Growing up working the land in an impoverished village in the Colombian countryside, Luis Compañero always believed he would fly the mighty birds that ruled the skies. As a youth he did not understand the nature of Colombia’s decades-long civil war but realized what it would take to get into the Colombian Air Force and thus fulfill his dream of flight. So even at the earliest age Luis studied with great concentration, earning by far the best marks in the village. He became a young teacher to his family and neighbors before gaining entrance to the air force and qualifying for flight school where he learned to pilot the attack planes supplied to Colombia by the United States of America.
Luis married and raised a family while remaining in close touch with his people in the countryside who had been forced to grow coca by destabilized markets for yucca, corn, fruits, and other traditional crops. It would be years before Luis learned of the U.S. role in disrupting the local economies.
The civil war intensified, spilling more frequently into Luis’ childhood home. During one particularly bad stretch two of his brothers were assassinated while running for political office. The assassins turned out to be paramilitary members working in tacit agreement with the Colombian military. The assassins went unpunished. Luis continued to fly.
Years later the coca crop of Luis’ birth family was destroyed, fumigated from the air. The spray also coated their homes, killed their guava trees and vegetable and medicinal gardens, and poisoned their wells. Luis knew that the fumigation policy, the spray, and the funding originated in the United States of America, along with the new shipment of attack helicopters, Blackhawks, recently flown to his base.
Soon thereafter, Luis’ grandparents died. And to a certain extent, they died bitter. Luis and his wife and children attended both funerals in the village struggling to survive.
He had barely returned to work when U.S. Customs and DEA inspectors found 421 kilograms of cocaine and heroin in a Colombian Air Force Plane that had landed in Florida, leading to the arrest of several Colombian Air Force officers. In addition, U.S. Army officer Colonel James Hiett, in charge of U.S. troops that trained Colombian security forces in counter narcotics operations, was convicted in court for complicity in covering up his wife’s drug smuggling operation.
Days later, Luis found his youngest son behind their house smoking cigarettes. Marlboros.
Luis felt his skeleton standing outside his skin.
That night, he traveled alone to the village of his birth and spoke with a few residents who made arrangements to escort Luis to a hideout far inside guerrilla territory, deep in the southern mountains. There he met a group of men who tested him in conversations that lasted nearly a week, by the end of which Luis had secured a promise of modest financial security for his wife and children, and possibly something for the small village in which he had grown up. During the next several months Luis saw these promises begin to be made good on and knew he must come through on his end.
It took a few bribes and false orders to create the bureaucratic confusion needed to clear Luis for a solo takeoff one night, ostensibly on a training exercise. Once aloft, he banked the fighter north away from the continent, slicing mere feet above gulf waters.
At dawn Luis cruised high above North Carolina piedmont and broad swaths of tobacco green.
Luis Compañero launched missiles from his attack plane that tore gaping holes in the tobacco field.
Intent to show upon this peoples’ land at least some small symbolic bit of what had been done to his, Luis banked the fighter and came around for another approach.
He fired his missiles and swooped low strafing tobacco. He shot his flares into the long leafy rows as if dropping herbicide.
Then Luis set the fighter on course for the Atlantic and ejected, machete strapped to his chest. As the plane streaked to an ocean graveyard, Luis’ parachute bloomed high above North Carolina, and soon the scent of live tobacco spiked into his nose and brain. Luis unstrapped his machete. The drug crop rushed up to meet him, and he hit the land swinging.
1 “Each year, some 300,000 new refugees are driven from their homes [in Colombia], with a death toll of about 3,000 and many horrible massacres. The great majority of atrocities are attributed to the paramilitary forces that are closely linked to the military as documented in detail once again in February 2000 by Human Rights Watch, and in April 2000 by a UN study.” “Through the 1990s Colombia has been the leading recipient of U.S. military aid in Latin America, and also compiled the worst human rights record, in conformity with a well-established correlation.” –Noam Chomsky, “The Colombia Plan: April 2000″
2 “The number of Colombians who die from U.S.-produced lethal drugs exceeds the number of North Americans who die from cocaine, and is far greater relative to population. In East Asia, U.S.-produced lethal drugs contribute to millions of deaths. These countries are compelled not only to accept the products but also advertising for them, under threat of trade sanctions… The Colombian cartels, in contrast, are not permitted to run huge advertising campaigns in which a Joe Camel-counterpart extols the wonders of cocaine. We are therefore entitled, indeed morally obligated, to ask whether Colombia, Thailand, China, and other targets of U.S. trade policies and lethal-export promotion have the right to conduct military, chemical and biological warfare in North Carolina. And if not, why not? We might also ask why there are no Delta Force raids on U.S. banks and chemical corporations, though it is no secret that they too are engaged in the narcotrafficking business.” –Noam Chomsky, “The Colombia Plan: April 2000″ zmag.org