CLAIM

A photograph shows Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara executing two women.

RATING

ORIGIN

A photograph supposedly showing two women in the moment just before they were executed by an unidentified man is often shared with the claim that the gunman seen in the picture is the Argentine-born Cuban revolutionary figure Che Guevara, despite the fact that the executioner’s face is not visible in the photograph:

This photograph is nearly always shared with anti-socialist sentiments and often posted along with barbs directed at politicians such as Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Most commonly it is shared as a meme with the caption “This is the image of Che Guevara that should be seen on t-shirts.”

Che Guevara is a controversial historical figure, regarded as anything from a cultural hero to little more than a wanton murderer. A number of articles, books, movies, and documentaries can assist those curious about the Marxist revolutionary in forming an educated opinion about his legacy, but this photograph probably should not be included in a hypothetical course on the subject, as it almost certainly doesn’t show Che Guevara.

Although we’ve encountered dozens of social media posts promoting this photograph, we have yet to encounter any such posts that originated with a news article or an archive of war photographs, or that linked to a credible source identifying the pictured executioner as Che Guevara.

This photograph was first associated with Che Guevara in late 2017. The Italian blog Bufale.net investigated the claim shortly after the image was posted by the “Inutilisima” Facebook page in October of that year, a post (since deleted) that appears to be the original and sole source behind the claim:

So benevolent was Che. Do not argue whether this picture of Che was or was not Photoshopped.

In the absence of any credible source, it’s nearly impossible to identify the man with the gun seen in this photograph, as his face isn’t shown. The pictured man looks to be wearing a head covering similar to the beret famously adopted by Guevara, but that is hardly enough to positively identify a person.

Although this image has only been associated with Che Guevara since late 2017, the photograph first appeared online several years earlier, attached to a different claim. In 2011, this picture was included in a gallery about the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) during the Salvadorian Civil War, a bloody conflict which started in 1980 (thirteen years after Guevara’s death):

However, we could not confirm that this photograph truly shows a member of the FMNL during the Salvadorian Civil War, either. When we reached out to Martín Álvarez Alberto, an El Salvadorian historian with a special interest in the FMNL, to ask if he was familiar with this photograph, he told us that he had never seen it and that he doubted that the picture was taken in El Salvador. Alberto noted that the men looked Caucasian, not Salvadorian, and that the building in the background was more typical of locations such as Europe or the United States.

Susan Meiselas, a documentary photographer who worked in El Salvador during the Civil War, came to a similar conclusion: The buildings in this image did not resemble those in El Salvador. Meiselas also hypothesized that the photograph was taken in eastern Europe. 

The relatively modern wardrobe of the two women, and the suggestion that this photograph was taken in Eastern Europe, led us to examine photographs of the Yugoslav Wars in the early 1990s. An image of Dragan Vasiljković, the commander of a Serb paramilitary unit called the Knindže who was found guilty of war crimes by the Republic of Croatia, appears to show similar fatigues:

This, of course, is not hard evidence that the photograph was taken during the Yugoslav Wars. In fact, when we talked to photojournalist Ron Haviv, who documented the Yugoslav Wars, told us that he did not recognize the uniform of the man in the viral picture.

So where was this photograph taken and whom does it show? At this moment, we can’t give a definitive answer to either of those questions. What we do know is that the rumor holding that this image shows Che Guevara moments before he executed two women is unfounded and appears to have been pulled from thin air based on the gunman’s chosen headwear.

We have our doubts, too, that this is even a genuine photograph documenting a historical event. The nonchalant posture of the second man watching this alleged execution, the various people in the background who seem to be wearing backpacks, and the smoking bucket (which we hypothesize could be a makeshift fog machine), lead us to believe that this might be a photograph taken on the set of an obscure film production:

In fact, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) features this photograph on their web site and states that it was taken in 1989 and shows a “Guerrilla Theatre” performance at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia:

Mastinu, Luca.   “Bufala Acchiappalike ‘Quanto Era Benevolo Il Che.'”
    Bufale.net.   12 October 2017.

Cosgrove, Ben.   “Che Guevara: The Rorschach Revolutionary.”
    TIME.   28 October 2014.

El Torogoz.   “Album 12 De La Memoria Historica.”
    Retrieved 28 July 2018.

Magnay, Jacquelin.   “Captain Dragan Convicted of War Crimes.”
    The Australian.   27 September 2017.

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