There was this guy. That is how most stories start out, at least in the espionage profession. Given the secrecy and the need to protect sources and methods, we tend to be less descriptive of the people we deal with. So, there was this guy in Central America during the height of the various conflicts in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. He was a nice enough guy, charming, faithful to his wife, a loving father, and a prosperous businessman. He was part of the ruling elite, the families with serious money and political influence. He moved in right-wing circles because every one of his class was right-wing, though secretly he really wasn’t. He also had military acquaintances, because in this country you needed military contacts to get anything done. They ran the place. He also dabbled in several businesses, like most people of his class did, always looking for a new score.
One business he wanted to dabble in was the importation and sale of weapons. Guns were a highly desirable commodity in a country wracked by war and violence. They were necessary for self-defense. Kidnappings were at an all-time high; guerilla elements were always looking to kill or kidnap a member of the oligarchy. Not only were they necessary for personal protection, but they were also a status symbol. The government-controlled the types and calibers of guns you could own, mostly so that guerillas couldn’t obtain them in the country. However, with a special permit, obtainable from the military, you could up your game, and own and carry a restricted firearm. Every time our guy went to a party, a lunch, a business meeting, the firearms came out, not so discreetly placed on the appropriate table. Ostensibly, this was to avoid violence if tempers became hot or too much was drunk. It also served the purpose of displaying whose gun was the best, who had the better connections. A contest of self-importance.
This guy didn’t know much about importing firearms so he went into the business with a partner, a man he had met on several social occasions because they moved in the same circles. That was mistake number one; don’t go into business with someone you know little about. But greed got the better of him. The guy put up his share of the money, waited for his new business partner to import the guns, and then they would start selling them once they arrived.
After a few months of the firearms “being on their way,” our guy asked his business partner for his investment back. After much back and forth, and no sign of his money back, our guy started to become concerned. He didn’t know what to do. He was a big man, physically, but a real teddy bear, so he wasn’t about to beat his partner up. For those of you shocked that this was even a consideration, remember, we are dealing with Central America in the 1980s. Violence was an everyday occurrence, and part of the political and business landscape.
He hit on the idea of going to his military contacts and having them put some pressure on his partner to return our guy’s money. It was the military that approved firearms importation so having them show up would be a clear message: pay up or no more business.
Our guy went to the Major seeking his help. The Major was an accommodating man, and somewhat of a stereotype of the Central American military thug. Average height and swarthy, he always wore mirrored aviator sunglasses—the fashion for right-wing death squads—flaunted a pencil-thin mustache and perfectly pomaded hair. He graciously offered to go immediately, with our guy in tow, to his partner's place of business, and request our guy’s money back. He called his driver and bodyguard (all the senior military types had drivers and bodyguards, mostly for prestige), and the four jumped into the 4-wheel drive SUV with tinted windows, also required for senior military types.
As they headed to the partner’s business address, the Major turned to our guy and said he had to run a small errand on the way, but it would not take more than five minutes. What could our guy do? He nodded politely and hoped it would not delay the final reckoning with his conniving partner.
They drove into a residential neighborhood—lower middle class, one-story white houses surrounded by low walls, the type of area where shopkeepers, teachers, and similar people lived. It was a very quiet weekday. The big SUV pulled up in front of one of the nondescript houses, and the Major got out, not bothering to close the door. He walked up to the door and knocked. A woman answered, young, in her early 30s, and holding a baby. Our guy could hear the conversation.
Major: “Are you Mrs. So and so?”
Major: “Is your husband at home?”
Woman: “No, he isn’t.”
Major: “When do you expect him back?”
Woman: “I don’t know. He left two weeks ago, didn’t tell me where he was going and when he would be back.”
The Major looked disappointed, crestfallen. He drew his pistol from his holster and shot the woman in the forehead. As she started to fall he shot the baby as well. Our guy was horrified. He sat frozen in the back seat of the SUV, his mouth hanging open, body shaking. The Major walked to the next-door house and knocked. An older man came to the door.
Major: “Tell professor so and so that I left a message for him at his home.”
The Major walked back to the car and got in the back seat next to our guy. He told the driver to drive on. By way of explanation, the Major informed our guy that the man he was looking for was a leftist professor at the university. He was suspected of aiding the guerillas and was wanted by the military. Clearly, that justified everything that had just occurred. As they drove, our guy’s brain was on overload. He was filled with terror. Looking at the Major sitting next to him he saw absolutely no emotion, no feelings, no reaction to what he had just done. “Oh my God!” He thought, “What will happen when we get to my business partner’s office? If he did that to a woman and baby, what will he do to that guy?”
He started to stammer then blurted out that he had forgotten a very important appointment he was late for. He asked the Major to drop him off, they would visit his business partner another day. The Major asked if he was sure, it would only take a minute to straighten the situation out. Our guy said he could do that another time. They dropped him off and he headed home for a few stiff drinks.
The world is full of evil, no other word for it. There is lots of good, but evil roams the lands. It is always present. It could be sitting across from you or next door. It could be inside you and has never been released. Sometimes it’s our enemies, other times it is our friends. But it is always part of the job.