MIAMI (Reuters) - A former CIA operative who says he helped hunt down Ernesto “Che” Guevara and bury him in Bolivia 40 years ago now hopes to make a killing from the famed Argentine revolutionary’s hair.
Gustavo Villoldo, 71, a Cuban exile who says he was a major player in Guevara’s capture in the Bolivian jungle, plans to auction off a strand of Guevara’s hair and other items, kept in a scrapbook since the joint CIA-Bolivian army mission ended in Guevara’s death in 1967.
“I’m doing it for history’s sake and to have closure. This is a very unique piece,” Villoldo said of his scrapbook.
“Guevara is, I would say, the world’s leading recognized figure,” he said. “To me the clipping of his hair, psychologically for me, for myself, meant that I was cutting off one of the symbols of the revolution, the long hair.”
Guevara, a leading figure of the Cuban Revolution often seen as rivaling Fidel Castro, has been regarded as a martyred hero of radicalism by generations of leftists.
Villoldo said he expected the scrapbook -- which includes a map used to track down Guevara and photographs of his body -- to fetch as much as $7 million when it hits the auction block in Texas on October 25.
Asked for proof of the hair’s authenticity, Villoldo said he had no reason to lie.
“It is what it is, and I let people believe or not, and that’s up to them,” he said.
He added that DNA evidence could be extracted from the hair and compared with surviving members of the Guevara family.
The Cuban government says it recovered Guevara’s remains from Bolivia a decade ago and laid them to rest at a monument in Santa Clara, Cuba.
Villoldo disputes that account, saying the makeshift grave the remains were pulled from held seven bodies while he buried only three.
He buried Guevara -- close to the grave later uncovered by the team of Cuban forensic experts -- because he wanted to deny Havana the chance of turning “Che’s” remains into a monument to Cuban President Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.
Tom Slater of Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, which will run the Guevara auction, said it was hard to tell how much Villoldo’s scrapbook would make at auction.
“As a cultural icon he’s just one of the most important of the second half of the 20th century,” Slater said.
“There’s never been, to my knowledge, any other personal effects or material relating to the last part of his career or his capture and death that has ever come on the market.”
Slater acknowledged difficulties in proving things like the origins of a 40-year-old lock of hair.
“I’ve been in this business for 35 years. I’ve learned to have a good nose for when things have been fabricated or put together,” he said. “I personally have absolutely no reservations about his material being what it is claimed to be.”
The October 25-26 auction will be held in Texas, but bids will also be accepted online or by telephone.
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