Che and the CIA in Bolivia

Why did Che choose Bolivia? Landlocked, Bolivia was Latin America’s poorest, most illiterate, most rural and most Indian country. It was also the most unstable country in Latin America, having gone through more than 190 changes in government since it became an independent republic in 1825. Like Mexico in the years 1910 to 1920, and Cuba more recently, Bolivia was a Latin American country whose revolution in 1952 was based on popular participation. And, of course, Bolivia is a neighbor to Che’s home country of Argentina.

Constantio Apasa, a Bolivian tin miner, summed up the political situation in his country in the year that Che arrived: “When the MNR (Revolutionary Nationalist Movement) came to power in 1952, we felt it was a workers’ party and things would be different. But then the MNR politicians organized a secret police and filled their pockets. They rebuilt the army which we had destroyed, and when it got big enough, the army threw them out. Now the army has new weapons which we cannot match.” The 1964 military coup ended the MNR’s twelve-year reign. The military officers who now ran Bolivia were all U.S.-trained.

Che arrived in Bolivia via Uruguay in early November of 1966 disguised as a Uruguayan businessman. So deceptive was his appearance—shaved beard, horn-rimmed glasses, tailored bank suit—that Phil Agee, the CIA agent in Uruguay charged with finding Che and who would later quit the agency and become a supporter of the Cuban Revolution, wrote that Che easily avoided Uruguayan officials despite a warning leaflet Agee had prepared and passed out at the airport in Montevideo. In fact, Fidel told author Ignacio Ramonet that even Raul Castro failed to recognize Che upon meeting him before he left Cuba for Bolivia.

Read the full excerpt in Guernica