---- from the
The Great Honduras - Salvador Football War
Fact-ion" By: Lorenzo Dee Belveal
This is a true story. The futbol war happened. People died. Others prospered, just like always happens with any war. Even a silly war, like this one. This story is an extract from my 6-volume autobiography, that will be published under the title "Yanqui
This style of story-telling is called "fact-ion" because, while the events described are true, and the people involved were/are real people, some of the events themselves may be taken out of the precise time sequence in which they occurred, to facilitate the telling of the story, and improve continuity. To further clarify, Mother Goose is fiction, this story is fact-ion" - and newspapers are supposedly filled with "fact." L.D.B.
Soccer may be just a game in other parts of the world, but in Central America it's an endemic form of madness that perennially returns to infect the entire populace for several months. Locally known as "futbol" - there is nothing else in the form of sports that can begin to approach the levels of passion it evokes in the land. It isn't hard to imagine a soccer game serving to start a war in this region, but the fighting that erupted between Honduras and El Salvador in July, 1969, had been building up for a long time before the sporting event that provided the "Futbol War" label.
The underlying issue was - and still is - the matter of living space. Honduras had a population of about three million living in a land area of 43,277 square miles. El Salvador squeezed her four million people into 8,260 square miles. In terms of population density, Honduras had one citizen for each ten acres of its land area. El Salvador had eight people for each ten acres of national territory. The inequality of population pressures is intensified by the fact that thousands of acres of unused Honduras land lies just across a narrow river valley from El Salvador. Small wonder then that the Salvadoranians have trouble resisting the temptation to wade the river and set up housekeeping on the other side.
In 1960 it was estimated that some 60,000 Salvador nationals were in Honduras; 90% of them without permits or residency papers. At that time, a treaty was worked out between the two countries, whereby Honduras gave the illegal visitors five years in which to obtain legal status or get back across the river. In the stated five year period, about a thousand Salvadorans took advantage of the offer.
When Honduras instituted its agrarian reform program, the illegal visitors were not only unable to qualify as recipients, but worse, the land they were occupying was taken from them and given to Hondurans who were being relocated. Needless to say, this caused some bitter reactions among those being evicted. After having spent several years establishing coffee fincas and other crops, the "squatters" decided to fight for what they thought they had earned and had coming to them. Armed resistance was usually limited to isolated machete fights among campesinos, but there were also other incidents that fired passions on both sides of the river.
Inasmuch as the particular boundary dispute has been going an since 1861, charges of territorial violations are familiar refrains. They flew thick and fast. Salvador grabbed a Honduran by the name of Martinez Argueta, and sentenced him to twenty years in prison for illegal entry into Salvador. In retaliation, four Honduran soldiers managed to round up sixty of Salvador's soldiers, took them to Santa Rosa de Copan and locked them up. When L.B.J. visited this area in 1968, the sixty-one people were still being held. President Johnson arranged a deal that traded Honduran Argueta for the sixty Salvadoran soldiers - and everybody finally got to go home. But the stresses were still there. It was against this background that the 1969 soccer championship play-off took place.
The first game of the two-out-of -three championship series was scheduled to be played in Honduras. The Salvador team came to Tegucigalpa looking for scalps, and the local events going on in the host city didn't help anything. When the visitors arrived, a teachers' strike was in progress. The educators had decided that one of the finest methods for calling public attention to their worthy cause was by sprinkling roofing nails in selected thoroughfares throughout the capitol city; a professional approach if I ever heard one. An epidemic of flat tires resulted, and the Salvador futbolistas were prominent among the victims. They considered the nails in the street as being directed against them, and harsh words were exchanged. They entered the stadium the following day chock-full of bitterness. The game was a bare-knuckle classic even by Central American standards. Honduras managed to get a score into the net during the last minute of play to give them the game 1- zip.
The populace went wild. Fights broke out between the respective loyalists, the stadium was set afire; and a good time was had by all. It was easy to tell who had personally attended the game: they were wearing splints and bandages for several days thereafter.
The second game was staged in San Salvador. When the Hondurans arrived in the neighboring capitol, the reception was a lot like the one the lions used to give the Christians in the Roman Coliseum: We're glad you're here, and you will find out why in due course. Among other breaches of etiquette, the hotel where the Honduran team was sleeping was put to the torch during the early hours of the night. Everyone got out unharmed, but arson doesn’t warm human relationships.
Then, after the Honduras team had been moved to another hotel and got back to bed, a group of Salvadorans decided to make it up to their much-abused visitors by serenading them. This misguided or Machiavellian bunch of alleged peace-makers sang under the windows of the Honduran soccer team for most of the rest of the night.
The motives of the songsters might have been the purest, but the Honduran contingent didn't think so. After escaping from a burning hotel and being an unwilling audience for several hours of amateur a-capella entertainment, the visiting team took to the field like a bunch of zombies - under police escort, it should be added. Needless to say, Salvador won the game. After-game festivities took the form of a city-wide battle royal. Cars were set afire in the streets. Store windows were broken. Local hospitals set new attendance records. Miraculously, the Honduran team, by a combination of brilliant maneuvering and professional protection, slipped back across the border without actually losing a single man.
When the futbolistas got back to Tegucigalpa and began recounting their experiences in the sister republic, righteous indignation burst into flame. Goon-squads of Tegucigalpa soccer fans mounted a rumble against resident Salvadoranians that quickly turned into a very heavy scene. In addition to black eyes and cracked heads, bones were broken and people were killed. Honduras officialdom made no attempt to quell the thing at the outset; and later - when it had become a full-fledged bloodletting, they couldn’t stop it. After a couple of days of terror and violence that virtually paralyzed the entire city, the combatants got tired, went home to sleep, and things settled back to some semblance of normal.
With Salvador and Honduras each having won one game, there were no illusions about what was going to happen when they met in Mexico for the final confrontation. Radio, television and newspapers on both sides of the mutual border screamed for blood. Public passions were at a fever pitch and national pride was at stake. The final meeting promised to be a soccer game the like of which hadn't been seen since the Wellingtons squared off against the Napoleons, at Waterloo.
Everything except natural events and bodily functions came to a virtual standstill as national attention was riveted on the upcoming event. Radio stations and newspapers poured forth a continual stream of background information that was piped into the homes, businesses and cars of the total population via radio and TV. One could easily conclude that Honduras was suffering from a pandemic national earache, until you saw that they were little transistor radios that everyone had pressed tightly to the side of his head.
Roatan, which usually manages to ignore most of everything that transpires on the mainland, was equally entranced with the historic play-off. Work came to a standstill.
Everybody who could possibly make it went to Mexico City to view the game in person, provided they could buy, bribe, squeeze and fight their way into the overflowing stadium. The rest of Central America was wired into the action by radio and television, as futbol hysteria gripped the land and all else was utterly forgotten in the madness of the moment. The entire Central American isthmus was "on hold."
After a no-holds-barred contest distinguished by every imaginable form of mayhem and violence that the permissive rules of one of the toughest body contact sports around could countenance, El Salvador squeaked through to win it in the terminal seconds. In the stadium and throughout Mexico City, generally, a full-fledged riot ensued. Partisan spectators mauled each other in the stands; people were trampled in the melee; women were raped and a few persons were killed. Hospitals painted and posted "Standing Room Only" signs. It was really quite a party.
Honduras charged the officials with crooked officiating, and charged the Salvador team with cheating. Personal and national vilifications flew thick and fast, both on and off the field; and within a matter of hours the exchange of unpleasantries were taking place at the highest levels of the respective governments. As sovereign sensitivities surfaced and blossomed, everyone got into the act.
There are two distinct versions of just who started the "Futbol War" between Honduras and El Salvador, depending directly on the nationality of your informant. However, the point is not crucial. Within a few hours following the end of the soccer game, the first armed skirmishes were taking place an the border which separates the two little countries. The competitive fever which attended the athletic event had been transferred intact to the home ground - and escalated to a conflict at arms.
Spanish-speaking countries use the word propoganda to cover the full range of information, advertising - and propaganda. Even the most devoted proponents of free speech and free press are regularly astounded by the modest attention given to facts when Central American radio and newspapers begin dealing with the "news". In a situation like the futbol war, there were no limitations on the zeal or inventiveness of the "news" reporters, nor the purple language in which they set forth their blistering messages. Atrocities of every kind were reported and embroidered upon hourly. Border incidents that involved a few dozen people were reported as "heavy fighting" - while great victories were claimed by both sides in an unending stream of misinformation, half-truths and a bald melange of blatant lies disseminated for public consumption and deliberate arousal.
Notwithstanding the fact that Roaton lies in the Caribbean Sea and the border problems were on the other side of the isthmus, near the Pacific, patriotism came sputtering to life on the island. One could hear solemn declarations that "we will fight to the last man - to the last drop of blood, etc.," from the most unlikely sources. It never became clear as to whom the belligerents might find to fight; but if words were the equivalent of deeds, any invading forces could expect a fierce welcome should they try to storm the beaches of Roatan.
Our first visible connection with the war was in the arrival in Punta Gorda, of a corporal and a private - who had been dispatched to organize our village defense efforts and get us all ready to do our part should the situation require. The private carried an ancient rifle that was so rust damaged that it was probably inoperable. But the corporal had no arm whatsoever, and that’s a tough way to fight a war. He solved this major embarrassment by borrowing a .22 cal. pistol from our friendly, 350-pound storekeeper, Teodoro Castro. I loaned the two soldiers a pair of hammocks which they installed in the ramshackle schoolhouse. Then the commanding corporal announced that there would be a village meeting at 7:00 p.m.
Any out-of-the ordinary event in Punta Garda tends to draw a goodly turnout, whether it be a display of wares by a peddler-man or a dog fight. The combination of war fever and nothing else to do produced a truly record-breaking aggregation for the "preparedness meeting". From an elevated vantage point up on the porch of our temporary home, I watched the villagers congregate. Many men carried machetes and there was an occasional pistol poking out of a back pocket. A good bit of rum had already been consumed and additional supplies of the stuff was brought forth and passed around to bring the local defenders to the proper emotional pitch for protecting the island against all comers. Youngsters raced around and dogs barked incessantly. At last the commanding corporal (he was the Senior Officer Present!) decided the time was ripe. He stood on the top of the schoolhouse steps to address the throng. Warmed by patriotic fervor and a cargo of white lightning, his speech could have served to fire the defenders of Bastogne or Corregidor.
After a scathing review of the great crime that had been committed against the Honduras soccer team, he paid devoted and highly emotional attention to the shabby pedigrees of Salvadorans in general, and their cheating soccer team in particular. From this he moved on to the matter of verbal insults and physical violence lavished on Honduras by the opposing team and their fans - and finally came to the ultimate outrage: the "invasion" of sovereign Honduras territory by the "enemy".
By this time, the clear glass liter bottles of "Torero" were passing from hand to hand like bright bobbins in the moonlight. Each new declaration from the speaker was met with a chorus of shouts, threats and great waves of expectoration (energetic spitting is, among Hondurans, a sign of complete, unequivocal, even violent, agreement with a stated position.) The decibels mounted as everyone sought to verbally underline his own indomnibility and readiness to die in defense of the homeland. The corporal brandished his borrowed .22 caliber pistol in the air, screaming defiance of the enemy and love of La Patria. He pointed out the imminent threat of invasion, and declared that, beginning immediately, we would have a coastal patrol deployed to intercept an enemy amphibious force should one arrive to strike our island.
Likewise, he said, the village would have to maintain blackout conditions against the possibility that enemy planes might decide to fly over and bomb us. Finally, that everyone should sharpen their machetes or otherwise arm themselves in preparation for hand-to-hand combat on the beaches, in the villages and in the hills. But regardless of what it required in the way of human sacrifice, he assured the assemblage, "We will never surrender as long as there is a man left to fight!"
From the sheer volume of shouting and spitting, it seemed clear that the commanding corporal had stated unanimous consensus. Unfortunately, it was at this moment that the private chose to become extremely nauseous and, in his exertions, fell off the top step of the schoolhouse. Whether it was liquor or fear of the impending bloodshed that did him in is open to conjecture. In any case, no one gave him much attention. He laid where he had fallen. There were larger fish to fry.
Two four-man dory parties were immediately organized, with one group to patrol to the east and the other to the west. Armed with machetes and one ax to each canoe, they moved to the dock in the darkness. Getting into a tippy dory cold sober and in broad daylight can take some doing. Accomplishing the same feat in the dark, and drunk, it too much to expect. Soon one of the dories was upside-down, with its potential passengers splashing around in the water and trying to find their machetes and rum bottles in the darkness. In due course, however, they did manage to get both of the patrol parties underway to the accompanying shouts of belligerent encouragement from these remaining ashore.
As the mass meeting broke up, small knots of people stayed on to drain the few bottles that still remained in motion. Several men picked the private out of the sand where he had landed, and laid him inside the schoolhouse door. The corporal disappeared in the company of several other men. Teodoro Castro saw me sitting up on the porch, from which vantage point I had viewed the proceedings, and came up to join me. After a few minutes of conversation, we heard a pair of loud pops that sounded a lot like a .22 pistol being fired.
"Damn it!" Teodoro exclaimed, as he got up and started down the stairs.
"Where are you going?" I asked him.
"To get my pistol," he replied. "I just loaned that corporal my gun! I didn't tell him he could shoot it."
After reclaiming his firearm, Teodoro returned to his store that was well lit with kerosene lanterns, and where the beer and rum business was thriving under the spur of all-out-war talk. A few minutes later the commanding corporal arrived on the scene to order Teodoro to blow out the lanterns and observe the blackout that he had invoked earlier. The big Carib told the soldier that his blackout order was damn foolishness; that he had no intention of extinguishing his lanterns because he couldn’t sell rum in the dark; and moreover, if he didn't walk out of the store, he was going to be thrown out through a window. After giving these points a few seconds of careful thought, the corporal staggered off into the night. Nothing further was ever heard about the blackout.
The two dory patrols returned within an hour of their departure, the island’s brave defenders went home to sleep and patrolled no more. The two soldiers stayed on in Punta Gorda for a few days, but the novelty was worn off their war talk. They could never draw a crowd or inspire the people after opening-night. They soon departed out of sheer boredom. I reclaimed my hammocks from the schoolhouse, and village life was to all intents and purposes back to normal once more.
Roatan was not bombed. Neither was it invaded. Nor was it blacked out or patrolled. All things considered, the Futbol War was passing us by. But not so on the mainland. Each day brought a new rash of radio and newspaper reports about heavy fighting, ambushes, atrocities against civilians, (especially "innocent" women and children) and related unpleasantness that more or less fits the total war mode. Hardly anyone believed what they heard and read, since even the most marginal Central American knows that all propaganda must be carefully filtered. And the more official it is, the finer the filter should be. But, still, it’s exciting, in a place where nothing much that’s exciting ever happens.
Although the basic war script could have come from the same sources that gave us the Keystone Cops, Four Stooges and The Marx Brothers, people were nevertheless managing to get themselves killed almost daily, in-sporadic clashes between campesinos and soldiers of the respective sides. The capitol city of Tegucigalpa, bristled with uniforms that ranged from olive drab and mottled jungle camouflage suits, to spit ‘n’ polish dress garbs bedecked with enough medals to bow the legs of a mountain jackass. Everybody that had a uniform - or a single item of a uniform, like a jacket or a pair of pants - put it on and wore it wherever he went. It added a lot of color to the usual drab street scene.
Command vehicles careened through the streets as if the enemy was at the veritable gates of the city. Everybody who had either red lights or a siren on his vehicle used them - incessantly. Policemen who were trying to direct traffic alternately blew their whistles and screamed profanity at the non-conforming drivers. Pedestrians fled for their lives before tidal waves of "emergency vehicles." Predictably, accident figures escalated dramatically. "Observers" from the Organization of American States, the United Nations, International Red Cross and lesser outfits too numerous to mention were everywhere. Obviously, everyone was enjoying the spectacle and attendant excitement to the fullest. Whatever fighting was going on was taking place on the Honduras-Salvador border - at a comfortable remove from Tegucigalpa - and the rest of the country had nothing to do but bask in the fiesta-like atmosphere that pervaded public and private activities alike.
I made a trip to Tegucigalpa, in the middle of the war, against the advice of almost everyone on Roatan. Indeed, to read the newspapers and listen to the radio broadcasts it sounded like pitched battles in the streets could be momentarily expected. Reports of bombings of oil storage facilities in Salvador, and bombing of the Tegucigalpa airport were disseminated by all media, along with details and photos of atrocities that - if true - could discourage even the most stout-hearted traveler. But through it all, the planes came and went on Roatan. The war didn't seem to be interfering with air schedules, so I decided to take the chance.
Arrival at Tegucigalpa's Toncotin airport was something of a disappointment. Having seen some wars, revolutions and popular insurrections here and there, I know what a war is supposed to look like. Quite naturally, I expected to see the broken glass and the piles of rubble that follows an airport bombing. Airport bombings, truth to tell, are pretty messy.
I was quite unprepared to find all of the Toncotin airport terminal windows intact. The landing strip was no rougher than it always is and, to my practiced eye, business was proceeding as usual.
"Where is the bomb damage?" I asked my friend who met me on arrival.
"What bomb damage?" he inquired with obvious puzzlement.
"Here at the airport," I clarified. "According to the news reports, the Salvador air force bombed this airport just last week. They couldn't have repaired all of the damage this fast!"
"Oh," he replied matter-of-factly, "that's just propaganda. A Salvador plane did come over and drop some bombs, but they didn't hit anything."
I later found out that the much publicized "bombing raid" involved a single WW-II vintage DC-3. Some certified Salvadoran heroes had first loaded themselves with rum, and then loaded half a dozen fifty-pound bombs aboard the plane and made a pass at the Tegucigalpa airport. Perhaps the mere thought of being shot at by the .30 caliber Browning air-cooled machine guns that constituted the anti-aircraft defenses in Tegucigalpa spoiled their aim. Or maybe they just got lost.
In any case, they opened the cargo door and threw their bombs out of the DC-3 about half a mile south of the-airport and romped home again. The only damage was a broken window in the garage door, at the home of one Charley Mathews, and a hole in a residential roof. That bomb that made the hole in the roof was, fortunately, a dud. It didn’t explode. And, anyway, the family that lived in that particular house wasn’t home when it happened.
Mr. Mathews was then - and still is - the head man in Casa Mathews, the Honduras distributor for Caterpillar tractors, and as such, not a man to trifle with. He is reported to have called the Presidential Palace and raised merry hell about his property damage. At the time, my informant said, Mathews had been under the impression that it was the Honduran Air Force that had accidentally dropped a bomb in his back-yard. Once the situation was explained, Mr. Mathews accepted his shattered garage window in good grace, repaired the damage, and made no further problem about it. In a war, of course, one is liable to have a window broken. It can happen. Fortunately, there were no repetitions for him to contend with.
Until you have seen a country like Honduras at war, you can have no idea how much fun a warcan be. Hotels, restaurants, bars and other gathering places were stacked to overflowing, both day and night. People departing for the "front" and others returning provided justification for an endless sequence of "good-bye" and "welcome back" parties. Add to this the largess of the "unlimited expense accounts" that official war-observer groups and visiting military missions routinely enjoy, and it is at least surprising that they didn't eat and drink the country empty.
Government offices, which even under the most ideal conditions never function at more than half-throttle, turned into discussion round-tables; with not even token attention being paid to anything other than the latest war "scuttlebutt." Each rumor or tidbit from the previous night's social circuit was meticulously told, re-told, examined and passed on. Commercial establishments were somewhat more operational; but even in this category, the level of distraction provided by transistor radios and the latest editions of newspapers made it almost impossible to get anything done.
Military conscription in most of the developed countries is set up in the form of a lottery or individual selection on the basis of age, family status, etc. Not so in Honduras. It comes down to a game of "fox and hounds" played out in the city streets - for keeps!
One afternoon I was walking down a principal avenue when an olive-drab military truck screeched to a stop just in front of me. A dozen or more uniformed soldiers leaped to the street and began grabbing a bunch of young men who were gathered around a radio on the periphery of the city’s Central Park. Some of the more alert ones took to their heels and eluded their captors, but several of them were overtaken and herded back into the truck. Then the soldiers clambered up and the vehicle departed.
On inquiry it was explained that this is the method by which the ranks of the Honduras military are fleshed out from time to time, as required. There are no draft boards, no appeals, no red tape. If the soldiers catch you, and you otherwise meet their patently liberal requirements - which is to say if you are warm and breathing - you’re in the army! The only sure method of avoiding military duty after having been caught by the "recruiters" is to be able to buy off the officer directing the round-up. Anybody who can afford it usually takes this way out when confronted with the necessity. The street price for being allowed to get out of the recruiters’ truck usually ranges from twenty to fifty lempiras, it is reliably reported; a bargain to be sure, if one is strongly biased in favor of strictly civilian pursuits.
Unless one wangles a release, the standard conscriptee must serve six months in uniform - or desert. As concerns desertion, the Honduran military tends to be extremely short-tempered with those. who-do "go over the hill". If caught, the deserter is a candidate for execution on the spot. Again, the procedure is the essence of brevity and expedition. It also has the effect of keeping military desertions to a very modest level.
It was in the middle of this war hysteria that my project required some ten cases-of dynamite. When I mentioned the topic to my attorney, he damn near fainted.
"It is out of the question, Don Lorenzo!" he assured me.
"But I must have it," I insisted. "There are things that just can't be done except with explosives."
"If we were to ask for dynamite we could be put in jail - or you could be expelled from the country." He wrung his hands and mopped his brow with a large blue bandanna.
"My plan is to set the charges in my own land on Roatan," I assured him. "You can come watch me shoot it off." My offer did nothing to capture his enthusiasm. He explained that due to the state of war, all heavy explosives had been placed under the direct control of the Ministry of Defense; and only the Minister of Defense could approve such a thing. Moreover, in his considered opinion, the chances of a foreigner getting his hands an 500 pounds of dynamite in the current situation were about as good as the chances of Jack-the- Ripper being elected mayor of Boston.
"I won't even discuss it," he finally declared. "And my advice to you is to say no more about it to anyone. It could make for you big problems!"
While I had no particular desire for 'big problems', I did need the dynamite - and it has been my experience that whatever you have to do, can be done. The real question usually is just whether one has enough patience to pick all of the procedural locks that stand in the way. In preparation for storming the Ministry of Defense, I began asking some discreet questions about the friends and associates of the Minister, who was the functionary who would have to personally approve my request. In due course, someone mentioned one Julio Zelaya, as being "like a brother" to El Coronel. Julio was a salesman for Casa Mathews (the Caterpillar distributor mentioned earlier) and, most fortunately, an acquaintance of mine from some earlier encounter.
Hondurans can't resist intrigue of any kind. It’s the mother’s milk of Honduras social, business and political life. They thrive on it! So I called Julio; reintroduced myself and after telling him I couldn't talk over the telephone, invited him to dinner at my hotel. Of course, he accepted.
"Don Julio," I began, after we had been seated in a far corner booth and had a pair of drinks in front of us, "it is my understanding that you are a very good friend of the Minister of Defense." I paused while he studied me like a mouse under a microscope. "Is this true?"
"We are like this," he said, wrapping one big pudgy finger around another. "But what can that mean to you? Why do you ask?"
"Because I require some materials that only the Minister can authorize for me."
Visions of revolution and insurrection flickered in his eyes as he pondered this statement. He drained his-drink and motioned the waiter to bring another. When it arrived, he drained off half of it and leaned across the table.
"If it's arms, forget it. Everything is under total security."
"It isn't arms," I assured him.
"Ammunition is the same" he went on in a wheezy whisper. "It's all out of reach - ammunition, grenades, mines, everything!" He paused to drain his glass. "You know we shouldn't be talking about this. Everybody has four ears these days."
"That isn't the kind of thing I need, Julio."
"Then what do you need?"
"Dynamite." His eyes narrowed.
"Ten cases - and one hundred ten-millisecond electric caps."
A low whistle was his only reply,
"Don't you want to know what I want it for?" I asked,
"No! Don't tell me! Don't tell anybody!" He loosened his tie and lit a cigarette. "Nobody knows the Minister well enough to make such a request at this time. Don't you know we are at war?"
"Of course, dammit," I replied. "But I've got a project underway that needs some dynamite. I've got to have it. We can't do the job with firecrackers or crowbars. I've been told that you can handle this.
Now can you, or can't you?"
He settled back in his seat and chuckled quietly.
"I have known for a long time that gringos are crazy,' he said with a smile that canceled the possible insult. "But you must be the craziest gringo I have ever met!"
"This town is swimming in rumors about sabotage, revolution and assassination of the principal men in government - and you ask me to help you get five hundred pounds of that!" He roared with laughter. "Don Lorenzo, you are a good man to know. You have no time to wait even for our war. You have cojones!"
"Now let us eat, drink and talk of other things. If I get drunk enough, perhaps I shall promise to help you - then we will both be crazy,'" He broke into another gale of laughter that brought stares from the other diners - and a waiter to take our orders. It was a good dinner, and Julio did get drunk enough to promise to help me. My taxicab delivered him to his doorstep about midnight, where he probably awakened most of his neighbors by bellowing, "buena noche, Don Lorenzo! Hasta manana, gringo loco!"
In characteristic Latin style, Julio was half an hour late in arriving at my hotel the following morning, and he was in bad shape. A short night of sleeping and the pangs of a well-deserved hangover had markedly reduced his enthusiasm for our visit to the Minister of Defense; but a couple of Bloody Marys and some coffee soon returned him to gladiator form.
We entered the Defense Minister’s huge reception room like visiting potentates. Julio greeted everyone by name and kissed several secretarial cheeks, while informing everyone within earshot that he needed to see El Coronel on a matter of great importance, but only for a few minutes. Some pained expressions flickered over the faces of the people filling the chairs around the periphery of the spacious room. Obviously they were all waiting to see the Minister. But we were escorted into the sanctum sanctorum without even having to sit down in the waiting room. Don Julio was greeted by the Defense chief with warm words and a bear-hug abrazo.
I seated myself some distance away from the official desk and observed the advocacy.
Like all meetings in Honduras, this one began with a somewhat extended recapitulation of the health and related conditions of various family members, friends and past associates. With this out of the way, Julio introduced me to the Minister and launched into a dissertation about my Roatan project that made it sound like I was building another Shangri-la. He extolled my faith in Honduras and my obvious love for the country and its people; else why would I be here investing "millions of pesos" in the new and exciting business of tourismo. Having obtained heartfelt agreement to all of these sentiments from his good friend, the Minister of Defense, he stated that we were there because I had encountered a small problem that needed and deserved intervention at the highest level of government. This declaration caused the Minister, seriously overweight under normal circumstances, to visibly expand and glow with pride in contemplation of his high responsibility.
"Que clase de problema, Don Julio?" the Minister asked.
"A big problem for him," Julio declared, "but a small problem for you, mi amigo!"
This was followed by ten minutes of machine-gun style Spanish that I could not begin to follow, but I noticed that every time the word "dynamite" was mentioned, the Minister visibly blanched. Each time the Minister countered, Julio bored in again. I found myself being visually examined as if mere appearance might belie some Bolshevik tendencies that could give rise to a large explosion under an official residence in the middle of some dark night. Bit by bit, Julio were him down. Finally, settling back in his chair, the Minister smiled at me and asked me my name once more.
"Lorenzo Belveal," I told him.
"With the name of Lorenzo," the Minister said, "he could be one of ours, couldn't he, Julio?" He pushed a button an his desk and spoke a few words into a desk communicator. A secretary appeared to take a brief memo and we left with a double handshake for me and another big abrazo for Julio. Again he greeted everyone in the waiting - most of them by name! - before steering me out into the street for a taxicab. On the way back to the hotel I thanked Julio profusely for his assistance.
"He had to do it," he told me.
"Why did he have to do it?" I wanted to know.
"Because he made a mistake." A big smile wrapped itself around his moon face. "He should have asked you to wait outside for a few minutes until he found out what I wanted. He could have told me 'no' while we were alone. But he could never tell me 'no' in the presence of another man - and especially a distinguished gringo financiero!"
The permit came through within hours, authorizing me to pick up my dynamite from the Army Explosives Depot. An envelope was delivered to my hotel that contained a transportation permit and forms that had to be filled out and returned as the explosives were used up. The only problem I had was in finding a freight boat that would haul the stuff to Roatan. Nobody wanted to haul dynamite for me!
After two turn-downs, I had the dynamite cases carefully re-wrapped and marked, "insulating material". Not wanting to send the caps along with the explosives, I put the small package of detonators in my brief case and carried them back with me.
It later occurred to me that, of the two shipments, the most sensitive items by far were riding in my briefcase, right under my seat, as I left the Futbol War behind me and flew back to the "Incredible Island".
Lorenzo Dee Belveal, Author