Gen. Gary Prado Salmón, who as a Bolivian Army captain led the operation that captured the Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara, a critical ally of Fidel Castro’s in the Cuban revolution, in 1967, died on May 6 in a hospital in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. He was 84.
His son Gary Prado Arauz announced the death on Facebook but did not give a cause.
After leaving Cuba in 1965, Mr. Guevara tried and failed to stoke a Communist revolution movement in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, and then he and other guerrillas headed to Bolivia the next year, hoping to overthrow the government of President René Barrientos Ortuño, a general who had seized control of the country in a coup.
Captain Prado and his men — part of a C.I.A.-backed special forces unit — had been hunting the guerrillas for months when he received a tip from a farmer, an old friend from school, who said he had seen them in a deep ravine near the small village of La Higuera.
At about 1 p.m. on Oct. 8, 1967, Captain Prado heard shouting from the ravine: His soldiers had captured two guerrillas.
As one of them surrendered, General Prado later told The New York Times, he called out, “I am Che Guevara, and I’m worth more to you alive than dead.”
Mr. Guevara had been wounded in the battle, his gun broken.
“He presented a pitiful figure, dirty, smelly and run-down,” General Prado said in a 2017 interview with FT Magazine. “He’d been on the run for months. His hair was long, messy and matted, and his beard bushy.” And, General Prado said, “He had no shoes, just scraps of animal skins on his feet.”
Mr. Guevara was held in one room of a small schoolhouse in the nearby village of La Higuera, where he spoke several times with Captain Prado. Asked why he was fighting in Bolivia, Mr. Guevara said, “The revolution has no border.” Captain Prado told him he had come to the wrong country, which he said had undergone its own revolution through agrarian reform and the nationalization of its mines.
“Then came his concern about his future,” General Prado told the publication CE Noticias Financieras English this year. “‘What is going to happen to me?’” I told him he is going to go to trial.”
But the next day, after Captain Prado left to pursue other guerrillas, he said, Mr. Guevara was executed by an army sergeant on the orders of President Barrientos. Captain Prado returned in time to help strap Mr. Guevara’s body to the runners of a helicopter that took it to nearby Vallegrande.
“He was then laid out on a concrete slab in the little laundry behind the hospital, and around 30 press photographers from all over the world were invited in to shoot images of the body as it lay in state,” General Prado told FT Magazine. “It was important for the government and the military to show Che dead as a lesson to anyone intending to invade or threaten the Bolivian way of life in the future.”
General Prado eventually wrote two books, “How I Captured Che” (1987) and “The Defeat of Che Guevara: Military Response to Guerrilla Challenge in Bolivia” (1990).
Gary Augusto Prado Salmón was born on Nov. 15, 1938, in Rome, to Julio Prado Montaño, a Bolivian Army officer who was on assignment in the city, and Adela Salmón Tapia. At 15, after the family had returned to Bolivia, Gary enrolled in military college, and graduated as a second lieutenant in 1958. He became an instructor at the college.
In 1974, seven years after the capture of Mr. Guevara made Captain Prado a military hero, he was arrested as one of the leaders of an uprising against the military dictatorship of President Hugo Banzer Suárez. A year later, though, he was reinstated.
In 1981, by now a colonel commanding the army’s Eighth Division, he led the recapture of an Occidental Petroleum natural gas plant in Santa Cruz that had been held by ultra-rightists who had threatened to blow it up unless Bolivia’s military junta resigned.
But it would be Colonel Prado’s final active-duty operation: He was paralyzed by a bullet to his spine fired by one of his own men. Citing a witness’s account, The Miami Herald reported that he had been shot by a second lieutenant in what Colonel Prado said was an accident.
Colonel Prado was eventually promoted to the rank of general, but the injury, which left him in a wheelchair, blocked his path to being the army’s commander, as he had once hoped. He retired from the military in the late 1980s, and then served as Bolivia’s ambassador to Britain and later to Mexico.
Information about his survivors was not immediately available.
Some Mexican admirers of Mr. Guevara opposed General Prado’s appointment as ambassador. During a reception at a Mexican cultural center in 2001, Alberto Hijar, an art critic, threw a glass of wine at General Prado and shouted, “To Che’s health!” Mr. Hijar told The Chicago Tribune, “He’s a war criminal.”
But General Prado told The Tribune: “I have acted correctly in all of my life, not only in this episode. I don’t have to be embarrassed or to hide.” He tried to minimize the importance of capturing Mr. Guevara, adding, “All of that incident is hardly four lines in the history of Bolivia.”