I read the news today, Oh Boy

January 11, 2011

Talk about life imitating a blog.   Poor Gabrielle.  

The thing about murdering someone is, you don’t think about the ripple effects.   You don’t, that is, unless you are the one chosen to be with the surving family members and help them through the grieving process.   I will never forget going to Mike Hammer’s house the day after the murders, and being with his wife and 18 year old son.   You understand, then, the power of a bullet to destroy the happiness of a whole group of people for years to come. 

But we love bullets in America, apparently.   Can’t get enough of ’em.   And, yes, better to supply them by the 30 round clip so the poor perp doesn’t have to pause to reload and risk someone stopping him.   

I could go on.   The NRA is just down the street.   Should drop in on them and congratulate them on their fine work.

Let me put a wrap on the El Salvador thing, so we can get into real time, because there is a lot going on we need to talk about.   Like the crisis in the microfinance industry in India.  

I was about midway through my tour, and had already been through a number of life-altering experiences.  The second month I was there, 74 members of an indigenous farmers union I was working with were massacred by members of the armed forces and civil guard in the hamlet of Las Hojas, Sonsonante.  A 75th intended victim survived by falling ahead of the strafing automatic rifle fire and playing dead.   Over the next several months, while we pressed the courts for the prosecution of the perpetrators, I let the surviving member of the massacre and the President of the indigenous farmers union, Andres Esquino, take refuge in the house that served both as my residence and office – a spacious mansion rented from a guy named Jaime Hill, a member of the infamous 14 families.   Jaime was a good guy.   Though like the other oligarchs he had lost his farm under the land reform, he didn’t hate us for our role in it.  He assumed that had we not undertaken the land reform, he would have lost it all anyway when the guerrillas took over.  And, unlike under our program, he would not have been compensated for his farm.

During better times, Jaime’s mansion had been the scene of wild, cocaine-fueled orgies.  It was easy to imagine something like that taking place in this setting.   Surrounded by high, 25 foot stone walls, the main house had over a dozen bedrooms, not counting the servants quarters, plus a long veranda that opened onto a lush tropical garden, complete with a waterfall and, at the top of a winding stone pathway, a kidney-shaped swimming pool.   The pool was surrounded by towering, 100 foot mango trees whose ripe fruit came whistling down on us with the velocity of a mortar round.   The pool had fallen into disuse, and a huge Jesus Christ lizard had taken up residence there.   I  enjoyed watching the reaction of my guests when they first noticed him, peering up at us like some extra from a Godzilla movie.

I had a dozen armed guards who protected me, my wife and my expat staff.  We had two armored cars that were like James Bond cars.   They had level four armor plating on the sides, floor and roof, which could stop an assault rifle round.   If you got ambushed, you could flip a switch and fire off four tear gas grenades.   I bought them from a firm called Executive Armor in Miami, which probably also supplied the guys trying to kill us.   While I was there, I picked up a state of the art bullet proof vest and groin protector.   I asked the salesman if these things really worked. 

“Oh, yeah,” he replied, grimacing in remembered pain.   He explained that in order to work there they had to put one on and stand in front of 9 mm semi-automatic at point blank range.   After which the shooter pulled the trigger.

Fortunately, I never had to put mine to the test.

In any case, after about six months of serving as the protector of the leaders of the union movement, and getting reports of fresh murders on a daily basis, I was asked to go to a meeting in Miami where some members of the State Department wanted to hear how the land reform was progressing.    “Well, it could be going well, but at the rate the leaders of the popular organizations are being killed off, there won’t be a single beneficiary left.”  I went on to tell them that, in all candor, if the Death Squad killings kept on at this rate, every single civil society leader would go over to the guerrillas, rather than await assassination.  

My response stunned the members of the Reagan State Department   I didn’t learn this until more than 17 years later,  but my report went straight to the White House, and Reagan dispatched his Vice President, George H. Bush (W’s older, smarter father) who went down and met with the Salvadoran military and cut them a new one.  It apparently saved countless labor leaders, teachers and cooperative leaders of civil society from death and torture.  There are things a man can look back and point to with pride in his life, and for me that is one of them. 

Of course it was far too late to save thousands of others.

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