“Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.” – Julius Caesar, 1601
On July 27, 1983, Comandante Reyes Mata gave Lieutenant “Justo Martinez” a large sum of Honduran lempiras “to purchase mules, supplies, and, especially, food.” Lt. Martinez and several other guerrillas left the base camp at Congolon for the closest town, Nueva Palestina—a three- to four-day hike through the jungle on foot. It was a twofold mission. Martinez was to establish the FAP’s presence in the town, linking it with Congolon. A similar link would then be made with Tegucigalpa, the country’s capital city. Once accomplished, the FAP’s “internal front” would become a reality. “We have vested in it our hope for survival,” wrote Reyes Mata in his war diary.
Lieutenant Martinez was given three days to reach Nueva Palestina, two days to accomplish their tasks, and three days to return to base camp. On July 30th, Combatant “Marvin” deserted the base camp. Leaving his weapons and equipment the guerrilla took only his watch and blanket with him as he headed back toward the Patuca River. A three-man team sent to take him into custody could not catch the fleeing Honduran. “Marvin” was the first of what would become a relentless tide of desertions over the next six weeks.
On the morning of August 2nd, “Miguel,” “Mairena,” and “Renecito” had slipped away, taking their weapons and equipment to discourage any pursuit by the FAP. Unknown to Reyes Mata, two deserters had reached the town of Catacamas and turned themselves in to the FUSEP, or national police. They shared all they knew with the police, who in turn notified the Honduran Army. General Gustavo Alvarez, head of the armed forces, was furious and with good reason.
On July 19th, in Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega had proposed a six-point peace plan with Honduras tied to the Contra war. General Alvarez was learning that, on this very same date, with the support and blessings of the Cubans and Sandinistas, a heavily armed and well-trained Marxist column had crossed the Coco River. Further, it was led by Dr. Jose Reyes Mata, who had two Nicaraguan combat advisers with him. It was a betrayal the general would not abide by.
Guerrilla warfare 101
“The column was already screwing up if they made scheduled contact at the same time, and likely the same frequency, every day. That’s counter to best practices of guerrilla warfare comms [communications]. The FUSEP reported the column to the Estado Mayor in Tegu and [a] PSYOP/civic action effort was poured into the [Olancho] province. The Honduran SF was spun up, and with Contras tracking the column, updates were provided until the HSF arrived and was positioned to begin kicking ass. The Contras blocked any escape routes should the column [have] decided to evade back into NU [Nicaragua].” – Retired U.S. Special Forces Master Sergeant, Charlie Company, 3/7th Special Forces Group, Panama
On August 4th, the Honduran Army arrived in Nueva Palestina and established its forward operating base (FOB). Lieutenant Justo Martinez and his resupply team had just arrived as well. In his diary entry of August 6th, Reyes Mata offers, “We complete 10 days without food…we are all waiting anxiously for him….” Two days earlier Reyes Mata had personally executed Combatant “El Paisa,” whose true name was Juan Ortiz. Ortiz was accused of planning to assassinate Reyes Mata and inciting those who had deserted to have done so. A swift jungle trial was held, and Ortiz was killed in front of all those other guerrillas present. The execution did not stop the desertions. In fact, they would increase, with those surrendering providing even more information about the FAP.
By now the column had lost six of its original 96 members to desertion, capture, and execution. Still, Reyes Mena believed he had won a “great political victory.” He’d also lost four M16s, two grenades, and roughly 1,500 rounds of ammunition, and yet the FAP had not been in a single armed engagement.
The Honduran SF was spun up, and with Contras tracking the column, updates were provided until the HSF arrived and was positioned to begin kicking ass.
In an August 30th U.S. Department of Defense message to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provided by the Honduran G-2 and U.S. Defense Attaché, a nine-page report gave the names and position of each guerrilla in the column. In addition, the commanders, sub-commanders, and political officers for each of the four platoons were identified. The true names and aliases of the deserters to date and the members of the FAP support staff to include “Comandante Adolfo,” or David Arturo Baez Cruz, and “Gregorio,” were noted. Finally, the battle plan for the column was revealed as it sought to open separate fronts in Honduras.
The deserters had described radio communications capable of reaching Nicaragua and “other countries.” Deserter Enoc Benigno told his interrogators the radio had to be used with a dipole antenna put as high as possible in a tree “for better signal propagation.” One power source was a car battery and the other a portable generator operated by a mechanical pedal. Comandante “Fidel,” leader of the Third Platoon, held all the codes and frequencies. As he had forgotten to pack an extra battery, the generator had become the sole source of power for communications. Communication security was poor. Transmissions were made daily and always occurred at 0900 and 1600 hours, and were 30 minutes in duration each.
In short order the Honduran military, working in concert with the U.S. military and the CIA, began intercepting guerrilla radio traffic. Using the U.S.-operated clandestine radio communications intercept sites atop Tiger Island in the nearby Gulf of Fonseca, and another located inland between San Lorenzo and Tegucigalpa, General Alvarez’s Special Forces task force began placing blocking forces from Honduran infantry units at key trailheads, villages, towns, and roadways in Olancho Province. Major Leonel Luque was assigned by General Alvarez as the task force commander. Leonel Luque possessed a military police background and had attended the School of the Americas in Panama. He was also an important liaison with the Contra effort on the Honduran border and was known for his ruthlessness in dealing with subversives.
Reyes Mata allowed for just eight days for Justo Martinez to return to Congolon with supplies. The situation at the base camp was deteriorating swiftly. Listening to their own radio, the guerrillas discovered they’d been compromised by the deserters and the Army’s response. Reyes Mata ordered the camp struck and the column split in two. His group would remain in the Nueva Palestina area; the other group, now commanded by Comandante Serapio Romero (Frente Oriental), would begin its trek to the Catacamas Mountains. “Gregorio” would travel with this group. “Adolfo”/Baez would remain with Reyes Mata and combatant James “Lupe” Carney. Serapio’s unit departed 48 hours before Reyes Mata. Serapio would bivouac at a predetermined location and allow the slower-moving Reyes Mata to catch up before they parted for good. It was determined the FAP would not return to Nicaragua. It would remain in pursuit of its mission to wage war in Honduras.
As the starving band started down the trail, they were joined by combatant Raul Felipe Calix. “[He] appeared, completely beaten, but all right,” wrote Reyes Mata.
“They had left him alive.” Although his diary does not identify the other guerrillas that were with LT Martinez, it is reasonable to presume Felipe Calix was one of these and had managed to escape the army in Nueva Palestina to warn the FAP they were being hunted.
Rangers lead the way!
“…the U.S. Southern Command admits 150 American troops, most of them Army Rangers from Fort Lewis, Washington, were parachuted in Olancho on August 5th. They stayed until August 16, engaging in what the Pentagon called ‘a simulated counter-insurgency operation’ with Honduran forces. August 5th was the day after the Honduran Army’s Patuca Task Force arrived in Olancho on its real counter-insurgency mission.” – The Nation, “The Mysterious Death of Fr. Carney,” August 4-11, 1984
The Honduran Special Forces Squadron was originally trained in La Venta, Honduras, by a U.S. Special Forces operational detachment from the 3/7th SFG(A)—then stationed in Panama. La Venta, roughly 20 miles from Tegucigalpa, was the headquarters for both the “TIGERS” squadron as well as the COBRAS. The COBRAS were trained by a separate 40-man mobile training team recruited at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Both efforts took place in 1982. The Green Berets responsible for the COBRAS grew their hair out, wore civilian clothing, and arrived in Honduras completely “sterile,” meaning no dog tags or any other U.S. military identification (the same precautions David Baez had used before crossing the Coco River with the FAP).
Kidnapping, torture, assassination, and “disappearing” suspects by dropping their sometimes still-living but most often dead corpses from fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft were sanctioned.
Both the TIGERS and the COBRAS were trained in counterinsurgency, counterterrorism and unconventional warfare strategies, tactics, and techniques. These included sniper deployment, special weapons, hand-to-hand combat, raids, ambushes, the clearing of airplanes and buildings, and intelligence collection/assessment. At times individual instructors with unique specialty skills such as photography and demolitions were brought in. Both MTTs delivered a well-trained 120-man Honduran Special Forces squadron owned by the army and a 40-man Urban Operations Command, or Hostage Rescue Force (HRF) that fell under FUSEP. Both these elite units were under the direct command of General Gustavo Alvarez, chief of the armed forces.
Working in conjunction with the TIGERS and COBRAS were the military intelligence teams of Battalion 316. B-316 was the direct result of General Alvarez’s long-time professional and personal relationships with the military in Argentina. That country’s armed forces had been conducting a “dirty war” against communist influence and objectives for more than five years. The larger operation began in 1976 and was a collaboration between Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and Paraguay. CONDOR allowed for extraordinary cross-border cooperation between intelligence services and special units. Kidnapping, torture, assassination, and “disappearing” suspects by dropping their sometimes still-living but most often dead corpses from fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft was sanctioned.
The United States under both President Carter (1977-1981) and Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) was fully aware of CONDOR and both encouraged and resourced it. An August 1976 cable to the State Department from U.S. diplomats in Latin America raised early and grave concerns regarding CONDOR being far more than simply intelligence gathering and sharing (Figure 1). Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was at first cautious in his response, but within days sent the subtle message that no further oppositional action was to be taken regarding CONDOR and its goals/objectives by the U.S. (Figure 2).
Although CONDOR was officially shut down in Argentina and that country’s direct support of subject matter experts in interrogation, torture, and assassination withdrawn from supporting U.S. efforts in Central America, the overarching years of collaboration and financial support, as managed by the Central Intelligence Agency to its allies in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, had created units such as Battalion 316, a mirror image of its parent, Battalion 601, in Argentina.
Operation CONDOR, as it was formally known, was supported by U.S. assets and resources. The end game was the destruction of any and all suspected or proven communist movements in both the southern cone (South America) and Central American countries. CONDOR grew out of Cuba’s continued and blatant efforts to destabilize Latin America, with Che in Bolivia (and a concurrent Cuban-sponsored effort in Argentina at the same time) the basis for such a program. When Nicaragua fell to the internationalist Marxist revolutionaries under the Sandinista banner—and although by 1982/1983 Operation CONDOR was being shut down and war crimes trials for its creators and participants were on the horizon—El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala imported CONDOR veterans and their techniques to counter the myriad armed Marxist groups such as the FMLN, FSLN, and PRTC.
In all fairness, the Sandinistas, finding themselves facing the Contras with U.S. backing, likewise employed former CONDOR specialists for the same purposes.
Alvarez wanted his own counterpart unit to Argentina’s feared Battalion 601.And he got it.The 316 Military Intelligence Battalion’s commander reported directly to Alvarez and was on the same command wiring diagram as the Special Forces squadron and COBRAS. B-316 oversaw or ran counterintelligence operations, covert and clandestine operations, domestic and foreign operations, electronic and “other” surveillance efforts. It also had a hand in psychological operations, although those were run by a separate unit. The “iron fist” for B-316 were the TIGERS and the COBRAS. When the FAP crossed the Coco River and was discovered, as well as Daniel Ortega’s diplomatic treachery, the stage was set for all three units to be put to the test—with U.S. knowledge, support, assets, and resources.
“In accordance with the International Rules of Land Warfare, had [the FAP] established a shadow government, held a piece of territory and governed it, wore uniforms and had an established legal system, they would have received protection under the Geneva Convention. Reyes Mata would have known this.” – MSG (ret) Leamon Ratterree, 3/7th Special Forces Group (A)
Reyes Mata and Serapio Romero went over their final plans. Reyes Mata and his group would continue toward Nueva Palestina and attempt to refit and resupply. Comandante Serapio would take his group, the fittest of the remaining FAP, and move along the Patuca River toward the Catacamas Mountains and, once there, strike inland toward the Capacan Mountain Range and the Tinto River. The guerrillas continued to forage in the jungle, and although their food was minimal, they were blessed in having an abundance of water available. A human being in the circumstances the FAP guerrillas were in would die within 48-72 hours without water. However, the sporadic rainfall and the Patuca River with its feeder streams ensured their survival.
What neither commander knew was just how enormous the manpower and resources of the Honduran and U.S armies were.
On August 28th, with the help of signal intercepts, overflights of specially equipped U.S. Air Force C-130 surveillance aircraft flying out of Howard Air Force Base in Panama, and the provision of five U.S. Black Hawk helicopters from the 101st ABN Division to move Honduran forces swiftly, Reyes Mata’s group was discovered, then pinpointed. Honduran Special Forces were inserted and in short order contacted the guerrillas.
The ensuing firefight saw the guerrillas break down into smaller groups to escape and evade their pursuers. Reyes Mata, David Baez, and James Carney stayed together, working their way toward Nueva Palestina where they hoped to find help. In an intelligence report declassified and released on June 29, 2010, mention is made of a pistol belonging to James Carney being turned over to the HRF by two captured guerrillas. The pistol was in turn given to the Honduran C2 as evidence. By now all the guerrillas were severely undernourished and down to skin and bones. Their uniforms were filthy, torn, wet, and hanging from each man’s body like a hellish shroud.
On September 4th, it was reported the HSF had surrounded and captured the three men in the vicinity of Arenas Blancas and Cerro Azul. They were within a kilometer of reaching a well-traveled road with only a small stream to cross barring their way.
On September 5th, Major Leonel Luque established a second task force launch site at Rio Tinto to support the hunt for Serapio Romero’s guerrilla band. U.S. Black Hawk helicopters began moving elements of the Honduran 5th Infantry to blocking points, as well as at least 50 HSF troopers to be inserted on the band’s trail as it traveled along the Patuca River’s bank. Contra patrols, tracking the guerrillas as well, were in radio communications with Nueva Palestinia and now Rio Tinto, and were likewise eager to locate the band. Overhead, the Black Hawks, having unloaded their troops, began flying aerial reconnaissance in support of the ground operation and acting as communication relay platforms given the dense jungle and mountainous terrain.
On September 7th, contact was finally made, and the first firefight occurred along the Wasparasni River near Salto de al Mona. Although the guerrillas broke contact, the hunt was now fully engaged. A second firefight broke out on the 11th with three guerrillas captured (Castro, Moncada, and Duarte). Serapio had ordered the remaining guerrillas to split into three smaller groups. Sensing victory was at hand, General Alvarez Martinez ordered all available forces to engage. Alvarez made it clear the first 23 deserters had left the FAP on their own. This was in response to, in great part, the multimedia public affairs effort utilizing the deserters to urge their comrades still in the jungle to give up. From this point onward, only prisoners would be taken.
On September 16th, near Culmi Mountain, government forces again clashed with the FAP. There were casualties on both sides. The remaining guerrillas were now heading for Mt. Capapan. If they could reach the mountain they could hunker down and wait for an opportunity to slip down to the well-used improved road and escape by vehicle. Unsuspected by the guerrillas was the major task force headquarters at Nueva Palestina and the HRF launch sites at Rio Tinto, and now Dulce Nombre de Culmi.
On September 17th, the last confirmed firefight between the FAP and the Honduran Army took place near the Capapan Mountain. All captured guerrillas beginning on August 28th were now held at the clandestine U.S. / Contra air base known as El Aguacate located midway between the town of Catacamas and Rio Tinto just off the main highway.
An outlaw airstrip in the badlands on the border
“Two American enlisted men told the reporters that they could not enter without the Hondurans’ permission. Unlike Americans at other bases in Honduras, the men were armed with automatic rifles instead of sidearms. Asked if there were any Nicaraguan rebels at the base, one of the Americans said, ‘We were told they’re supposed to be the good guys, and not to shoot at them.”’ – “At a Honduras Base, More Questions than Answers,” NY Times, December 14, 1983
All officers are to have blood on their hands!” –CinC Gustavo Alvarez Martinez upon ordering the execution of the remaining FAP guerrillas being held at El Aguacate Air Base
On or about September 18th, roughly 36 FAP prisoners being held at El Aguacate were summarily executed. Dr. Reyes Mata was personally shot by a senior task force officer who has long since been identified by the CIA inspector general’s 1997 report, although that officer’s name is redacted. However, additional references from other sources strongly point toward the task force commander, Major Leonel Luque, as being the FAP commander’s executioner.
In 1984, two officers—one American and the other Honduran—met at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They were preparing to attend the Special Forces Qualification Course together. Both were Ranger qualified, the Honduran having just completed Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia. The American would go on to honorably retire from the Army as a full colonel. Along the way he would serve with distinction in El Salvador as well as in Honduras.
The Honduran officer, related as he was to General Alvarez, possessed firsthand knowledge of Operation Patuca River, to include the fate of those insurgents executed at El Aguacate. As they went through the Special Forces course together, he began to relate what he knew. “We just talked about it,” recalls the retired Special Forces officer. “I mostly listened as I was surprised to learn about one of our own, David Baez, being involved as he was.”
During one discussion the Honduran officer showed the American two photographs. In each was a captured FAP insurgent sitting on a bunk. “They looked like concentration camp victims,” the Special Forces officer recalled. The Honduran officer told him that the deserters were well treated and fed, but they learned not to give them all the food they wanted right away. “One of the deserters in the photos actually died because he ate too much, too fast. The other became very sick but pulled through,” the source told NEWSREP.
The Honduran officer described what took place after his uncle ordered the executions to occur at El Aguacate.
All the prisoners had been interrogated by professionals from Battalion 316. It was important to learn as much as possible about the now-failed insurgency, especially whether there were other FAP units in Honduras—urban commando units and logistical personnel, specifically. Everything about how they were recruited, when, and where needed to be learned and compared to information given earlier by the first 23 deserters. CinC Alvarez specifically wanted anything and everything that connected both Cuba and Nicaragua to the FAP incursion.
During the interrogations former Green Beret David Baez confirmed his identity as did James Carney. A phone call was made to the U.S. embassy. The confirmed capture of the two Americans was relayed to the ambassador, John Negroponte. The Honduran military wanted to know what the disposition of the gringos was to be given the execution command from Alvarez. According to the retired Special Forces Colonel, whomever was on the other end of the phone at the embassy basically said, “Get rid of them.”
“All of the guerrillas were taken outside and lined up with their backs toward the jungle,” the SF officer recalls. The Honduran enlisted men were not to take part in the executions and were sent elsewhere. Only the Honduran Special Forces officers were ordered to participate. Reyes Mata was shot. His body would be photographed in two separate poses, both images provided to the Honduran media as proof of his death. Because David Baez had confirmed being an American “Green Beret,” it was decided a young Honduran captain who had recently graduated the U.S. Special Forces qualification course at Fort Bragg would do the honors. Baez was described as having been shot point-blank in the chest by this officer. James Carney was likewise shot.
“He [the Honduran officer relating these details] told me at first the officers were using rifles to shoot the prisoners. But there were so many of them and the rifles became cumbersome, so they finished the executions using their pistols,” the American officer stated.
His account coincides with the CIA IG’s report where, on page 80, although heavily redacted, the document describes “three or four” of the guerrillas having been flown to Tegucigalpa where they met in private with General Alvarez. They were then returned to El Aguacate and the following instructions given:
It can be reasonably presumed the “three or four guerrillas” brought to meet with CinC Alvarez were Comandante Reyes Mata, Comandante Felipe Zapata (2nd in command of the FAP), Comandante David Baez, and Padre cum Combatant James Carney. The 1997 CIA report again confirms having identified the officer who shot the guerrilla leader, though his name is redacted.
The report also affirms the U.S. ambassador and embassy took a “hands-off” approach to the entire affair and why.
David Baez, identified in the CIA report, is also confirmed to have been captured and then executed at El Aguacate in this extract.
No fallen comrade left behind
“I am hoping that we can bring some closure to David’s death and give him a decent burial in his home country or here in the USA.” – Walter Cargile (ret), USA Special Forces
Word of Baez’s execution in Honduras spread swiftly throughout the 3/7th, his last Special Forces assignment. In 2009, Bob S. Senseney, who served as an AST with Baez in 1979-1980, told journalist Juan O. Tamayo that Baez was captured alive and then executed by Honduran Army officers. Master Sergeant (ret) Angel Chamizo, one of the most respected and experienced Special Forces senior non-commissioned officers at 3/7, likewise told Tamayo that, in 1983, at the Sheraton Hotel in El Salvador, two Honduran officers spoke with him about Baez. “They told me that Dave Baez was captured and then executed. I specifically recall them telling me that the execution order came from higher. Word about Dave Baez being killed was already going around SF circles.”
Chief Warrant Officer (ret) Don Kelly, in El Salvador at the time, spoke with a fellow Green Beret who was in the area in Honduras when Baez was executed. Kelly recalls being told that Baez and seven others, “all very skinny,” were captured and later killed.
The consistent presence of Special Forces operators from 3/7th in Honduras before, during, and after Operation Patuca River is not surprising. Charlie Company, 3/7th, had for some time been identified and trained as the battalion’s CIF, or commander’s in-extremis force for Latin America. Despite the existence of Detachment Delta since late 1977, it was understood the counterterrorism unit could not be everywhere all the time should a terrorist action occur. CIFs were stood up in Special Forces in each battalion to meet the specialized needs for responding to such threats. Training was conducted both locally within the group or battalion setting and at the SOT school at Mott Lake at Fort Bragg. “Charlie Companies” reflected a high degree of experience, expertise, and capability wherever they were located.
For example, in 1979, when the Sandinista Army was on the outskirts of Managua, Nicaragua, C-3-7 was alerted to assist in the expected evacuation of the U.S. embassy there. The CIF prepared to parachute into the nearby soccer stadium, move to the embassy, secure it, and “assist a NEO of U.S. and selected local nationals” under OPLAN 79-100. The company stood by for five days at Howard Air Force Base in Panama until ordered to stand down. However, had the CIF executed its mission it would have assisted embassy personnel and others being flown by helicopter out to the waiting USS Belleau Wood (LHA-3) then off the coast of Nicaragua.
To his Special Forces brothers, Dave Baez, regardless of motivation, remains a fallen comrade not to be left behind.
Welcome to the jungle
“They loaded the bodies onto helicopters and flew them out over the jungle where they dumped them.” – Colonel (ret), USA Special Forces commenting on the condition of anonymity.
The long-preferred Condor method of making bodies “disappear” was to use aircraft to fly the corpses out over the ocean, the jungle, or mountains and dump them from altitude. This same approach was used by right-wing death squads in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala in the 1980s thanks to Condor instructors from Argentina and Chile.
According to the Honduran Special Forces officer’s account the order from CinC Alvarez was to “return them to the jungle.” “Them” included Reyes Mata’s, David Baez’s, and James Carney’s corpses. The bodies of all those executed at El Aguacate that day were dutifully loaded onto waiting helicopters, which then flew the 100 kilometers from the base to the Honduran-Nicaraguan border. Crossing over into Nicaraguan air space, the helos moved farther inland and began dumping their loads over the thick triple-canopy jungle below.
It was a message as much as anything else to Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas: “Don’t come back. Death awaits you here.”
In the years since there have been many rumors, myths, and outright lies about the fate of the FAP, especially Reyes Mata, Carney, and Baez. In August 1999, based on information and discoveries made on the now-abandoned air base at El Aguacate, forensic teams conducted digs at four abandoned cemeteries located on the base. The Honduran government offered that there was a better-than-average chance that Father James Carney’s remains would be found there. Likewise, the family of David Baez were alerted the same closure might become available to them.
They loaded the bodies onto helicopters and flew them out over the jungle where they dumped them.” – Colonel (ret), USA Special Forces
Given that the Honduran military and past government leaders had long known the corpses of the guerrillas executed in mid-September 1983 had been “disappeared” into the dense jungles of nearby Nicaragua, the raising of such hopes was despicable.
No trace of Carney or Baez was discovered in the desolate graveyards. Only the remains of Contras who had died of wounds, injuries, or illness in the base field hospital.
Lilliam Cruz de Arguelio, David’s mother, received a formal letter dated August 2, 1984, from Robert L. Fretz, then the general counsel for the American embassy in Honduras. In it he expressed his “profound pain” upon learning of the death of her son, David, a “norteamericano.” Fretz urged Sra. Cruz de Arguelio to seek a formal death certificate from the Sandinista government. If she could obtain one, then he, at the embassy, would then issue a formal U.S. death certificate so her son’s affairs in the United States could be taken care of.
Jennifer Baez, David’s American wife, had told her husband that if he went to Nicaragua, she would leave him. She did. A formal death certificate from the U.S. embassy would help her resolve any lingering matters coming out of their marriage.
In Nicaragua, the EPS had continued to pay Baez’s wife his military wages, but one day those stopped. His brother, Eduardo, petitioned the EPS for a formal declaration of death so some form of income would continue for the widow and David’s children. His efforts were successful, and a certificate was issued, signed by Captain Marisol Castillo, stating, in part, that “Companero David Baez fell in battle” as a member of the Sandinista Popular Army.
Comandante Serapio Romero escaped capture and, in December 1983, re-crossed the Honduran-Nicaraguan border. Upon reporting to the EPS in Managua he wrote his after action report, the only other personal document known regarding the FAP and its demise. It is titled “Datos Sopre La Columna Del PRTC-H Que En Fi Ano 1983, Compatiera Por La Liberacion Del Pueblo Hondureno, En Las “Rofundidades Del Territorio – Junio 4 de 1984.”
Comandante “Gregorio” likewise escaped. He returned to Managua. “Gregorio” was an EPS intelligence officer from Masaya. It wasn’t until much later that he met with Eduardo Baez and identified himself as a survivor of the FAP. His real name was Darwin. Darwin, recalled Eduardo in one of his 2001 La Prensa interviews, spoke extremely well of his brother’s actions in Honduras.
CinC Gustavo Alvarez Martinez was forced from power in March 1984. He flew to Costa Rica where he made a brief speech to the media and later immigrated to the United States. He lived in Miami, Florida, and worked as a consultant for the Pentagon. In 1988, Alvarez returned to Honduras claiming a religious conversion. In 1989, he was shot to death outside his home by leftist guerrillas. He is best known for his comment to former U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Jack R. Binns: “Extralegal methods might be necessary to ‘take care’ of subversives.” He also praised the “Argentine method’ of dealing with the problem. Binns swiftly reported his concerns to the then-Reagan State Department. For his integrity he was replaced in 1982. John “The Black Prince” Negroponte became ambassador to Honduras.
Lieutenant Oscar Alvarez, CinC Alvarez’s nephew, would climb the ranks in the Honduran Armed Forces. Upon retirement he became a dynamic politician and was named Honduras’ minister of security. As a private businessman he became wealthy. In December 2018, Honduran prosecutors implicated Alvarez in a significant corruption case. The year before he’d resigned from his government position and relocated to the United States (Texas) for “health reasons.”
NEWSREP submitted FOIA requests to the USASOC FOIA Office at Fort Bragg, North Carolina for the purpose of identifying the Honduran captain, a graduate of the Special Forces Qualification Course, identified as David Baez’s executioner. Our request was denied as privacy law requires the individual to give his permission to be so identified (as an SFQC graduate). He appears to still be alive and well in lieu of the response to our inquiry.
It remains unknown which Honduran officer shot and killed Padre James Carney.
Lilliam Cruz de Arguelio passed away in 2008 without learning the whereabouts of her son’s remains.
Eduardo Baez Cruz left the Sandinista Party in 1986. He founded “Books for Children” in Nicaragua and became an outspoken critic of the failures of the revolution. He passed away in May 2010, his death attributed to a “fall.” He never stopped looking for his brother, David.
Baez’s youngest son, just three months old when his father wrote him what would be the last communication between the two, changed his name to that of his father’s. Of his father’s doomed journey with the FAP, he has only offered “Honduras meant nothing to him.” He has never shared the contents of that last letter between father and son.
From the author
From 1982-1985, I was proud to serve with the 3/7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), then located in the Republic of Panama. My last year with the battalion was with Charlie Company, where I was privileged to serve on ODA 13, the sniper detachment, working for Don Kelly and then Steve Davidson, both incredible Special Forces soldiers.
It was during this time I learned of David Baez.
In 1990, I wrote a novel, the third in my Springblade series, that revolved around Baez and his defection. It was done more to keep a little-known and sparsely—at the time—documented or talked-about event alive. Several months ago, I read Jack Murphy’s review of “A Mission for DELTA,” and the result of my follow-on contact with Jack is what you have just read.
My sincere appreciation is extended to the following, some of whom I can name and others who would prefer to remain “in the shadows.”
Juan Tamayo, whose early journalistic efforts in 2001 and again in 2009 kept the strange but true story of David Baez real; Eduardo Baez (RIP), whose 2001 interviews with La Prensa’s Roberto Fonseca were invaluable to me; my 3/7 brothers who knew the truth and agreed to share after all these years.
Most of all this story is for all those “desaparecidos,” the victims of CONDOR and its aberrations throughout Central and South America. In November 2017, the Argentine High Court convicted 29 former members of its Armed Forces for crimes against humanity during the Argentine “dirty war” from 1976-1983. Two pilots who flew numerous “death flights”—where victims, both living and dead, were dumped from their aircraft over the freezing South Atlantic—were given life sentences.
There are still trials to be held. The ends do not justify the means.
De Oppresso Liber,
Greg Walker (ret)
USA, Special Forces