A DEFECTOR IN PLACE: The Strange and Terrible Saga of a Green Beret Sandinista – Part One

By Greg Walker (ret)

Prologue: Operation Patuca River, Honduras, 1983

On July 19, 1983, a group of 96 Marxist guerrillas with extensive training in Cuba and six months of combat conditioning in Nicaragua fighting U.S.-backed Contras, successfully infiltrated Honduras on foot after crossing the Coco River by boat.

The mission was planned and led by Dr. Jose Reyes Mata (“Commander Pablo Mendoza”), a well-known and highly-respected Honduran icon in the Latin American Marxist-Leninist community. The newly-formed Armed Forces of the People, or FAP, was a multi-national revolutionary army made up of Hondurans, Nicaraguans, Cubans, and two North Americans. Reyes Mata, an original founder of the Revolutionary Party of Central American Workers, Honduras (PRTC-H) under whose umbrella the FAP fell, had fought in Bolivia during the second attempt by the survivors of Commander Che Guevara’s disastrous 1967 effort to overthrow that South American country’s government. Captured, Reyes Mata was sent to prison until escaping to nearby and revolutionary-friendly Chile.

David Baez’s father, Adolfo Baez Bone, was the senior planner of the coup attempt to kill Somoza Garcia and his two sons. As the young boy was growing up, he would be challenged to “have big balls like your father!” by his father’s friends. (Credit: Enrique Saenz/Vamos)

In Chile, he continued to promote and refine for export Che’s foco theory of revolution, a theory he hoped to personally plant the seed of in Honduras. Making his way to Nicaragua, he participated in the 1979 victory of the Sandinista FSLN guerrilla war against President Anastacio Somoza Debayle, thereby earning great favor with the new Marxist government in Managua as well as in Cuba where he was a welcome visitor and, at times, a resident.

David Arturo Baez Cruz was the only known ‘Green Beret’ to have willingly left his family and military career in 1980 to join the Sandinista Popular Army (EPS) in its fight against the Contras.”

Christened “the March of Liberty toward Victory,” the column, organized into four platoons, was to establish a series of logistical FAP base camps in Honduras from which to begin additional local recruiting, training, and finally to conduct guerrilla operations against the government and armed forces of Honduras. The FAP was to be the regional vanguard movement with expected support from the external PRTC forces in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Costa Rica.

Instead, in just two months, the column would be brutally annihilated by the elite Honduran Special Forces Squadron in close cooperation with its military intelligence sister unit, Battalion 316.

This SENTINEL three-part series relies upon current declassified documents, the extensive investigative efforts of both Honduran and U.S. media outlets, the declassified war diary of Dr. Reyes Mata, and personal recollections of those with first-hand knowledge of what took place in the rugged Olancho province of Honduras, as well as at the joint U.S./Honduran air base at El Aguacate.

Much has been speculated about — and written about — Operation Patuca River. To paraphrase SAS veteran Mike Coburn, author of the book Soldier Five–The Real Truth About the Bravo Two Zero Mission, retired Special Forces soldier and author Greg Walker offers: “It’s important to portray events as they really happened. Not only because the success of Operation Patuca River crushed a nascent civil war in Honduras, but because so many related to several of the FAP column have since searched for answers regarding their loved ones, regardless of their ideology, and to date found no resolution as to what happened to them.”

It begins with the family and friends of David Arturo Baez Cruz, the only known Green Beret to have willingly left his family and military career in 1980 to join the Sandinista Popular Army (EPS) in its fight against the Contras, and in 1983 against the Honduran Army as an FSLN combat adviser to the FAP.

Part One – The birth of a lifelong vendetta

Arturo was obsessive. He wanted to contribute something to the overthrow of the Somozas. For him it was like a sense of mission, especially after the death of [our] dad at the hands of the Somozas. He did not know him, but he grew up with ‘So, you’re Baez Bone, you must have ‘guevon’ [“big balls”] like your dad.” — Eduardo Baez, brother and former Sandinista officer

David Arturo Baez Cruz was born on December 19, 1950, in Jenotepe, Nicaragua. His father, Adolfo Baez Bone, was a young lieutenant in Nicaraguan president Anastasio Somoza Garcia’s National Guard. His grandmother, whose surname was Bone, was Guatemalan. In 1947, Adolfo was expelled from the National Guard along with other officers who had supported President Leonardo Arguello over Somoza Garcia.

On April 4, 1954, Adolfo and his brother, Luis Felipe Baez Bone, along with 23 others, sought to overthrow President Somoza Garcia by assassination. Also to be killed were the president’s two adult sons, Luis and Anastasio, the latter better known as “Tachito.” On the eve of the attack, to be led by Adolfo, an informer betrayed the conspirators, and all were arrested and imprisoned. Adolfo was personally beaten and tortured by Tachito for four agonizing days before he was fatally shot. Luis was also killed as were the others. Their bodies were burned and then secretly buried in a mass unmarked grave. In an eerie forecast of things to come, Adolfo was reported to have spat in Tachito’s face and warned him, “My blood with chase you!” before his execution.

Growing up Nicaraguan

“He [Arturo] grew up sleeping in the room where the closet held his father’s remains in a wooden trunk. The bones were eventually buried, but not Baez’s hatred for the Somozas. He always had something in his head about avenging his father.” — Eduardo Baez, brother and former Sandinista officer

Friends of the families of those murdered eventually located the mass grave. Adolfo’s remains were identified — despite having been burned — and his bones were brought to the family. They were hidden away until it was deemed safe to bury them properly. Today, in Managua, there is a monument to the “Heroes of April 4, 1954” with all 25 names of those considered martyrs inscribed on it.

David Arturo Baez Cruz began growing into a young man in his father’s image. He attended school in Managua from 1960 until 1967. By then, Somoza Garcia had himself been assassinated (in 1956) and his son Luis Somoza Debayle, who had succeeded him, had just died of a heart attack. Tachito, who had served as the head of the National Guard under his older brother, took control of the presidency as well. Where Luis was seen as a benevolent dictator, Tachito emulated his father’s ruthless quest for wealth and power at the expense of the Nicaraguan people.

By 1967, David, as he would become known to his American friends and later fellow Green Berets, was active in mass street protests against the Somoza brothers. His enthusiasm became such that his mother remanded him to one of her sisters then living in San Francisco, California. David attended George Washington High School but elected to relocate to Palisades High School in Kintersville, Pennsylvania. He had an early Army enlistment date of October 20, 1969 and was formally sworn in on October 20, 1970.

By all accounts, Baez breezed through his basic and MOS training, the latter as an 11-Charlie heavy weapons specialist. He volunteered for jump school at Fort Benning, Georgia, and upon earning his military parachutist wings, again volunteered, but this time for Special Forces and Pfc. Baez attended SFQC 28A-70. Upon completing Phase 3 in late September of that year, he graduated as an E-5 (Sergeant), Heavy Weapons Leader. Being a native Spanish speaker, Sgt. Baez was assigned to the 8th Special Forces Group at Fort Gulick, Panama. Sgt. Maj. (retired) Walt Cargile, a combat veteran of the later clandestine war in El Salvador, recalled Baez from when they were both in the 8th SFG(A). “He was like a blood brother to me,” Cargile told Juan Tumayo in a 2009 story for Soldier of Fortune magazine. “We talked a lot about Nicaragua.”

The “Monument of Heroes of April 4, 1954” commemorates Lt. Adolfo Baez Bones and the 24 others arrested, tortured, and then killed by President Anastasio Somoza Garcia in their failed coup attempt. (Historical Marker Database)

Right, Upon his defection, Lt. David Arturo Baez Cruz, formally Staff Sgt. David Baez, 3/7th Special Forces Group (A), trained the first Sandinista Popular Army airborne unit under the umbrella of the Combat Readiness Directorate. (Author collection)

Baez left the Army in April 1972, although he remained in an SF reserve status. Upon his return to the United States, he lived with a brother in New Jersey, then met and married Jennifer Raimond, a pretty blonde girl five years his junior. In November 1973, now-Specialist Baez attended Jumpmaster School at Fort Devens, MA,