Guerillas of “Che” Guevara in Rapa Nui

Political asylum

On February 26, 1968, while I was Governor of Easter Island, I received a radio-telegram – we didn’t have telephones then – from the then Minister of Interior, Edmundo Pérez-Zujovic, who informed me that the Chilean government had accepted a petition for political asylum “in transit” with immediate explusion from the country for five guerillas who belonged to the forces of “Ernesto Che Guevara” (an Argentine who fought with Castro in Cuba).  The three Cubans Harry Villegas, Leonardo Tamayo and Daniel Alarcón y two Bolivians Efraín Quincañez and Estanislao Vilca had entered Chile through uncontrolled mountain passes after the Bolivian Army had killed their leader, Ernesto “Che” Guevara.  The five fighters fled from Bolivia and entered the country without identification papers, and so were arrested by the  Chilean police force.

 

The guerrillas were to be transferred directly from Arica (in northern continental Chile) to Rapa Nui.  As a jail for the detainees, the house that was used for the “Youth Club” of the Carabineros was set up, so that they would be “comfortable”, since they had a lot of games available, such as Taca-Taca, Ping Pong tables and such.

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To accompany the guerrillas in their final leg to Tahiti, the Island received the visit of the then President of the Senate, Salvador Allende.  In his honor, and to give the prisoners some entertainment in which they could see a bit of the Island scenery and the monuments, the Mayor, Alfonso Rapu, together with the police, the Detectives Service, personnel from the Governor’s office and from City Hall invited them on an Island tour, which culminated in a delicious, abundant Tunuahi (fish barbeque) at Taharoa beach, which was enjoyed with a lot of laughing and comaraderie.

 

Later on I got up and took an empty wine bottle to bring some sea water to wash my hands.  Senator Allende took the bottle from me and offered it to one of the Bolvians for washing his hands.  As he poured the water over his hands, Allende said, “the Chilean ocean”.  The Bolivian stared at him and didn’t respond.  (Chile and Bolivia have been in disagreement over ports on the Pacific Ocean for over 100 years).  The mayor looked on with wide eyes; the police chiefs scowled and lowered their heads and, luckily, one of the Rapanui, Antonio Tepano Hito, spontaneously – and typically Polynesian – spoke up.

Hey, Allende, up to 200 miles from here it’s the Rapa Nui ocean … beyond that it’s international … from Valparaiso up to 200 miles is Chilean ocean and beyond that it is international.” 

The tension was broken with laughter.  On the way back to town, as we were travelling alone, I asked the Senator what the Bolivian had done to provoke him and he said, “It’s just that I am in Chile … and I wanted to see if he knew that.” 

The next day, with all the due precautions, the guerillas left the Island in the LAN plane toward Tahiti, overwhelmed with island gifts.

By Alfredo Tuki

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