Late that morning the news came from La Paz: The raid had been ordered by President Morales, the three dead men and the two in custody were alleged terrorists involved in a plot to assassinate Morales and topple the government. Bolivian-Hungarian Eduardo Rozsa Flores, Irishman Michael Martin Dwyer and Arpad Magyarosi, an ethnic Hungarian from Romania, were dead. Croatian Mario Tadik Astorga, a Bolivian of Croatian descent and Hungarian Elod Toaso were taken into custody and flown to La Paz.
   Although Bolivia had entered a new era politically and socially, the raid at Hotel Las Americas echoed the historic slaying of another group of militant foreigners.

Burdens of the past: June 2010 – Santa Cruz
   For the past four decades, retired Bolivian army Gen. Gary Prado Salmón carried an unwanted passenger through his life. It's unavoidable, he said. Wherever he goes, Che Guevara goes. Prado, a young captain in the Second Rangers, led Guevara's capture in 1967.
   Every year a parade of journalists come to Prado's home in Santa Cruz to hear him tell the story of how he captured Guevara. From his office walled with books, military decorations and photographs of his life's accomplishments, Prado tells the story he's told thousands of times before.
   "The Cubans who were here last week asked me, 'Why don't you have a photo of Che on your wall?'" he said. He pauses and then scoffs at the idea. "I told them I've done more important things in my life and for my country than capture Che Guevara." Prado smiles broadly from behind a graying moustache.
   Prado relates how unimpressed he is and always has been with Guevara.
   "Che had attained a certain level of notoriety from the Cuban Revolution," Prado said. "But by the time he came to Bolivia he had been missing from the political scene for some years."
   Guevara had abandoned his posts in Cuba, leaving a letter to Castro explaining his absence and his need to continue the revolution in other parts of the world.
   Prado remembers the Guevara he captured as a "beaten man." Guevara was really down and sulking, Prado said.
   "We gave him some food and cigarettes which improved his mood," he said. "At that point I could begin to perceive some of his personality traits, but nothing too impressive."
   Prado said that in less than a year, he and his men had killed or captured all but five of Guevara's 47 guerillas, mostly Cubans and some Bolivians. Despite being pitched as a hotbed for socialist revolution, the guerrillas had a difficult time recruiting in Bolivia. Loyola Guzmán was 24 years old and a member of the Bolivian Communist Party when she met Guevara. Even though he was in disguise and insisted on being called Ramón, she knew it was Guevara, she said. After more than four decades she still refers to Guevara as el comandante, the commander.
   After a strategy meeting with Guevara, Guzmán was given orders to return to La Paz and manage the fundraising and recruiting efforts there. They were to be in contact with Guevara's force by messenger and were not to take any military action without direct orders from him.
   Early on, their messenger was captured and the group lost contact with Guevara. Recruiting was difficult and slow in La Paz because they were operating in secret and interest was low. Bolivian police captured Guzmán. She attempted to jump out of a window during her interrogation but was ultimately sent to prison for her role in assisting the guerrillas. She learned of Guevara's death while in a prison cell.
   It was a heavy-handed defeat and such an embarrassment that Prado believes it was the catalyst for another stage of the Che myth. Castro said in his eulogy for Guevara that he was a master of war, but Prado's highly trained force had disposed of Guevara's troops with minimal losses. Prado had not only read Guevara's book on guerrilla warfare but later authored his own book, "The Defeat of Che Guevara: Military Response to Guerilla Challenge in Bolivia," which contains an analysis of the campaign and points out Guevara's military blunders.
   "We were just Bolivian soldiers from a small South American country," Prado said. "Sure we had foreign advisors, but the fighting was ours."

Ascension: Oct. 1967 – Havana, Cuba
   Nine days after Guevara's death, Fidel Castro delivered his eulogy.
   "Che was an unbeatable soldier, commander," Castro professed. "From a military standpoint Che was an extraordinarily capable man, extraordinarily brave, extraordinarily aggressive. If he had an Achilles' heel as a guerrilla, that Achilles' heel was his excessive aggressiveness. It has his absolute scorn for danger. The enemies try to draw conclusions about his death. Che was a master of war."
   That phrase, "Che was a master of war," resonates rather unpleasantly with Prado.
   Despite the factual evidence to the contrary, Castro continued to spin the myth of Che, master of war. Combined with the growing appropriation of Guevara's story and the parallels to religious martyrdom, the lines between fact and fiction became blurred. The Bolivian army had also amassed a large amount of information related to Guevara but for decades was reluctant to release official documents, so the speculation and appropriation continued, largely without a factual frame of reference.
   In recent decades much of the truth has been unearthed. In 1997 Guevara's handless body was discovered in a mass grave outside Vallegrande. After 30 years, many of the mysteries surrounding Guevara were being solved. Former CIA operative Félix Rodríguez debunked the theory that the agency had ordered Guevara's execution. Prado authored his account of the events based on his campaign diaries and his research into evidence collected by the Bolivian army. The U.S. government declassified documents regarding its involvement in the hunt for Guevara. But the flood of information came far too late to counter the Che myth that had already circled the planet.
   The image that had become the banner of mythical Che was cemented into the minds of people worldwide, complete with its own logo based on a photograph taken by fashion photographer Alberto Korda.

A revolutionary portrait
   Shortly after the Cuban Revolution, Guevara was photographed by Korda as he prepared to be seated before a crowd of Castro supporters on March 5, 1960. The Korda image of Guevara is one of the most mass-produced appropriations in the history of the world. The guerrilla leader gazes out over the crowd with a commanding presence, the trademark beret perched on his head, long hair gently drifting in the breeze. Although Guevara was far from the main attraction that day, Korda had captured in a split second one of the most iconic images of the twentieth century: the photo most often associated with both Guevara the man and Che the myth.
   In the rise of the Che myth, the Korda image became the trademark of revolution for African rebels, Maoists and others. Guevara circled the globe and history through the Korda image becoming associated with causes and ideologies that Guevara the man may have opposed. One such association is the religious martyr moniker, said Casey, the Wall Street Journal columnist. Guevara, an atheist in life, most likely wouldn't fancy being associated with religious narratives, he said.
   After a seemingly boundless journey around the globe, mythical Che found a home in the very place that had taken the real man's life: Bolivia. Vallegrande has long held the secrets of Guevara. It's the location of his first grave, the stage for the postmortem photos and now the starting point for Che Guevara tours.
   Travelers arriving in Vallegrande find an austere landscape that secludes the town. The sheer domination of nature is reflected in village names: Vallegrande means "big valley." On the Che Guevara trail, travelers pass Salsipuedes — a canyon town whose name means, "get out if you can." Farmers in the mountains surrounding the valley still work their corn fields by hand.
   Modern Vallegrande still feels rugged. Alongside traditional Bolivian culture exists something relatively new to Vallegrande: Che merchandise. The Che store in Vallegrande's square seems out of place. The shop is set up in a weathered building adjacent to the main square. Sunlight pours through the arched windows onto the white stucco walls, gently gracing a portrait of Guevara. There are glass display cases and tables full of Che collectables: berets, posters, belt buckles and flasks have all been branded with an appropriation of the Korda image synonymous with mythical Che.
   "No one really cared about Che until maybe twenty years ago," Jorge Osinaga, a Che Guevara tour guide, said in Spanish. "That's when the road from Vallegrande to La Higuera was constructed. Before that anyone who wanted to see the place where Che died had to hike several kilometers into the rugged countryside."
   Today Vallegrande and La Higuera cash in on Che tourism. The two towns take in more income from Che than they do agriculture, Osinaga said. Locals spin stories about Che in an emulsion of fact and fiction. In the valley, remnants of historical Guevara exist side by side with Che mythology. Tourists can see the chair Guevara sat in after his capture and locals who pray to Saint Che. Everything Che Guevara is for sale, both the kitsch merchandise and the personal accounts from locals who experienced the historic events firsthand.
   To students of history, the Che-mania of Vallegrande is a thinly veiled ill usion. The local people weren't fans of Guevara in 1967 and few today are interested in leftist politics or causes — President Morales isn't popular here. Osinaga paints a different picture of Guevara's guerrillas, from the local perspective.
Osinaga grew up in Alto Seco, a small mountain town outside Vallegrande. He was a teenager in 1967 and saw Guevara's body on display in Vallegrande. Osinaga's uncle was the mayor of Alto Seco and owned the town store. Days before Guevara and others were captured and killed, some of the guerrillas were in Alto Seco getting supplies from the store. At first they were willing to pay for what they took.
   "An elderly woman spoke up," Osinaga said. "She told the guerrillas that the store owner intended to tell the army about them."
   The guerrillas became enraged, refused to pay for their supplies and demanded to see the owner, who hid, fearing his life. The townsfolk were generally uncooperative with the guerrillas, who tried to win their trust to no avail. Guevara was not able to recruit troops from the local population nor was he able to gain their support, a crucial element to his revolutionary plan.
   "None of us knew the guerrillas were led by Che," Osinaga said, "Even if we had, we wouldn't have wanted anything to do with him."
   Guevara stunk in a particularly wretched way that only 11 months in the Bolivian wilderness can accommodate. Not only were the guerrillas dirty, Osinaga said, but Guevara smelled like urine and looked ragged. Seven years after the Korda photograph was taken, Guevara in Bolivia was an entirely different picture.
   It was the townspeople who supplied the Bolivian army with intelligence regarding the location and movements of the guerrillas. Many of them were actually former schoolmates of young captain Prado, who grew up in the area. As far as the locals were concerned, Guevara and his men were simply a dangerous bunch of foreigners.

The modern Che
   The area's anti-leftist sentiments haven't changed much in the 40-some years after Guevara's defeat. Despite his unpopularity in the region, President Morales came to Vallegrande in 2007 to mark the fortieth anniversary of Guevara's death. Morales spoke at a ceremony at the initial burial site of Guevara's remains in Vallegrande.
   Although Morales came to pay homage to historical Guevara, Morales' political campaign and invocation of the Che legacy suggest an appropriation of the mythical narrative, Carlos Soria Galvarro, a Bolivian journalist, said in Spanish. Soria authored a five-volume book series entitled "Che in Bolivia: Documents and Testimonies."
   "President Evo Morales on his first speech as a president mentioned him (Guevara) two or three times as an example of the tradition of the fight of Latin American people," Soria said. "It is not that he is following his political proposal, tactic or strategy, but what he rescues is his sense of needing a transformation, of changing the structure to achieve equity, social justice, etc."
   After decades of being cycled through different ideologies and mythologies, this change is what the Che myth has come to stand for, at least in Bolivia. As Casey, the Wall Street Journal columnist, said, "There is no single truth to what constitutes the Che myth."
   But what Che does symbolize is people's desire for a transient life, Casey said. Guevara has made the transition in his afterlife from a dangerous outsider to a figure representing the greater good, social justice and political transformation.
   However, the mythical Che image has opponents. Critics point to the fact that after the Cuban Revolution, Guevara served a six-month tenure overseeing La Cabaña Prison and the execution of alleged war criminals rounded up after the fall of the U.S.-backed government in Cuba, led by President Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar.
   As Morales geared up his presidential election campaign, he was characterized as the next Che Guevara by U.S. Department of Defense officials. The candidate didn't shy away from the label or the imagery. He commented to reporters about the connection.
   "I like Che because he fought for equality, for justice. He did not just care for ordinary people; he made their struggle his own," Morales told David Rieff of The New York Times Magazine in November 2005. The article was accompanied by a photograph of Morales supporters brandishing Che banners. The caption read in part, "Che Guevara has become the movement's patron saint."
   Once he took office, Morales cemented the connection by hanging a portrait of Guevara in the presidential palace. It was the only change he made to a building whose Spanish-influenced design and decor represent a culture that oppressed his people for centuries.

Echoes of Che 2010 – Santa Cruz
   In April 2009 Morales was himself faced with militant foreigners. The Bolivian government alleges Eduardo Rozsa Flores, Michael Martin Dwyer, Arpad Magyarosi , Mario Tadic Astorga and Elod Toaso were part of a plan to assassinate Morales and topple the government. Although accounts of the specifics vary, what happened next was an executive decision like Bolivian President Barrientos' order to execute Guevara more than 40 years earlier. A squad of special Bolivian police officers was dispatched to raid the rooms of the alleged terrorists at Hotel Las Américas in Santa Cruz. Police killed three of the men and captured two.
   Then the Bolivian government accused Gary Prado of being involved with Rozsa, based on a series of emails. Local newspapers reported the retired general was placed under house arrest and summoned to testify at a court inquiry into the incident. Prado maintained the accusations of terrorism were false and he was writing Rozsa because he thought Rozsa was a journalist.
   Two years later, details on the incident are still emerging. Members of slain Irishman Michael Martin Dwyer's family have filed a petition with the United Nations alleging human rights violations by Morales and the Bolivian government.

Che's end Oct. 1967 – near La Higuera
   Guevara's Bolivian diary ends abruptly. He made his last entry Oct. 7, 1967. He and the 15 men left with him hid out in a canyon outside La Higuera. All night they'd tried to find a way out but their reconnaissance efforts encountered Bolivian soldiers on every possible escape route.
   Prado's men were closing in. As the sun came up, it was obvious the guerrillas were surrounded. Prado had placed two mortars and a .30 caliber machinegun at the mouth of the canyon. Guevara divided his men and took defensive positions. As the firefight intensified, Guevara and Simón Cuba Sarabia, also known as Willy, made a run for the mouth of the canyon. They were met with a burst of machinegun fire that wounded Guevara in the calf, punctured his beret and destroyed the chamber of his rifle, rendering it useless.
   The two men retreated and tried to scramble up the wall of the canyon.
   They were stopped by two Bolivian soldiers.
Guevara, holding a 9mm pistol, its magazine long gone somewhere in the canyon, shouted, "Don't shoot. I'm Che Guevara I'm worth more to you alive than dead."