It has been thirty-one years since Fidel Castro walked into Havana and twenty-four since Ernesto “Che” Guevara died in the jungles of southeastern Bolivia. Despite the years, however, firsthand accounts by participants are still being published, the latest by Gary Prado Salmón, a retired general in the Bolivian army who in 1967 was a captain in command of the company that defeated and captured Guevara.
There is little new in his analysis of why Castro and Che chose Bolivia, or of the difficulties in establishing the foco, or of the various military engagements which ensued. What is valuable, however, is Prado’s fresh perspective as a Bolivian officer. Since he had access to military documentation, he is able to reprint not only many of the army’s general orders but all of the guerrilla communiqués, most of which never surfaced. The degree of ineptness and ill-preparedness of the Bolivian army (which Prado details) was so appalling that it tarnishes Che’s reputation as a guerrilla tactician even further.
Finally, Prado describes in detail the capture of Che Guevara and the hours that preceded his execution. As it was Prado who first took Che prisoner and first reported his capture, he is writing at least in part to exculpate himself from any blame for Che’s execution. It is Prado’s position that President René Barrientos himself ordered the killing, and he offers a number of plausible if not original reasons why Barrientos chose such a course.
Prado also delineates the roles of other key players such as CIA agent Felix Rodríguez. As in Rodríguez’s account of Che’s death (Shadow Warrior, 1989), Prado provides the reader with the text of a lengthy conversation that he claims he had with Che Guevara. Despite my natural skepticism, however, the two accounts are so similar that taken together they would appear to approach the truth. Both Prado and Rodríguez expressed great respect for Che and seemed to have developed a liking for him in the short time they had with him.
The book is both useful and interesting, the translation flows smoothly, and Prado provides a number of valuable illustrations and tables.