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companero che .com - the truth about Ernesto Che Guevara
Argentina South America Mexico Cuba Soviet Union Africa Bolivia
        - arrival
            - battles
            - death
            - search for Che

1995 - 1997

On November 21st, 1995 Jon Lee Anderson, a biographer of Argentine-Cuban guerrilla Che Guevara, published an interview with retired Bolivian Army General Mario Vargas Salinas in the New York Times. In the interview, the general described the burial of Guevara and other guerrillas, and identified a landing strip in the Vallegrande airport as the site of their graves. Vallegrande, a town in the Bolivian department of Santa Cruz, was the last place where the guerrillas? bodies had been publicly displayed before they disappeared. In response, former Bolivian President Gonzalo Snchez de Lozada immediately issued an executive order creating a Special Commission "to corroborate the statements of retired General Vargas Salinas." The Special Commission invited the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) to carry out the forensic work in the search for the remains of the guerrillas.


On November 30th, 1995, the work of prospecting and excavating in the landing strip of the Vallegrande airport begun under the supervision of EAAF. These excavations did not yield positive results. On December 12th 1995, however, human remains were found in Quebrada de Arroyo, five km from Vallegrande. On the basis of historical information, it was suspected that these remains belonged to three of four guerrilla fighters who were killed by Bolivian soldiers on October 14th, 1967 during the battle of Cajones, but none of them was identified as Ernesto ?Che? Guevara. During this period, a group of Cuban scientists led by Dr. Jorge Gonzlez Prez, Director of the Havana Medical Legal Institute, joined the search.


In January 1996, a number of preliminary excavations in different parts of Vallegrande and the surrounding areas were conducted at different sites but no new findings of skeletal remains were made during this period. While these excavations were underway, the team also conducted interviews with local residents who had witnessed the events under investigation, in order to gather more information concerning the location(s) of the guerrillas? remains.

In the absence of other findings, the Cuban scientists and the Argentineans suspended the excavations and began a historical investigation in order to gather more evidence about the theory that Che and his companions were buried in the landing strip. At the same time, an investigation into the burial sites of the bodies of all the guerrillas in Bolivia associated with Che was begun, thereby opening up other avenues of historical research. During this research, dozens of persons connected to the guerrilla activities of the 1960s, some of whom had never before spoken publicly about their experiences, were interviewed. Famous Cuban historian Mara del Carmen Ariet interviewed Mario Vargas Salinas. The general confirmed the statements he had given in the interview with Anderson, and discounted other accounts of the fate of Che?s body, including ones suggesting that it had been cremated or removed from Bolivia.


On the basis of the historical investigation, a survey of the geographical and geological characteristics of the Vallegrande valley was begun at the end of 1996 by a larger Cuban team of specialists. On June 19th the excavations resumed according to a plan based on the prospecting work. On Saturday, June 28th, the excavation team led by the Cuban Dr. Jorge Gonzlez discovered human remains, using standard archaeological techniques. Seven human skeletons were recovered. For security reasons, throughout the investigation the scientists slept in the grave, at a depth of 1.9 meters, beside the remains.


On Saturday, July 5th, a week after the site was discovered, seven skeletons were exhumed from the site and transported to the Japanese Hospital of Santa Cruz de la Sierra for analysis. Personal effects, including socks, clothes, and belts, were found with the remains. In the inner pocket of a jacket that turned out to have belonged to Che, a small tobacco box was discovered, still containing tobacco. The remains were analyzed between July 6th and 11th. Once again, the scientists slept with the remains, this time in the hospital morgue.

As a result of this laboratory work, the seven skeletons were identified as belonging to Aniceto Reynaga Gordillo (Bolivian), Ernesto Che Guevara (Argentine-Cuban), Ren Martinez Tamayo (Cuban), Simenn Cuba Sarabia (Bolivian), Orlando Pantoja Tamayo (Cuban), Alberto Fernandez Montes de Oca (Cuban), and Juan Pablo Chang Navarro (Peruvian). The identifications were made through comparisons of "pre-mortem" information with information gained through analysis of the remains.


In the case of Che Guevara, the pre-mortem data used in the process of comparison, beside general features, included orthodontic records, plaster dental molds, radiographs of his teeth, enlarged photographs of details of his teeth, photo-cranial superimposition, records of old lesions, and information from the autopsy of October 10th, 1967. The overwhelming abundance of pre-mortem information made the application of other identification techniques, such as genetic testing, unnecessary.


On the morning of July 12th, 1997, a press conference was held at the doors of the Japanese Hospital of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, attended by the Ministers of the Interior and Human Development of the Republic of Bolivia. During the ceremony, the remains of the guerrilla fighters were deposited in wooden urns. Then, the urns that contained the remains of the Cuban guerrillas were immediately transported to the Viru-Viru airport at Santa Cruz de la Sierra. From there they were taken on a special flight to Cuba.


In October 1997, 30 years after the guerrillas had been killed, the urns containing the remains of Che were displayed in the Plaza de la Revolucin in Havana. They were later transported to the Jos Mart library in the city of Santa Clara. More than 4 million Cubans waited in line for hours to observe the guerrillas? remains and pay tribute to them.


On October 17th, in Plaza Che Guevara in the city of Santa Clara, the remains of Che and his fallen comrades were entombed in a memorial during a public ceremony.

<- Death

A detailed chronology of Che's life you can find
in this book "A Brave Man" on Cuba Directo website


©2008 Nigel Hunt - All Rights Reserved.

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