Book Review: Hunting Che, by Mitch Weiss and Kevin Maurer

Hunting Che: How a U.S. Special Forces Team Helped Capture the World’s Most Famous Revolutionary, by Mitch Weiss and Kevin Maurer, Berkley Caliber, New York, 2013, $26.95

Having coauthored the bestseller No Easy Day, about the killing of Osama Bin Laden, journalist Maurer teams with colleague Weiss to recount the 1967 killing of another bête noire. The authors are not shy about pointing out the parallels.

Che Guevara, Fidel Castro’s second-in-command, became an idol of 1960s revolutionaries by urging the overthrow of capitalism worldwide. He resigned his Cuban offices and disappeared in 1965, traveling to the Congo to encourage guerrillas fighting dictator Joseph-Desiré Mobutu. Guevara left after seven months, disgusted by their incompetence and infighting.

In 1966 he secretly arrived in Bolivia to organize a rural uprising. Several successes in minor skirmishes provoked the Bolivian government to announce a massive communist guerrilla insurgency. The United States, already involved in Vietnam, would not send troops, but it was clear the Bolivian army needed training. A small Special Forces team set up shop in the jungle and taught small-unit tactics to a battalion of Bolivian regulars. When the unit went into action it scattered the guerrillas and captured their leaders, including Guevara. Despite American pleas, Bolivia’s president ordered him killed.

Guevara’s uprising never got off the ground. Bolivia’s repressive government had little influence over peasants hundreds of miles from the capital. Despite their poverty, they remained unreceptive to Guevara’s exhortations. His followers never numbered more than a few dozen, and the locals readily betrayed them to the government.

The authors do not demonize Guevara. Nor do they conceal the fact that Bolivia was an impoverished dictatorship, and that the United States had no interest in improving matters as long as Bolivia’s government continued to profess anticommunism. The authors write in a breathless docudrama prose with invented dialogue and local color and insight into everyone’s thoughts, but they stick close to the facts, so readers looking for a Special Forces adventure with a satisfying ending will not be disappointed.

—Mike Oppenheim

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