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I Killed Che
___________________
Víctor Montoya
(Translation by Elizabeth Gamble Miller)

When I got the order to eliminate Che, a decision of the Bolivian military, I was seized by a fear that disarmed me. I began to tremble from head to foot and felt like peeing in my pants. The fear was so great at times, I could only think of my family, God, and the Virgin.

However, I had to recognize that, from the time we captured him in the Quebrada del Churo and took him to La Higuera, he had circles under his eyes and wanted to take his own life. So at least I would have the enormous satisfaction that finally, in my career as a subordinate officer, I would shoot a man who was important after wasting so much powder on turkeys.

The day I went into the room where Che was, sitting on a bench, his head down and his ponytail falling across his face, I took a few slugs to build up my courage to do my duty and chill his blood.

Che stood up within seconds of my getting to the door, raised his head and shot me a look that made me lose my balance right then. He was impressive, like anybody who is charismatic and fearsome at the same time; his clothes were ragged and he looked pale from his life as a guerrilla fighter.

Once I had him up close, not far from my eyes, I took a deep breath and spit on the floor, while I went into a cold sweat. Che, when we saw I was nervous, my hands clutching my M-2 rifle and legs set ready to shoot, quietly said, "Shoot. It's not much of a man you're killing." His voice, hoarse from tobacco and asthma, hit me hard, while his words made me feel a combination of hate and doubt and pity. I couldn't understand how a prisoner calmly waiting to die could raise his assassin's spirits.

I put the rifle to my chest and hardly aiming shot the first round which destroyed his legs and doubled him over, without any complaints before the second round tumbled him into the benches, his lips half open, like he was going to say something, and his eyes still looking at me from the other side of life.

The order done and while the blood pooled on the scarred floor, I left the room leaving the door open behind me. The blast of the shots took over my brain and the liquor ran through my veins. My body was shaking in the olive green uniform, and my speckled shirt was soaked in fear, sweat, and gunpowder.

Many years have gone by, but I remember the episode as if was yesterday. I see Che with his impressive look, his wild beard, tangled ponytail and eyes, as big and light as his huge soul.

The execution of Che was the most serious stupidity in my life, and as you will understand I don't feel good, day or night. I'm a vile assassin, a miserable, unpardonable human being, a human being incapable of yelling with pride: I killed Che! Nobody would believe me, not even my friends; they'd make fun of my false bragging, telling me over and over that Che didn't die, that he's more alive than ever.

The worse thing is that every 9th of October, I hardly wake up from this horrible nightmare, when my kids remind me that the Che of America, whom I thought I killed in the little school in La Higuera, is a flame lighted in the hearts of the people, because he fit into that class of men whose death made them more alive than when they were alive.

If I had known this, in the light of history and experience, I would have refused to shoot Che, and I would have had to pay the price of my life for betraying my country. But it's too late, now it's too late…

Sometimes just hearing his name, I feel like heaven is pressing down on me and the world is sinking under my feet and making an abyss. Other times, like right now, I can't keep on writing; my fingers get stiff, my heart pounds, and memories eat away at my conscience, like they're yelling from deep inside me, Assassin!

That's why I'm asking you to finish this story, for whatever end it might have, and you'll know that moral death is more painful than physical death and that the man who really died at La Higuera wasn't Che, but me, a simple sergeant in the Bolivian army, whose only merit –if you can call it that– is having shot at immortality.

© Víctor Montoya, Elizabeth Gamble Miller (2007)


_________________
VÍCTOR MONTOYA was born in La Paz (Bolivia) in 1958. He spent his childhood and early youth in the miner's town of Siglo XX-Llallagua, north of Potosí, where the largest vein of tin in the world was discovered. In 1976 he was persecuted, tortured, and jailed. He remained in the concentration camp of Chonchocoro-Viacha until, in 1977, he was freed following a campaign by Amnesty International. Since then he has resided in Sweden, where he is dedicated professionally to literature.
montoya[at]tyreso.mail.telia.com

ILLUSTRATION STORY: Chair on which he sat, presumably, Che when he came to kill Mario Terán Salazar through the door you see in the picture (Photo by Michel Gladu, included in article NEXT TO MY CAMPAIGN "Che". Guido "Inti "Peredo) ©.


Original en castellano / Versión en francés de este relato /
En italiano / En alemán