171. Memorandum From Director of Central Intelligence Helms1


  • The Secretary of State
  • The Secretary of Defense
  • Mr. Walt W. Rostow
  • Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs


  • Capture and Execution of Ernesto “CheGuevara
[Page 382]
You are aware of the published accounts concerning the death of Ernesto “CheGuevara which were based in essence on the Bolivian Army press conference on 10 October attributing Guevara’s death to battle wounds sustained in the clash between the Army and the guerrillas on 8 October 1967.2 Guevara was said to be in a coma when captured and to have died shortly thereafter, the heat of battle having prevented early or effective treatment by Bolivian soldiers.
[1 line of source text not declassified] contrary information from [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] the Bolivian Second Ranger Battalion, the army unit that captured Guevara. According to [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] Guevara was captured on 8 October as a result of the clash with the Cuban-led guerrillas. He had a wound in his leg, but was otherwise in fair condition.3 He was questioned but refused to give any information. Two Bolivian guerrillas, “Willy” and “Aniceto,” were also captured.
At 1150 hours on 9 October the Second Ranger Battalion received direct orders from Bolivian Army Headquarters in La Paz to kill Guevara. These orders were carried out at 1315 hours the same day with a burst of fire from an M–2 automatic rifle.4 [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] was an eye witness to Guevara’s capture and execution.
Richard Helms 5
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Bolivia, Vol. IV, Memoranda, January 1966–December 1968. Secret. A copy of the memorandum in CIA files indicates it was drafted by W.V. Broe and [name not declassified] in the Western Hemisphere Division and approved by Thomas H. Karamessines, Deputy Director for Plans. (Central Intelligence Agency, DDO/IMS, Operational Group, Job 78–06423A, U.S. Government—President)
  2. On October 9 Rostow informed President Johnson the “tentative information” that the Bolivian unit trained by the U.S. “got Che Guevara,” but that information was inconclusive and based primarily on press reports from Bolivia. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Bolivia, Vol. IV, Memoranda, January 1966–December 1968)
  3. According to the text of a message sent by [text not declassified] on the scene, Guevara’s fate would be decided on October 9 by the highest Bolivian military authorities. “I am managing to keep him alive,” he reported, “which is very hard.” ([telegram number not declassified]; Central Intelligence Agency, DDO/IMS Files, [file name not declassified])
  4. In an October 11 memorandum informing President Johnson of the killing of Che Guevara, Rostow remarked: “I regard this as stupid, but it is understandable from a Bolivian standpoint, given the problems which the sparing of French Communist and Castro courier Regis Debray has caused them.” Rostow pointed out that the death of Che Guevara would have a strong impact in discouraging further guerrilla activity in Latin America. He also noted: “It shows the soundness of our ‘preventive medicine’ assistance to countries facing incipient insurgency—it was the Bolivian 2nd Ranger Battalion, trained by our Green Berets from June–September of this year, that cornered and got him.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Bolivia, Vol. IV, Memorandum, January 1966–December 1968) On October 13 Rostow informed Johnson of confirmation that Che Guevara was dead. (Ibid.)
  5. Printed from a copy that indicates Helms signed the original.