At an elevation of 1950m, 150 km southwest of Santa Cruz de la Sierra lies the Bolivian village of La Higuera (The Fig Tree). The village has around 120 inhabitants, mainly indigenous Guarani people, most of whom live off the land and raise a small number of animals. It is a village so small and remote that it would not appear on most maps of the country were it not for it’s rather morbid claim to fame. It was here on October 9th 1967 that the Marxist Revolutionary Ernest “Che” Guevara was executed.
The school where he was executed has been transformed into a memorial which local residents take turns in managing. However, arguably the main attraction for many is the enormous statue of Che which takes pride of place in the centre of the village. Originally a metalic grey colour the Bolivian sunshine has bleached the monument a bright white. Below the statue of Che you can just make out the words tu ejemplo alumbra un nuevo amanecer (his example illuminates a new dawn) and all around the village the walls are plastered with Che’s image and more Che inspired graffiti.
El Camino de Che Guevara
Tourists from all over the world visit La Higuara often as part of a Che pilgrimage called la ruta del Che. The creation of the pilgrimage was a 36 month project costing $600,000 dollars and is one of the single biggest investments attempting to boost the local tourist industry. The trail passes through the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the Inca site of Samaipata and onto the villages of Vallegrande and La Higuera. Vallegrande is important in the story of Che as it is where his body was taken after he was executed in La Higuera. Many in the area pray to Santo Ernesto and the people look back on the events that took place in the area with great regret.
International Socialism Arrives in Bolivia
Following the success of the Cuban Revolution, Che chose Bolivia as the next step in the fight to spread socialism throughout South America. He and his guerrilla fighters stationed themselves in the Chaco region near to the town of Vallegrande and attempted to ferment revolutionary sentiment among the locals. Che and his guerrilla fighters were often in battles against the CIA assisted Bolivian Army. It was during one of these skirmishes that Che was shot in the leg and eventually captured in the nearby ravine of Quebrada del Churo.
He was taken to the school in La Higuera and executed the next day. His body was then transported to a small medical centre in Vallegrande to be viewed by the international press and a victory of Communism. It then mysteriously disappeared, secretly being buried under an airstrip in the town. It was many years later when one of the Bolivian officers involved in the execution revealed the exact location that the remains. They were then transported to Santa Clara Cuba and the Mausoleum of Che Guevara.