A former Bolivian soldier, who all his life claimed to have shot dead Marxist revolutionary Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, die don Thursday aged 80, his family said. Mario TerÃ¡n Salazar, who was part of a military group that captured the Argentinian-born rebel in 1967, died of a long-term illness and is survived by his two children and wife.
His death was also confirmed by Gary Prado, the retired general who led the group that captured Guevara and then executed him. Teran, after his non-commissioned retirement, lived in Santa Cruz de la Sierra and had been hospitalized for the past three weeks.
Guevara's Executor Dies
Teran all his life claimed that he shot dead Guevara on October 9, 1967 in the eastern Santa Cruz province of Bolivia at the height of the Cold War. On Thursday, Teran died of natural causes and age-related complications.
Confirming his death, Prado said that Teran "simply complied with his duty as a sergeant of the army." Over the years, TerÃ¡n had time and again said that he was only following orders when he killed Guevara, who had been on the run from Bolivian authorities.
"It was the worst moment of my life," he reportedly had told journalists later. "I saw Che large, very large. His eyes shone intensely. I felt him coming over me and when he fixed his gaze on me, it made me dizzy ..."
"'Calm yourself,' he told me, 'and aim well! You are going to kill a man!' Then I took a step back toward the door, close my eyes and fired," TerÃ¡n had said.
TerÃ¡n was chosen to kill him after orders to execute the already wounded Guevara, then 39, arrived from the capital.
Living With Haunting Memories
He met the Cuban brothers Fidel and Raul Castro in Mexico and joined their revolutionary army that took power in Cuba in 1959, ousting US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. Despite starvation and disease, Guevara was commanding a small band of insurgents battling against the army in 1967.
Guevara, who was injured, was arrested and taken to an abandoned school in the community of La Higuera, where he slept the night.
Teran shot him the next day, with the agreement of then-president Rene Barrientos (1964-69), an outspoken anti-communist. Guevara's biographers said his first shots missed Guevara's chest, but eventually hit.
During his lifetime, Tera has often said that the memories of shooting Guevara will always haunt him, although he knew that he was only doing his duty. Guevara was a pivotal figure in the Cuban Revolution, helping to overthrow Fulgencio Batista's government. Later, in both Africa and South America, he fought for revolutionary causes.
Guevara, who was just 39 years old at the time of his death and became a legend when his lifeless body with open eyes was presented like a prize in Vallegrande, a moment captured by AFP photographer Marc Hutten.
Teran, meanwhile, continued to work for the Bolivian army. He retired into anonymity after 30 years in the army, avoiding the press. At one point he even denied that he was the one who assassinated Che Guevara.