Delta 7
 Chapter Two
  Map showing the Guainia Department.  Click for more information on Colombia.
  Map of Colombia
Guainía Department in Red

15 April 1986
Guainía Department of Eastern Colombia

“¡Muévanse hijos de puta!”
“Keep moving you sons of whores!” screamed Comandante Echo, leader of this small group of the 38th Cuadrilla, of the 16th Front of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia or FARC. 

Carlos Hernández was about to participate in his first ambush.  Under Echo’s command, the 25 men in his guerilla unit had been moving through the thick vegetation since before dawn.  It had rained earlier, which had made the going even more difficult and uncomfortable.  The humidity was higher than normal, sapping his energy… or perhaps he was just sweating more in anticipation of his first actual combat.

Carlos thought back to how he had been pressed into service with the FARC only five weeks earlier—the day before his 16th birthday.  He had been playing soccer with several boys from his village.  Halfway through their game, a pickup truck had approached the field.  Several armed men had gotten out of the truck and rounded up Carlos and three others.

Carlos and his friends had been beaten up and thrown into the back of the pickup.  After several hours on the road, they had stopped at a remote gas station.  One of his friends, Eduardo, had jumped from the small truck and run into the nearby woods.  Two of the guerrilleros had run after him and had returned to the van a short time later.  Once they were again on the road, Carlos watched as one of the two wiped fresh blood off his large hunting knife.  Petrified, Carlos had remained silent and immobile for the remainder of the journey.

Over the next several days, Carlos’ initial training with the FARC had been very rudimentary.  He learned—with absolute certainty—that any attempt to escape would fail and that he would be killed for even trying to abandon his unit.  They gave him an ancient, battered AK-47 that was covered with clumps of mud and dried blood.  After he cleaned it, they showed him how to load and shoot his weapon. 

FARC poster... click for more detailsIn those early days, he also learned the truth about his country’s history, the oppression of its people, and his duties in support of the FARC and the Revolution.  As the days turned into weeks, the other members of his unit had become his family… his new brothers and sisters.  The horrible aching in his heart began to subside and he thought less often about his own family back home.

 The sudden snap of a branch slapping into his face interrupted Carlos’ reverie.

“¡Cuidado, bobo!”

“Watch out, dummy!” he hissed to the comrade in front of him as the group continued their slow advance toward the ambush location.

The sun continued to climb into the morning sky, markedly improving the visibility.  They no longer needed flashlights to guide them through the dense vegetation and the colors of the jungle were becoming visible.  Through a clearing ahead, Carlos began to make out the outline of the road the Army used to transport troops for their regular patrols.  Their informants in the Muiscas Counter-Guerilla Battalion of the Colombian Army had told them that one of their patrols would pass along this road around 9:00am. 

“¡Mantengan su formación!” 

“Stay in formation!” yelled Comandante Echo.

Everyone in the unit understood that they must follow Echo’s orders without hesitation.  He handled small infractions of the rules with a bellowed string of cuss words, threats, and other forms of abuse.  During these tirades, he would often question the new recruits’ parentage and at times their species.  More often than not, verbal assaults were punctuated with a slap in the face.  Sometimes he struck them with the butt of his AK-47.  That was the easy part.  Those who questioned his orders, failed to carry out an order unhesitatingly, or whom Echo considered untrainable, untrustworthy or unworthy were simply shot. 

In the five weeks that Carlos Hernández had been with this group, he had seen two recruits dispatched in this way.  The first time was when Monito, an elfish 13-year old, had complained that his feet hurt after a day’s march through the jungle.

“¿Podemos parar un ratito? Me duelen los pies.” 

“Can we stop for just a second?  My feet hurt,” Monito had asked no one in particular.

Echo calmly stopped the formation and walked up to the young boy.

“¿Te duelen los pies, pobrecito Monito?”  

“Do your feet hurt, poor Little Monkey?” asked Echo, placing his hands on his hips.  
Monito did not answer, and continued gazing down towards his feet.

“¿Y la cabeza? ¿No tienes dolor de cabeza?”  

“How about your head?  Have a headache?” he had asked calmly.  Monito had stared silently at the ground, tears streaming down his cheeks.

“¡A ver si ésto te sirve!”

“Let’s see if this fixes it!” sneered Echo, removing his pistol from his belt and calmly aiming it at the youngster’s forehead.  Without warning and with no further words, he fired.

Carlos had jumped at the loud crack of the pistol.  He watched the spray of blood and brain tissue expand behind Monito’s head, the sound of the gunshot quickly muffled by the dense jungle vegetation.  The impact of the bullet had snapped Monito’s head back and it seemed that his eyes were staring straight at Carlos—as if pleading for help.  However, as the lifeless body began to collapse upon itself, Carlos realized that those eyes could no longer see.  Monito was dead.

Carlos stared at the inert body lying in front of him.  There was a gaping hole in Monito’s forehead and a slowly expanding pool of blood mixing with the dirt and decayed vegetation on the jungle floor.  He noticed the unnatural position of Monito’s arms and legs—haphazardly folded at strange angles as his body had fallen.  The tips of Monito’s shoes were pointing at each other.

Carlos mind filled with a swirl of emotions and questions.  Those shoes killed him!  Why did Echo have to hear his complaint?  Why did Echo have to shoot him?  Why had God let this happen?

Carlos felt the jungle close in on him, and the air thickened, making it harder to breathe.  He thought of crying; but feared that tears might seal his fate too.  Showing any weakness might risk pushing Echo into another rage, and that might result in his lifeless body lying next to poor Monito.  No.  Carlos Hernández would not cry.

Carlos was jolted by the slap of Echo’s hand on his shoulder.

“Bury him!  We don’t want those Army bastards to think they killed him and include him in some government body count.  We must be strong to win!  Monito was not strong, so he had to die.  You are now students of the Revolutionary University.  You will learn… or you will die.  Guided by the Bolivarian Vision, we will win if we are strong!” 

Comandante Echo was shouting, but his words barely broke into Carlos’ consciousness.  Carlos was only able to concentrate on Monito’s unseeing eyes.  Slowly, surreally, he picked up Monito by his wrists and started to drag the lifeless body away.

Carlos tried not to look at Monito and instead tried to search for a place to start digging; but was unable to look away.  He gazed at the hole in Monito’s forehead and the matted, still-dripping mass of hair/blood/brains/skull that was the exit wound.  He saw the blank eyes—forever staring into nothingness.  The offending shoes left twin furrows in the dirt as he dragged the lifeless body along the jungle floor. 

Carlos surveyed the result of Echo’s brutality and thought of his conversation with Monito the night before.  Softly and tearfully, Monito had whispered his feelings and his fears.  He missed his parents and wanted to go home.  Monito had also complained that his shoes did not fit properly and were hurting his feet.  He had explained how he had found them in the camp the day before; and had quickly grabbed them to replace the rotting, hole-filled sneakers that he had been wearing.  The new shoes were too small, but at least were relatively free of holes and did a better job protecting his feet from the sharp rocks, twigs and branches that littered the jungle floor.  In the darkness, Monito had removed the shoes, revealing several bloody, puss-filled blisters.  Carlos had removed his own socks and given them to Monito to help cushion his feet and alleviate his suffering.

After lugging Monito unaided for a few meters, several members of the group joined him and helped drag the body towards an area of thick undergrowth.  Together they cleared away the vegetation and carved out a shallow grave.  Some used the butts of their machine guns—others used their hands to clear away the dirt.

Once the shallow grave was dug, one of the boys picked up Monito’s body and starting moving him towards his grave.  As he struggled with the corpse, Monito’s head flopped backwards grotesquely—causing the massive exit wound to rub onto the guerilla’s arm, smearing it with blood, bits of skull and brain matter.

“¡Puta Madre!” he screamed, throwing down the corpse in disgust, wiping the still-warm mixture off his arm.

“¡Me duelen los pies!” he said, mockingly imitating Monito’s childish voice.  As he said the words, he jostled Monito’s lifeless body up and down—turning him into a gruesome marionette.  Everyone laughed.  It was perhaps the only acceptable way for them to react to the terror of what they had witnessed and what they were now being forced to do.

After a few seconds of this grisly theater, they had tossed their puppet into his grave and starting to cover the body with dirt.  Carlos expected Monito to flinch when some of the handfuls of earth hit his still-open eyes; but he didn’t move at all.

Monito was gone.  It was better to make fun of his lifeless body, to laugh at his predicament, and to pretend that they were too macho, than suffer a similar fate themselves.  They were members of the 38th Cuadrilla of the 16th Front of the FARC.  They were warriors fighting against the oppression of a corrupt government.  Guided by the Bolivarian Vision—they would win if they were strong!

“Listen up, you sons of whores!” it was Echo, giving instructions and forcing Carlos back to the present.
They had arrived at the ambush site and Echo began barking orders, sending each man into position.  He was an experienced tactician, carefully noting everyone’s field of fire.  He set up each firing position with the correct weapon, and at the proper distance from the target.  After guiding everyone into position, Echo placed two small bundles of branches about 40 meters apart along the sides of the road.  He explained that the bundles would delineate the kill zone for the ambush.

Each member received his orders:  Pedro and Jonjo had the RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades).  They were deployed at the two ends of the ambush area, and were to disable the first and last vehicles of the convoy, trapping the enemy within the kill zone.  All the others were deployed in a manner that ensured complete coverage of the ambush area.  No one would escape.  They would be victorious.  Guided by the Bolivarian Vision—they would win if they were strong!

Carlos settled into his place near the center of the ambush position.  He was to first single out the officers and then, once they were all gone, shoot at any soldier left alive.  He would fire until he had only one clip of ammunition remaining, and then run back to the camp where they had stayed last night.  Once there, everyone would re-assemble and re-group for their next attack.

As Carlos waited, he contemplated his role in the Revolution.  The government was corrupt.  The Army was a tool of the corrupt government.  They must both be destroyed.  He was an instrument of the Revolution.  He would be strong.  The Revolution would succeed and his country would be forever changed.

In the distance, Carlos heard the sound of approaching military vehicles.  His heart started pounding and his hands shook enough to make him wonder if he’d be able to aim his weapon accurately.  He checked the chamber of his AK-47—the first round was in position and the safety was off.  He was ready.

The first vehicle, a Jeep Cherokee with four soldiers inside, came into view.  A few meters behind the Cherokee was an Army truck with about 20 soldiers in the back.

Suddenly he heard a huge explosion.  The Jeep Cherokee disappeared in a massive blast of sound, fire and smoke, just as it reached the second pile of branches.  Pedro’s aim had been perfect.

Carlos began firing his AK-47 in full automatic mode into the middle of the truck with the soldiers.  After the first few rounds, he closed his eyes—stunned by the noise of his weapon, and the cacophony of fire seemingly coming from all directions.  In the confusion, he completely forgot to seek out the officers as he had been ordered to do.  There was so much happening.  Smoke, screams, firing of weapons, flying shards of vegetation, confusion, noise, blood, and death—too much for his mind to process.

As he fired, several of the hot spent cartridges spitting out of his weapon bounced off a tree near his firing position and ricocheted onto his back.  One of them hit his neck and rolled down into his shirt.  He squirmed around trying to keep the hot shell casing from burning his chest.  This movement caused his AK-47 to spray its bullets wildly high—way over the top of the truck and into the tops of the trees on the other side of the road.  Then, without warning, his weapon went silent—out of ammunition.

Carlos quickly changed magazines, slammed the first round into the chamber and continued firing into the truck.  He hoped he was doing what Comandante Echo expected of him—that he would perform with the bravery and skill required by the Revolution.

After firing for what seemed to be only an instant, his weapon again went silent.  The second clip was empty.  He had one clip remaining and it was time to go.  As the firing continued behind him, Carlos jumped to his feet, turned and ran as fast as he could.  As he sprinted away from the ambush area, the shooting continued behind him.  The noise gradually subsided, as the ambush area grew more distant. 

Reaching a clump of trees near the bottom of a small depression in the forest, Carlos turned around and stopped long enough to be sure no one was following him.  He held his breath and listened for footsteps.  He heard nothing but the pounding of his heart.  In the distance, the firing had almost stopped and Carlos could just make out muffled shouting.  He must get moving towards the rendezvous area.  He felt sure that he had been strong and had done his duty.

Carlos Hernández was now a combat veteran.

Copyright © 2008 John Cathcart 

This free excerpt from the novel Delta 7 may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in whole or in part by any means, including graphic, electronic, or mechanical without the express written consent of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.