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Most daring Latin America woman activist known for avenging murder of Che Guevera

By Harsh Thakor 

Monika Ertl was one of the most daring women activists of Latin America who was renowned for avenging the murder of Che Guevera. Till the last drop of her blood she embarked on road to emancipate humanity from oppression. Her relentless spirit is the foreground today of revolutionary activists confronting tyranny. Her life and martyrdom was a manifestation of forces of oppression and liberation . 
Monika Ertl was shot dead on May 12, 1973, 50 years ago, in La Paz in the course of a firefight on the open street. She was s in her thirties and was battling to revive the Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN, which has been considerably demoralized since Che Guevara’s assassination. Behind these two executions was a man named Altmann, whom Monika affectionately called “Uncle Klaus” when he was a child and who was convicted on July 4, 1987 by a jury in France as the “Butcher of Lyon”
Factors that turned the course or radicalized her life could take a book itself, when one consider the background of where she originated. It manifested the spiritual metamorphosis that turns someone into a revolutionary and influence of environment. The book Surazo: Monika and Hans Ertl, a German story in Bolivia by Karin portrays the many things being thrown together, which at times assume unbearable proportions.
“It’s about better understanding the contribution of women to the uprising around 1968, and also to shed light on what you can take with you from the past for today. That’s why I didn’t stick to the asceticism demanded by biographical theory, but tried to follow all possible traces, including the faint and the improbable.” We need to bring a certain amount of patience with us to read it, but it’s worth it.
On April 1st, 1971, Bolivian army officer Colonel Roberto Quintanilla Pereira ordered the execution of Che Guevara and cut off his hands. The American CIA stooge was assassinated by German socialist and guerrilla fighter Monika Ertl, dubbed “the avenger of Che Guevara.”
Monika was the daughter of a Nazi propagandist who fled to Bolivia. The family’s close friends included the Nazi fugitives such as Klaus Barbie, a Gestapo leader known as “the Butcher of Lyon.”She held her father’s ideology in complete disdain and began to establish a deeper bond to the socialist cause, admiring the Cuban Revolution and especially the Argentinian commander Che Guevara.
After the US-backed Bolivian army killed Guevara in La Higuera, she joined the National Liberation Army of Bolivia (ELN). In 1971, she returned to Hamburg where Che’s killer Roberto Quintanilla Pereira was appointed as a Bolivian consul harbouring fears that the ELN could target him for his involvement in Che’s death. There she personally assassinated Quintanilla three times and was able to flee, thus avenging the great revolutionary commander.
Monika was eventually killed in Bolivia by Special Forces on May 12, 1973. She was tortured to death and her body never discovered. She was dubbed “the avenger of Che Guevara” for her efforts, a name that would create headlines around the world.

Background

Monika’s mother’s name was Aurelia. As is so often the case with women in history, there is no available information about her. Her father’s name was Hans. At the age of 31, he was drafted as a war correspondent for Nazi Germany. Later he performed task of the personal cameraman of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. The defeat of German fascism, like many other Nazis, provoked him to take refuge in South America.
The Ertl family, Hans, Aurelia, Monika and their two sisters finally emigrated in 1952. They settled on a small farm in Bolivia called “La Dolorida.” Monika was 16 years old at the time. While Bolivian culture was alien to her, there was also a large community of wealthy Germans around her, including her father’s friend and war criminal Klaus Barbie.
She was her father’s favourite daughter and accompanied him on various filming expeditions. There she learned to move in more rural areas and also to handle firearms. Monika married a Bolivian-German mining engineer. This resulted in a daily routine of taking care of the household, drinking tea, playing golf, organizing charity events, and so on. Bossed around by her sexist and racist husband, who “(…) couldn’t stop comparing her to his mother,” which she found revolting.

How Monica was Radicalised

In 1969, after 11 years of marriage, she divorced her husband, disabled all her ties with the upper class, and joined the Bolivian National Liberation Army (ELN), now calling herself “Imilla.” She demonstrated what kind of character it took to make such a radical decision and the nature of experience and situation you have to be in to make a 180-degree turn in your life. She grasped the dimensions of how deeply society needs to be revolutionized, and therefore how deeply you need to change yourself.
In addition to Imilla/Monika’s strong character, there were several factors that led her to this decision. Quoting High Asia Herald “Monika actually reached the position to which society had raised and pushed her. She was young, observant, well educated, and “looked beautiful.” She married into a wealthy family. Her husband owned a copper mine and had some influence “and economic power.
It fell to her to support him in all aspects of daily life and to manage the household as best she could. An example of the strongly patriarchal environment in which she found herself is the story about the childless couple."
“Her husband was infertile for biological reasons. When people began to question the couple, all the blame for the lack of children was falsely placed on Monika. In this society, where a woman’s worth is strongly measured by the number of children, especially boys, she gives birth to and raises, this is not an easy burden for her to bear.”
Her marriage was on most harsh, unequal terms. So even though she arrived at that point and fulfilled that role model by doing everything that was expected of her, she was resentful. That sowed the seeds for her to start questioning society and class extensively. She realized it was an illusion for this to be the life of freedom she dreamed of.
A major factor in influencing her awareness of class struggle was certainly the fact that she lived with her husband very close to the copper mine he owned. Her experiences in northern Chile, where her husband worked in the copper mines, seem to have played a major role in Monika’s radicalization. There she witnessed not only the incredible misery of the miners and their families, but also the rise of the powerful copper miners’ union. Here she was a first hand witness to the exorbitant difference between the lifestyle of the ordinary workers, the conditions under which inhabited , to the extravagant manner he herself lived as a European lady in a well-protected, rich house. It was the time and place of Salvador Allende’s rise to power, who, after his election in 1970, once again pushed ahead with the nationalization of the copper industry as an important signal.
It was incredible the manner she rejected this colonial reality and manner she gained insight into one’s own racist thoughts and behaviours. The need to touch politics, redress the affairs of ordinary people, to understand what concerns they have, also originated to her father’s story. Her German origin created high guilt within her. Her father’s active endorsement of the fascist regime inspired her to give to the world ,a completely new shape.
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Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist who has extensively researched on Liberation movements Thanks inputs from High Asia Herald and Time News

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