Monday, February 20, 2012

"At the Devil's Table" by William C. Rempel

This is the story of Jorge Salcedo, a seemingly respectable, college educated engineer and businessman from Bogota. His father was a military man who was targeted during the years of the La Violencia, from 1946 through 1957, when as many as 300,000 Colombians were killed by the military, and by rival political groups, each vying for control of the government. Jorge was born into this environment.

The author casts Mr. Salcedo as a self-sacrificing hero, who, in this factually correct account of the Cali-Medellin Cartel Wars in Colombia during the late 1980's and early 1990's, covers the life of Mr. Salcedo from an ordinary man to his rise as the head of security for the Cali Cartel. An engineer by training and a security consultant by choice, Mr. Salcedo is approached by the Cali Cartel to kill Pablo Escobar, the legendary leader of the Medellin Cartel. Escobar is known for his extreme and violent rule. Kidnappings, murders and extortion were all part of his trade, and the Cali Cartel, headed by the Orejuela family in the Cali region of northern Colombia, wanted protection from this "madman".

Jorge is connected to many powerful people in the world of "security", and so he is able to tap into a group of British mercenaries, whom he imports to Colombia, intending on taking down the entire Medellin Cartel. But once the mission is accomplished, and Escobar is killed; with a seeming "nod and a wink" by both the United States and Colombian governments; things are not any better for the Cali Cartel, or our "hero" Mr. Salcedo. On the contrary, their bad times are just about to begin.

After the Colombian government announces that it is willing to enter into negotiations with the Cartel, the younger members refuse. After all, they haven't made their money yet. This serves to split the strength of the Cartel, making it easier for the government to conquer them. Mr. Salcedo, sensing the rapidly closing web, attempts to leave Cartel, but the cartel owners refuse his request. He's in; for better or worse.

When he then approaches the United States government; offering up his former employers, while seeking immunity for himself; he finds that nothing is ever that easy, and that he is not immune from anything which he has done. Things really heat up at this point, as Mr. Salcedo looks to save himself, from both the Cartel and the governments of Colombia and the United States.

There is a lot more to this book than meets the eye. In my own opinion, Pablo Escobar was killed by a British mercenary group, but it was really a hit orchestrated by both the CIA and the Colombian military. Escobar could not be taken alive. He simply had too much to say about too many high ranking people. The real aim was to silence him before he could talk about such things as the "economic turnaround" in Arkansas; which lead to the Iran-Contra Affair; and the 1992 election of then Governor Bill Clinton, to the Presidency.

That "economic turnaround" in the mid 1980's was accomplished with the help of then Vice President George H. W. Bush; supplying guns in exchange for drugs in order to arm the Nicarauguan Contras, in violation of the Boland Amendment. He went on to become a one term President, losing his re-election to Clinton in 1992. That election marked the first time in which the CIA fully owned both candidates for the office of President. Indeed, it is the one issue on which neither candidate was willing to engage the other during the entire campaign.

This is a very insightful book, but also one which seems, somehow, to divert attention from the very important questions concerning the role of our own government in the acquisition, transfer and sale, of huge amounts of cocaine at the height of the War on Drugs. Who were those powers? And, more importantly, where are they today? This is a very thought provoking book, if you allow it to be.

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