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Subject: The last stand of Che Guevara: October 1967 rss

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Pete Belli
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The last stand of Che Guevara: October 1967





This month will mark the 50th anniversary (on October 8th) of the desperate last stand by Ernesto "Che" Guevara during the 1967 guerilla campaign in Bolivia. My analysis will discuss board games dealing with that topic. Please do not post any comment that might be interpreted as RSP (in other words, a provocative political statement) because this is not the time or the place. Thank you.

Guevara was sent to the Bolivian wilderness because his presence in Cuba was a political inconvenience to the Castro regime. The so-called Ejército de Liberación Nacional (army of national liberation) led by Guevara consisted of a few dozen ragged, hungry guerillas suffering from a variety of health problems. The citizens of Bolivia did not embrace the goals of the ELN and provided supplies to Guevara with reluctance. Quite often these peasants became informers.

Guevara was operating in the Santa Cruz region of Bolivia. He had originally planned to campaign in the Los Yungas region of northern Bolivia, a fertile area that was closer to Guevara's urban network in La Paz. Che and his guerillas had even studied Quechua, the language of the local inhabitants. However, the Bolivian Communist Party did not approve of Guevara's anti-Moscow rhetoric. Guevara was forced to change the ELN base of operations to the mountains of southwestern Bolivia. Guevara rarely strayed far from this rugged terrain.





Guevara had fallen from a position of immense power in the Cuban government. He had been given celebrity treatment in New York, Moscow, and other great cities. He had even been featured on the cover of TIME magazine. Now he was living like a hunted animal. It had become obvious to any rational observer that a successful revolución was impossible. However, an action leading to favorable propaganda might allow him to leave Bolivia with some honor and dignity. In any event, Guevara was ready to sacrifice everything for the communist cause.

After receiving information from a local informant a unit of Bolivian army rangers (trained by US military advisors) trapped Guevara and a remnant of the ELN in a ravine near Vallegrande. Military aircraft flew over his position but no ordnance was dropped. The commander of the Bolivian troops maneuvered carefully in order to prevent any escape. One company blocked the entrance to the ravine while another company drove the guerillas into this tactical cul-de-sac. Guevara was wounded in the subsequent battle after the ELN was pinned down by mortar rounds and machine gun fire. He surrendered and was executed the following day.

The legacy of Guevara has only been enhanced by the passage of fifty years. He became larger in death than he was in life, and his life was something out of an epic film.



The Games Of Guevara







Chè: Failed Revolution, Bolivia 1967 was created by Dennis Bishop and Andrew Preziosi. I have not had the pleasure of playing this Che Guevara game but Dennis Bishop did some fascinating work with Cufra: Defiance in the Desert. Here is some information from the game's BGG page:

Quote:
From the publisher,

Area movement, simultaneous combat, NO CRT (though there will be plenty of die rolling), options for both true Offensive and Defensive combat for both players, chrome in the form of special units, rules and die roll modifiers and best of all, only two to four pages of rules so you can get into the game quickly. Once you learn the rules to one game, you will be able to play the other with just a quick run through of the combat rules.

Comments:

Its a fast and fun combat game where Che and his guerrillas try to destroy all Government Tactical Combat Groups. The swing in favor of the Bolivians comes in the middle of the game when the powerful Rangers come in to hunt Che down.


Based on the articles posted on BGG Chè: Failed Revolution, Bolivia 1967 appears to a "light" wargame that depicts the campaign in a relatively abstract fashion. In many ways it reminds me of the classic American Heritage Games that I enjoyed in my youth. A nice map, an assortment of military units, relatively simple rules, and a narrative that portrays the events with a loose connection to history. Nothing wrong with that.







One-Minute Che Guevara -- Bolivia 1967 is my own design and it is a free Print & Play game... so please don't think I'm shilling on behalf of any wargame company. This solitaire challenge is a microgame attempting to portray these events with a small map and a limited number of counters. The entire campaign only takes a minute or two. However, the game offers a player most of the political and military choices available to Guevara in 1967.

Guerilla units represent small groups approximately the size of a platoon. Bolivian army units represent elements of the 2nd Ranger Battalion at the company level. Historical factors like propaganda, supply shortages, and Guevara's limited tactical options are depicted in the rules. The political phase is played on a map of Bolivia; the military phase is played on a separate battlefield map. Event Cards are used to guide the narrative but several different outcomes are possible. Victory is determined by Guevara's political and military success ... if he survives.



Conclusion

There might be room in the wargame hobby for a comprehensive simulation of the entire 1967 campaign in Bolivia with political, diplomatic, and military elements intertwined. When you consider the amount of money spent on Che Guevara t-shirts (and other merchandise) plus the continuing use of his image as a cultural icon it seems the marketplace could support such an endeavor. While he was an important historical figure I am certainly no fan of Che Guevara. However, the 50th anniversary of his last battle sparked my interest. Perhaps it might have a similar effect on other amateur historians.



Recommended Reading

Compañero -- The Life and Death of Che Guevara, by Jorge Castaneda

Che Guevara On Revolution: A Documentary Overview, edited by Jay Mallin

A declassified DoD report covering the final campaign against the ELN is available on the internet.
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J.D. Hall
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Excellent review of the events in Bolivia in 1967. I recall my father chuckling in glee when he heard the news of Che's death. Do you think it is somewhat similar to Trotsky, in that he was basically exiled, then later lost his life without regaining his position of power?

Anyway, thanks for the memories. Still got a Che T-shirt somewhere I like to wear occasionally to drive the locals batty...although the younger ones have not a clue what is on my shirt.
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Pete Belli
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Quote:
Do you think it is somewhat similar to Trotsky, in that he was basically exiled, then later lost his life without regaining his position of power?


Similar to Trotsky.

Guevara strayed from Party orthodoxy (as defined by Castro) after making statements critical of Moscow. Fidel was not sorry to see Che leave Cuba and the Partido Comunista de Bolivia did not welcome Guevara to La Paz with open arms. Scholars who think Guevara had a "martyr complex" might say that el comandante went to Bolivia quite prepared to die.

His story is almost sad. After Guevara was captured and executed his death solved everybody's problems... everybody being Fidel Castro, the Soviets, the Bolivians, and in some ways even the United States (although a few US officials wanted Che taken to Panama for interrogation) so the crocodile tears shed inside the communist bloc are entirely transparent.

Here is a bit of irony. Guevara had written a mocking criticism of the Batista regime after Fidel Castro was captured in Mexico (presumably at the urging of Batista or his subordinates) but not killed while in custody. Guevara wrote that this mistake eventually cost Batista his position in Cuba.
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Wendell
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Che was an Argentine who looked down on the mostly-Indian folks in the region where he wanted to whip up revolution. He might have done better in Peru where there had been no land reform (Bolivia had done some land reform in their revolution of 1952).

So, Che was over-rated.

Edit: and he didn't speak a word of Quechua so largely couldn't even communicate directly with the rural Bolivians...
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Roger Hobden
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Nice recap of those events.

Thanks for posting this.

Hasta la victoria, siempre !
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Bob Zurunkel
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The face that launched a thousand t-shirts.
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Jur dj
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Westie wrote:
The face that launched a thousand t-shirts.


The money made off those t-shirts would make Che weep
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Damo
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Guerilla Warfare by Che Guevara is also a good read. The edition with an introduction by Marc Becker gives an excellent summary of the life and times, and down fall of CG.
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Bob Long
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Always been waiting for the perfect el Che movie
I've seen The Motorcycle Diaries and Che:staring Benicio Del Toro

Good films but still doesn't tell the whole story in the narrative that Im looking for.

Che had his faults like all political/military leaders but I think in posters and t-shirts alone Che has got to be in the top 10 list of all time.

Is there a Che Guevara gift shop? Oh my now what would he say about that?

Oh yea and why no Che microbadges? I mean we have Gandhi, Karl Marx and Harpo Marx...so why no Che?

Good post Pete!
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James Thompson
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Another for the reading list, and it might have been mentioned already, but I don't recall the name of it (will look when I get home), is a book re the Green Berets that went in to train the Rangers and track Che down...

I read it a while ago now (hence can't recall the name off the top of my head), not a bad read (by my standards anyway - I'm not the most learned individual haha)
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Lee Trowbridge
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First Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, then Che Guevara.
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Pete Belli
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E_T_Lee wrote:
First Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, then Che Guevara.


Yes, I noticed the similarity. Perhaps George Roy Hill and William Goldman were thinking of Che Guevara when they created that fanciful ending for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

This is a true story: Years ago I was working on a game called Los Bandidos Yanquis about the adventures of Butch and Sundance in South America. It never worked as a two player design. Now that I've developed One-Minute Che Guevara -- Bolivia 1967 it seems obvious that the BC&SK game should use a solitaire system. Mmmmmmmm.
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