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Where Are Che’s Bones ? / 14ymedio, Bertrand de la Grange

14ymedio, Bertrand de la Grange, 1 December 2016 – In the Santa Clara
mausoleum everything is genuine. Except, perhaps, Che’s bones. Thousands
of people are making pilgrimages lately to this giant stone building to
commemorate the 40th anniversary of Ernesto Guevara’s death. Official
history says that a team of Cuban forensic scientists found his skeleton
in eastern and repatriated it in July of 1997. Ten years later,
however, there were the first indicators that cast doubt on this version.

Three European experts – Dr Jose Antonio Sanchez, director of the
of Legal Medicine at the Complutense of Madrid; his colleague
José Antonio García-Andrade, from the same university, and a French
physician specializing in forensic anthropology and archeology – have
analyzed the technical documentation used by the Cubans.

“Scientific Accomplishment.” Thus, Havana classified the discovery of
Che’s bones, made by a team directed by Cuban forensic scientist Jorge
Gonzalez. He was buried with six other guerrillas – three Cubans, two
Bolivians and a Peruvian – in a pit a few yards from the airstrip of
Vallegrande, a town of 6,000 inhabitants near La Higuera, the village
when the Argentinean was murdered by the Bolivian on 9 October 1967.

The triumphal arrival of the coffin in Havana, on 13 July 1997, gave the
communist government a great political victory a time when Cubans were
suffering from hunger following the collapse of the USSR, the country’s
principal ally and supporter. The guerrilla’s capacity for sacrifice,
despite his failure of his stated aim to create “many Vietnams” in Latin
America, was an example that every Cuban should follow to endure
hardships. The timing of the discovery of the grave could not have been
more opportune: a few days from the most emblematic date of the Cuban
Revolution, 26 July, and a few weeks from the Fifth Congress of the
Cuban Communist Party and the 20th anniversary of the death of the
“Heroic Guerilla.”

Operation Che was directed personally by the two Castro brothers through
the men in whom they had the most confidence, Ramiro Valdes, Jorge
Bolaños and General Fernando Vecino Alegret. himself asked
Bolivian president Gonzales Sanchez de Lozada directly, and he entrusted
all responsibility for the operation to a common friend, Franklin Anaya
Panka, then Bolivian Ambassador in Cuba. In a meeting we had at his home
in La Paz, Panka bragged about the matter while showing me a letter from
the Cuban president addressed to Sanchez de Lozada, who had gladly
accepted the proposal from his “friend Fidel.”

In their desire to demoralize the guerrillas, the military used to bury
the rebels in secret graves. It was known that most of the 36 dead
guerrillas, from a troop that never exceeded 50, had been buried on the
outskirts of Vallegrande. At the end of 1995 General Mario Vargas
Salinas, who had fought the insurgency, broke his silence and said that
Che’s body was near the runway. He didn’t know the exact place.
The person charged with burying the guerrillas, Lieutenant Colonel
Andres Selich, had taken the secret to his own grave when he was
murdered in 1973. “Che was buried separately from the rest,” said the
official’s widow from her house in Asuncion, Paraguay.

According to Vargas, six of the seven guerrillas killed in La Higuera
were in a single grave, confirming that the Argentinean had been buried
separately. However, when the Cubans, overseen by a “special commission”
led by Panka Anaya, finally found the grave on 28 June 1997, they found
seven skeletons. There was no time for digressions. Doctor Jorge
Gonzales, then the director of the Havana Institute of Legal Medicine,
designated one of the seven skeletons as Che’s, before subjecting it to
any scientific proof.

“As of 29 June we were convinced that E-2 was the skeleton of Che,”
Doctor Gonzalez and his colleague Hector Soto told the official
newspaper Granma. “I told Soto to check to see if it had hands [the Army
had amputated Che’s hands to check his fingerprints with the Argentine
]. He told me, ‘Negative the interested party,’ which is
language that we use. And indeed, it didn’t have hands.” Something,
however, clouded the joy of Doctor Gonzalez. The doctor agreed to an
interview with Granma which “worried” him when he saw a jacket and a
belt on skeleton E-2. And that was because, according to the historic
investigation undertaken by the Cubans and confirmed by other sources,
Che had been buried without his clothing, which had been removed before
the autopsy.

The last thing Doctor Moises Abraham expected was that the past would
pursue him to a refuge in the Mexican city of Puebla. Abraham was the
director of Vallegrande Hosptial in 1967 and was in charge of amputating
Che’s hands, after completing the autopsy. The visit of the Cuban
historian Froilan Gonzalez must not have given him much pleasure. “It
was surprising, he never imagined it,” remembers the historian.
“However, he tried to be courteous.” It was in the eighties. Froilan
Gonzalez was immersed in the mission to find the bones of the guerrillas
and rescue the history of the insurgency. His investigations had taken
him from Bolivia to Puebla.

What did the Cubans want? Two things: the testimony of the doctor about
his experience with the corpse of Che and, most importantly, to convince
him to deliver Che’s corpse to Cuba. “On the first point there was no
problem, although he didn’t give us authorization to publish his
statements about the death.” However, there was no agreement on the
other issue: “He set unacceptable conditions,” says Froilan Gonzales.
What conditions? Money, a lot of money. On a visit to Puebla, where
Abraham had his cancer surgery practice, he was able to confirm it. That
time, it wasn’t as friendly. On the defensive, cantankerous, the
Bolivian doctor only wanted to talk money: “How much are you going to
pay me?”

In any case, Froilan Gonzalez did not reach an agreement with
Abraham. Thus, the Cubans were “concerned” when they opened the grave in
Vallegrande and saw a jacket on skeleton E-2. The forensic team, with
aplomb, decreed that it was Che was because no one, apart from them,
knew that Che’s jacket was in the possession of the Bolivian doctor. No
one except a German citizen, Erich Blössl, who had arrived in
Vallegrande in the sixties, as an agronomist before buying a
. Blössl was a friend of Musa, as Dr. Abraham is called.

“Musa had kept Che’s jacket, all bloody. He showed it to me,” says the
German. “It had a broken zipper, and was tied with a rope, exactly like
in all the photos taken. There were several bullet holes. He took it to
Mexico in the late seventies.”

Witness to the exception, Blössl was there when Cubans opened the pit
and saw the jacket, and he sensed something was wrong. “Marcos Tufiño,
Deputy Commissioner for Panka Anaya to monitor the excavations, came to
my restaurant and asked about the jacket. I said it was not Che’s. He
insisted I go to see it again and handed me a safe-conduct for the
soldiers to let me pass. I went back. There was Tufiño. I went down to
the pit and confirmed that it was not Che’s jacket. It was a waterproof,
poncho type, like the Army had.”

After conducting several tests on the seven skeletons in the Japanese
of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivian authorities authorized the
departure of the remains of the guerrillas to Havana.

What does the forensic report about the bones said to be Che’s say? In
the Japanese Hospital there is no trace of the document. When the
Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) that collaborated on the
exhumation in Vallegrande was asked for a copy, its president, Luis
Fondebrider, said that only the Cubans could provide it. Jorge Gonzalez
didn’t respond to a request. “The Cubans took all the papers. I was left
with only this copy of the final report,” says Cueller, who specialized
in surgery in Madrid and forensic medicine in Havana. “They have the
pre-mortem reports on Che, his dental history, and the 1967 autopsy, and
there is no reason not to trust them.”

A comparison between the forensic report edited by the Cubans and
Argentineans in 1997 and the autopsy performed on Che at the time of his
death is disconcerting for three doctors consulted in Madrid and Paris.
Jose Antonio Sanchez, director of the School of Legal Medicine at the
Complutense University of Madrid, said some wounds are consistent and
others are not, but he believes the documents are insufficient to come
to a conclusion. On the other hand, his two colleagues find clarifying
elements. “It is two different bodies and they correspond to two
different people,” says Jose Antonio Garcia-Andrada, who has had a long
career in forensic medicine.

Both he and the French expert, who currently prefers to remain anonymous
to not prejudice his own investigation on the matter, highlight the same
discrepancies. “The 1997 reports describes fractures on the 2nd and 3rd
left ribs. These fractures were not mentioned in the 1967 autopsy, which
shows, instead, an injury between the 9th and 10th left rib, which is
not in the other report,” they both say.

In addition, the cadaver analyzed in 1967 presents “injuries in both
clavicles,” while the skeleton found in 1997 has “an injury only to the
right clavicle,” says the French expert. The same is true for the
femurs: Che did not show the wound on his right femur “measured at 11 by
13 millimeters” which appears on the 1997 skeleton. Garcia-Andrade added
that “the spinal injuries are not consistent.”

The two experts also noted discrepancies in the analysis of the mouth.
Che lacked a “lower left bicuspid,” according to the autopsy of 1967.
The 1997 report does not indicate this detail, but it does indicate,
however, the presence of a “third molar upper left” (wisdom tooth),
which Che’s corpse did not have. Both the French physician and Dr.
Sanchez were greatly surprised at the absence of references to the
surgical removal of Che’s hands by Dr. Abraham. “This operation always
leaves visible marks and yet, it is not mentioned,” says the professor
from Complutense. One might suspect that the bones of the hands were
removed when the skeleton was exhumed, adds the French doctor.

In these circumstances, experts agree, only a genetic analysis would
allow the “accurate” identification of the remains attributed to
Che. Only an independent and reliable analysis, conditions not met by
the supposed DNA test that Cuba now claims was done. “I proposed not to
do a DNA test and the decision was consensual,” Alejandro Inchaurregui,
one of the Argentinean forensic anthropologists who was in Vallegrande,
explained in March. “There is overwhelming evidence. There were
anthropomorphic and dental records collected before he left Cuba, to be
able to identify his remains if he died.”

So, does the documentation submitted by Havana really correspond to
Ernesto Guevara, or does it correspond to another of the Cuban
guerrillas buried in Bolivia? In a telephone conversation recorded in
September, Inchaurregui was furious when asked this question. “You are a
miserable person for arguing that the identification of the remains of
Che is a falsehood. Sure, I’m that stupid that the Cubans took me by the
nose and I ended up signing a document that says they are the remains of
Che when in reality they are not.” The forensic anthropologist who no
longer works for the EAAF concluded our conversation this way: “Where
are you?” In Madrid … “In Madrid, what a pity! Because if you weren’t, I
would kill you.”

Obviously, Inchaurregui is not “that stupid” but he seems to favor
expeditious methods to solve problems. Che had to be in Havana before
July 26, 1997 to celebrate the big homecoming of the prodigal son and
give a little morale boost to the Cubans. It was Fidel Castro’s
orders. That it wasn’t true would be, after all, a lesser evil.


Editor ‘s note: This article was published on 7 October 2007 in the
newspaper El País.

Source: Where Are Che’s Bones ? / 14ymedio, Bertrand de la Grange –
Translating Cuba –

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