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
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
NEXT TO MY CAMPAIGN "Che". Guido "Inti "Peredo) ©.
▫ Monográfico publicado en Revista Almiar con motivo de su V Aniversario (2006). Web reeditada en septiembre de 2019 (PmmC).