One of the most bizarre stories to come out about Central America was the strange saga of David Baez. Baez was born in Nicaragua but became a U.S. citizen and later a Green Beret. Baez’s father was a military officer in Nicaraguan National Guard before being executed by the military’s leader Anastasio Somoza.
Baez grew up an intense hatred of the Somoza’s and their regime and later while serving as a Green Beret in Panama with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group, he’d leave the military to return to Nicaragua to join the Communist Sandinista regime to fight the troops of Somoza.
Greg Walker is an author and former Green Beret from 3/7 SFG who was one of the 55 advisors in El Salvador back in the same time frame. He has written an outstanding two-part story that gets to the truth of a very outstanding NCO in Special Forces that ended up fighting against the U.S.-backed Contras and for our enemy, the Sandinistas in the early 1980s.
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.
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.
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 NEWSREP 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 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.
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.
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Photo of ODA-5 Panama and Baez: Robert K. Brown