An outlaw airstrip in the badlands on the border
“Two American enlisted men told the reporters that they could not enter without the Hondurans’ permission. Unlike Americans at other bases in Honduras, the men were armed with automatic rifles instead of sidearms. Asked if there were any Nicaraguan rebels at the base, one of the Americans said, ‘We were told they’re supposed to be the good guys, and not to shoot at them.”’ – “At a Honduras Base, More Questions than Answers,” NY Times, December 14, 1983
The year 1975 was a dismal one for Special Forces. With the end of the war in Vietnam, the United States Army was restructuring itself. Special Forces, which had seen rapid expansion during the war, was now on the chopping block. The 5th Special Forces Group (A) was among the first to see its ranks culled by both involuntary separations from service and normal attrition. The 8th Group, best known for its significant contribution to seeing Che Guevara run to ground in Bolivia in 1967, was to be deactivated. It was only through clever politicking and the documented rapid expansion of communism and Marxist-inspired revolution in Latin America that the 8th was honorably transitioned and became the 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (A) in Panama.
The attrition of seasoned Latin American veterans wearing the green beret to include their language and cultural capabilities as the 8th Group’s colors were lowered demanded an influx of, among other skills, Spanish language-qualified speakers. Special Forces in Panama not only conducted mobile training teams throughout Central and South America but also provided military subject matter experts as instructors for the School of Americas (SOA), also located at Fort Gulick.
In March 1976, Sgt. David Baez found himself on leave back to Panama for this very reason. He would be promoted to Staff Sergeant, E-6, that June. Now he was an experienced non-commissioned officer with invaluable experience from his tour with 10th Group in unconventional warfare to include setting up and running clandestine and covert urban guerrilla cells. His tradecraft training with practical field exercises like Flintlock included surveillance techniques, lock-picking, hard and soft target assessments, demolitions, infiltration and exfiltration techniques, recruiting and developing informants, as well as counter-guerrilla operations.
All officers are to have blood on their hands!” – GRAL Gustavo Alvarez Martinez upon ordering the execution of the remaining FAP guerrillas being held at El Aguacate Air Base
Upon his arrival at Fort Gulick, the young sergeant swiftly obtained On or about September 18th, roughly 36 FAP prisoners being held at El Aguacate were summarily executed. Dr. Reyes Mata was personally shot by a senior task force officer who has long since been identified by the CIA inspector general’s 1997 report, although that officer’s name is redacted. However, additional references from other sources strongly point toward the task force commander, Major Leonel Luque, as being the FAP commander’s executioner.
A contra graveyard was discovered long after the base was abandoned and exhumation of those buried there revealed the dead’s remains — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXwOCnYzoz8
In 1984, two officers—one American and the other Honduran—met at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They were preparing to attend the Special Forces Qualification Course together. Both were Ranger qualified, the Honduran having just completed Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia. The American, John McMullen, would go on to honorably retire from the Army as a full colonel. Along the way he would serve with distinction in El Salvador as well as in Honduras.
The Honduran officer, related as he was to General Alvarez, possessed firsthand knowledge of Operation Patuca River, to include the fate of those insurgents executed at El Aguacate. As they went through the Special Forces course together, he began to relate what he knew. “We just talked about it,” recalled Colonel McMullen. “I mostly listened as I was surprised to learn about one of our own, David Baez, being involved as he was.”
During one discussion the Honduran officer showed the American two photographs. In each was a captured FAP insurgent sitting on a bunk. “They looked like concentration camp victims,” McMullen recalled. The Honduran officer told him that the deserters were well treated and fed, but they learned not to give them all the food they wanted right away. “One of the deserters in the photos actually died because he ate too much, too fast. The other became very sick but pulled through,” offered the retired Special Forces officer.
The Honduran officer described what took place after his uncle ordered the executions to occur at El Aguacate.
All the prisoners had been interrogated by professionals from Battalion 316. It was important to learn as much as possible about the now-failed insurgency, especially whether there were other FAP units in Honduras—urban commando units and logistical personnel, specifically. Everything about how they were recruited, when, and where needed to be learned and compared to information given earlier by the first 23 deserters. CinC Alvarez specifically wanted anything and everything that connected both Cuba and Nicaragua to the FAP incursion.
During the interrogations former Green Beret David Baez confirmed his identity as did James Carney. A phone call was made to the U.S. embassy. The confirmed capture of the two Americans was relayed to the ambassador, John Negroponte. The Honduran military wanted to know what the disposition of the gringos was to be given the execution command from Alvarez. According to the retired Special Forces Colonel, whomever was on the other end of the phone at the embassy basically said, “Get rid of them.”