On January 12, Osvaldo "Chato" Peredo, known as "Che's last soldier", for having continued the armed struggle by organizing the so-called Teoponte Guerrilla in 1970, passed away in the city of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, at the age of 79. Teoponte occurred three years after the death of Commander Ernesto Guevara, wounded in the combat of El Yuro and assassinated the following day, on October 9, 1967, in the small school of the Bolivian village of La Higuera, at an altitude of over 2,000 thousand meters. With "Chato" has gone a generation of Latin Americans who believed in armed struggle as a means to put an end to capitalism, exploitation and the injustices that have historically accompanied the countries of the region. Guevara is considered as the author of the theory of "foquismo", that is to say that a small, ideological and armed nucleus could awaken the support of poor, exploited and subjugated peasants who would feed the guerrilla with human and logistic resources. This did not happen in Bolivia, as it had happened in Cuba, despite the fact that thousands of young Latin Americans had been dazzled by the smell of gunpowder and the triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959.
"Chato" Peredo, a physician, belonged to a Beni family of six brothers, three of whom chose the armed struggle: himself, Inti and Coco, all of them communist militants since their adolescence and later members of the National Liberation Army (ELN) formed by Che. This was due to the refusal of the Communist Party of Bolivia (PCB) to join the insurrectional struggle led by Guevara with the support of Fidel Castro and the Cuban government. The ELN spread to Argentina, Chile and Peru mainly, from where numerous young people militarily trained in Cuba traveled to join the revolutionary struggle, most of whom died in combat or were assassinated by the Bolivian military dictatorship with the support of the CIA. In the case of Chile, they became a faction within the Socialist Party, where they were known as "Elenos".
Roberto "Coco" Peredo, the second of the brothers had been sent by the PCB to receive military instruction in Cuba. He was part of the initial group of guerrillas led by Che, which did not even reach 100 combatants. He died in the battle of Quebrada de Batán, on September 26, 1967, at the age of 29, together with two Cuban guerrillas, 12 days before Commander Guevara was assassinated. Che recorded it in his diary writing: "Our casualties have been very heavy this time, the most sensitive loss being that of Coco. But Miguel and Julio were magnificent fighters and the human value of the three of them is imponderable".
The eldest of the Peredo family, Guido "Inti", was also part of the guerrillas who went with Guevara into the heart of South America, in the Bolivian jungle, to start the war which was expected to be joined by the peasant masses; most of them indigenous, illiterate, with subsistence economy and little command of the Spanish language. They dreamed that the struggle would spread throughout the continent under the slogan of creating "one, two, three, Vietnam". The group set up its base in the canyon of the Ñancahuazú river and managed to hold out for 11 months, pursued by the Bolivian army advised by the United States until the final battle of El Yuro, where Guevara was captured. In almost a year of war, in extremely precarious conditions, the guerrillas were falling and in the final combat of three hours, Che was wounded and captured. Inti and a small group managed to break the encirclement of soldiers, fleeing and later crossing the border into Chile, where they were welcomed by the then senator, Salvador Allende, who was in charge of their transfer to Cuba. Two years later, in 1969, Inti would surprise the Bolivian people and government by launching a proclamation "We have returned to the Mountains", announcing the resumption of the struggle together with several dozen fighters. They tried to create a new guerrilla focus but were soon betrayed. Inti was tortured and killed in La Paz, after prolonged combat in which he was wounded and taken prisoner. He was 32 years old.
"Chato", the youngest of the Peredo family, followed the revolutionary path of his brothers. In 1970, together with the Chilean Elmo Catalán, he organized the second guerrilla in the Teoponte area, after a proclamation entitled "We will return to the mountains", organized together with the ELN and with the participation of 67 combatants from Bolivia, Chile and Peru. In three months they were annihilated. 58 of them died in combat or were killed by the Bolivian army, which applied the doctrine learned at the US School of the Americas in Panama: no wounded, no prisoners, only corpses. To this day, relatives of Chilean combatants claim to find the remains of their loved ones, whose bodies were secretly buried. "Chato" had better luck. He was wounded and taken prisoner, tortured and saved by his good star. While being interrogated on September 7, the military coup promoted by the nationalist general Juan J. Torres, who suspended the executions, took place in Bolivia. Torres did not manage to govern for a year before being overthrown by the coup d'état of August 21, 1971. He was sent into exile and then kidnapped and assassinated in Buenos Aires in 1976.
I was lucky enough to meet "Chato" Peredo in 2015, in Italy, thanks to Luis Sepúlveda and his wife Carmen Yáñez who introduced me to him at the Literary Festival of Pordenone, in Veneto, where the Chilean writer was the guest star. "Chato" had traveled with the youngest of his 10 daughters and sons, his beloved and beautiful Julia, to visit Francisco, his son, a doctor living in that city. Sepúlveda and Chato had known each other since their years in the ELN. We shared a couple of days where I soaked up conversations and stories of both of them. Later, in Rome, I was able to walk, talk and learn about the rich life of "Chato", representative of a generation that firmly and consistently believed in the dreams of the revolution. He gave me the book by the Bolivian writer Tomás Molina entitled Chato Peredo. El último soldado del Che, where in seven interviews he reviews one of the most important pages of the revolutionary movement in Latin America, as was the guerrilla of Che and the ELN. From his mouth I heard the stories of Chilean combatants who enlisted in the National Liberation Army, among them Luis Sepúlveda himself, with whom they once escaped, in Oruro, shooting their way through the police, after being betrayed, according to what he told me.
The fate of Elmo Catalán, whom "Chato" had met in Cuba, was different. Later they met in Chile, before returning to Bolivia to launch the guerrilla. Of Catalán, Molina's book states: "An extraordinary comrade, a teacher, a cadre trainer". He was assassinated in La Paz together with his wife, Genny Koeller, in a safe house by another militant, in circumstances never fully clarified until today. He also tells how the ELN, with him at its head, planned in Chile the execution of Roberto "Toto" Quintanilla, one of those responsible for the death of Che and for having cut off the hands of the corpse. The action was carried out in Hamburg by the German Mónica Ertl, an ELN militant, resident in Bolivia and former partner of "Chato", who on April 1, 1971, shot him three times in his office, where he was the Bolivian Consul. The logistics, says Peredo, including the weapon, were provided by the Italian publisher Giacomo Feltrinelli. The action was claimed by the ELN in a communiqué published in Chile, in the weekly Punto Final, on April 27 of the same year. Monica fled to Chile, then to Cuba and returned to fight in Bolivia, where she was captured, tortured and executed by the security forces in 1973. Her body was never returned to her father or her family.
"Chato" Peredo is gone, but his legend, like that of his brothers and so many others who fell, is already part of the history of the revolutionary left of the continent. It was a joy for me to meet him and share his memories. A few months ago I spoke with him, I called him at his home in Santa Cruz, where he was quietly following and participating in the politics of his beloved Bolivia. Most of those who joined the ELN were young people committed to the idea of socialism; of extreme consequence, where they left families, careers, comforts and security for the idea of changing the economic and social reality of their countries. Seen from a historical distance, it seems difficult for today's generations to take up arms and give their lives for an ideal whose failure is more than evident in today's world. Although the dreams of social justice persist in the new generations, the means to achieve them are no longer the same. The ideology that inspired and mobilized millions of young people in the last century has been disfigured and perverted by those who managed to exercise it. The few examples that sadly remain in Latin America have an expiration date.