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Monday, August 11, 2014

A Reminisce: Grand Theft Auto Murder

Still not feeling great. I have no appetite for reading or commenting too much on all the appalling news, including "our" Commander-in-Chief's appalling half-baked announcement of "his" going to half-baked sort-of "war" in Iraq. My stomach churns when I hear him talk about sending our folks into harm's way. He so obviously does not believe his own words that it makes me want to scream. The new Islamist horror in Iraq is on him; he built that.

So, instead of dealing with all that mess, I will tell a little tale of which my wife (the Camaro driver) reminded me. It has to do with our time in the wonderful, strikingly beautiful, and often violent country of Guatemala.

When we lived in Guatemala in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was a country still grappling with a thirty-year communist insurgency that had been backed by the Soviet Union, Cuba, Mexico, and later Sandinista Nicaragua. By the time we got to Guatemala, the insurgency--the URNG--was in its death-throes but it was hard to tell. It was like a mortally wounded gator thrashing its powerful tail and snapping its jaws: it was dying but still looked pretty dangerous. The Soviets were preoccupied with the impending collapse of their empire in the "Near Abroad"; Cuba was running out of money for foreign adventures; and Mexico was tiring of the rebellion--which eventually turned around and bit Mexico--and sought a NAFTA deal with the US. The Sandinistas did not have much to give, either, as they had their own serious internal problems. The guerrillas, however, continued to draw support from North American and European "human rights" activists and church groups. The Guatemalan military had proven successful at defeating the insurgency; cut off from significant assistance from the outside, they had developed their own doctrine and tactics--often brutal, but effective. The Guatemalan Army was one tough outfit; along with the Colombian and Sri Lankan militaries it had to be one of the most combat experienced militaries in the world. Every officer from lieutenant to general was a combat vet.

The poor campesinos were caught in the middle of this war. They hated and feared their "liberators" in the URNG. They hated and feared their "protectors" in the military. They wanted to be left alone. No such luck: libertarianism was not the ruling philosophy on either side.

Aside from the war and the politically motivated violence, Guatemala had an extremely high ordinary crime rate. Murders, kidnappings, robberies, the vast majority non-political in nature, were very common. I don't know what the situation is now in Guatemala City, but when we were there easily two-thirds of all the cars and trucks on the road had been stolen, principally in Texas, and were carrying around false papers, switched plates, and even homemade tags. There was, for example, a Ferrari for sale on a car lot that we suspected had been stolen in the US. It still had Texas plates. When we ran those plates, they came back belonging to some sort of farm machinery.

Numerous car import brokers had offices in Guatemala City. One could go to one of these and order a car, "I want a late model blue 4x4 Toyota with under 20,000 miles and a good roof rack." They would take a deposit, and transmit the "order" to Central American and Mexican gangs mostly in Texas but also in California who would go "shopping" for the car. Most of the time they would boost it off the street or a parking lot, and make for the Mexican border as fast as possible before the car was reported missing. The more sophisticated gangsters, however, would approach the owner, especially on high-end cars, and offer a sum of money to delay reporting the car's theft. The crooked owner would take the money and then, of course, eventually would get reimbursed by his insurance after the theft got reported several days later. There was, of course, violence implied throughout the deal. In Mexico, paid off officials and well-organized smugglers would get the cars down to Central America.

OK, the scene is set. I don't want to make this too long.

At that time, US Embassy employees had to find their own residences in Guatemala. The Embassy provided a monthly stipend for rent, some guidelines on what houses we could and could not rent, and off we went into the local market. Since my wife and I spoke fluent Spanish, we did not rely on the usual crowd of realtors that hung around the diplomatic corps. We found a spectacular house in, admittedly, one of the rougher neighborhoods. The house had huge walls topped with concertina wire, a beautiful courtyard, a wood-panelled "pub" with a large hart's head on one wall and a magnificent bar. It even had a "discotheque" with a mirror ball and a modern sound system built in.  We convinced the Embassy security officer to OK the rental, and there we were.

The house belonged to a wealthy Lebanese family who lived in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Lebanon. They owned properties in all three countries and ran an ill-defined "export-import" business that would probably not have withstood too much scrutiny. We dealt mostly with the elderly grandmother but upon her death, we were told to deal with one of her grandchildren, Francis. From the beginning, I found Francis, in his late twenties, a bit odd. Even after we were living in the house, he, often drunk or high, would show up unannounced "to check on things." Showing up unannounced in a yard in Guatemala at night--he had the gate key--is a good way to get yourself shot. I came very close on one occasion to putting a .45 slug into his drunken body. I complained to his father about these visits, but he did nothing. I had the locks changed and told the guards that Francis was not to have access.

Francis liked money. He wanted to make his own. He got himself involved with a car theft ring run by some crooked military officers operating out of the Presidency. As we later found out, ol' Fran, who spoke French, Arabic, and English, in addition to Spanish, and passed himself off as a sophisticated man of the world, convinced these somewhat unsophisticated and unworldly military that he would be the perfect guy to go to Texas and deal directly with the car theft gangs there, and cut out the brokers. He proposed bringing cars down to Guatemala and selling them directly to interested customers. Well, Fran went off to Houston one fine day with around $250,000 of his military backers money, and, as luck would have it, immediately fell afoul of a well-planned Houston PD sting operation. He got arrested along with several members of a car theft gang. He appeared before a judge, and despite the prosecutor's sensible argument that Fran posed a "flight risk," was freed on bail in the amount of, you guessed it, $250,000. He deposited his Guatemalan passport and the money with the court; using one of his other passports, he took off for Mexico and back to Guatemala.

Returning to Guatemala proved a major mistake; I never understood what he thought would happen. He, certainly, did not get a hero's reception. His military business partners put the various family properties under surveillance. My wife, who worked in our security office, noted that a certain Jeep Cherokee kept driving past our gate, and that many nights it was parked half a block from our driveway. I took down the plate numbers and gave them to our security officer. The plates on the Cherokee came back belonging to a VW minivan in the Presidency's motor pool. Our security officer raised this with his contacts who assured him that the Jeep was there for our "protection." A day or so later, we never saw it again.

For months, almost nobody knew what had happened to Francis: He was reported in El Salvador, in Lebanon, still in the US, and on and on. Meanwhile, my rent allotments from the embassy were piling up in my bank account, and I could not find anybody from the family willing to take my checks. My wife concluded that we now owned the house. No, not quite. Fran's sister eventually came into town from her usual abode in Lebanon and swung by to collect several months of rent. She was very evasive about the fate of Francis, but did buy all of our personal furniture.

It wasn't until an intrepid local reporter found Francis's very decomposed body that we learned his fate. This reporter had a source inside the smuggling ring who described Fran's final moments as a would-be car smuggling kingpin.

His uniformed friends had found him near the Salvadoran border which he apparently sought to cross. The officers "interrogated" Francis with considerable energy. They then drove him out to a field, stood him up and asked one last time, "Where is the money? Where are the cars?" Francis tried, again, to explain the intricacies of the American bail system; one of the officers reportedly said, "Oh, Francis, that is such a bad answer," and put two 9mm rounds into Fran's head.

Isn't this a nice story? Hope it cheers you up. It has done wonders for me.


  1. Dear Diplomad:

    It cheers me up to hear from you again! Thanks for the great story! Hopefully you will share another one with your loyal followers soon.

    Wishing you well....
    a frequent reader and sincere admirer

    1. Thanks. I am just not feeling well. I hate that!

    2. Dip, you haven't been with any of Obama's newly-minted citizens have you? They are apparently bringing in resistant forms of all sorts of nasty diseases...

    3. Someone recommended your site. Article well written and informative.

  2. That's quite a story.

    Our au pair came from Guatemala, with all her possessions in one grocery bag, and she spoke no English. My wife helped her get her green card (which the violence in Guatemala helped her case).

    She's now a citizen, still is our house cleaning lady, and our sons have tutored her daughter and I've taken her son bird watching several times.

  3. "The guerrillas, however, continued to draw support from North American and European "human rights" activists and church groups."

    And from Senator (Sandwich) Chris Dodd. I have always wondered what was in it for him. I doubt he did anything for free or even ideology.

    1. Ah, those human rights "activists" and church groups. I was in college during the late 80s. As a kid, I was encouraged to join service groups like the Boy Scouts, etc., and I always enjoyed participating in genuine service groups -- you know, the kind that obviously helped people without getting into politically driven agenda. I got to college, and I wanted to see what kinds of groups I could get involved with. The college had (and still has) a "public service and social justice" operation, and I was told that was the place to go. (This was before I knew the Orwellian meaning of "social justice.") To my surprise, most of the "charities" were groups like CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador), the "Young Sandinistas", some Trotskyist group whose name eludes me, South African divestment groups, and other obviously leftist "coordinating councils" that somehow passed themselves off as charitable non-profits. There were a handful of traditional groups, like the local Red Cross chapter and college Rotarians, but the vast majority of groups were from the radical Left. Oh, and they all received funding from our student activities fees. Perhaps needless to say, there were *no* organizations in this group that could remotely have been considered to be "conservative." It's still this way today. The idea that every student is required to contribute to a "student activities fund" to pay for these miscreants is disgusting. Thus began my incredulous relationship with the Lefty politicization of everything.

    2. Questions for all and sundry who may know more about Latin America than I do:

      One day, when teaching a group of ESOL students, many of whom were from El Salvador, the PA came on, and a quotation from Abp. Oscar Romero of El Salvador (who was assassinated) was given to inspire the kiddies. I nearly had a riot on my hands in the classroom. The gist of it (it got very voluble in both Spanish and broken English) was that Romero had been a horrible priest and troublemaker. However, I couldn't catch whether my students' real gripes were political, or because perhaps two thirds of them came from Evangelico or Testugos de Jehova or Adventista homes.

      Is there anyone here more knowledgeable about what sort of associations the late Abp. Romero had, and other things about El Salvador (other than the fact that, I understand, at the airport and every border crossing out of the country, there's a sign requesting the last person to leave to turn off the lights).

    3. There was a surgeon in Austin, daughter of a prominent Mexican family. Daddy was a judge, IIRC. She was a big fan of Romero. In Central America, there is a pretty wide belief that the Catholic Church is pro-leftist, while the Evangelicals are of a different mind. So, the Testigos and Evangelios were not behaving in a way that would have surprised me. Oddly enough, Catholics in Mexico are as anti-PRI as anyone you'd want to meet.

      I remember the first time PAN won the Presidency. My then patient in home care was Catholic, and stingy, so the only time she had cable was when they were giving a free month as a come-on, which, that month, they were doing. All her neighbors, from a small part of the state of San Luis Potosi', gathered in her apartment to watch the news. They got really excited when a priest appeared on the screen, IN HIS VESTMENTS. Under the PRI, it was illegal for a priest to appear in vestments outside a church .

      Michael Adams

  4. crazy story! and yeah... beats reading about the vapor masquerading as foreign policy in the Obama admin... Hope you're feeling better!

    - reader #1482

  5. Get better soon, you I am sure have more great tales to tell. Most on the outside have no idea what goes on in the real world, I think.

  6. Well, you're in the land of the living, good. Now I can blather on with a free conscience.
    Old Fran just didn't speak the right language at the right time, must have been one of those pesky idioms that tripped him up.
    James the Lesser

  7. Como dicen, si con perros te acuestas, con pulgas te levantas.

  8. Delighted to see you back at the keyboard Dip.

    Ultra long shot I know but, while serving with the Royal Australian Air Force as a pilot I spent two memorable years as an exchange flying instructor (IP) with the USAF. One of my student helicopter pilots at Stead AFB NV in late 1965 was Captain Deleon.

    He was from Guatemala and I have often wondered what became of him on his return home - there being some trouble there at the time.

    Any clues?

    1. There is a Facebook group called Fuerza Aerea Guatemalteca formed by ex militaries and enthusiasts of the AF in Guatemala. Contact them and maybe they can help you.

    2. Much obliged - thank you.

  9. A disco, a jewfro........there's a bigger story here.

    Glad you seem to be on the mend

  10. Great story Dip, please continue with the "slice of life" while abroad. Much more revealing than we will ever get from the StateRunMedia, on Obumbles And Jf'ng Kerry's Clown Car travels thru the apocalypse under way in the Mideast...

    and probably easier on your blood pressure, while recovering from the Miami Flu Bug.

    - just another long time fan

  11. paul vincent zecchinoAugust 14, 2014 at 11:29 AM

    Dip -

    Thanks for the tip re Knife. Took a few days over in our favorite city, Miami, to celebrate our 29th anniversary. Stayed at the fab Thunderbird, old yet fun and right on the beach in Sunny Isles. Nothing like the Atlantic, particularly when it's warm this time of year.

    Sunday night, drove out Hallandale Beach Boulevard to the intersection of Route 1, and enjoyed a delightful dinner at Knife, charming service, great dining. Thank you for mentioning Knife, will make it a stop next time we're over there which will be sooner than later.

    Second night, dined al fresco on the balcony facing the new circular tower to the north of the T-Bird being built by Porsce, reportedly, enjoying the balmy breezes.

    The hotel was alive with visitors from all over, many languages heard. Reminds us how fortunate we are. They saved and spent well to travel here from distant places, whereas we hop into the wife's 1998 XK8 convertible, light the wicks, and drive over from the Gulfcoast, passing thru the big sky country of Sugarland, Clewiston, south of the lake.

  12. paul vincent zecchinoAugust 14, 2014 at 2:32 PM

    PS -

    And yes, Dip, this was a very, very nice story. Heart warming. I'm weepy.

    Why do not more parents tell this to their kids as a bedtime tale? The conclusion in particular was sensitive, touching even, a gentle hearted fable for all time. Thank you!

  13. I had a good friend in college from Guatemala. We graduated together in 1990, and he was looking for ANY way to stay up here in the states. Did not want to go back for anything.

    Take care! (you too, Gustavo)

  14. A marvelous story of inter-American co-operation in the pursuit of justice. One of the great desiderata of our diplomacy, is it not?

    I like to think Charlton Heston would have played the military officers' leader without an accent.

  15. Getting more and more worried about you Dip.
    Saw Holder's ridiculous 'announcement' of a 2nd autopsy, and your criticism of him jump straight to mind.

    - reader #1482

  16. The story itself is excellent, altho I was perhaps not quite as amused as some, since I reside in Texas and car theft is still a pain in the neck. Four door pick ups like I drive are often a target for the smugglers, apparently they can stuff a lot of people in them. I got stopped by the constabulary in another town one night, ostensibly because the officer thought my window tint was too dark, but really because he wanted a peak inside..

    I have filed away your recommendation about The Knife, I have a friend in Coral Gables that needs visiting...

    Best wishes with your ailments, and give the puppy a belly rub for me.

  17. OK Diplomad,
    Getting really worried about you, please drop a line!

  18. YES, DIP..we are getting worried....

  19. "...Guatemala had an extremely high ordinary crime rate..."

    Our oldest daughter Chase served as an LDS (Mormon) missionary in Guatemala in the mid-1990s. At the end of her mission, my wife and I flew down to spend a few days sightseeing with her there before returning together to the US. Keep in mind I had likewise done two years of missionary service in Central America (Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama) during a period (1972-74) when there was plenty of turmoil in the region (Somoza in Nicaragua, Torrijos in Panama, the Arellano coup in Honduras, etc.). But I was not prepared for the locked-down status of Guatemala City. Our hotel had an armed guard with an automatic weapon stationed at the entrance, which was kept closed and locked in the evenings. When we went out to dinner one evening, the guard opened the door to let us out and then closed and locked it behind us again. We then walked a few blocks to a major restaurant, which likewise had an armed guard standing in the doorway. Frankly, I encountered less security and fewer weapons when I spoke at a conference in Beirut in 1998. :-)

  20. Please come back. We miss you.

    Reader #17

  21. i hope for diplomad's speedy recovery and return to these pages. our nation and our world burns, our leaders golf or fan the flames, and we miss diplomad's words of wisdom. from a fellow retired fso.

  22. Would be be notified if the worst happened? Does his family read his blog, even know it exists?

    Michael Adams

  23. Worried about you... Hope you are ok.



  24. Starting to worry here, Dip-ster. That doctor at Emory University shook the Ebola virus faster than this.


  25. Beginning to miss the "FOG", hope he's on the mend!
    On Watch~~~

  26. OK Dip old boy, you're REALLLLLLLY starting to worry me. Maybe you're not even going online to check stuff (course, I wouldn't blame you on that one). If you are, just enter one little phrase "alive and coming back soon." Pretty please with a cherry on top?

    Praying for you and yours frequently.


  27. I'm worried too. Just one sentence will suffice to ease my mind...
    Hoping for the best.

  28. Gulfcoast? What part if one may ask. Tampa Bay myself. Did 10 years in DSS as an STS.

  29. "Thinking" we might give the FOG a little break?

    ... Yeah I know there's a lot going on but we eight or twelve or so Readers by now realize Diplomad don't put nothing out until he can be "reasonably sure."

    Any of us foreswear to being "reasonably sure" of anything given recent events?

    I'm not.

    Patience Y'all.


    1. Ahh, piercing the "white hole" I see.

  30. Dear Dip, Please give us a clue what is wrong. We will jump right on it and crowd source a solution for you!

  31. Mr. Amselem,
    It's apparent something is happening that is requiring you be somewhere else. Of course it's understood that you do this blog as a personal pastime only, but there are many of us who are quite concerned and would like for you to drop a note letting us know if you are indeed alright. If it is something very serious all we can do is offer our best wishes and thoughts. Of course if it is merely a matter "being busy" we will relentlessly hunt you down and force you to take John Kerry elocution lessons.
    James the Lessor and Somewhat Concerned

  32. How are you doing? I have really enjoyed your posts and look forward to many more!

  33. As the other 9 or so of you may know, I 've been prowling around in the archives looking for a clue to the disappearance of our erstwhile diplocratic blogger and commentariat. While I am pleased to report that I may have picked up the scent, I am at the same time unnerved by what may have precipitated his hasty departure! Today I discovered this disconcerting entry in a post dated 14 September 2011:

    "I am wrapped up in a nasty professional issue, which I will describe in the future, and that is limiting my ability to blog."

    Could it be, just a coincidence, that our compadre's voice has again been silenced just as the crops are brought from the fields, and the chill winds of September begin to blow, or have the forces of darkness conspired to mute the voice of wisdom lest he awaken the slumbering herd. . . ? Whatever the design or purpose of these events, I trust they will be revealed to me back in the stacks where I must forthwith return. . . Fare thee well for now my Diplomadic friends and acquaintances - On Watch
    P.S. please don't throw things at me as I take my leave~~~ ;)

    1. Perhaps you could look into the Crystal Ball and guide us like a swami through the stacks? You could be like Charlie Chan's Number 1 son.

  34. Hope he is back soon!

  35. Is this a test? He must be testing us!

  36. Those of us in L.A. have our eyes peeled for any sightings of a black Vette.

  37. This is serious. Not having any word from our Diplomad for over 2 weeks portends the occurrence of a very dire event or illness. Please post something if you are still alive. We miss you!

  38. Dip, hope you are feeling better. Curious about your take on ISIS, and thoughts on:

  39. Take it easy people. The Diplomad does this blog in his spare time, I'm guessing he has no spare time at the moment, new dog, kids at home, who knows? Personally I would hope he has been assisting the Israeli government during the recent war with Hamas-they have few enough friends of his capability, he could make a real contribution.
    As to some dread illness-don't think so, his wife has contributed here before, any dire news would likely be reported by her.
    Have faith, you don't get rid of the Diplomad that easy.
    And just because it is not said often enough-well done Israel, you sustained the attack long enough to do serious damage and totally ignored the USA and Europe, thats the way to go.

  40. Maybe he is advising Rick Perry! Let's hope!

  41. Twice a day I check his blog, once in the morning and once at night. Still nothing.

    1. I just keep clicking 'refresh'. I figure if I do, when he gets back he will be amazed at all the web traffic nine readers can do. Then... dare I say?.... they might even offer him a Twitter™ account.

      You can see what they do to commentators who pique the ire of the 'powers that be' here: http://tinyurl.com/osy3cfn

      It would be disastrous if our beloved Dip-ster suffered the same fate that befell Ms. Finke. Wait... maybe Dip is Nikke Finke and that is the big reveal.... hmmm.... ever think of that?

      I certainly hope he doesn't sell this fine blog to some corporate conglomerate like that. I just can't imagine pop-up ads on these pages. Perish the thought!


    2. ... "maybe Dip is Nikke Finke and that is the big reveal.... hmmm.... ever think of that?" -Anon Frankly, No! But now that you mention it, as I gaze at the abandoned 'Crystal Ball' in the Library, it could very well be that Simon and Shuster made a clandestine deal with Ms Finke's alter ego who is, as we kibitz, busy scratching out those long neglected memoirs and field notes~~~ In the FOG of one's life there's nothing like your Physician's advice, and or a call from your publisher to motivate one to set/get the record straight, or at least take the cure ;) -On Watch

    3. PS Something from Dip's Paul Simon collection came to mind. . .

  42. I have enjoyed this blog ... and, if it is going off the air, I humbly ask for one more post that relates what dirt you have on Lavrov (that you have teased us about before). In any case thanks for the insights.

  43. I am now fearing the worst. It has been far too long with no word.

    Diplomad, wherever you are, I'm still hoping for the best. May you live long and prosper- but I would sure appreciate knowing what has happened to you!

  44. There are more than 9 people who read this blog. It's the greatest. I hope our DiploMad hasn't been silenced.

  45. Prayers for the Dip from a long time lurker.

  46. I've been checking daily and hope for the best.

  47. I am becoming concerned. I hope all is well but...

  48. Hello Dip and All,
    Just finished re-reading one of our host's most "serious" posts.
    Do hope Hartza is taking good care of our old boy while he mends. . .
    -On Watch

  49. Well it is September now. Dip where are you?

  50. Possible scenarios for the missing Diplomad:
    Wife has been threatened if he posts again
    Stroke paralyzing thinking and writing abilities
    On chemo for recently discovered cancer and he is weak, nauseated.
    Away at an undisclosed location and under an armed guard
    Wife afraid to post whereabouts due to his life being threatened by thugs
    Lawsuit pending litigation not wise to blog now
    Mental breakdown and in sanitarium recovering
    Having to change diet and lose weight---too grumpy to blog
    On extended vacation due to nervous exhaustion over US foreign policy insanity
    Now in secret meetings with patriots and defense officials--blogging blackout
    Dog died is deeply depressed
    Financial catastrophe
    Death in the family
    Just doesn't want the responsibility of writing articles anymore
    Approach /avoidance syndrome
    Living off the grid in his bomb shelter
    Doing undercover work and in disguise for a future story
    Has lost his eyesight
    Has used up all of his stories
    Complete bed rest---no blogging
    On a cruise
    Staying in a foreign country with friends
    Missing person---disappeared
    Has found new lease on life--free from technology
    Wife is extremely ill and he is inconsolable
    Writer's block
    Taking a sabbatical from politics and blogging
    Writing a book--with a short deadline--no time to blog
    Starting a new career---pastry chef
    Marital discord---working it out
    Vigorously pursuing a lucrative business venture
    Finances threatened and has moved to The Caymans
    The last time a favorite blogger of mine stopped posting it was a year before I found out that he had moved off the grid and was living a happy life on a rural farm.
    God Bless and keep The Diplomad.

    1. Ha Ha!
      Phew. . .
      'Its a jungle out there' :)

  51. Checking in regularly. And looking forward to more posts!

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