Che’s Posthumous Gift: Cuban Doctors Restore The Sight Of His Bolivian Executioner
by Salim Lamrani
October 02, 2007, Rebelión
Mario Terán, a retired former non-commissioned officer sadly famous for having executed the legendary guerrilla, Ernesto Che Guevara, on October 9, 1967, in the tiny school of La Higuera in Bolivia, lives in complete anonymity in Santa Cruz. Mired in poverty, he lives only on his miserable pension of a former soldier and had lost his sight, victim of a cataract that he could not treat lacking resources.
In 2004, the Cuban President, Fidel Castro, launched a broad and continental humanitarian campaign bearing the name of Operation Milagro (Miracle), supported by Venezuela, which consisted in operating for free on the poor of Latin American suffering from cataract and other eye diseases. In 30 months, close to 600,000 people of 28 countries, including citizens of the United States, recovered their sight thanks to the altruism of the Cuban doctors. The stated objective is to operate on six million people by 2016. The election of Evo Morales as President of the Republic of Bolivia in December 2005… has allowed Bolivians to access the humanitarian programme that Cuba started. Close to 110,000 Bolivians have been able to regain their sight without paying a single centavo.
Among these is one Mario Terán, who could shake off his grave illness thanks to the Cuban doctors. Pablo Oritz, who works for the daily El Deber of Santa Cruz, tells the story: “Terán had a problem of cataracts and was cured… by Cuban doctors for free… The fellow is a complete stranger. Nobody knows him. He is a wreck and turned up in the Operation Milagro hospital. Nobody recognised him and he was operated upon. His son, who went to the newspaper to make an act of public gratitude, told us the story … It was in last August (2006).”
At times the story holds some surprises like that Che’s assassin was cured by doctors sent by Fidel Castro, the most loyal and intimate companion of the “heroic guerrilla”. Terán owes his sight to the health emissaries who follow the internationalist example of the man he killed. According to the former CIA agent, Félix Rodríguez, who participated in Che’s capture, Terán volunteered to execute the rebel leader. Before that he had killed in cold blood all the other prisoners. But facing Che, his courage failed him.
“When I reached the classroom, Che was seated on a bench. On seeing me, he said, ‘You have come to kill me’.
“I felt inhibited and lowered my head without answering. Then he asked me, ‘What have the others said?’
“I answered that they had said nothing and he commented, ‘They were brave!’
“I dared not fire. At that moment, I saw Che as big, very big, enormous. His eyes shone intensely. I felt they were on me and when he fixed his looks on me, it made me ill. I thought that with one rapid movement Che could take away my weapon.
“‘Be calm,’ he told me, ‘and aim well. You are going to kill a man.’
“Then I took a step back towards the threshold, closed my eyes and fired the first volley…I regained my courage and fired the second volley that got him in an arm, in the shoulder and in the heart. He was dead.”
[Gerardo Arreola of La Jornada, Mexico, quotes Ortiz as saying, “Terán does not want to be identified because he fears the ‘curse’ of Che,” a popular legend which arose from the many violent deaths of those directly linked to Guevara’s capture and execution.
The list is headed by Bolivia’s President of that time, René Barrientos, burnt to death when his helicopter crashed in 1969, in an incident that was never cleared up. Eduardo Huerta, the official who took part in the capture (of Che) died in a car accident… Honorato Rojas, who betrayed the guerrilla group, Colonel Roberto Quintanilla and General Joaquin Zenteno were finished off in incidents claimed by Guevara’s supporters. Captain Gary Prado was paralysed by a bullet. Juan José Torres was the chief of staff of the army that fought Che. Years later, he came to power on a Left ticket and was deposed in a military coup. An ultra-Right commando assassinated him in Argentina.]
On the eve of the fortieth anniversary of his end and despite the execrable international media campaign destined to sully the image of one of greatest revolutionaries of the 20th century, Che’s example remains “big, very big, enormous” and shines “intensely” thanks to the sacrifice of the tens of thousands of Cuban doctors who… persist in the faith that another world, less cruel, is possible.
Revised by Caty R. and translated by Supriyo Chatterjee