Friday, July 5, 2013

N.C. authors recount the hunt for Che Guevara

Argentinian-born revolutionary Che Guevara was a physician, a gifted writer, a man who looked very good in combat fatigues.

Where he didn’t always excel, however, was as a military tactician. In “Hunting Che,” co-authors Mitch Weiss of Charlotte and Kevin Maurer of Wilmington explore one of America’s first U.S. Special Forces victories in a thriller about the Green Beret team that trained a group of Bolivians to hunt down Che.

At the heart of the story is a revolutionary leader both brilliant and flawed. The Green Berets taught Bolivian soldiers the skills they needed to capture Che, but it turns out that Che’s shortcomings made their job a lot easier.

Weiss, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who works for the Associated Press in Charlotte, has co-authored two other nonfiction books on elite U.S. military teams. He wrote this one with Maurer, co-author of the 2012 bestseller “No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden.”

Much, of course, is already known about Che, one of the Cuban revolution’s key figures. But Weiss and Maurer wrote “Hunting Che” (Berkley Caliber; $26.95) after finding little about the Special Forces mission that led to Che’s capture and death.

After serving in several roles under Fidel Castro, Che Guevara left Cuba in 1965 to create revolution elsewhere. In 1967, after Pentagon officials learned he was in Bolivia, they plotted to eliminate him.

Weiss and Maurer show how the U.S. counterinsurgency operation succeeded without a large-scale commitment of American soldiers. But they find that Che’s mistakes – alienating Bolivians who could have aided him, picking the wrong area to invade – also helped doom his endeavor, almost from the start.

The authors relied on a variety of government documents and newspaper sources, as well as interviews with key players. Early on, they traveled to Bolivia, where they talked with the Bolivian officer who helped capture Che.

When Weiss began researching, he told me, he saw Che as a freedom fighter and champion of the poor – a view that has made Che’s fight-the-power image ubiquitous on T-shirts and other memorabilia. But the more Weiss learned, the more his view changed. In power with Castro, Che was also brutal.

“Most people who wear Che’s T-shirts,” he says, “would not want to live in the country he promised.”