The Colombian Sojourn – Chapter 23

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Headquarters DEA, in the Pentagon City area of Arlington, Virginia.
St Juan de Pasto Main Operating Base and Bogota

On the day Edge got back to Pasto, members of the General Council of the CIA attended a meeting with the Head of Operations of the DEA. The meeting was largely unpublicised and crucially, no minutes or notes were taken of what was discussed and agreed. It was all to be off the record and the digital recordings were wiped. The meeting went ahead with the tacit approval of the White House, specifically the Department of Defence.

The DEA representative from the intelligence directive opened proceedings, with a general overview of DEA activity in South America. Then the meeting turned to specifics, in this case Colombia. As far as the CIA was concerned, the DEA was pushing against an open door.

“It is totally unacceptable that DEA officials doing this governments’ lawful business, with the approval of the Colombian authorities, should be in any way impeded or murdered. We have had a great deal of success over the past ten years, the cities have been cleared of the FARC and they are now forced to operate from two distinct major areas.”

The DEA intelligence agent giving the briefing switched on a PowerPoint presentation, that showed a map of Colombia and the surrounding countries.

“The FARC still mainly control the areas East of Bogota, Venezuela’s border areas and the south of the country, stretching into Ecuador. The Colombian army continues to fight them in the areas around Bogota, but they have formed a dangerous partnership with the drug cartels that operate out of Ecuador, mainly protecting the main supply routes.

“There are plenty of family-run cartels, but they are operating for this man.” They looked at a handsome, dark-haired man with a moustache, “His name is Camilo Hernández. He is known as El castrador for his penchant for removing the testicles of men who cross him and his violence towards women is legendary in its sadism. He is responsible for roughly fifty per-cent of the cocaine production and shipment north out of Colombia and into the Caribbean.

“The methods his organisation uses to transport the narcotics are becoming more ingenious. His organisation can activate jungle airfields very quickly and he has all the necessary heavy plant to clear a jungle area. Plus, he has access to many aircraft from old DC3s to Antonov 28s and a host of aircraft between the types.

“We can attack the areas of shipment within Colombia, but he remains safe with the protection of Ecuador. US/Ecuador relations have been somewhat strained of late and we fear that FARC are receiving upgraded weapons, paid for by Hernández and the area is awash with “advisors,” who are only too willing to pass on their expertise. That is the current situation, a head of the cartels who is protected by a foreign power, and a terrorist organisation that has been well-equipped and has realised that Marxist ideology doesn’t feed them or provide the weapons needed to carry on the fight.

“That is where we are. An untouchable drug lord and a newly-energised terrorist organisation. We really do not want Colombia to go back to the violence and misery of the 1980s and we don’t want a narcotic state dominating the region.”

The two representatives from the CIA’s Directorate shifted uncomfortably, “It was a humiliation for the Agency as well. We lost two agents killed by the FARC and one horribly raped and brutalised by them. We owe a debt of gratitude to a unit of Green Berets that is based in the south of the country and I suspect we will be calling on their expertise yet again.

“We should consider what are the cartels’ centres of gravity? What advantage do they have, that enable them to operate so effectively? What are our disadvantages that affect out courses of action?”

“Firstly, there is their ability to grow the coca plant pretty much anywhere in the country. Second is their synergetic relationship with the FARC, who effectively police their supply routes and protect the growing areas and of course their enormous wealth. They can afford expensive plant and machinery and have a huge amount of air assets available to them, to move the narcotics north into the Caribbean. They have their friendly governments who will look the other way when they want to move consignments. Most importantly. They have corrupted government agencies who are basically in the hands of the Narcos.”

“We lack good intelligence. We have foolishly run down our intelligence analysis capability in Colombia and the only asset we have there, is a rather inexperienced intelligence specialist. The head of this department unfortunately died after a long illness and we failed to fill the post, which was both short sighted and has now come to bite us. This intelligence operative has recently proved their worth in correctly identifying where our captured officers were being held and was instrumental in the operation to secure their release.”

“Strangely enough, the United Kingdom has good relations in Ecuador by setting up a programme paying for a network of peripatetic medical and social home visits. Those good relations and the information that has been gleaned is spread throughout the British embassies in the region. Recently, our intelligence analyst in Colombia has cultivated good relations with a staffer in the British embassy in Bogota. We hope we can cultivate that cordial relationship into intelligence data.

“So where are we now? We know our principal enemy. We know his centres of gravity, but we don’t know where his centres of gravity are. We can’t kidnap a member of his family to apply leverage, simply because he keeps them safe in Ecuador. But by taking out his critical assets, we can go for him. The United States has the means at its disposal and we will use it. Camilo Hernández believes that he is safe, but once we have accurate and meaningful intelligence, we can go for him. He will not be arrested. He will be killed as a warning to all the cartels that we have had enough and mean business. We just need a lucky break.”


Edge mooched around the operating base like a caged lion. He taught the troopers the rudiments of battlefield life support under the auspices of the Doc, but he would watch the Hueys taking off with the troops for nocturnal operations, he was not allowed to participate on. He knew there was another observation mission on the border river bridges that night, but the Doc still hadn’t signed him off as fit.

He had asked the Doc to order from the States, an artificial arm, on which the troops could learn how to canulate a casualty and give the injured fluids to prevent haemorrhagic shock. Those that were proficient at it, he got them to canulate each other. It was how he had learned, but he didn’t feel competent enough to teach them to put in a central line. Some were so hopeless they couldn’t even use a tourniquet, but it was ever thus.

Edge was putting cannulas on top a folding table on the ward for the afternoon’s teaching session. He was irritable and found that one of the cannulas had a damaged wrapper. He threw the package across the ward and swore.

“Waste, a fucking waste of a perfectly good piece of kit.”

“Mr Edge, what ails you this fine afternoon?”

Edge jumped and turned round. The Doc was standing with his arms folded, watching proceedings with a faintly amused expression.

“Hello, Doc, you made me jump.”

“I asked you a question, Mr Edge. What is the problem?”

“Bloody cannula’s seal was broken.”

“I meant with you.”

Edge sighed, “I’m hanging round the base like some REMF, sorry Doc, I wasn’t meaning you, And I watch the lads going off to do ultraviolence, and I’m sticking needles in a bloody rubber arm. I’m expecting to find three white feathers on my cot.”

“And you feel left out?”

“Yes. I didn’t come here to teach first aid.”

“Even if it saves a life?” the Doc asked him.

Edge looked at his boots, “The problem is, I’m a blade. It is what I do and the only thing I’m any good at. I feel guilty lurking here, when the boys are out.”

“To a certain degree, you’re the victim of your own success, Edge. You walked out of the jungle and saved those men who were left behind. They would have died if you hadn’t made it.”

“But that’s the irony, Doc. I did it to save myself.”

“It doesn’t matter why, but now the Major is caught on the horns of a dilemma. He doesn’t want to risk you getting killed or injured, because you belong to the Brits. Can you see that?”


“So how do you feel?”

“I’ve been running round the airfield with weights to build up my body strength. My body clock is back to normal.”

“And the intestinal worms?”

“I got rid of the last of them at the lake.”

The Doc looked long and steadily at him, “How was it?”

“It was wonderful, like another world.”

“And Clarita?”

“She was so kind and patient. She truly is one of the most beautiful and caring people I have ever met.”

“I have to ask you this, Edge. Did you…?”

“No. I came close to breaking my marital vows, but I didn’t. It would not have been fair to her and I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself, although I saw rather a lot of her.”

The Doc smiled, “That’s what she said. She thinks the world of you, Edge.”

“The feeling is mutual, Doc. She didn’t like me at first, that was mainly my fault because I was flippant and dismissive of her. Quite rightly, she probably hated my guts, I could tell, but we seem to have gravitated towards each other. God knows what she sees in me.”

“Perhaps it’s your devastating good looks.”

Edge laughed.

“She’s coming to brief the Major about something tomorrow. I think we’ll be busy, you as well, Edge.”

“Good. There’s only so many times you can put a giving set in a rubber arm.”


Clarita Rivera flew in the following day and ensconced herself with the Major in the command tent. She always felt there was a sense of purpose in the command centre, the hum of the computers and warmth from the electronics. It was a man’s world and she was always happy to share it. Major Martinez gave her a mug of coffee and waited patiently for her to come to the point.

“What gives, Clarita?”

“Thiago, we’ve or rather you’ve been tinkering round at the edges. A couple of trucks here, a raid on a jungle base there, all well and good but not hitting home.”

The Major looked at her with a degree of annoyance, “That “tinkering” has cost us blood and treasure, Clarita.”

“Please don’t misunderstand me. You can only do what intelligence tells you to. The failure has been ours, not yours, but that could change. The threat has been identified and we are waiting for some decent intelligence. You are going to raise hell with one of the masterminds of the narcotics production and distribution in this country.

“Have you heard of a man called Camilo Hernández.”

“Yes, I have. He is a main player in the drugs trade, but he remains untouchable down in Ecuador.”

“At the moment,” Clarita said enigmatically, “But we are hoping that will change. A couple of Lockheed Orion are going to move down from California and be based at Buenaventura airport on the coast. Purportedly they are conducting mapping operations of the Pacific coastal areas, but they have specific orders to conduct surveillance of the border areas with Ecuador. They are going to use some sideways looking radar, electro optical tracking of some kind.”

“So, we’re going after Hernández?”

“Keep it to yourself, Thiago. If you do go into Ecuador, you’ll go in with American equipment, and that includes air assets. They will fly eight Blackhawks and two Apache gunships down when the time comes.”

“My God, they’re serious this time.”

“Yes. I’ll need to have a place to sleep and work in this tent and I’ll be doing a lot of shuffling between here, Bogota and probably the States.”

“And how about your staffing levels?”

“I’ve got a new junior and she’s very competent. She keeps the crap away from me and I think the CIA station chief knows there is something going down. I have my own aircraft and pilot to shuttle me around.”

She smiled, “Not bad for some geeky kid from Puerto Rico, is it? Is Edge around?”

“The English Patient? What did you do to him, Clarita? He’s even stopped swearing.”

“I looked after him and I guess he looked after me. We both needed caring for and a rest.”

She looked at a simple watercolour of two Hueys taking off with the sun setting. It was exquisite and she noted it was in Edge’s style.

“I think he’s in the medical centre. He and the Doc are as thick as thieves.”

She went looking for him and found him in the medical centre, as the Major had said. The Doc and Edge were bent over a mannequin of the head and thorax of a patient.

“OK Mr Edge, a tension pneumothorax develops when a lung or chest wall injury is such that it allows air into the pleural space but not out of it. As a result, air accumulates and compresses the lung, eventually shifting the mediastinum, compressing the contralateral lung, and increasing intrathoracic pressure enough to decrease venous return to the heart, causing shock. These effects can develop rapidly, particularly in patients undergoing positive pressure ventilation. It has happened to someone out in the Cuds. What are you going to do?”

“I need to undertake immediate needle decompression by inserting a large-bore needle into the 2nd intercostal space in the midclavicular line.”

What size of needle and what will happen?”

“Err I guess…”

“No time, Edge. You need to move quickly. What size and what will happen?”

“14- or 16-gauge and air will usually gush out. Because needle decompression causes a simple pneumothorax, tube thoracostomy should be done immediately thereafter.”
“Well stop fuckin’ around and do it on Mr Sore Chest.”

The manakin was incredibly realistic and as soon as Edge inserted the 16-gauge needle there was a rush of air and he was spattered with theatrical blood.

“Good boy. Now you need to do a Thoracostomy. Get the tube ready in the clamp, now push it in. Gently so as not to perforate the lung. Firmly and gently…”

The Doc caught sight of Clarita watching them. He smiled, “Like you’d treat a woman.”

The tube went in and Edge looked up and wiped the fake blood from his face. He saw her and smiled.

“Doc, could I borrow your star pupil, please?”

“Sure. I’ll clean up, Edge.”

“Thank you, Doc. Hello Clarita, how’s it going?”

She took his hand and led him outside and round the back of the hangar.

“What gives?” he asked her, but she was determined.

“Ssshhh, don’t ask questions.”

She pushed him against the wall of the hangar, pulled his head towards her and kissed him hard on the lips. Edge was too surprised to stop her.

“What’s this in aid of?” he asked as she came up for air.

“No questions! Promise me one thing.”

“If I knew what the hell…”

“Promise me!”

“OK, I promise whatever it is?”

“You’ll be careful. No risks. I couldn’t bear it if…!”

“OK, I promise. Clarita?”

But she was gone.

“Bloody hell,” Edge said


Later that week, the CIA and the Colombian authorities had their lucky break. A Young woman called Dayanna Monero, paid a rare visit to her mother in the Popayán district of Bogota. She had heard from woman who occasionally visited Bogota, that her mother was seriously ill and visited the hospital where she lay dying in the intensive care ward. She brought with her a five-year-old son that his mother had never met and she hadn’t seen her daughter Dayanna for nearly seven years.

Dayanna had been a very bright young woman, who won a place in university studying geology with an ambition to go into the oil industry. Her father had died in a mining accident and she lacked the fraternal perspective of her life. Although she was a good student, the heady world of student politics and a young Marxist revolutionary seduced her. During the summer recess she took a bus on the long journey south with just an address written on a piece of paper. By the Autumn she had joined the FARC and given birth to a son, whose father was killed in a Colombian army ambush. From then she learned to hate.

Small insignificant events feed into information and then intelligence. A woman who lived in the same apartment building as Dayanna’s mother, was gossiping in a shop with her cronies about how the woman’s daughter had returned from the blue… With a son! She was rumoured to be in, low whisper, the FARC! A man who was reading a magazine from the rack was listening and later that morning, he made a phone call to a contact. His contact was very interested indeed and thanked the caller.

That evening Dayanna Monero was bundled into the back of a van with her son, as they left the hospital. They were taken to a nondescript building that was a small foundry on a deserted and run-down industrial site on the outskirts of Bogota. For the next three days, Dayanna was screaming in agony on a steel parrilla frame and her son was forced to listen to his mother being tortured. Present in addition to the interrogators from the Colombian Department of Security, was a doctor and an officer from the CIA, who told them what questions to ask her. This man from the CIA’s Operational Intelligence Directorate had once dated a young CIA probationer called Clarita Rivera. She had ended the brief relationship because she found him to be too buttoned up, too introspective and ungiving.

By the evening of the third day, Davanna had told them absolutely nothing. The doctor flagged up his concerns to the chief interrogator and the man from the CIA.

“She can’t take much more. I have administered heart stimulants but you are in danger of killing her.”

“Very well. Take her back to the cell,” the CIA officer said, “We’ll try a different method.”

Some hours later the chief interrogator went into the bare, concrete cell. Dayenna was lying on the floor in the foetal position, freezing and naked. Her wrists and lower legs were raw from the straps securing her to the steel frame. Her body ached with pain and the shame of what they had done to her. She thought they were going to rape her yet again, but he gave her a blanket, a bottle of water and an energy bar, then crouched down next to her.

“Please don’t hurt me any more.”

He gently lifted her up and spoke softly to her, face-to-face. “Dayanna, you are an extremely courageous woman. To suffer such pain, here alone, where no one knows how brave you have been. I salute your valour. We don’t want to do this and you can’t take much more.  But I wonder if your son could withstand just a fraction of what you have gone through. I regret this terribly, but we are going to find out, and you will watch.”

She screamed a long, terrible anguished scream of helpless frustration, “JODIDOS BASTARDOS!”

But they had broken her and with the drugs, she told them everything she knew.  She had to to save her son, but she knew she was going to die in this place, and pleaded for her son’s life to be spared.

“He doesn’t know anything and he is too young.  Please let me hold him before you kill me, not in front of him, I beg you.”

They gave her some time alone with her son then took him away.  They went back into her cell, pulled a hood over her and the chief interrogator shot her in the head.

“Nice and quick.  It’s kinder that way, and you don’t have to clean up the mess.”

Two weeks later a woman’s naked body was found in a trunk road conduit outside Bogota. The police could not initially identify the body that showed the signs and injuries of protracted torture and had been shot in the head.  She was logged as another victim of the Narcos. DNA was taken to be matched with the national database and the body was identified as Dayanna Monero, who had been missing for some years. Her father’s DNA had been taken following his death in the mine. Her mother had recently died and there were no other known relatives.

A boy was found wandering the streets of southern Bogota an a catatonic state. He had no recollection of who he was or where he lived, so he was taken into care in a foster home. The motto of the CIA is: Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.

A British soldier in Pasto would never know anything of what the CIA and Colombian secret police had done. If he had, he would have been on the first aircraft back to the UK and resigned. It would have been rather hypocritical, because whether he liked it or not, Mark Edge was involved in this dirty world right up to his neck. A man who had killed someone in Iraq he knew nothing about at the behest of MI6, was in no position to make moral judgements.

A woman from Puerto Rico read the transcript, and viewed the awful video footage. She could not stomach the screams of a woman, in anguished pain and begging her interrogators to have mercy. It made her deeply troubled, and sick, and she went to the toilet and vomited. She reasoned that those who sup with the devil should have a long spoon. She knew that she would refuse to be involved with torture, but she often wondered just how much evil was conducted in the name of peace? How much longer could she keep doing this and was she complicit by association?

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