Three decades after he left Cuba on a doomed crusade to spread communism, Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s remains were positively identified Saturday and returned to his adopted homeland.
A Cuban plane flew into the central Bolivian city of Santa Cruz early in the day to retrieve the recently discovered remains, turned over in an elaborate transfer between Bolivian and Cuban government officials.
“We have fulfilled our promise of finding, identifying and turning over the remains of guerrillas to their family members for humanitarian reasons. We hope this will bring to an end the historical period marked by the guerrilla movement led by Guevara,” said Bolivia’s minister of human development, Franklin Anaya.
The Bolivian government confirmed Saturday that seven bodies found in a common grave on June 28 included those of Guevara and three other Cuban revolutionaries, killed in their ill-fated attempt to spark a peasant uprising in Bolivia in 1967.
In death, Guevara became an almost legendary figure. Posters of the bearded, beret-wearing Guevara became a staple in college dormitory rooms in the 1960s.
Argentine, Cuban and Bolivian forensic anthropologists had examined the skeletons under tight security since the grave was discovered at the edge of the Vallegrande airport, 150 miles west of Santa Cruz. Aging ex-guerrillas who fought alongside Che provided documents to aid in the identification.
The teeth and structure of facial bones as well as the bullet marks on the bones helped convince the experts that they had at last found Guevara’s remains.
But the telltale sign for most of them was that Guevara’s skeleton was found without its hands. After a Bolivian officer executed Guevara in October 1967, the rebel leader’s hands were severed and sent to Cuba as proof he was dead.
Dozens of admirers of the long-dead guerrilla staged a candlelight vigil at the hospital on Friday, placing flowers around Guevara’s portrait.
Bolivian forces seized Guevara and other rebels on October 8, 1967, near Vado del Yeso, southeast of the Bolivian capital of La Paz, then flew them 300 miles away to Vallegrande, where Guevara and some of his forces were executed.
Born in Argentina, Guevara fought alongside Fidel Castro in Cuba’s communist revolution and was the island nation’s second-most influential leader until he returned to South America to foment revolution.
As the 30th anniversary of his death approaches, Guevara’s image is reappearing on everything from T-shirts to beer labels and record covers, around the world.