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Post Pweedy Updates; Idioms in Spanish
Created by John Eipper on 03/01/15 10:07 AM

Previous posts in this discussion:


Pweedy Updates; Idioms in Spanish (Enrique Torner, USA, 03/01/15 10:07 am)

Here is a contribution to the Spanish translations in Pike-WAIS Dictionary of Idioms:

To come to grief...: llegar a un callejón sin salida, quedarse sin blanca (Spain)

To flunk an exam: suspender un examen (Spain), catear un examen (Spain); darle a uno calabazas (no "recibir")

The show was a flop: el espectáculo fue un fracaso/desastre

To lose one's nerve: acobardarse, cagarse (Spain)

To be scared stiff: cagarse de miedo; should be "ponérsele a uno la piel de gallina," not "carne" as in the original

To feel one's hair stand on end: the expressions should go with "le": erizársele a uno el cabello, ponérsele a uno los pelos de punta

To shiver at the mere thought of something: estremecerse al pensar en algo

To get stage fright: tener miedo a hablar/cantar/actuar en público

To break one's word: romper una promesa, faltar a su palabra

By the way, regarding the common word "coño," it was introduced to the Diccionario de la Real Academia de la Lengua by the Spanish writer Camilo José Cela (1916-2002), who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1989. Cela became even more famous after Franco died due to his use of vulgar speech. There is a funny anecdote about him that I still remember from a long time ago:

Dormido o durmiendo

Otra de las anécdotas más recordadas del Nobel de Literatura tuvo lugar en el Senado, en el que Camilo José Cela ocupaba un escaño por designación real. Corría el 19 de junio de 1977 y comenzaba la legislatura constituyente en la época de la Transición.

En el curso de la sesión, el presidente de la Cámara, Antonio Fontán, se había dirigido un par de veces al escritor a quien había sorprendido descabezando un sueño. Ante sus llamadas de atención, Cela acaba por despertarse.
El presidente de la Cámara Alta le afea en tono serio y autoritario:

--El senador Cela estaba dormido...

Le responde el aludido:

--No, señor presidente, no estaba dormido sino durmiendo...

El presidente Fontán pica el anzuelo:

--¿Acaso no es lo mismo estar dormido que durmiendo?

Y el Nobel le da una lección de lengua española:
--No, señor Presidente, como tampoco lo es estar jodido que jodiendo.

I hope speakers of Spanish will enjoy the anecdote.

JE comments:  I know this one; it's an untranslatable classic I've shared with my students.  In a nutshell, Cela argued that he wasn't asleep in the Senate, but sleeping.  When told this is the same thing, he replied that it's not the same thing to be f--d as to be f--ing.

I wonder if Enrique knows this interview which shows Cela's "enematic" side:


Thanks for the Pweedy content, Enrique!


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  • Cipotes Preconciliares: Another Cela Anecdote (Paul Preston, -UK 03/02/15 6:51 AM)
    Following up on Enrique Torner's post of 1 March, how about this for a Cela anecdote:

    Cela contó, y que según la Sentencia reproducida más adelante quedó "probado (...) que el día 31 de octubre de 1971, en el cine (...) durante la representación de un espectáculo de cante flamenco, la procesada (...) masturbó a su novio (...) teniendo éste el órgano viril fuera del pantalón, lo que motivó que salpicara de semen (...) causando desperfectos en (...) ropas, pericialmente valoradas en 3500 ptas., y 1600 ptas. respectivamente; y puesto en conocimiento de la Policía Municipal lo ocurrido, los procesados fueron expulsados del local, con la consiguiente publicidad". El acontecimiento trascendió haciendo a Cela decir: "Bendito sea Dios Todopoderoso, que nos permite la contemporaneidad con estos cipotes preconciliares y sus riadas y aun cataratas fluyentes! Amén. íViva España! ¡Cuán grandes son los países en los que los canijos son procesados por causa de siniestro!"

    JE comments: This one will take some effort to translate:

    "Cela told the story that according to the sentence handed down, 'it was proven that on 31 October 1971, in a cinema during a performance of Flamenco music, the accused...masturbated her boyfriend, who had exposed his virile member outside his trousers...which resulted in a splattering of semen that caused damage to clothing [of other spectators], forensically determined to be valued at 3500 and 1600 pesetas, respectively. The Municipal Police, being informed of the event, expelled the accused from the venue, notifying the media of the offense.

    "This incident inspired Cela to say, 'Praise be to God All-Powerful, who allows us to co-exist with these pre-conciliar schlongs and their copious, waterfall-like effluvient! Amen. Long live Spain! How glorious are those countries where pipsqueaks are prosecuted for material damages!'"

    [JE again]: "Cipotes preconciliares" made me think long and hard. "Cipote" sounds a bit more playful than the harsh-sounding "schlong," but I chose it.  The runner-up was "Johnson."  "Preconciliar" must refer to the time before Vatican II.

    No one could combine the vulgar and the cultured better than Cela. A true "guarro erudito."

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    • Cipotes Preconciliares and... (Timothy Brown, USA 03/02/15 1:01 PM)
      In parts of Central America "cipote" is slang for little kid, and shlong is slang for the male organ. How meanings change from place to place!

      JE comments: And just a few minutes ago, Anthony Candil mentioned President Johnson!  Remember that his successor was named Dick.

      This is not high-brow WAISly inquiry, but it's WAISly all the same. Camilo José Cela has a way of doing that to people.  In his Diccionario secreto, he assembled an entire volume just on the penis:


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      • Chingar and its Derivatives (Timothy Brown, USA 03/03/15 10:07 AM)

        To plagiarize a Mexican writer whose name I don't recall but whose words I've never forgotten:
        "Hace un chingo de años, Cuauhtémoc era el gran chingón, hasta que llegaron un chingo de gachupines
        que nos chingaron a todos!"

        Of course el chingo de cigarro is a cigar butt; if you're chingo you're naked; if someone
        says to you chinga tu madre, you have every right to get mad and call whoever said it a pig or, if you
        prefer, un puerco, chancho, cerdo, marrano or just dirty and in need of a bath.

        Not long after arriving in Mérida, Mexico from Vietnam, when asked how many children we had with us, I answered, to the total shock of
        everyone within earshot, "tengo cuatro guilas en casa," guila being Costa Rican slang for a "kid." In Mexico it's slang for a prostitute.
        I should have called them chamacos, chavalos, zipotes, or just plain hijos.

        I once published an article on the Nicaraguan highlands peasants conception of that country's history, entitled "Nahuas, Gachupines, Patriarchs y Piris--The Four Conquistadores de Nicaragua through Highland Peasant Eyes." Nahuas from the Puebla region of today's Mexico were Nicaragua's first conquistadores in the 900s; Gachupines were the Spanish conquistadores; Patriarchs are the past, present and future post-conquest upper class; Piris is from the Misquito Indian piricuaques, or rabid dogs, the highlander peasant's pejorative for Sandinista.

        The highlander peasants themselves are descendants of the region's earliest inhabitants, Chibchas from South America and consider all the others invaders. But, since they were 97% illiterate, they were never able to defend themselves
        in the world of the written word, even when the outside world mislabeled them Contras. Pablo Antonio Cuadra, one of Nicaragua's most distinguished historians, wrote a book entitled Los Dos Nicaraguas, one Nicaragua being the lowlands Pacific Nahua/Spanish, the other the highlander Chibchas.

        Each ethnic identity group perceives itself as "us" and members of other identity groups as "them." Advocates of multiculturalism ignore this at their
        peril. Whether this good or bad, right or wrong, real or reactionary is a matter of opinion. But that such feelings exist is not, and are ignored
        at one's peril. I know; I once tried.

        I was the Senior US Liaison Officer, or SLO, to the Nicaraguan Contras for four years, a resistance group the outside world was propagandized into seeing as one
        unified movement created, financed and commanded by the CIA, even though it was none of those. In fact what I found when I arrived
        in Honduras was that there were five Contra armies, not one. One, the FDN, was made up of highlander peasants of Chibcha origin; the Southern Front of lowlands peasants of Nahua origin; Yatama was Miskito Indian and largely Moravian; the Sumus de la Montaña were Sumu and Rama indian;
        the NCPS [Nicaraguan Creole People's Struggle] was English-speaking Caribbean blacks, many of them Rastaferians. And no matter how hard we tried, each refused to be led by any of the others. And every one of them had its own language, history, religious preferences and objectives.

        In our quest for slang words, are we really willing to get that far down in the weeds? If so, it 's going to be a long summer.

        JE comments:  Writing from within the season's umpteenth blizzard, I would certainly welcome a long, long summer!

        Any discussion of "chingar" and its derivatives must include Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz's seminal 1950 essay, "Los hijos de la Malinche."  For Paz, "chingar" is the central symbol of Mexican identity.  Here's the English version:


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        • Piricuacos/Piricuaques; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 03/04/15 4:55 AM)

          JE: I received this response to Tim Brown (3 March) from reader Gary Moore, who introduced himself to WAISdom on February 28th:

          John, I was wondering when somebody was going to get to Octavio Paz,
          without whom the discussion of "chingar" is bleak. Also a minor thing on
          Timothy Brown's great discussion of Contra-era slang: It's "piricuaco,"
          not "piricuaque." And in Guatemala there's yet another word to add
          for "child or "kid"--"patojo/patoja." This is universal there, but not outside.

          I was held prisoner by the main Contras twice, and by their allies Misurasata
          once (I don't know where Timothy got that other name), as well as by the
          Sandinistas for videotaping burned villages in the forbidden Atlantic coast zone,
          where I knew a lot of the Miskitos. The sister-in-law of Brooklyn Rivera,
          the Miskito/Misurasata leader, told me gravely how a sukia wizard rescued
          her afflicted aunt by getting her to throw up live salamanders implanted in
          her digestive tract by a bad sukia wizard, to which I innocently asked
          what happened to the salamanders. Rivera's sister-in-law, with her college
          education, replied: "I saw one crawling across the floor and I tried to touch it,
          but it disappeared." Worlds are hidden in that salamander.

          I'd be interested to know what Timothy thought of Enrique Bermúdez,
          the ex-GN commander whom I met when he had a pet coatimundi in the mammoth
          "secret" Contra base, Las Vegas, that the CIA had helped build in jungled hills on the
          Honduran border. I think Bermúdez may have later been killed by a briefcase bomb in Costa Rica,
          though perhaps Timothy can correct me.

          Those were epic times in the history of political illusion and delusion--as perhaps
          all times are. So even the arguments and polemics are now elevated to the educational
          level of that pesky salamander.

          JE comments:  When I introduced Gary Moore, I mistakenly said he lives in Tupelo, Mississippi.  Gary has corrected me:  he's in Memphis.  (Perhaps I'm confusing him with Elvis--sorry about that, Gary!)

          Between Gary Moore and Tim Brown, I'm learning a lot of Central American slang.  C. A.  is the biggest hole in my personal dictionary of Spanish regionalisms.  Gary:  I hope you'll give us more details on your experiences as a Contra prisoner.

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          • Enrique Bermudez, Nicaraguan Contra (Timothy Brown, USA 03/05/15 3:38 PM)

            It's great to hear from Gary Moore (4 March) one of the few experienced observers of the Contras who tries to be objective rather than judgmental. All too often those
            that strongly believe they know who they were are unconsciously simply regurgitating hostile wartime propaganda.

            On Enrique Bermúdez, whose nom de guerre was Comandante 360, we became close friends during my years as SLO (Senior Liaison Officer).

            Bermúdez was assassinated in Managua on February 16, 1991, after returning there for the first time since the Sandinista Revolution. The weapon used was
            a two-barrel .22 cal. pistol that fired two counter-rotating bullets simultaneously. Made of a specialized plastic, it was designed specifically to be fired just once and thrown away. Bermúdez was sitting in the driver's seat of a car in the parking lot of a major hotel and opened his window to greet his assassin, who promptly fired both bullets directly into his brain, killing him instantly. Despite an extensive investigation by an independent
            panel, his assassin was never identified. His son later published an article in Soldier of Fortune in which he disclosed most of these details. Over the next several years, about 50% of the surviving
            FDN/ERN officers also died violent deaths, many also under suspicious circumstances.

            On Misurasata. As I mentioned, there were five Contra forces. Misurasata was an earlier name for the Miskito Indian force. It was later renamed
            YATAMA (Yapti Tasba Masraka Asla Takanka), its name during my years (1987-90). I also knew Brooklyn Rivera well.

            On Piricuaque, it's the singular of Piricuaco(s).

            The Las Vegas salient Mr. Moore mentions was, until the very last months of the war, the principal location of the largest Contra army. That army was actually an alliance of convenience between former
            Somoza Guardia and the original armed peasant resistance, the MILPAS (Milicias Populares Anti-Sandinistas). Fuerza Democrática Nicaragüense (FDN), later changed to Ejército de Resistencia Nicaragüense
            was the name of that alliance.

            On the Las Vegas salient, until fairly recent history, it was governed by Nicaragua and the object of a border dispute that, more recently, was awarded to Honduras.
            So most of the adult inhabitants of the salient were born Nicaraguan. The combined FDN forces were 97% Segovian highlander campesinos, or
            peasants, and many of the clans that provided its combatants had members on both sides of the border. About 3% of the force were former Guardia who, with a few exceptions,
            served as its headquarters staff.

            In light of his personal experiences with them, Mr. Moore might find my "The Real Contra War:  Highlander Peasant Resistance in Nicaragua" (Oklahoma 2000), my doctoral dissertation, interesting. Given the complexities of
            Contra forces (and inevitable dryness of a dissertation), I limited it to the FDN/ERN, but my chapters on the Geography of the Rebellion (ch. 11) and History of the Highlanders (ch. 12) may be of some interest.

            Given his experiences with the Miskito resistance, Mr. Moore might also be interested in the history of the Miskito Indian resistance movement as explained by the last military commander of YATAMA, Salomon Osorno Coleman---Comandante Blass--in "My People My War: Why I Fought Against the Sandinista Revolution" (ch. 10) in my book When the AK-47s Fall Silent (Hoover, 2001)

            Since about 6% of the Contras front-line combatants were females serving in mixed-gender combat units, some may even find my chapter, Women Comandos: Heroes, Combatants and Comarca Leaders (ch.10)

            On the odd chance that he, or another WAISer, is in contact with a grad student interested in pursuing this subject further, the original records of the Contras are housed in the Hoover Archives at Stanford.

            JE comments:  I'm still confused on piricuacos.  On-line sources have the singular as piricuaco (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/piricuaco ).  

            There must be a gold mine of Contra material in the Hoover.  However, a young historian seeking entry into Academia might have to approach such a controversial topic with caution.  Bluntly stated, it would be difficult to land a job if you write something positive or "revisionist" about the Contras.

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            • Contra Archives at Hoover and Bill Ratliff (Edward Jajko, USA 03/06/15 4:48 AM)
              That the Contra records are in the Hoover Institution Archives (see Tim Brown, 5 March) is due to the brilliant and untiring work and innumerable contacts, often built up in difficult circumstances, of the Hoover's late Americas' curator, my honored former colleague and WAIS's former president, Bill Ratliff. He used to regale us at Curators' Meetings with his latest adventures that often sounded as if they had been drawn from spy fiction.

              JE comments: A day doesn't go by that I don't remember Bill Ratliff. Just yesterday at lunch Aldona and I talked about him. Hard to believe that on April 11th, it will already be a year since his passing.

              The Hoover Archive's wealth of narratives had a rival in Bill himself. He was an unparalleled raconteur.

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              • Piricuacos/Piricuaques; in Memory of Bill Ratliff (Timothy Brown, USA 03/07/15 4:01 AM)
                A minor sidebar in response to Gary Moore (6 March). Whether "los Piris" were piricuaco (s) or piricuaque(s) is based on how one transliterates a Miskito word into Spanish, so you can take your pick, since transliterating one language into another is often problematic. My favorite is the name of the King of Thailand. Thai is monosyllabic and written in devaravati or pali script, so a given letter can be pronounced differently depending on whether it comes first or last.

                An example: Google the King of Thailand and you will almost always find the King's name transliterated as Phumiphol Adulyadet. But, because it is written in pali, the letter loh ling is pronounced as an "l" if it comes first in a syllable, but as an "n" when it comes last.

                Hence the correct transliteration of his name is Phumiphon Adunyadet. During my five years as a Marine Thai Intelligence Linguist, I had the honor of interpreting for His Majesty and learned to be very careful with anything that touched his person lest I accidentally commit lesse majeste, a potentially capital offense in Thailand.

                Ed Jajko (6 March) mentions Bill Ratliff. He was one of my very best friends, and I couldn't agree more on how invaluable his help was in bringing Latin American collections, from the Contras archives to a trove of pre-1979 Sandinista front documents to Hoover, including several I've included in my books.

                Bill and I traveled together in Central and South America many times, usually either to try to collect archives or interview key figures like Pres. Fujimori.

                Another collection he helped me collect are the personal papers of the former leader of the Communist Party of Guerrero, Mexico. I've also placed some of my doctoral research there thanks to him.

                JE comments: When we last met on March 12th (2014), Bill and I sketched out a couple of Latin American adventures together.  There were so many plans, and (we thought) so much time...

                Thank you, Tim, for this tribute to a brilliant scholar, model WAISer, and excellent friend.

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            • Enrique Bermudez, Nicaraguan Contra; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 03/06/15 8:36 AM)
              Gary Moore (Memphis, Tennessee) responds to Tim Brown's post of 5 March:

              What great information from Timothy Brown. I had only heard through the grapevine about the details of Enrique Bermúdez's assassination, and suspected the facts might be a little different--but not that different. I had heard he was killed while walking across a parking lot in Costa Rica carrying a briefcase in which a bomb had been planted.

              Now I see that only the parking lot part was authentic. This sounds like a classic rumor, fusing with the Eden Pastora bombing that did indeed happen in Costa Rica or near the border.

              Those were such confused times, and as Tim suggests, ideological screens have closed over the complexities. What he's saying, also, about the Las Vegas salient being largely Nicaraguan by heritage also agrees with what I saw there, in terms of meeting farmers who seemed to be native but Nicaraguan.

              I definitely need to get Tim's book(s). Today I had ironically just finished my riff on my captivity (or that is, one of my captivities) when I saw the WAIS post. I think what I've said fits right in with his comments, and will send soon.

              As it turns out, he was indeed there after I was already gone (I left the scene in 1986), hence my ignorance of

              what was apparently the subsequent name for the Miskito guerrillas. As an aside, there was also another name,

              less formal, that the Miskitos in general applied to Sandinista attempts to co-opt them. I forget the Sandinistas' own name for the Miskito organization they attempted (I think it was MISATAN; perhaps Timothy recalls it) but the Miskito commentary rendered it into "Mi Satan Tara"--or "My Big Satan."

              As to piricuaco-que, it dawns on me that I may never have heard it used in the singular (it was a war epithet like "Huns" or "Gooks"), but I share the quandary about a "que"-suffix singular in Spanish. There is doubtless abundant more ancient literature on how Nicaragua had always said "rabid dog."

              I can't say how pleased I am for this chance at cutting through a long-standing curtain of ideological taboos and security reticence to find new puzzle pieces from those old riddles. As with your many global spotlights, here WAIS is providing a great service.

              I'm also curious about the special aspects of the gun used to kill Bermúdez. Why plastic, double-barreled, tumbling? Does this imply that such weapons were indicative of a certain kind of backer?

              Captivity story follows soon.

              JE comments: Gary Moore has already sent his account of his experience(s) in Contra captivity. I'll post it later today or tomorrow first thing.  One more reason to visit WAIS often!

              I hope Tim Brown can give us more information on the "disposable" .22 pistol. I don't understand the plastic part either.  If no security screening is involved, like at an airport, why not just get a cheap revolver and then destroy it?

              Moreover, to my knowledge a functional all-plastic gun has never been manufactured, much less in 1991. Now it seems they can be "printed." See, for example, the $25 Lulz Liberator:


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              • Prisoner of the Contras; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 03/07/15 3:22 AM)
                JE: As promised yesterday, Gary Moore (Memphis, Tennessee) sends this unforgettable story:

                I'd like to thank John for his suggestion that I flesh out what amounts to Candide-Meets-The-Prisoner-of-Zenda-in-The-Cold-War. The suggested post (apologies that it's so short) is below:

                After John Eipper's gracious suggestion that I recount my (mostly comic) captivity by the contras in the 1980s, I've tried to pinpoint some theme of Larger Meaning in all that chaos in the long-ago tropical fringes of the Cold War. Good luck. I found myself recalling that in Nicaragua I briefly met a sage, Chris Hedges of the New York Times (then suffering malaria as I later would be), who has come close to the Big Picture with the following statement: "War's simplicity and high [provide] the chance to exist for an intense and overpowering moment. Many of us, restless, unfulfilled, see no supreme worth in our lives. We want more out of life. And war, at least, gives a sense that we rise above our smallness and divisions." This was in Hedges's 2002 book, which should be a Bible for the study of war psychology, as seen just in its remarkable title: War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. To me this distorting siren call, not the partisan pleadings, should be the cautionary lesson.

                So, envision: 1980s Reagan Rococo, Managua:

                The Intercon Hotel, bizarre post-modern pyramid on the flank of an extinct volcano on whose peak, just above, is a dreaded State Security prison. But the languid hotel is swarmed by press-conference journalists and fellows hoping to rent out old cars to them for $100 a day, while block after block of never-rebuilt earthquake ruins spread majestically below the hotel, down to the sea-like brooding of Lake Managua, fringed by more volcanoes. This was the hotel where Howard Hughes took over an upper floor a decade prior under Somoza, as Hughes grew his fingernails long in lunatic seclusion, then fled the 1972 earthquake--which gave rise to the great moonscape roundabout, never rebuilt but termed Los Escombros. Formal mailing addresses in Nicaragua (on whose stability one need only ask a Costa Rican) were not street numbers but nostalgic vectors, written out longhand on postal envelopes, such as: "Two blocks up from the Lake and then one block toward where The Big Ceiba Tree Used To Be." The streets so designated, whispering around the hotel, were empty, with occasional horse carts or journalists renting old heaps, plus speeding Ladas or military vehicles. Hard to get gas.

                So now into the sumptuous island of hothouse journalism that is the big hotel comes American cinema director Ron Maxwell (he later did a TV tour de force on the Civil War), who has gotten a chunk of money to sneak into Nicaragua and do, supposedly, the be-all and end-all of behind-the-scenes documentaries (which never got made, though he shot a lot of footage and then did extended expense-account editing in a real combat zone: Newport). But while camped at the Intercon, Ron needed a location arranger, a scout in the wild places, a jungle guide. And he was introduced to a fellow who had once walked the length of Nicaragua (and a little farther), which fellow was me.

                I thought I had just the spot for Ron, out toward Chontales where the war was going on, so I went way out there in advance, hiking up into the hills beyond road's end, in a wilted Goretex poncho in the rain (I may not have taken the monstrous dinosaur video camera this trip). Stories of combat led me to a classic rural hamlet, where each thatched-roof farmhouse was far enough away from the next to sometimes be barely seen on the next slash-and-burn hilltop. Very muddy and wet, I managed to locate a locally fabled human-rights site, an isolated farmhouse where, people along the way kept saying, a military helicopter had fired rockets into a civilian residence, I think killing a child. Sure enough, the house existed, and the back part, where a rocket had come in through gap-toothed planks, was still a mess. But the family was there, recovering as best they could. The woman of the house told me how it was a Soviet military helicopter, used by local allies--a prime emblem of how here, even way out here, the world was in Cold War.

                I asked her something lame like "How do you know it was a Soviet helicopter?"--and she replied, "Well, look"--as she directed my attention to a door prop in the shadows, a grimy metal tube, about shin-high. Sure enough, these people had saved the missile cartridge, left by some dynamic of partial demolition beyond my pay grade. Right on the metal was a large stenciled serial number--in Cyrillic script. I think I remember the square Russian delta symbol for "D," and the backwards N, etc.

                Well, I was afire to take back this valuable piece of junk to the civilized Inter-Con, and the woman generously said that, since I represented posterity, I could have it. Under my blue poncho it went, and now I went slipping and sliding down the muddy trail from the hilltop home (still far from any vehicle road)--and I didn't get very far. Out of nowhere some young guys with guns appeared. They were Contras.

                What was I doing in their territory without permission, they asked. In a logical world, it might have seemed they would welcome a stranger with proof of Soviet-backed abuses by their enemies, since they were the US-backed foes of the Soviet-backed-Marxist-Sandinista-Government (as the boilerplate said, all in one breath). But I repeatedly found, on both sides of such guerrilla conflicts, that the big concern seemed to be proving authority and turf, and regulating information. Journalists were not supposed to be out there without Contra high-command permission. "You'll have to come with us," they said, and they marched me off. My protests that I had to get back to a big Hollywood hotel meeting were as nothing. Marching for hours over miserable terrain, they finally took me to a dirt-floored safehouse owned by a family that collaborated with them (somewhat complicating the idea of civilian casualties in the rocket attack), and, blithely, they made it clear that my captivity might go on indefinitely, as they marched me hither and yon for days--or weeks--on whatever maneuvers might come up. This, of course, was not bad for insider learning, but I had another job to do, back at the hotel--plus there were quieter dangers. Both the Inter-Con and the jungles were laced with what skeptics called political tourists, idealistic and often young supporters of the Sandinistas in their bid for "a new man" (though old concept) against "the Yanqui, enemy of humankind," as the Sandinista anthem sang. The Contras had recently captured a forlorn Witness For Peace activist seeking in some way to make a jungle statement against imperialism, and, more germane to my predicament, they had held him for long weeks, until the sanitation plus the demoralization produced hepatitis. Even in hands not directly abusive, it's dangerous to be a captive forever. So after a night at the safehouse, as they marched me off next morning toward endless hepatitis opportunities, I plotted my escape.

                Sadly, I realized that the first casualty of my conspiracy would have to be the missile tube, which I could no longer ridiculously lug around if I was running for my life. My captors hadn't been abusive so far, but I was about to directly defy their rules. Our long procession, single file, led through great mounds of bushes that forced it to snake back and forth. The plan I got seemed impossible even to me, but I had the Witness For Hepatitis example to think about, pushing me onward. Testing the waters, I began, ever so slightly, to slow my pace a bit. We were stumbling along a few yards apart, with an armed guard in front of me and one behind. I saw that my guess was indeed true, that if I lagged ever so slightly, pretty soon, in the snakings among the mounds of foliage, the guy in front would be just out of sight of me--which scarcely mattered to him, since the guy behind had me. But then, once he could no longer see me, I started speeding up again--ever so slightly--and sure enough, these geniuses let it happen. Before long, there were crucial points in the snakings when I was out of sight of both of them--and neither one knew it. The next part of the plan was delicate, and I rehearsed it in my head, thinking of all the ways they could make life unpleasant for me if I was caught. The important thing, I kept reminding myself, was not to run. If I simply tore off through the bushes they would immediately hear me and spot me, and I might run into any number of sentries. But the outback can be sheltering, if you don't mind getting dirty. At the big moment, I threw myself off the path and wormed under the bushes--far under--then simply stayed there, not moving a muscle, while all the stragglers cluelessly kept filing past. I couldn't believe it. They hadn't missed me.

                As soon as there were no more sounds from stragglers, I jumped up and then ran like hell, back down the same path where we had come--because if I were ever to get out to a vehicle road I had to take some kind of established trail. Maybe, once they began asking each other who had me, the finger-pointing slowed them down. I never saw my captors again. But just as I felt saved, coming out to a gravel vehicle road with my lungs burning from running, a voice from the bushes suddenly cried, "Halt!" At the road they had left a peripheral sentry after all--and he pointed his AK at me, saying the magic words: "You'll have to come with me." I knew I couldn't afford to be marched back where my perfidy would be revealed, and I'd get no chances again--but I began to realize that this sentry had no way to know that I had been a captive at all. So, stupidly, I bluffed--and exploded at him: "What do you mean, impeding an important international journalist? Don't you know how your superiors will react to this?"

                He was unmoved and kept motioning with the gun. So, doing my best to look irrationally angry and otherwise unconcerned, I turned my back on him, and on the gun, and kept walking, slowly, arrogantly, meanwhile spouting the angry words of an offended bigwig. I could almost feel the bullet between my shoulder blades--but it never came. As soon as he was out of sight and I was over the next hill, I dropped the arrogant bigwig act and started running again.

                I could hardly wait to tell Ron and his cameraman and sound man of my big adventure, and what perfect local color I had found for them to shoot. It was over cantelopes and other dining goodies, as waiters hovered in the pleasant garden cafe of the hotel. I saw that my colleagues were hearing my zesty story of rocket attacks and captivity with particular solemnity. Then I finished. They all looked at one another, as if telepathic, though the cameraman seemed to be the most eager to speak, for all of them, as he said: "Not me man. I'm not going out in a war."

                He had apparently been picked up in Miami on the way, and I'll never forget his next immortal words:

                "I do commercials." Thus, by slow turns, came the important diversion of a great cinema effort at documenting the truth, into the real combat zone, at Newport.

                JE comments:  This one is a classic for the WAIS ages.  Thank you, Gary!  There is something almost Keystone Cops about this depiction of Contra efficiency.  We could probably say the same thing about the Sandinistas.  And note that when it comes to ruthlessness, the average drug cartel in today's Latin America makes the Contras look like Boy Scouts.

                Still, Gary's escape took a lot of chutzpah.  While I'm not totally chutzpah-free, I probably would have remained an obedient captive...and hoped for clemency.

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              • Assassination and "Disposable" Firearms (Timothy Brown, USA 03/09/15 1:39 PM)

                On the weapon used to assassinate Contra commander Enrique Bermúdez (see Gary Moore, 6 March), the difference between a fire-and-destroy pistol is the lands and grooves on bullets they fire.

                Unless the pistol has never been fired before and will never be fired again, bullets it has fired can be used to identify the weapon used.
                So, unless a particular weapon has only been used once, destroying it after it has been used to assassinate someone would not totally guarantee that it could not be identified and traced back to its user.

                I was told by a dependable Costa Rican contact that similar one-use plastine pistols were used in Central America on two other occasions, once in El
                Salvador and once in Costa Rica. Decades ago, during my senior year at University of Nevada-Reno, I wrote a paper that I entitled, as best I can remember, "Assassination: A Political Tradition in Latin America." My professor loved it.

                JE comments:  Ballistics are not my forte, but aren't .22 caliber bullets especially prone to deformation, which makes them more difficult to trace than larger rounds?  Or is this just CSI stuff from TV?

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