Eduardo and I sat on the bluff, overlooking the factory complex in the valley below. The gritty sand beneath us was a dusty buff color, matching our sweat-encrusted camouflage clothing. The air was warm from the day-long bright sun, now moving behind the Lliama Volcano in the southern Andes, and particles of dust swirled in the air. As the sun descended, the vents and air conditioning units on the rooftops of the Chilean weapons complex flashed in the copper sunlight.
I pointed into the valley. “See how they don’t open one gate until another has been closed.” A truck was exiting through a series of gates on its way to resupply government forces. The complex was surrounded by layers of high wire fences, each topped with razor-edged concertina wire. According to the signs, the inner-most fence was electrified. On the four corners of the outer fences, concrete guard towers loomed into the sky, and in front of them, gantries of anti-aircraft missiles bristled skyward.
Eduardo beside me is my agent, and I take my orders from Lima. Eduardo’s sister leads the resistance inside the plant. She and Eduardo, and the entire village of Viracocha, were forcedly displaced to build this plant. Just three years ago, the generous waters of the Harabancha River flowed from the mountains to water the villagers’ potatoes and quinoa. Now the water is thirstily sucked up by the sprawling community of factories, offices, and barracks below. Most of the displaced Amayara Indians are forced to live in the slums of Callachao, an hour away. Dozens are bused back daily to load explosives into shells and powder into cartridges for the Chilean army to use against their own dispossessed native people, and my people, the Peruvians.
The war had been grinding on for over a year. After months of politicians’ chest-thumping, Peru had struck first, catching half of the Chilean Air Force on the ground. However, we never followed up on our advantage, and the fighting became a protracted struggle across the narrow border. Unfortunately, the longer the war winds on, the greater the likelihood Chile will win. Chile has more people, a much bigger economy, and unlike Peru, is self-supporting in the production of munitions, using her extensive copper, steel, and phosphate resources.
Eduardo, like so many of his townspeople, was of a mixed mind about the factories. He had been unable to gain security clearance to work in the plant; something about some minor indiscretions in his youth. The factories provided jobs for over a hundred, who in turn kept food on the table for the entire former populace of the village. But this was their land; they believed it had been granted to them by the gods thousands of years ago. For centuries, the lands from Lima in the far north to the Callachao district here in the south had constituted the kingdom of the Amayaras.
Eduardo’s sister wasn’t driven by hatred of Chile, or a love of Peru, but a deep burning resentment over the destruction of her village, her people, their religion, and their way of life. These wrongs fueled her hatred, but she would not light the first fuse without the approval of her older brother.
It had taken us most of the day to reach the bluff, climbing by a circuitous route so as not to be observed. We sat on the exposed mountain top two miles away and watched the complex through shielded binoculars. Eduardo began as we recovered our breath from the climb. “We are prepared, Ricardo,” for that was the name he knew me by.
What was in readiness was the complete and utter destruction of the entire complex, blown sky high by its own explosives. Many people would certainly die, including soldiers, officers, civilians, and many of the former townspeople of Viracocha.
Two weeks ago, the workers had learned the current commandant of the complex was to be replaced because of the increasing numbers of “dud” shells and misfiring cartridges coming from the assembly lines. The new commandant was to be none other than Colonel Philippe Benitez, the “Terror of Chacalluta.” It was in Chacalluta one of the worst atrocities of the war had been committed; two hundred Amayara Indians had been executed in reprisal for the death of a single Chilean soldier.
The appointment of Colonel Benitez struck terror within Chile’s most-vital munitions factory. The officers at the complex had used the threat of the coming of Colonel Benitez to terrify the workers to new heights of productivity, and Eduardo’s sister and her supporters were forced to reduce the level of sabotage. The Chilean officers were, in turn, terrified upon receiving a memo from Colonel Benitez notifying them that as soon as he had completed his round of meetings in Santiago, he would be coming to the plant for a thorough inspection. Not only could such an inspection uncover punishable errors on the part of the soldiers and officers, but it could also reveal the elaborate preparations of the townspeople to strike a retaliatory blow.
With Colonel Benitez’ expected arrival next week, the timetable for Eduardo’s sister and her supporters inside the plants had moved up. I communicated the urgency to Eduardo, Eduardo talked with his sister, and she prepared her supporters within the factories.
“Does she have everything she needs?” I enquired unnecessarily, for I had provided Eduardo with primer cord, fuses, and igniters months ago. I simply wished to engage Eduardo after the long hike, undertaken mostly in silence.
Eduardo was a big man for an Amayara Indian; over six feet and weighing more than two hundred pounds. Prior to the coming of the plant, he had been a blacksmith in Viracocha, but now he was forced to rely on his sister’s generosity and my employ to keep food on his table to feed his wife and three children. And now there was a fourth on the way. Since the coming of the plant, work for him in Callachao had been sparse, with only occasional day laboring and field work. How his family would subsist after the death of the plant, and that of his sister, was unclear. Eduardo’s only source of income would be reduced to the five one-thousand-peso banknotes I paid him monthly. In Santiago, it would barely buy a man one good meal, but here in the south, it could purchase a little more. I hoped I would be able to get Eduardo a bonus should the attack succeed; however, my employers are notoriously tight-fisted for deeds that have already transpired.
Eduardo didn’t answer my question. He briefly nodded his large head, and asked softly, “Are you sure this is necessary?” This question had many levels of significance, not the least of which related to this uneducated man’s trust in my college-schooled intelligence and comprehension. What he really wanted to know was if it was necessary for hundreds to die, including his sister? Was it necessary for so many poor Indians, who seemed to have so little choice in the modern world, to die? Would it be necessary for Chile to “die” if she lost the war? I had no answers to any of these questions. I simply followed the orders of the little gray men who worked in the office building just behind Lima’s Plaza Major.
“No, I am not sure at all. I don’t know it will end the war, or even change its course for long. It will not bring Viracocha back to the way it was, and the explosions will kill a lot of innocent people.” It seemed unnecessary to add that his sister would be a casualty, no matter how this affair ended.
“I, myself, am indifferent,” Eduardo continued. “I no longer have illusions.” The aftermath of the coming of the plant, the exile of the former residents, and the ongoing war, weighed on us both.
I thought of my illusions now lost. Fortune had decided I would never know the love of a family. I was the son of a dead whore from Lima and an unknown sailor from Santiago. My love for Peru was counterbalanced by my divided parentage and the fact I now “resided” with the enemy in Chile. As far as the righteousness of our cause and honor, having seen too many battles featuring both unbearable cruelty and the cowardice of men, I was now agnostic on that point as well.
It was simply my job to hurt the enemy, to destroy the weapons manufacturing complex. It was also my job to exploit the fissures of the enemy’s society and to ferment rebellion. If a Chilean intelligence agent now sat overlooking a Peruvian weapons factory, as I do now, would he hesitate as I do?
Yet I hesitated. I used to have ready answers. Now, I cannot even come up with the right questions.
In my heart, I was indifferent to the coming destruction, too, but given my training and profession, I could not bring myself to say so. I had a job to do.
“I would not have you do anything you did not wish,” I responded, hoping Eduardo would support the conclusion I sought, albeit without much enthusiasm.
“No, Ricardo, I have eaten your bread, and my sister has sworn to blow up the factories that destroyed our way of life. I just wish so many did not have to die.”
“Me, too, mi amigo.”
I felt the weariness of unending war; pain seeped through my body.
“We must go soon,” said Eduardo. “A passing helicopter may see us, and all would be lost.”
I took a coin from my pocket, my lucky five-sol piece, and balanced it between my index finger and thumb.
“We could let the Gods decide,” I said with resignation. “Maybe men such as you and I are not fit to make decisions of this magnitude. Heads, we go ahead with the blast tomorrow. Tails, we wait to see if other options develop.”
I handed the coin to Eduardo. He looked slowly at each side of the coin. The copper center set in the nickel surround glinted in the last rays of the sun. Eduardo put the coin on his thick square thumbnail and flipped it high in the air. Anyone looking up at the bluff at that moment from the plant below would surely have seen the flash as it rotated. It fell a few yards from our feet, and we ambled over to where it lay in the glooming. Eduardo bent down to study it. I glanced quickly at the result, then picked it up and handed it to Eduardo.
“So that is it, eh, compadre,” Eduardo sighed, as he pocketed my coin. I put my hand on his shoulder in comradeship as we started to walk back down the path, away from the complex.
“It is decided,” I agreed.