Tamara Bunke, AKA Tania the Guerrillera, is killed by Bolivian Army

August 31, 1967

German-Jewish guerrilla fighter Tamara Bunke, 1964. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Haydée Tamara Bunke Bider, known as Tania the Guerillera, was a German-Jewish guerrilla fighter in the National Liberation Army of Bolivia, led by Che Guevara. As the only woman guerilla fighter, much rumor and mystery surrounds her life and role in the Marxist revolutionary movement in South America.

Bunke was born on November 19, 1937, in Buenos Aires to German communists who fled the Nazis. In 1952, the Bunke family returned to East Germany. Bunke worked in the International Department of the Socialist Unity Party, and because she was fluent in multiple languages, she often acted as a translator for visiting dignitaries.

In 1960, Bunke was Che Guevara’s translator on his visit to East Germany. She was so taken with his cause that she moved to Cuba and was recruited for Operation Fantasma, whose goal was to trigger an uprising of the people across South America, inspired by the Cuban Revolution. Bunke was assigned to gather intelligence on Bolivia’s ruling class and the country’s military capabilities.

To prepare for her mission, Bunke was trained in espionage, covert operations, and combat. She selected the code name Tania in honor of a Russian woman killed fighting the Nazis.

In October 1964, Bunke assumed the identity of Laura Gutierrez Bauer, an Argentinian expert on folklore. She quickly worked her way into Bolivia’s elite society, even vacationing with President Rene Barrientos in Peru. Bunke used hidden radio equipment and coded messages to communicate with Havana and the guerilla troops in Bolivia.

In March 1967, Bunke was forced to flee La Paz. Conflicting accounts claim her cover was blown by either a guerilla traitor or a guerilla who had been taken prisoner and interrogated. Either way, with her identity exposed, Bunke joined Guevara and his troops as the only woman. In April, Guevara placed Bunke, injured and ridden with parasites, into a column with other ill fighters to allow the healthy troops to move faster through the forests.

On August 31, 1967, Bunke’s column was ambushed by the CIA-backed Bolivian army in Vado del Yeso, an area along the Rio Grande. Bunke, just 30 years old, was shot, killed, and buried in a mass grave with other fallen fighters. Fidel Castro declared her a hero of the Cuban Revolution.

On October 13, 1998, Bunke’s body was identified in the mass grave and brought to Cuba. She and nine other guerilla fighters were interred with military honors in the Che Guevara mausoleum in Santa Clara on December 30, 1998. Presided over by Vice President Raul Castro, Bunke had chief honors.

Bunke became somewhat of a folk legend in East Germany and Latin America, remembered as Tania la Guerillera, revolutionary and spy. Argentinian singer-songwriter Suni Paz memorialized her in a 1973 folk song called “Tania, Guerrillera,” as “flor nueva de Bolivia”-- the new flower of Bolivia.

 

Sources

Specogna, Heidi, director. Tania la Guerrillera. Fama Film AG, 1991. 90 min. https://www.swissfilms.ch/en/movie/tania-la-guerrillera/AD610DA2A8EB40DAA482B09AEDB89E43.

Paz, Suni. “Tania, Guerrillera.” Raíces, 1973, accessed July 1, 2022. https://music.apple.com/us/album/brotando-del-silencio-breaking-out-of-the-silence/161223588.

Hosek, Jennifer Ruth. “Touring Revolution and Resistance: Tamara Bunke and Che Guevara.” In Sun, Sex, and Socialism, 146-180. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012.

Paterson, Tony. “Mother fights Che film over 'lover' claims.” The Telegraph, March 17, 2002. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/1388018/Mother-fights-Che-film-over-lover-claims.html.

“Cuba celebrates the life of revolutionary hero Tamara Bunke.” Morning Star, accessed July 1, 2022. https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/cuba-celebrates-the-life-of-revolutionary-hero-tamara-bunke.

“International Women’s Day: Tamara Bunke.” Young Communist League, accessed July 1, 2022. https://ycl.org.uk/2019/03/01/international-womens-day-2019-tamara-bunke/.

“Cuba honors 10 who fought with Che Guevara.” Tampa Bay Times, updated September 14, 2005. https://www.tampabay.com/archive/1998/12/31/cuba-honors-10-who-fought-with-che-guevara/.

Toomey, Christine. “Lover, traitor, soldier, spy?” Sunday Times, August 10, 2008. https://go-gale-com.ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/ps/retrieve.do?tabID=Newspapers&resultListType=RESULT_LIST&searchResultsType=SingleTab&hitCount=2&searchType=AdvancedSearchForm&currentPosition=1&docId=GALE%7CIJMMFG158855633&docType=Article&sort=Pub+Date+Forward+Chron&contentSegment=ZSUN-MOD1&prodId=STHA&pageNum=1&contentSet=GALE%7CIJMMFG158855633&searchId=R8&userGroupName=columbiau&inPS=true.

Estrada, Ulises. Tania: Undercover with Che Guevara in Bolivia.  Melbourne: Ocean, 2005.

James, Daniel. “The Girl Who Betrayed Che Guevara.” Cosmopolitan, September 1969. https://www.proquest.com/docview/1849387505?imgSeq=1&parentSessionId=8Ra0n62z1zkwHblnKahtyuQeSV6NmIHBwGAmM8y8O3Q%3D&pq-origsite=summon&imgSeq=1.

 

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Jewish Women's Archive. "Tamara Bunke, AKA Tania the Guerrillera, is killed by Bolivian Army." (Viewed on May 18, 2024) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/aug/31/1967/tamara-bunke-aka-tania-guerrillera-killed-bolivian-army>.