Russian, German, French, Spanish. Grown men wept. Mothers told children who couldn’t even read yet to always remember that day.

Meanwhile, Westmoreland was using enslaved dissidents to build his own Wall, that ten-foot high monstrosity along the Mexican border. The US never admitted it, but more than ten thousand of those young people escaped into Mexico in the process, many of whom joined the rebel army. I don’t know how many died, or how many more died later, trying to get over the Wall and into Mexico.

You asked me earlier why I became a revolutionary. Really, the answer is single word: justice. And I have to say I felt a powerful sense of justice when the US was reduced to one more third world country, crushed by their own military coup. 

When did you first meet the woman who called herself Agochar Kaur?

Ah, so we come to Veronique, already.

I met her at the same time that Che did. September of 1979, early spring in Buenos Aires.

Let me try to explain to you what it was like. Our dreams had come true. Every country in Latin America had either a socialist or a left-leaning government. Even Canada had the Labour Party in power, and the only reason they closed their border was that they simply could not handle the flood of immigrants from the US with no skills and no money. Though in private it’s said that there were jokes about building their own Wall to, quote, finish the job Westmoreland started, unquote.

We were completely independent of the Yanqui imperialists. The poor people of America—except the ones in the US—were better off than they ever had been. There was still much work to do, but we were building schools and factories and hospitals and dams, we were educating children and training adults. There were people who had never had anything at all who now had at least a little land under their control and a future to look forward to.

At the same time it took constant, constant vigilance. For every hundreddescamisados who worshipped Che, there was one bitter former bank manager or estancia owner who hated him with a desperate, suicidal fury. There were lots of guns around because of the militias. So it was not safe for Che, or even for me, to walk the streets.

Che was a gregarious, social person, and living in that kind of isolation was poisonous to him. Back in Cuba, he would go out every Sunday morning to participate in the voluntary labor crews and work beside the people—cutting sugar cane, loading trucks.

It was hard for me, too. I love music and dancing, especially the Argentine folk dances, the zamba and the chacarera. These are dances you do in the square at the Feria de Mataderos, with dozens of other couples and hundreds of people watching and clapping along. It’s not the same when you’re locked away in the Casa Rosada.

So, from time to time, we would disguise ourselves and go out in the streets with one or two bodyguards. Yes, it was dangerous, but without being able to do that, our lives would not have been worth much.

It was a Sunday, and we were in Plaza Dorrego, in the old San Telmo neighborhood. You know the flea market there, with vendors in the streets, tango orquestas and tango dancers, marionettes, painters, mimes, thousands of people all enjoying themselves, locals and tourists alike.

And there, down Calle Defensa, sitting against a corrugated steel shopfront, was this one waiflike girl, wearing a turban and playing a steel bowl. She was unearthly, pale, all in white, with a beautiful elfin face and an immensely long scarf. The bowl had indentations in it, like steel drum, and she ran her fingers over it to make it vibrate in these different pitches while she sang in a language I couldn’t understand. A dozen people sat cross-legged on the cobblestones, watching her. The music was very quiet, and it seemed to make a zone of silence around her. You could hear every sound she made over the crowd and the bandoneons and the touts.

She paid no attention to any of us. After singing and playing for another five minutes, she put the bowl aside, set the cushion she’d been sitting on next to the wall, and stood on her head, facing out to the street.

Che was captivated. He crouched next to her and tried to talk to her. Very quickly he saw that she didn’t have much Spanish, so he changed to French.

“What language were you singing in?” Che asked her.

“Gurmukhi.”

“Gurmukhi? What kind of language is that? Did you make it up?”

“It’s from India.”

“And your instrument? Is that from India too?”

“Switzerland.”

She seemed to know how absurd it was for Che to be squatting there and talking to an upside-down woman, but didn’t seem to care—as if she had nothing better to do at the moment. As for me, I was terribly uncomfortable, as you can imagine. It’s difficult to stand by and watch a man you admire make a fool of himself over a woman. It’s something better done in private.

“Where did you learn to stand on your head like that?”

“From Yogi Bhajan.”

“And who is that?”

“My teacher.”

Che was not one to give up easily. “What is your name?” he asked her.

“Agochar.”

“Is that really the name you were born with?”

“It’s the name I use.”

“And are you not going to ask me my name?”

“I know who you are.”

This snapped me to attention.

“You can’t possibly know who I am,” Che said.

The girl said, “Shall I call you Ernesto? Or shall I call 
you—”

“Stop,” Che said.

Both bodyguards and I, at the same time, had put our hands inside our jackets.

“How do you know this?” Che asked her.

“By the stink of death on you.” She never stopped smiling.

Che pretended to smell his armpit. “This shirt was clean only last week.”

“It’s not in your clothes. It’s not on your body.”

“Where is it, then?”

She didn’t answer him, she simply went away. Her expression barely changed, her body didn’t move at all, but her focus was gone and she was inside herself.

Che was not used to being ignored by women. “If you know who I am, come to dinner with us. You can bring your pillow and your ... thing.”

“Ramón,” I said. Che always used his cover name on our excursions. “Don’t be a fool.”

He gave me a look meant to push me away. “Tell me how I can find you again,” he said to the girl. “Do you have an address? A phone number?”

After a long time, as if from a great distance, she said, “I will find you.”

“Will you? When?”

But that was clearly all she was going to say. I took his arm and told him, “Ramón, come away. Now. You’re putting all of us in danger.”

He let me pull him away, but it was clear he was completely smitten. He talked about little else the rest of the night.

He was still married to Aleida at that time. The marriage was not doing so well. Aleida didn’t like Buenos Aires and missed Cuba. She was busy with the children and had withdrawn from public life. And Che, well, Che always needed a lot of attention.

He ordered his chief of security to find this Agochar. I didn’t interfere, because I was curious about her too. I wanted to know if she was a threat, if she was working for someone.

My own sources learned she was French, that her real name was Veronique Jarry, that she had lived in the United States from 1970 through 1976, studying with this Yogi Bhajan. At some point during that time she converted to the Sikh religion. After that she lived in India, Nepal, Rhodesia, and Mexico, apparently supporting herself by teaching yoga. She had only been in Argentina for a few days. I decided that she was probably crazy but harmless.

For four days Che’s people looked for her, and then on the fifth day, as Che became more and more obsessed, she arrived out of nowhere at the Casa Rosada, asking for him.

I had instructed the staff downstairs to call me if a woman matching her description showed up. Unfortunately, they feared Che more than me, so they called him first. He refused to consider my advice, which was that we arrest her, fingerprint her, and interrogate her until we knew exactly who she was and what she wanted. Instead he took her into his office and locked the door.

There was nothing I could do. I put half a dozen armed guards outside his door and told them to break it down if they heard anything they didn’t like.

That was the beginning. 

How did Agochar change Che?

She broke him. She destroyed him utterly. 

Some called her a female Rasputin.

It was not like that. Che had always been strongly influenced by women. It was part of his charm. Growing up, he doted on his mother and ignored his father. Then there was the failed love affair that set him off traveling all over South and Central America. He didn’t really become a Marxist until Hilda [his first wife] converted him in Mexico. And as any Jesuit can tell you, there is no believer as fierce and intolerant as a new convert.

By the time Agochar came along, he was ready for a change.

It wasn’t just sex, he could have sex anytime he wanted. He liked powerful women, and she was all of that. She knew magical and spiritual systems, history, current events—and then there were the things she could do with her body. I think Che saw that as an expression of will, that she could turn herself into a human pretzel. 

Did Che learn yoga from her?

He was never good at it, but he tried. He claimed it helped his asthma. 

Did you ever talk to Agochar yourself?

Yes, several times. It was unavoidable.

But I remember early on she had some kind of impulse to win me over. Che had installed her in an apartment with a huge courtyard, and she was growing vegetables there in enormous red clay pots. She asked me to tea and we sat outside, talking in French, there among all those plants propped up with stakes and covered by chicken wire to protect them from the birds.

“There must be many things you want to ask me,” she said.

I asked why she had come to Argentina.

She said, “It was time to leave Mexico, and I saw a poster of Che, and I knew I had to come here. I knew he needed me.”

“He needed you?”

“He has so much energy, as much as anyone I have ever known. But it was clearly not flowing properly. For whatever reason—moving around too much as a child, his troubles with his father—he is badly blocked in his firstchakra. Are you familiar with the chakras?”

I told her I was because I did not want to hear her explain them to me.

“Well,” she said, “then you know that makes him rootless, and very rigid.”

“A certain rigidity is not a bad thing in a soldier,” I said.

“He can be so much more than that. He could change the world.”

“He has changed the world,” I said.

“I don’t mean in the old ways. He could change the world the way Ghandi did. All the killings, all the executions, do you understand why he had to do that?”

“Of course. To prevent a counterrevolution.”

“I don’t mean the excuses he made. I mean the real reason, the psychological reason. When he kills a man who has betrayed the cause, or a man whose faith is weak, he is trying to kill those doubts in himself. That weakness in himself. He needed me to teach him to seek out his doubts and his weaknesses and listen to them. His strength is his weakness and his weakness is his strength.”

I saw then that we would never agree, that we could not even talk to each other. 

Did Agochar influence national policy?

Yes, of course she did. Or rather she influenced Che, and he began to dismantle the Revolution, piece by piece.

It started with Bolivia. You can’t have all these separate socialist nations living cheek by jowl without some squabbling. Bolivia was trying to “adjust” their border with us—in their favor, of course. Che wanted simply to capitulate. “If all men are brothers,” he said, “what difference does it make?”

This was early 1980, still in the heat of summer. Che was openly living with Agochar, though he had not divorced Aleida. He was making no attempt to hide his transformation. Here was Che, who had never worn anything but military fatigues, not even when he went to the OAS conference, not even when he met Chairman Mao, here he is on national TV in blue jeans, holding up his fingers in a peace sign. Or he would come to a cabinet meeting wearing sweat pants and sit cross-legged on the floor.

What I began to realize was that Agochar was right. Che was full of doubts and questions, always had been. Until she came along he had held his doubts in check with his iron will. He was very childlike, and like many children he loved to shock people. Communism had been one way to shock the adults of the world, the rich Yanqui imperialists. But Communism was no longer so shocking, and he had found a new way to upset people, even those closest to him.

Don’t get me wrong. Other things about him didn’t change. He never gave up his compassion for the poor and the helpless. But as Agochar said, compassion can be as much a weakness as a strength.

As it proved to be in the case of Bolivia. We argued long into the night over the situation, and before we could come to any kind of agreement, the thing was done, the Bolivians had gotten away with it.

Next Che began to insist on amnesty for the former members of the Argentine armed forces still in prison. This from Che, the king of the firing squads. I refused, of course, but he went behind my back and announced it to the press. We were forced to either go along or admit to the disunity that Che had created in the government.

This man, who used to lecture anyone within hearing distance about Marx and Lenin, was now lecturing about Ghandi and Martin Luther King.

“Where is Ghandi now?” I asked him once. “Dead. King? Dead. King’s Civil Rights Movement? Dead. John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Gene McCarthy? Dead, dead, dead. Assassinated, every one. When you put violence against non-violence, violence always wins. Have you forgotten who our enemy is? The United States does not believe in peace. The United Fruit Company, or United Brands, or Chiquita, or whatever they’re calling themselves this week, does not believe in peace. The CIA does not believe in peace.”

We were at a state dinner, and I’m sure I was embarrassing the others at our table. Everyone was in formal wear except for the three of us: Agochar in her white robes and turban, Che in a tie-died T-shirt, me in uniform. Agochar didn’t say a word, just smiled her little inward smile. She didn’t have to speak, because her words were now coming out of Che’s mouth.

“Ghandi freed India,” he said. “King won support for Civil Rights that violence never would have. Sometimes you have to give your life for your ideals. You used to know that, Tania.”

“Sometimes you have to do the harder thing,” I said, “and keep on living. What if you’d died in Bolivia in 1967, would there even be a Revolution in Latin America? Who will take your place when the CIA sees this weakness in you and shoots you down?”

“King came forward to carry on Ghandi’s work. I have now come forward to carry on King’s work. When they kill me, someone else will come along to shoulder the burden. Because the cause is just.” 

Wasn’t he also planning to disarm the militias?

That was the last straw. Without the militias we would have been defenseless against a US invasion. Che claimed we could stop them through non-violence. At this point it was clear that he was insane. 

Can you talk about the night of his death?

I went to see him in his apartment. I persuaded him to send Agochar away. I spent half an hour trying once again to change his mind about disarming the militias, but it was clear that nothing would convince him.

When I took out my pistol, he merely nodded. “You have come to kill me, then.”

I could not meet his eyes.

“What did the others say?” he asked me.

“They know nothing of this,” I told him. “I’m doing this entirely on my own.”

He didn’t fight or try to run. There was even a kind of eagerness about him. He sat up straight and said, “Be calm, and aim well. You are going to kill a man.” 

You must know that it was Agochar’s arguments at your trial that helped give you a life sentence rather than the death penalty.

I am aware of the many ironies of the situation. Be assured that she did me no favor. 

Had you anticipated that the power vacuum left by Che’s death would lead to a second invasion by the US?

I had considered it, yes. But if Che had had his way, the US would have invaded anyway. And the reason they were successful this time is that they were able to make use of those ex-Army officers that Che set free.

The hold the US has now is tenuous and I don’t believe they will prevail. Because of me, Che lives on in the minds of the people as a martyr, and not as the traitor he had become.

For that reason, if no other, it was necessary for me to execute him. 

At your trial, Agochar said, “The problem with capital punishment is not the harm it does to the one executed; it is the harm it does to those who pass and carry out the sentence.”

Obviously I do not agree.

There is only one judge of a person’s actions, and that judge is history. History will deliver my final verdict, and I am content with that. ¡Patria o muerte! ¡Venceremos!

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