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Nick Corbishley reports in Naked Capitalism that the US will soon be sending military personnel to Peru for “co-ooperation activities” with that country’s army and police. US armed forces suddenly flying in to “co-operate” in Latin American countries is widely considered unacceptable – especially when the Peruvian police and army just have killed sixty or more citizens opposed to the most recent coup, which put its first working-class president in jail. TeleSur reports that “training” will last from 1 June (today) to 31 Dec:

“The U.S. military will carry out operations with the Peruvian Joint Intelligence and Special Operations Command (CIOEC), the Joint Special Forces (FEC), the Navy’s Special Operations Forces (FOE), the Air Force’s Special Forces Group (GRUFE), the Anti-drug Directorate (DIRANDRO), and the Police’s Special Forces Directorate (DIROES).

“The training will take place in Lima, Callao, Loreto, San Martin, Santa Lucia, Huanuco, Ucayali, Pasco, Junin, Huancavelica, Cusco, Ayacucho, Iquitos, Pucusana and Apurimac.

“The largest group will be made up of 970 members of the U.S. Air Force, Space Force, and Special Forces. Besides carrying their personal regulation weapons, they will arrive in Peru with planes, trucks, and rapid response boats to take part in the Resolute Sentinel 2023 maneuver.”

The MRTA occupation of the Japanese Ambassador’s residence, a piece of history from 1996, is a great, sad story. I thought it would make a dramatic feature film, like Sacco & Vanzetti or The Mattei Affair. But these were the 1990s, not the 1970s. Much had changed in 20 years, and there were no funds for such a film. So I approached the story as a written piece – and it still took me a long time to get it right (assuming I have got it right – if you’re familiar with these events, and have corrections or improvements, please advise me). I tried to approach it as a book, a literal day-by-day account of the 127 days of the seige. But what stopped me, when I tried to write it that way, was how repetitive the occupation became, after only a few days. It was meant to be a revolutionary action to free political prisoners and bring about political change. It was supposed to last two weeks. Instead it became a strange, cyclical saga which spread out for months, and ended – for its protagonists – in disaster.


17 DECEMBER 1996

Lima is a city where many poor people and a few rich people reside. San Isidro is one of its wealthier neighbourhoods, not far from the city centre. Its streets are lined with old trees, and high-walled homes, and tall iron gates where drivers and bodyguards hang out on cracked pavements, in the shade.

One of the grandest of the high-walled homes was built to resemble Tara, the white-columned mansion where Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler trysted, in Gone With the Wind. The property had been acquired from its original owner by the government of Japan, and it was here that the Japanese Ambassador, Morihisa Aoki, resided.

Not all the buildings in the vicinity were mansions. Behind the Ambassador’s residence, and facing it, were apartment buildings. Here is was possible to rent a flat with plumbing, electricity, and a telephone line – amenities most Peruvians still lacked access to. There was no wireless internet. People used dial-up, or sent faxes. If you were in business, a bureaucrat, or a journalist, that phone line was important.

It was the Christmas season – summer in Peru – and the Ambassador was throwing his annual reception in honor of the emperor, Akihito. Diplomats, politicians, business executives, journalists, high-ranking military and police – the dullest of crews – were his invited guests. Tents were set up in the gardens, alongside bars and buffets. It appears the Ambassador was doing his best to keep his guests outside, and stop them wandering about his house. This, like Tara, featured a ballroom and a grand staircase, sweeping in a graceful curve up to the second floor. The rooms off the second floor corridor were less grand: still impressively large, but utilitarian. The Ambassador’s office was up there.

The official hours of the reception were from 7 to 9pm. The guest list had grown to more than 700 persons. Peruvians, particularly in such large numbers, could not be relied upon to all arrive punctually, so it was anticipated that the event would start late and run later. For that reason, no opening toast was planned. Food was to be served at 8.30.

The American Ambassador – thrillingly named Dennis Jett – left early at 7.45. President Fujimori’s family were there, though the President himself had not yet arrived. As they were of Japanese origin, they were honored guests. (It would later emerge that Fujimori had been born in Japan, and concealed the fact.) The party was going well. The hoped-for diplomats, captains of industry, and military brass were in attendance.

The first explosion occurred at 8.20. The Ambassador, struck by the force of the blast, thought it was a car bomb in the street. But it was not. Later, it would be claim that rebels entered in three groups: disguised as waiters, carrying floral arrangements, and aboard a phony ambulance. Others would assert that the rebels smuggled their weapons inside a cake. Aoki’s recollection was more prosaic. Two walls surrounded his residence. The inner wall separated the mansion from the kitchen and the servants’ quarters. This was the wall which had been breached. As he watched, black-clad figures started pouring into the Embassy garden through the hole. They were heavily armed, and the Ambassador’s first thought was that they were Peruvian special forces. He marvelled, for a moment, at how fast the military responded to any emergency. Then one of them cried, “We are the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement!” and the screaming started.

Nestor Cerpa, leader of the MRTA commando, had meant to calm the partygoers’ fears by explaining to them that they were the MRTA, the less violent, “good guerrillas” and not the brutal Shining Path – Sendero Luminoso. “We’re not Sendero Luminoso! Don’t worry!” he shouted. No one listened. Cerpa was dressed all in black, with a red and black bandana and the initials of his group sewn onto it. He wore a black baseball cap, backwards, and carried a walkie-talkie in a chest mount. He carried a pistol, grenades, and an AK 47. He terrified them.

To the guests, it seemed that there were twenty-five or thirty rebels, all dressed like Cerpa, waving guns at them and shouting at them to calm down. In fact, there were fourteen. But they seemed many more as they ran to take up positions in the windows, and began dividing their hostages into groups. They had trained for this.

“We are the Oscar Sanchez Special Forces!” another rebel, bearded behind his mask, shouted. “This is Operation Oscar Torre Condesu!” What did he mean? What was he talking about? Two guests emerged from the bathrooms, having flushed their IDs so the rebels wouldn’t know who they were. “Stay where you are!” yelled a masked woman. “Obey and nothing will happen to you!” She fired a round into the air, to prove she meant it. The other rebels followed suit. Outside, the police began a fusilade.

From the very beginning of the attack, the police were locked out of the building. The MRTA barred the doors and took up positions above the street. No one yet knew how they had entered the residence. So the police and bodyguards rained gunfire on the outer walls and windows, ran about, and argued among themselves. During breaks in firing, the cops yelled for the rebels to come out, and the rebels swore, homeland or death, that they would win.

In the garden, the guests were seated on the ground. The rebels walked among them, asking who they were. “Don’t look at us!”. Above and around them, the gun battle continued. The MRTA returned fire from their vantage points. There were no casualties. Roly Rojas was the bearded rebel. They called him El Arabe. Checking IDs, he encountered a tall, lean, middle-aged Japanese. “You are the Ambassador? Get up and come with me.” There were gasps as Aoki rose to his feet. Some thought he was about to be killed.

Rojas walked Aoki across the garden and the parking area, to the gatehouse in the outer wall. Two other masked rebels were there. One of them handed Aoki a bullhorn. “Here’s what you’re going to do, okay? I’m going to tell you what to say, and you say it!” Rojas spoke to him in Spanish. The Ambassador’s Spanish was not good, and he was frightened. “Ready? Tell them you’re the Ambassador! Tell them to hold their fire!”

“Je suis… je suis l’Ambassadeur! Je vous prie… laissez vos armes…” In his alarm, Aoki was speaking to the police in French. A further hail of gunfire was their response.

In the garden, the MRTA continued to issue conflicting messages. “Don’t waste your bullets,” one said loudly. “We may need them for this group here.” He directed his AK at a group of police and military, the latter in dress uniforms, seated on the ground. Then Cerpa gave an order, and the rebels passed it on. “Get up! Hands behind your heads! Proceed inside!” Here he addressed his several hundred prisoners, crowding into the ballroom. “As soon as the shooting stops, we’re going to let the waiters, the women, and the elderly leave. Separate into new groups, accordingly.” He raised his weapon, but did not fire it.

Rojas peered through the gatehouse window. The cops and bodyguards still seemed in disarray. Cars and vans continued to arrive, headlights washing across the walls, disgorging dozens of police agents from different units, private guards, and embassy security teams. “This is the MRTA! Listen up!” he yelled into the bullhorn. There was another gunshot, then a brief lull. “We’re letting the waiters out! Also the old people and the women! Hold your fire! Okay?”

Aoki took the megaphone and repeated what Rojas had said – in Spanish, this time. There was no reply from the police ranks. But no gunfire either. “You should let all these people go,” Aoki told Rojas. “They have nothing to do with this. I alone am enough of a hostage for you to bargain with.” “We’re not here to bargain,” Rojas replied.

The crowd shifted uncomfortably on the ballroom floor. Evacuees were being separated from the rest. There was a constant trickle of guests to the bathrooms, unsupervised by the rebels. IDs continued to be flushed. But there was no escaping via unlocked back doors or bathroom windows. The high security measures, in place to prevent people breaking into the residence, also meant that people couldn’t break out of it.

Tito and Salvador, two high-ranking rebels, assembled more than a hundred people – waiters, women, elderly – under the mansion’s columned portico. Tito’s real name was Eduardo Cruz. Salvador’s was never known. On a signal from Cerpa, Salvador walked the large group down the driveway towards the gatehouse. Rojas addressed the police again, via megaphone, telling them the hostages were coming out. Then he and the young rebel raised the bolts which anchored the big doors to the driveway, swung the doors wide.

At once, the police began lobbing tear gas canisters. Later the cops would claim that elite military forces had launched the tear gas attack, forcing a police rescue unit to retreat. Either way, the gas bombs flew through the open doors and exploded in front of the hostage procession, driving them in panic back to the mansion. The MRTA had come equipped with gas masks, which they quickly and professionally donned. But the choking prisoners were forced to cover their faces with handkerchiefs and paper napkins, as the gas blew through the house.

As President Fujimori’s mother and sister Rosa went among the guests with a bowl of water, to moisten their handkerchiefs, a Swiss named Michael Minnig approached the rebels. He identified himself as chief of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and offered his services as an intermediary. They let Minnig go outside with his hands raised. He called to the police to stop shooting and throwing tear gas, then returned to the residence. Here, the rebels had found a guest list and begun calling out names: it appeared all the ID destruction had been for naught. As the prisoners were identified, Cerpa stepped up onto the curved staircase and addressed them.

“We are not murderers. Nor are we terrorists. We are politicians.” The crowd was unconvinced. “It’s true! I intend one day to be president of Peru. Elected president! We do not menace, or rob, or otherwise mistreat our prisoners – unlike the repressive forces of the oligarchy. We’re here for a short time. With your cooperation, we will quickly achieve our political goals, and you will all go free.” At the conclusion of his speech, a small group of journalists – for there were reporters among the guests – surged forward, including Sally Bowen of the Financial Times. Minutes earlier, she had been gassed, and assisted by one of the guerrillas. “He spoke very fluently”, she later said of Cerpa. “He seemed very sure of what he was about. He had his arguments well-prepared. He was not frightening, because he was very calm.” Cerpa told the journalists that his group had targeted the Japanese ambassador because Japan was meddling in Peruvian affairs and supporting economic policies that caused poverty. He pulled a book from his knapsack: Compañeros, Toman Nuestro Sangre. “This is where it all began.” He handed her the book. She turned the pages. It was about a strike, some two decades previously, which ended in a military assault and the deaths of workers.

Meanwhile, the phones upstairs were ringing constantly. The MRTA rebels answered, and, when NHK News called, they decided to let them interview the Ambassador – provided he speak in Spanish and not disclose how many rebels there were. “There is no panic,” Aoki told the reporters. “It is under control. The guerrillas are calm. There are no deaths or injuries.” Meanwhile, the rebels were issuing their first communique – by telephone and via their website, maintained by a sympathizer in Germany. “Communique No. 1” called the attack a “military occupation” carried out by the Edgar Sanchez Special Forces, commanded by Comrade Edigirio Huerta. It demanded a change in economic policies, the release of MRTA prisoners, safe passage to the jungles of central Peru, where the last hostage would be released, and payment of a “war tax”.

The rebels completed the separation of prisoners. Business captives, including Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi executives, were housed on the first floor, adjacent to the ballroom. Government officials and diplomats – ambassadors from Brazil, Cuba, Canada, Bolivia, Venezuela and South Korea – were moved to one second floor room, military and police to another. Tito instructed each roomful of captives to designate a “coordinator.” Meanwhile, on the phone to journalist after journalist, Cerpa repeated the MRTA’s demands.

It had been a bad year for revolutionaries. The leaders of Sendero Luminoso and the MRTA had been captured. Abimael Guzman – Comandante Gonzalo – the dreaded founder of Sendero, had been displayed in a cage and jailed underground at the Callao naval base. Peter Cardenas and Victor Polay, heads of the MRTA, had also been arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment in the same dungeon. Various other Sendero and MRTA members were in custody. The reason for the raid on the Ambassador’s residence, Cerpa insisted, was to get his people freed. Tito got on the phone with the reporters, too, and said that the MRTA wanted to negotiate directly with Fujimori. Together, the rebels elaborated on their demands: freedom for their imprisoned comrades, safe passage to a Peruvian jungle valley, a change in the economic system, and payment of that “war tax.”

While the rebels explained their position, President Fujimori was meeting with police and military agents in a windowless room in the intelligence police headquarters – the SIN building in Chorillos. (SIN was the national intelligence agency.) Most powerful among those present was Vladimiro Montesinos, who had been at the centre of Peruvian political intrigues and conspiracies for three decades. In the 1960s Montesinos had been an aide to the military golpistas; he was also a CIA agent, a key player in the drug trade, Fujimori’s most trusted advisor, and the head of the intelligence police. Fujimori, who maintained a reputation as a tough guy, had seized dictatorial powers in a US-approved “self-coup.” He had no intention of negotiating with terrorists, and proposed an immediate counterattack. Montesinos advised against it. He had ringed the residence with 200 of his own police agents – but as yet little was known about the attack. How many rebels were there? His people estimated as many as thirty. It was necessary to wait.

The MRTA’s second attempt at releasing hostages was successful. They opened the front gates and freed some 180 prisoners – waiters, children, and women – including the president’s mother and sister. Within the residence, the remaining hostages prepared to bed down on the floor. The Ambassador gave up his bed to sleep in the same fashion, and handed out clean shirts and shaving gear. He continued to apologise for the ordeal his guests were suffering. Crowded into every corner of the various rooms, the prisoners were watched by a guard in each doorway.

The Nissan chairman, Carlos Chiappori, felt relief that his wife had been allowed to leave, together with considerable trepidation. During the night, the MRTA rebels burst into each of the rooms, turned on the overhead lights and brandished guns and hand grenades. “If Fujimori attacks us, you’ll all get it!” one of them yelled. “Victory or death!”

Then the lights went out, and the prisoners produced their cell phones – which had not been confiscated – and made serruptitious calls. When not harassing their prisoners, the rebels took catnaps and stood watch. They’d made a successful start of a bold and desperate plan: to exchange these highly-placed, important oligarchs and capitalist stooges for their imprisoned friends. Was such an outcome possible? There were precedents. In 1974, five years before the triumph of the Nicaraguan revolution, a small group of Sandinista rebels had carried out a spectacular action: 10 men and three women raided a party at a wealthy businessman’s home. The rebels took several highly-placed hostages including the Nicaraguan foreign minister. Two and a half days of negotiations, mediated by the office of the Archbishop, secured the relase of fourteen imprisoned Sandinistas, one million dollars in cash, and a flignt to Cuba. The story had inspired a screenplay by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, El Secuestro, though the film was never made. And in 1978, the Sandinistas repeated the action even more boldly, seizing the national parliament building and holding 200 legislators hostage. A two-day standoff earned them the release of sixty comrades, and a payoff of $500,000.

And in 1980, a commando of 15 M-19 guerrillas in Bogota captured the Dominican Embassy and took 57 hostages. Two months later, they left with a two million dollar ransom on a flight to Havana…

Not that this was about ransom money, or an escape to Cuba. If things went well, it would all be over in a few days. The MRTA would be back in the Amazon jungle, reunited with their comrades, stronger than ever… Why look at the downside, or recall that M-19 attempt to capture the Colombian palace of justice, which had ended in a military counterattack, and hundreds of deaths?

Best to plan on emulating the terrific coup the MRTA had scored, a few years back, when forty-eight MRTA political prisoners escaped from a high security prison via a tunnel. The escapees included the group’s founder, Victor Polay, and Roly Rojas. Victor Polay had been rearrested in a Lima cafe only two years later, and a round-up of other escapees followed. But the escape from Canto Grande had inspired a popular book and been a morale booster for the remaining rebels. Revolutionaries had achieved great things before. They had achieved great things themselves. Who said they couldn’t do it again?

At forty-five minutes after midnight, President Fujimori received a call from the Prime Minister of Japan. Ryutaru Hashimoto was understandably concerned. This was his country’s ambassador, its business representatives. After the United States, Japan was Peru’s largest foreign investor. Perhaps the Japanese took a certain pride in Fujimori’s ancestry, too – although, of course, he had been born in Peru. The two heads of state spoke only briefly. No doubt Hashimoto urged Fujimori to proceed with caution. Most likely Fujimori was ambiguous in his reply.


18 DECEMBER 1996

At nine, those who had not been long awake were roused by the sound of an explosion. The MRTA had tossed a stick of dynamite into the street. It was a warning to the police and soldiers, too keep their distance. Shortly thereafter, Cerpa gave another phone interview. Were the remaining captives unharmed, the reporter wanted to know. “Right now they are. But in an hour they might not be.” Yet as the morning passed, the tension in the building lessened. The guerrillas removed the scarves which had hidden their faces. Cerpa went among the rooms, addressing his prisoners and expounding on his political philosophy. Again, he was keen to differentiate his group from Sendero, which executed peasants, hung dogs, and shot domestic animals. The MRTA, he said, rejected apocalyptic violence, defended the poor, and were ready to run the country.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the rebels gave Fujimori a noon deadline: if MRTA prisoners in government hands weren’t released by then, the guerrillas would execute their first hostage: foreign minister Francesco Tudela. Fujimori, who detested Tudela, his political rival, did not respond. Around noon, Prime Minister Hashimoto called him again. Fujimori promised immediate military intervention if any hostage was harmed. Hashimoto urged him not to be impatient. The deadline passed.

In the garden of the mansion, there was another explosion. The MRTA had rigged charges to deter potential invaders. By accident, one of them went off, blowing out some second-floor windows. But there were no injuries. According to Chiappori, the situation was quite jolly. Secret cell-phone calls continued to be made. The captives spilled out into the corridors and chatted. Chiappori recalled, “It was like a cocktail party without drinks, no? And the guerrillas would come up and say, ‘Everybody back to your rooms and don’t come out.’ But ten minutes later we would drift out again and start talking.”

Another hostage, Vice Admiral Luis Giampietri, wrote a memoir of his captivity. Unlike the Nissan exec, Giampietri was a hardcore military man who hated his captors and spent every moment thinking about escape. He reported that Tudela and other hostages were greatly disturbed when they saw a TV report – apparently filmed the previous night – in which Cerpa, masked and standing between the mansion’s doric columns, threatened to kill Tudela. Giampietri tried to reassure the foreign minister that the rebel leader wouldn’t kill anyone important. “He knows Fujimori would order an immediate assault.”

Strangely, this did not reassure Tudela, who kept on trying to raise Fujimori on his cell phone. “I spoke to him briefly. Told him how desperate our situation is. I said conditions were deplorable and urged him to begin negotiations – if for no other reason than to get us food, water, and portable toilets.” Tudela was right to complain: the toilets were backing up; the party food was sitting outside, untouched and starting to rot; their only water was the questionable stuff that came out of the tap. “What did the President say?” Giampietri wanted to know. “He thanked me for the call and hung up. Now he refuses to take my calls. No one answers.”

Giampietri had no time for Tudela, a liberal politician. He wanted to see these rebels crushed, their plans defeated. Ironically, a special police division dedicated to pursuing the MRTA had been shut down only three days previously. DIVICOTE 2, a branch of the DINCOTE police agency had been dissolved due to the assumed annihilation of the guerrilla group. Obviously, this was somewhat premature. Giampietri claimed that the rebels physically abused him and other police and military prisoners. But the ones the rebels threatened to kill were politicians. According to Giampieteri, Cerpa addressed those present outside the Residence via a megaphone.

“For the last time, Mr. President, release fifty prisoners as a sign of your good faith. I have already sent you a list via the Red Cross. It you do not free the prisoners on the list within thirty minutes, I will execute a hostage every five minutes until you do. Tudela and Aoki will be the first to die. Their blood will be on your hands!”

Did Cerpa really threaten this? It seems like an impractically tight deadline: thirty minutes to identify and free fifty political prisoners? A dead hostage every five minutes, starting with the most “valuable” ones? Giampietri and the English-language press claimed that the MRTA threatened to execute their captives. Other witnesses recalled nothing of the kind. Cerpa’s demand, as Giampietri reports it, wasn’t achievable and would surely provoke a military response. It doesn’t seem like the action of a man who went among his prisoners trying to convince them about his political programme.

After the toilets overflowed, the Ambassador toured the building, apologizing profusely once again. Giampietri intercepted him, and asked him to speak to Cerpa about the night-time gun-and-hand-grenade drills. According to Giampietri, Aoki did so, and the drills ceased, though the MRTA continued to brutalize their police hostages, in particular former DINCOTE director Carlos Rodriguez. Meanwhile, Tudela and others got hold of the Ambassador’s fax machine, and sent a communique emphasizing the precariousness of their situation. “The guerrillas of the MRTA are determined,” they wrote. “The situation is getting increasingly tense, because of the lack of dialogue and the overcrowding.” It was signed by Tudela, Supreme Court justice Carlos Giusti, and several ambassadors.

Shortly after dark, the MRTA released three ambassadors, Canadian, German and Greek, and the French cultural attache. Before leaving in a car for the Presidential Palace, the ambassadors read a statement. “We have been liberated to serve as a bridge to the government, and to search for a negotiated solution without bloodshed.” According to Anthony Vincent, the Canadian ambassador, the MRTA’s demands now included the release of 458 rebels imprisoned in Peru, Bolivia, and Uruguay; the repeal of an Amnesty Law which favoured paramilitaries; abolition of a new land law; reestablishment of trade union rights; and an end to the government’s neoliberal policies. They requested that Peru’s human rights ombudsman lead the negotiations.

Instead of the Presidential Palace, the free ambassadors were taken to SIN headquarters. Here, Fujimori kept them waiting for five hours. They were suitably offended: the German ambassador made plans to leave the country the next day. When Vincent reported the rebels’ request for the ombudsman, Fujimori rejected it. His education minister, Domingo Palermo, would lead negotiations. Palermo had negotiated with the MRTA twice before, gaining the releases of kidnapped businessmen. Ambassador Vincent also offered his services as an intermediary.

In Tokyo, the Japanese foreign minister, Yukihiko Ikeda, boarded a plane for Lima; and the Imperial Household Agency announced that the Emperor’s 63rd birthday party, scheduled for Monday, would be cancelled.


10 DECEMBER 1996

Fujimori was already at his command center at SIN when Bill Clinton called. The US President advised him to take a hard line, and release no prisoners. He offered to send US Delta Force and Navy SEAL hostage rescue teams to assist the Peruvian police and military. Fujmori declined the offer.

The desk before him now contained a model, two meters by three, of the Ambassador’s mansion. The roof had been removed, and small plastic figures were arranged throughout: blue for hostages, red for rebels. Montesinos’ men had come up with a plan they called Operacion Papa Noel. The idea was to attack the residence on Christmas Eve. It was estimated that 20% of the hostages would die during the operation, and 40% would be wounded. “Too many”, Fujimori declared. “Come up with another plan.” In the mean time, he told them to cut off power to the residence.

Cerpa was expounding his vision when Chiappori approached him. Shadowed by two armed guerrillas, he explained that he had been politicized during the Cromotex strike some seventeen years ago. The strike was two months long, and ended with the police storming the factory. Several strikers were killed, and Cerpa had been jailed. Thereafter, he decided that the armed struggle was the way forward. The Cromotex strike was the subject of the book he’d given away to a reporter, two nights ago. Chiappori said he understood Cerpa planned to launch a political career. If that was so, he should keep the momentum going and release some more hostages – “especially the elderly.” Cerpa laughed, and asked the 72-year-old his name. A few minutes later, the guerrillas called for him. One of the hostages had mentioned that Chiappori was recovering from lung cancer surgery, and the guerrillas had decided to let him go.

The MRTA gave permission for two Red Cross doctors to examine and treat sick hostages. Two rebels also needed attention. Cerpa had sprained his ankle in the attack, and received an ace bandage. More seriously, Tito had shot himself in the leg. One of the doctors told him that the bullet was lodged between tibia and fibula, and that he needed x-rays. Cerpa advised Michael Minnig of the need for surgical supplies and an x-ray machine. They arrived within an hour. In a nearby clinic, a specialist studied the x-rays and concluded it was too dangerous to remove the bullet. Tito would spend the next fifty days wearing a cast.

Suddenly, it occurred to the rebels to search their prisoners, and confiscate their cell phones (by now, most of the batteries had died). Lt. Col. Roberto Fernandez, however, was able to conceal his pager. And just after six, four more hostages were freed: Chiappori, a Red Cross official, and two elderly Peruvians of Japanese descent. In the US, a State Department spokesman revealed that a team of “counter-terrorism experts” had flown to Lima, to help Ambassador Jett “protect the lives of the nearly ten thousand US citizens who live in Peru.” The experts included agents of the FBI.

These were the salad days of the hostage-taking. The guerrilla leaders fraternized with their prisoners, discussing the electoral system and the privatization of state industries. To the surprise of the industrialists and politicians seated on the dining room floor, the rebels weren’t dogmatic. “it wasn’t the old debate of ‘business should be appropriated’” one hostage recalled. “We talked about privatization, the rate of privatization, and what types of industry should be privatized.” As the hours passed, some of the hostages plugged in vacuum cleaners and pushed them around; others engaged in impromptu lectures, and rounds of joke-telling. “The first two nights, guards from the MRTA came in and asked us to keep it down to a dull roar…” According to a sympathetic source, this was the night that Cerpa assured a fearful general that there would be no executions. “Don’t worry… we’re not killers.”


20 DECEMBER 1996

Today, according to the newspapers, the Americans got involved. FBI agents were supervising surveillance of the residence. A Delta Force group from Fort Bragg, NC, landed in the Panama Canal Zone and awaited instructions to deploy to Peru. Members of the British SAS posing as diplomats flew to Lima, bringing secret monitoring equipment microphones, and ‘pinhead’ cameras, in their diplomatic bags. The RAF also flew weapons including stun grenades and explosives to the Delta Force commandos. Why the Americans were unable to rely on their own explosives and ‘pinhole cameras’ is unclear.

It was, as the rebels observed, the seventh anniversary of the US invasion of Panama. The MRTA sang rebel songs and did jumping jacks. Then the power went out and the water pump shut down. A diesel generator kicked in, restoring power till its fuel ran out. Hostages were seen in the second floor windows, holding hand-lettered signs written in Spanish, English, German, and Japanese. “No food. No water. The hostages.” Other signs called for a resumption of telephone service and electricity.

Then a convoy of Red Cross trucks arrived, bearing 500 liter water tanks, apples, chicken, medicine, toilet paper, and bologna and cheese sandwiches. The MRTA allowed the hostages to give hand-written messages to the ICRC personnel, to be passed on to their families. And they permitted the installation of sixteen portable toilets in the compound. Giampietri watched as the rebels commandeered two thermoses of hot coffee, which they carried into their downstairs operations centre. Both contained listening devices: tiny radio mikes. This was the first of multiple surveillance penetrations of the residence.

The MRTA waited till after the hostages had eaten, in case the food or drink was drugged. Per Giampietri, the rebels demanded extra portions of food, “so as to confuse the government as to their numbers”. They would continue to eat double rations thereafter, growing fat and lethargic, he claimed. But they were not lethargic now. After they ate, Cerpa sent a note, via Minnig of the ICRC, to the President, asking him to reciprocate and free some of the MRTA prisoners – first and foremost, Peter Cardenas. Fujimori promptly replied, via Minnig. He insisted that the rebels release more hostages first.

At seven thirty, the MRTA did so. They opened the gates and let out thirty-eight more hostages: politicians and journalists. Congressman Javier Diez Canseco, bathed in TV lights, read a statement from the remaining 180 prisoners. It urged the government to rule out any military intervention. “We find ourselves in an extremely difficult and delicate situation. A peaceful solution is complicated but indispensable. A military attack “not only would cost many lives, but would leave deeper wounds.” Needless to say, Giampietri detested Diez Canseco, whom he viewed as a liberal appeaser of terrorists. He reported that Diez Canseco, grandstanding as he was led to safety, promised to return the next day, at one in the afternoon.

Alfredo Torres, the director of a polling firm, Apoyo, was one of the group of freed hostages. Before he left the residence, Torres surveyed his fellow prisoners with an impromptu opinion poll regarding their situation. Clearly, this was a poll taken under extreme duress: several hostages refused to participate. He released the results of his poll on his release:

How would you rate the treatment you’ve received from MRTA?

Very good: 0%

Good: 78%

Average: 21%

Bad: 0%

Very bad: 0%

Undecided: 1%

What troubles you most about the situation?

The uncertainty: 80%

Living conditions: 8%

Lack of communication with family: 3%

Condition of the bathrooms: 7%

Food: 2%

What do you think the government should do?

Negotiate: 95%

Attack: 0%

Undecided: 5%

Do you think MRTA is a terrorist or guerrilla movement?

Terrorist: 50%

Guerrilla: 41%

Undecided: 9%

In general, the answers were positive. The clients had few complaints about the food and wanted a negotiated settlement! But the response to the last question preoccupied Cerpa and his fellow rebels. It was the MRTA’s ardent contention that they were not terrorists; they were legitimate combatants in a guerrilla war against a corrupt despotism. Thus they differentiated themselves from Sendero, and from the police and military. But why did it matter what their enemies called them?

According to one definition, a guerrilla fighter’s targets are military ones, while a terrorist deliberately targets civilians. By this definition the Edgar Sanchez Special Forces were both guerrillas and terrorists. The captured generals and police were military. But the diplomats and businessmen were victims of a terrorist kidnapping. According to another definition, guerrilla warfare is violent action taken within the normally accepted rules and procedures of international law, whereas the violence in terrorism is directed against civilians, and the terrorist’s goal is publicity. The MRTA had concrete goals, yet seeking publicity was also part of the plan. This was a political, more than a military, action. A third distinction between guerrillas and terrorists proposes that the former occupy physical territory, whereas the latter do not. The MRTA’s plan was to free their comrades and decamp to the Amazon jungle. Presumably they controlled territory there, or believed that they did. Or did they?

That evening, in a garage a couple of blocks away, agents of the SIN began the excavation of a narrow tunnel, in the direction of the residence.


21 DECEMBER 1996

According to Aoki, the MRTA began each day at six, singing what he considered their lugubrious and sombre revolutionary hymn. The Red Cross provided breakfast at six thirty: bread, cheese, and jam. A Japanese institute had sent 600 rations of instant ramen, which fascinated the guerrillas. The rebels gathered again at eight, received instructions from Cerpa, and sang more hymns. Then they did exercises and jogged along the corridors, while the hostages did the cleaning. There were already tensions among the hostages. In his memoir, the Ambassador remarked that he never saw Tudela do any cleaning.

That morning, Tudela was giving an interview, via a guerrilla radio. He complained about the absence of communication between the government and the MRTA. Tudela urged the government to examine the MRTA’s demands “deeply and with reflection.” He and several other hostages had been struck by the obvious impasse – the rebels’ inflexible demands and Fujimori’s intransigence – and come up with a proposed “political alternative.” This they gave to the MRTA and forwarded via the ICRC to Fujimori and the foreign ministers of other impacted nations. Their proposal called for both sides to embrace dialogue and negotiation as a means of resolving the larger crisis of the nation; to negotiate the demilitarization of the conflict; and to discuss the possibilities of reducing jail sentences and freeing prisoners. It laid out a concrete plan for the liberation of the hostages, the safe passage of the MRTA commando out of Peru, and subsequently a new negotiation to find a political solution to the violence which had devastated much of the country.

The proposal received little attention. Fujimori rejected it at once; the MRTA was unwilling to give up the liberation of its prisoners. This was a compromise no one liked – and yet, in retrospect, it was a route to ending the occupation without bloodshed, and and to a possible defusing of the wider conflict. Javier Diez Canseco supported it. He later observed that Fujimori, Montesinos, and army general Nicolas Hermoza Rios were all committed to a military solution, while the rebels overestimated their position, and the possibility of success.

Diez Canseco did not return to the residence. At one that afternoon, according to Giampietri, it became a standing joke among the hostages for someone to call out, “What time is it?” “One o’clock!” someone replied. And a chorus of voices would yell, “Has Javier returned yet? Where’s Javier?” In a TV interview, Diez Canseco warned that the rebels were well armed and carried dynamite and plastic explosives, and cautioned against a violent resolution. “I’m saying this so that the North Americans will understand.”

A Red Cross spokesman said that the organization was “quite preoccupied” by the pitch darkness in the residence. “This has to be solved. The lack of electricity has a destabilizing effect on the hostages, and it can be a real security problem.” He complained that the government refused to supply fuel for the diesel generator, and would not restore the water supply.

After the evening meal, Cerpa sent Fujimori a message via his negotiator, Palermo, suggesting a mutual release of hostages and MRTA prisoners. Fujimori refused, telling Palermo not to encourage any more hostage releases. “We want to keep the numbers up, so that he’ll have problems of control.” The President proceeded to give a TV address to the nation, in which he denounced the MRTA as terrorists. He offered no deal. He told them to lay down their arms and let the hostages go.

According to Giampietri, that night the rebels abused the hostages, and resumed the execution drills.


22 DECEMBER 1996

Sunday. According to the English language press, “tens of thousands” of Peruvians marched to the Residence to demand the hostages’ release. Peruvian media reported a march of several hundred San Isidro residents. Dressed in white and green, the protesters were stopped a block from the building, by police. There was no response from within. In Rome, Pope John Paul II condemned the rebels. He told a group of pilgrims, “I ask that the Lord illuminates the minds and converts the hearts of those responsible for such a deplorable action.”

Jesuit priest Juan Julio Wicht, a hostage, held mass on the spiral staircase of the residence. Per Giampietri, the chalice and crucifix were both bugged. Meanwhile another hostage, former labour minister Sandro Fuente, announced via megaphone that the MRTA would release 255 more captives. “We are releasing everyone who has nothing to do with the government,” he read. The process of calling out names and separating the hostages into groups again was time-consuming. It was not until nine in the evening that a fleet of buses pulled up in front of the mansionh, and the hostages were released. Many of the departing hostages wished the rebels luck and shook hands with them. Some asked Cerpa for his autograph. Among those freed were a number of Americans, including Embassy political officer James Wagner, economic officer John Riddle, senior narcotics officer John Crowe, and several US AID employees. Wicht, the priest, declined to be liberated. He asked for Oscar Mavila, a car dealer, to be freed in is place. The rebels agreed.

An Austrian diplomat, Artur Schuschnigg, praised the “impressive discipline” of the guerrillas. He said that the two women rebels were 15 and 16 years old. Other released captives reported that the women complained they missed watching a Mexican telenovela, Maria del Barrio, having become addicted to the show while waiting long months in a safe house for the action to begin. “I have some respect for the calm with which they handled the situation,” said Andre Deschenes, co-director of a Canadian development group. “They are obviously professionals in what they do and believe in what they do deeply.” Kieran Metcalfe, director general of the Cominco mining company, agreed: “At no time did they lose their cool.”

The release was a setback for Fujimori’s plan to stress the rebels with an excess of prisoners. As the buses left, power in the adjoining streets went out. The remaining hostages feared an attack was imminent. Michael Minnig, of the Red Cross, volunteered to spend the night with them, to allay their fears.

106 hostages remained: government-affiliated individuals, the ambassadors of Bolivia and Uruguay, Japanese industrialists, and the unfortunate Pedro Fujimori, brother of the President.


23 DECEMBER 1996

In Tokyo, Takeo Nishioka, general secretary of the Shinshinto Party, criticized Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto for telling Yukihiko Ikeda to return from Peru. Nishioka said the foreignminister “should have stayed a bit longer” in Lima so he could make unspecified political decisions. All political parties expressed their support for the government’s stance that the safety of the hostages was paramount.

A Japanese government spokesman dismissed as baseless a report in London’s Independent newspaper that the MRTA was demanding a ransom for the remaining hostages.


24 DECEMBER 1996

At last, there was progress on the prisoner front. In Uruguay, an appeals court denied a Peruvian extradition request, and freed two MRTA militants, Sonia Rivera and Luis Samaniego. The two had been in custody for over a year, having entered the country on false Bolivian passports, and were accused by the Peruvian authorities of masterminding the kidnapping of a Bolivian businessman. Immediately Cerpa and co. responded, releasing Tabare Bocaldandro Yapeyu, the Uraguayan ambassador. The ambassador, head bowed and wearing a rumpled navy suit, was taken away in a police car.

As Bocalandro left, the Red Cross arrived, bringing a Christmas Eve dinner, holiday cards, sacramental wine and wafers. A guitar containing a tiny microphone and transmitter was given to the hostages. It broadcast audio to a receiver 100 meters away.


25 DECEMBER 1996

Christmas day. Around noon, Keiko Fujimori, the President’s daughter, showed up with eight roast turkeys As usual, the food was cold by the time it has been inspected by the police and MRTA. Michael Minnig of the Red Cross arrived with Juan Luis Cipriani, the Archbishop of Ayacucho. Cipriani was a member of the far right Opus Dei, and a close associate of Fujimori. Nevertheless, the rebels allowed him to enter the residence, and conduct Christmas prayers. To everyone’s surprise, Cipriani engaged with the rebels, and after prayers spent several hours in conversation with Cerpa, Tito, Salvador, and Rojas.

Ambassador Aoki remembered the scene differently. He reported that another archbishop, Augusto Vargas Alzamora, visted the hostages, and that Cerpa fell to his knees before him. Vargas was Vargas Llosa’s cousin, and an enemy of Fujimori. Did rival archbishops visit on Christmas Day? And why had Minnig brought Cipriani? Apparently he hoped to get the MRTA to agree that Cipriani supplement Palermo as a negotiator. Minnig had pitched this to Cerpa before, and Cerpa had refused. “That reactionary son of a bitch? Absolutely not. Anybody but him.” But their long talk apparently changed his mind.

Cipriani left the mansion with another freed hostage – a Japanese diplomat. Tito settled down to read all the letters the hostages had just written to their loved ones. He read slowly. After he was satisfied, the letters would be passed on to the ICRC, who would give them to the police, to read.

These rebels. Beside the two girls, who confessed their addiction to soap operas, the media had focused on the four most prominent rebels. The others were described as athletic, campesinos, “from the jungle”. Who were they? Ironically, the writer who describes the MRTA in the most individual detail is the one who detested them the most: Giampietri. In his book about the incident, the General described the MRTA team thus:

NESTOR CERPA – HUERTA Says he was formerly a member of Sendero Luminoso and M-19 in Colombia. Became political and military leader after the arrest of Victor Polay. Responsible for numerous bank robberies, kidnappings, and assassinations, mastermind of the Canto Grande escape and the aborted raid on Congress.

ROLY ROJAS – EL ARABE Friendly with the hostages, studied sociology at university, joined MRTA after graduating. Allegedly trained by Hizbollah; wears his MRTA bandanna like a burnoose. Always pleased to talk of the Canto Grande escape.

EDUARDO CRUZ – TITO “Intelligent, astute and persuasive”. Soft-spoken, cynical, avoids eye contact. Allegedly raised by Liberation Theology Jesuits. “The revolutionary conscience of the group, the political commissar, the worst ideologue.”

SALVADOR Military leader and best-prepared. Told Giampieteri he had been a corporal in the marines, with expert badges for marksmanship. Drills the MRTA in military exercises and rehearsals. Disposed to violence; apt to knock Gumucio to his knees.

CONE – EL PALESTINO “A crazed narcissist who was continually looking at himself in mirrors.” Practices marksmanship at imaginary targets, while talking to himself. Brutal in the early days, calmer later. Charged with killing TUDELA if necessary.

“22” Mid-twenties, tall, muscular. “Obviously a weight lifter and obviously on the precipice of insanity.” Claims to have beheaded policemen and eaten their hearts in the jungle. Near the end, he bleaches his hair with peroxide, then denies he’s done it, and wears dark glasses.

MARCOS A teenage recruit who follows CERPA everywhere. “CERPA was fond of the boy.”

ROLANDO, LUCAS (GATO SECO), EL MEXICANO, and ALEX Late teens or early 20s, short and dark, from the Amazon jungle, speaking a mixture of Indian dialect, Spanish, and Portugese.

LUZ MELENDEZ CUEVA – BERTA or MELISA Early 20s, reserved, lover of TITO. Constantly running errands for him.

GIOVANNA VILAS PLACENCIA – LA GRINGA Sixteen, girlfriend of GATO SECO, with whom she has frequent sex in the corridors. Also involved, perhaps platonically, with one of the young Japanese hostages.

Giampietri’s list only includes 13 MRTA members. Did he forget one? Still, it contains the most distinctive descriptions of the rebels. It makes some of them sound like Hollywood movie villains. It may not all be true, and it isn’t the whole story. The Admiral perhaps didn’t know, or care, that most of the MRTA commando had family members or loved ones in jail. La Gringa’s brother, Juan Carlos, was an imprisoned MRTA militant. So were two of Roly Rojas’ six siblings. So was Cerpa’s partner, Nancy Gilvonio Conde. Their mission wasn’t simply one of principle, or revolutionary fervour. It was also personal.

Cerpa had pulled off kidnappings before. He had negotiated their successful outcomes. According to some sources, he had been ejected from Sendero for trying to negotiate a merger between it and the MRTA. Nine days into the mission, nothing yet suggested it might fail.

On Sunday, 28 December – DAY 12 – Domingo Palermo, Fujimori’s negotiator, entered the mansion for the first time. He was accompanied by Minnig and Cipriani. Cerpa, seated in an armchair in the grand ballroom, supposedly harangued them for an hour. Three hours of discussion followed. Afterwards, the MRTA released another twenty hostages, and a communique in which they asked media and politicians to stop “calling us a terrorist or genocidal gang” and “comparing us with Sendero Luminoso, an organization which we have condemned repeatedly for its use of irrational violence.”

In response, Fujimori issued a press release of his own, stating that Cerpa’s and Palermo’s meeting was not a negotiation. “The President of Peru does not negotiate with terrorists. These are merely conversations.”

On new year’s eve – DAY 15 – a group of journalists managed to gain entry to the residence, and Cerpa gave them an interview. “I don’t see an immediate solution… We are not in a hurry.” According to the LA Times, the mansion was pervaded by the smell of rotting fruit left over from the reception, garbage, and human waste. According to Giampietri, a police agent disguised as a reporter gave Cerpa a camera, film, and a radio with which he could contact “the station”.

On 1 January 1997 – DAY 16 – the MRTA released seven more hostages. This was the last big hostage release. The hostage numbers reported by the media continued to fluctuate: by some counts there were 75 hostages now, or 73, or 72. Following a brainstorming session with Montesinos, the President had seized upon a new attack plan: the army would descend via helicopters, through the residence skylights. He visited Naoko Aoki, the Ambassador’s wife, to grill her about the layout of the skylights above the stairs. She could remember nothing about them. But she provided him with a complete set of blueprints of the mansion.

The blueprints would enable a full-size replica to be constructed at a secret miliary base, for training puroses. Meanwhile, in a walled building site in San Isidro, sixty miners from the mining town of Oruro began the first of three daily shifts, digging a new, ambitious tunnel system which would undermine the Residence and its grounds.

The days passed. Several hostages started giving classes. Congressman Eduardo Pando gave two levels of Spanish conversation to the Nikkei. Congressman Samuel Matsuda taught Japanese to the Peruvians – including several guerrillas. Aoki reported that, during the occupation, Tito learned to read and write hiragana and katakana, and to speak Japanese. Cerpa, whose mother and sons had political asylum in France, took French lessons from DINCOTE general Carlos Dominguez.

Every morning, the rebels gathered at six, and Cerpa asked them the purpose of their mission. “The liberation of the MRTA prisoners!” they replied in unison. Then revolutionary songs were sung.

Aoki decided to risk a daily cocktail hour. His residence was well-supplied with booze, and his first secretary, Mimura Haruo, was appointed bartender. Haruo served whiskey, cognac, gin, vodka, and Okinawa bandy. Whiskey was the preferred beverage. If you arrived promptly, you could manage three drinks before the ICRC served dinner. The Ambassador reported no drunkenness, and that he personally lost weight and became healthier during his captivity.

Rumours came and went about ransom demands. The MRTA denied that they were seeking any ransom. Fujimori insisted that the rebels were seeking to extort money from Japanese corporations. Newspapers reported that American satellites and spy planes were using infra-red photography to track the movements of the rebels in the building, and the placement of their mines. El Espreso reported that Cerpa considered a ground attack most likely, but had not ruled out one from the air.

Palermo dangled a couple of initiatives, including a negotiation commission which would include Cipriani. But it was always easy to make the MRTA suspend the dialogue; all Fujimori had to do was issue a press release. On 21 January 1997 – DAY 36 – the MRTA ordered a dozen Japanese hostages to sleep on the ground floor, supposedly as a shield against a military attack. The hostages heard the sound of digging beneath the floor. For several days thereafter the military flew helicopters overhead while armoured vehicles violated the ICRC’s “neutral zone” around the residence. The Red Cross suspended the provision of food and water to the hostages for four hours, in protest. The police also staged simulated night attacks, with further helicopter overflights.

On DAY 40, one of the hostages claimed he was suffering heart pain. This was Colonel Jose Rivas, deputy chief of the Peruvian National Police. A doctor, accompanied by Minnig and Cipriani, entered the Residence and diagnosed a probable heart attack. Rivas must go immediately to hospital for further tests, he said. At this point, Cerpa called bullshit. He thought the Colonel was faking it, and declared, “If anyone dies here, his blood will be on Fujimori’s hands!” Tito, Salvador and El Arabe were in agreement: Rivas must stay. But stern words from the Archbishop caused them to reverse their decision. Rivas was released next day. Cerpa ordered the remaining hostages into the foyer and yelled at them, “If one more of you sons of bitches gets sick, you’re going to die right here!” The rebels already regretted their decision. They felt sure the Colonel was far from sick, and already providing his fellow cops with information on the number of guerrillas (the newspapers still reported that there were twenty of them), their weapons, logistical support, and daily routines. They were almost certainly right.

A day later – DAY 42 – the police installed massive speakers outside the residence and began blasting the building with military marches. All this – like the helicopter overflights and fake attacks – was intended to cover the sound of the ongoing tunneling. Meanwhile, four or five dump trucks made nightly visits to the construction site in San Isidro, carting away quantities of earth, and Fujimori engaged in a series of foreign travels. He arrived in Toronto on DAY 47 to meet with the Japanese prime minister, then heading on to Washington DC for a meeting with President Clinton. Clinton praised the Peruvian president for “skillfully walking a very fine line … between resolving this crisis peacefully without giving in to terror.” In a press conference, Fujimori stated that he had discussed the possibility of Cuban asylum for the guerrillas… with the Canadians.

Suddenly, Canada and its ambassador, Anthony Vincent, were involved. In secret, a group of Canadian Joint Task Force II commandos was dispatched to Lima, with instructions to prepare a surprise attack on the MRTA. There, they “armed themselves with local resources.” The plan was for Ambassador Vincent to guarantee the MRTA safe passage to Cuba, and for the Canadian commandos to ambush (and presumably kill) the rebels when they boarded a Canadian Airbus.

DAY 50 – Tuesday, 4 February – began with the MRTA firing six shots into the air, to commemorate the victims of the police attack on the Cromotex strikers. The killings had occurred eighteen years ago to the day, and were still fresh in the mind of Cerpa, the organizer of the strike. One of the criticisms levelled against Palermo as a negotiator was that he viewed Cerpa as a disgruntled trade union representative, and treated him like an employee. Each side, as a result, hardened its position. In an attempt to bridge the gap between Palermo and Cerpa, a new mediator group appeared, calling itself the Commission of Guarantors, and consisting of Cipriani, Minnig, and the Canadian ambassador, Vincent. A house across the street from the residence was selected and furnished to facilitate the negotiations. It was swept by explosives experts, and fortified with sandbags. Meanwhile, waltzes and Afru-Peruvian music replaced the military marches on the police’s speakers – still played at maximum volume.

On DAY 57, a Red Cross vehicle drove Roly Rojas across the street to the house where the negotiations were to occur. There, he met Palermo, the Commission of Guarantors, and Japan’s observer and ambassador to Mexico, Terusuke Terada. Nestor Cerpa was also present, via closed circuit TV and a direct phone line. The talks went nowhere. The MRTA insisted on freedom for their imprisoned members. Palermo said the government would not consider this. While Cipriani counseled Cerpa to be more patient, El Arabe ended the dialogue and returned to the Residence. The talks continued in this fashion on DAYS 60 and 61. Rojas insisted on freedom for 371 prisoners. Palermo proposed in response that the MRTA commando should leave Peru for another country. Talks broke down again, and the next day La Republica published details of a secret Army plan to storm the mansion “should talks falter.” The attack would take place by night, from helicopters. It was anticipated that three quarters of the hostages would die, and all but one of the guerrillas.

As the ongoing tunneling attested, there was no such plan. The leak was a feint, designed to deceive and disorient the guerrillas. But it had clearly been coordinated with the Americans. A US embassy spokesman told reporters, “We are not advocating the use of force… but if the Peruvian government were to ask us for helicopters, surveillance equipment, or Spanish-speaking commandos, we would definitely consider such a request.”

Talks resumed on DAY 66, this time between Palermo and Cerpa, face to face. The rebel leader was accompanied by Roly Rojas. Palermo was partnered with a member of the SIN. Cerpa and Rojas rejected the offer of a flight to Cuba, and insisted that they would take the hostages to the Peruvian Amazon. Before that, the MRTA prisoners must be liberated. Stalemate again. Further talks were postponed to DAY 70. As Cerpa and Rojas were driven across the street by the Red Cross, the rebels played a revolutionary anthem and chanted slogans. “We are the ones who have taken the residence! Until death, damn it!” Cipriani proposed that the government free 85 MRTA prisoners, in return for the release of the hostages. Palermo responded that the government would consider pardoning a certain number of prisoners. No names were specified. Cerpa asked to communicate directly with the MRTA prisoners. The government would not agree to this. After the meeting, the Commission of Guarantors made a statement. Both sides had met “in a cordial atmosphere”, and broached “important issues.” A sixth round of negotiations would be held next day. Cipriani read the statement in Spanish; Vincent read it in English.

Fujimori was in the jungle town of Mazamari at the time. He gave a brief statement, emphasizing that he would release no prisoners, and that the police and security personnel who had allowed the rebels to invade the residence would be identified, and punished. The next day the guerrillas rejected the Guarantors’ proposal. Fifty-five freed prisoners wasn’t enough. Speaking for the government, Palermo said that MRTA leaders like Victor Polay could not be released, and that the release of lower-ranking prisoners could not be simultaneous with the liberation of the hostages. This was a response designed to insult and infuriate the guerrillas, and prolong the crisis.

The seventh negotiation occurred on 27 February – DAY 73. The rebels again asked to contact their imprisoned comrades, and for ICRC visits with the prisoners – suspended since DAY 2 of the siege – to be resumed. Palermo said the government would think about it. The meeting ended early. Cerpa remarked as he left that they weren’t getting anywhere. Back at the mansion, Rojas told Giampietri – of all people – how frustrated he felt. “In the meetings we talk, tell jokes, and make friends. But there’s no progress at all.” Cerpa complained to a group of hostages that Fujimori was the only one who made decisions, and that he never attended the talks. In Fujimori’s absence, Cerpa threatened to stop negotiating.

More days passed. The guerrillas chanted that they didn’t care how long it took. But they did. Captivity was wearing down the captives, and their captors. Some of the younger rebels told the hostages that they’d expected the siege to last no more than two weeks. That was what they had prepared for. One hostage said he found La Gringa crying. He asked her what was wrong. She told him she missed her family, and wanted to go home.

In March, Giampietri received a Bible containing – or course! – a hidden microphone, with which he was able to deliver “real-time intel.” At some point he advised Aoki that he and his military colleagues were planning an escape. Aoki became very upset, and a shouting match ensued. He apologised next day, and asked not to be included in any further plans for a break-out. The Admiral says a breach developed among the hostages; the Peruvians formed an escape committee, he wrote, while the Japanese and Japanese-Peruvian hostages opposed the project. According to Giampietri, the only Nikkei who joined the escape committee was Pedro Fujimori. Francisco Tudela, for all Giampietri’s dislike of him, was also on the escape team.

The Admiral reports that he and other hostages were subjected to mock trials and threatened with execution at the hands of “Twenty-Two”. Giampietri was brought before the MRTA leaders (one imagines in Aoki’s office, in front of a big desk with bookcases behind them … but perhaps the bookcases were all gone, having been used to block the downstairs doors and windows). He was accused of being the chief of naval operations, and ordering the murder of MRTA members. Giampietri denied this. He told them he had been a naval attache to the Peruvian embassy in Washington, when the killings occurred. Cerpa left the room. Salvador, Tito, and the designated executioner, Twenty-Two, scowled at him. Then Roly Rojas asked him a question: “When you were in the United States, did you ever visit Disneyland or Disney World?” Cerpa returned with Colonel Orlando Denegri, who confirmed Giampetri’s status as chief of naval operations. Somehow this satisfied Cerpa, and the trail was over.

The rebels had taken to moving the hostages from room to room. Now the practice ended. Henceforth, the highest-profile hostages, including Tudela, Aoki, Gumucio, Giusti, and Pedro Fujimori, would sleep in what they ironically called the VIP room. On DAY 77, the eighth meeting between Palermo and the MRTA went nowhere, and Fujimori diverted his executive jet to Cuba. There he was greeted with full honours by Fidel Castro, and the two met for several hours in the Presidential Palace. Castro agreed to accept the rebels as political refugees, as long as the MRTA, the governments of Peru, Canada, and Japan, the Guarantors, and the Vatican all formally requested it.

“Resistance! Resistance to the end!” the MRTA chanted in a radio transmission. At the ninth meeting, Cerpa turned down a flight to the Dominican Republic – “a country which oppresses its people” – and criticized Fujimori’s Cuba trip as a distraction. The MRTA’s priority remained “to stay in our own homeland… to fight on the side of our people.” Then Cerpa suspended the talks. He shared his reason with the Guarantors: increasing concern – among the guerrillas and the hostages – about the tunneling. He invited them to visit the residence, and all three turned up within minutes – Cipriani, Minnig, and Vincent (interestingly, an Agence France Presse report of this incident refers to Anthony Vincent not as Canadian Ambassador, but as “an anti-terrorism expert”). As helicopters buzzed the mansion, the three left without comment. The MRTA ordered all hostages to the second floor. Via radio, Cerpa insisted that the Guarantors agreed with the MRTA’s assessment: that the residence had been comprehensively undermined, in preparation for a military assault. Minnig spent the next day with the hostages, while Vincent and Cipriani met with Fujimori. The President assured them that he remained committed to a peaceful solution, as long as hostages stayed healthy. “The state, in consequence, will remain alert at all times.”

Government negotiator Palermo took offence at recent interviews by Cerpa, and began threatening foreign journalists with arrest and deportation. A Mexican reporter, told by DINCOTE that they had a cell waiting for him, fled the country. Media reports about the occupation continued to decline in number. On 10 March – DAY 84 – Cerpa, Rojas and the Guarantors showed up for talks, but Palermo did not appear. He sent a message, complaining that “the conditions for resuming the preliminary negotiations are still not sufficiently defined.” Fujimori issued a statement blaming the MRTA, and insisting that “both sides need a period of reflection.”

The MRTA went back to nightly rehearsals of the execution of the hostages. “If they attack us,” Cerpa warned his captives, “No one’s getting out alive.” Ambassador Gumucio would later claim that the guerrillas’ drills included their own suicides. It was reported that Cerpa now slept surrounded by hostages, watched by one of the guerrillas throughout the night. The women rebels shared their own room. Tito and El Mexicano patrolled the passages and shone flashlights on Pedro Fujimori.

Pedro’s brother the President gave an interview, in which he promised to pursue the path of peace, then lurched into another violent fantasy: “I will not say if there is a tunnel, or several tunnels; I will not say if there are air-transported commandos ready, or if we have commandos who could work with paralyzing gas or other methods… I neither confirm nor deny anything…”

On 12 March – DAY 86 – Cerpa and Palermo embarked on the tenth negotiation. Neither gave any ground. Afterwards, Cipriani said there had been “small advances.” The MRTA and the government’s negotiator never met again. A week later, the rebels received a letter from Fidel Castro, urging them to abandon the liberation of the prisoners, and to seek refuge in Cuba. The Commission of Guarantors announced that it had formed a working group, which had begun visiting prisons to check on the status of MRTA prisoners. According to the National Penitentiary Institute, there was a total of 456 sentenced MRTA prisoners.

La Republica reported that the Guarantors were planning to offer the rebels a multi-million dollar ransom for the hostages. Instead, they approached Cerpa with a list of 271 MRTA prisoners, and asked him to select ten names. The government would then release five. In response, Cerpa demanded freedom for all 271 prisoners. According to Aoki, during Easter Week the government actually shifted position, and proposed a solution, in four parts. The MRTA would leave for Cuba, with two freed prisoners; the Guarantors would supervise the improvement of the other prisoners’ conditions; an independent human rights commission would study possible releases or reduced sentences for the prisoners; and, in due course, the MRTA could return to Peru as legitimate politicians. To Aoki’s dismay, the rebels rejected the plan in its entirety. The Ambassador concluded that they simply lacked the capacity to negotiate. They had a finely-worked plan to get into the residence, but no plan to get out. When the government rejected their initial demands, the rebel leaders had been unable to agree upon a response. As the weeks went by, things did not improve. Fujimori had remained intransigent, and the rebels could not reach a decision. Aoki felt that Cerpa’s priority was to free his wife. Rojas seemed to have given up his faith in the MRTA, and was hoping to start a hardware store, somewhere abroad.

26 March 1997 was DAY 100. The MRTA replied to Fidel Castro’s letter, stating that they would not abandon their demand to have their prisoners freed. Frustrated by the breakdown in the talks, Hashimoto called Fujimori, and urged him to release some prisoners. It was the last time the two spoke, before the resolution of the crisis. Fujimori reiterated his position the next day: he would release no prisoners. Cipriani visited the residence, and Cerpa told him once again that the prisoners had to be released. Worried that his team were out of shape, Cerpa encouraged them to engage in games of five-a-side football in the ballroom. At first a couple of hostages played with them. But the rebels were much fitter, and before long the MRTA only played against themselves. The ICRC provided a soccer ball, jerseys, shorts and sneakers. But when the MRTA requested warmer clothes – they had not planned for a long occupation, and the coastal winter was cold and damp – their request was denied.

According to the press, Nancy Gilvonio Conde was transferred from a mountain prison to Callao Naval Base, supposedly as a concession to the MRTA. “It is completely false”, a spokesman for the National Penitentiary Institute told Agence France Presse. “There has been no transfer.” Via the Red Cross, Cerpa sent a verbal message to his companera, asking her to “understand the underlying reason for the seizure of the residence,” and saying she would always be in his heart. In Lima, the crackdown continued. Diez Canseco was briefly kinapped and interrogated by assailants wearing police uniforms. His car was torched. The editor-in-chief of La Republica was similarly kidnapped and interrogated by assailants who did not steal her purse. Gustavo Saberbein, a former hostage and critic of Fujimori, was attacked by machine gun fire outside his house. The government said common criminals were to blame.

The Guarantors met among themselves for discussions. According to Giampietri, Michael Minnig brought him his lunch one day, and urged him not to proceed with his escape plans. Minnig claimed a breakthrough was at hand. Giampietri, who hated Minnig and considered him “the enemy within”, swore that he would do nothing detrimental to his fellow hostages. On DAY 117, the Commissioners held separate meetings with Palermo and the MRTA. Cipriani and Cerpa came up with a list of 21 MRTA prisoners whose liberation the rebels would accept. The list included Gilvonio, Polay, and the American journalist Lori Berenson. Cipriani took the list to Fujimori, who rejected it entirely. A week later, Cipriani was back, trying again to persuade the rebels to quit the residence and fly to Cuba. He promised he could get Fujimori to liberate Gilvonio. Cerpa told Cipriani he and the other rebel leaders would discuss the matter after he had gone.

It was 19 April 1997 – DAY 124. Cerpa proposed that the leaders take a vote on whether to accept the deal and go to Cuba, or hang on. He voted in favour, the other three voted against. Tito and Salvador were adamant about liberating all the prisoners. Gumucio said he heard Tito declare, “I didn’t leave my family and my crops to come here, sell out, free three or four people, and move to Cuba. I came for my 450.” Roly Rojas was fine with going to Cuba – they had hardware stores there – but he was distrustful of Cerpa’s motives. And he felt it was still too early to leave.

How could Rojas and his colleagues have misjudged things so? They had planned for this operation to be over in fourteen days. Everyone was exhausted, depressed, and saw no end in sight. I’m sure one of the rebels carried, in his or her backpack, a book by the Peruvian revolutionary, Hugo Blanco – Land or Death. Blanco had been a legendary rebel of the 1960s, in the Castro style, with a lot of hair, a beard, and much charisma. Those were different times, and even after he was captured and imprisoned, Blanco was permitted to write and publish books of revolutionary thought.

Regarding the duration of an action, Blanco wrote, “The urban strike, though it hurts the employer, also means a sacrifice by the workers. Generally, if it is not widened, the longer it lasts, the weaker it tends to become.” Blanco was writing about a strike, like Cerpa’s Cromotex action. If a strike needed to be short and swift, how about a hostage-taking? “The longer it lasts, the weaker it tends to become.”

Blanco stressed that mass actions were the route to success. He cautioned against “the substitution of audacious actions by a courageous group for mass actions.” Yet what was the MRTA’s occupation of the mansion but an audacious action, by a small courageous group, backed by no mass movement at all? In Blanco’s view, such an action, especially if it dragged on, was doomed to fail. “The party is not a collection of exceptional individuals who can substitute themselves for the action of the masses.”

Indeed not. Cerpa and Rojas and all the rebels might have been exceptional individuals (Tito, who learned written and spoken Japanese during the occupation, seemingly was). But there were only fourteen of them. The masses hadn’t been inspired to follow their example. They controlled no territory. Their comrades remained in jail. Near the end of his book, Hugo Blanco observed, morosely, that “the masses still do not have the leadership that their courage deserves.”

And what if the MRTA had agreed? Would Fujimori have let them fly away to Cuba, with a trophy prisoner or two? Or would that commando team have been waiting to ambush and dispatch them, aboard the Air Canada jet?

So the rebels and the hostages went back to doing… not very much. Enthusiasm for language classes and economics lectures had waned. The guerrillas sat around doing puzzles, with their rifles lying on the floor. In the afternoon, most of them played fulbito in the ballroom. Cerpa wrote a letter to his two sons. “I’m especially in solidarity with your mother, because you need her by your side, and there’s no other way to get her out of prison.” The boys were ten and three years old.

On Sunday, 20 April – DAY 125 – Giampetri, Tudela and the escape committee decided it was time to break out. They had the key to a locked, barred door on the second floor. If they could make make it down the steps and avoid the land mines, they could reach the outer wall… At nine a.m., Colonel Fernandez started getting messages on his pager. Code words for locations within the building – FIRST FLOOR HELL – SECOND FLOOR HEAVEN – SPIRAL STAIRCASE PURGATORY. The hostages, rescuers and rebels were all given code names. Giampietri texted back, asking if this was a drill. After five minutes a reply came – DRILL. GO THROUGH SEQUENCE. OPEN DOOR. Giampietri did not believe it was a drill. During the course of the day he and Fernandez sent more than eighty messages to whoever was out there. They received few replies. Convinced the “drill” hadn’t started, they didn’t open the door.

Cerpa suspected that the doctors who attended the hostages were carrying secret messages for them. He decided to clamp down on this. Henceforth, he announced, medical visits would be weekly, not daily.

According to an interview Fujimori later gave to the New York Times, this was the day he ordered his commandos to take their positions in the tunnels beneath the mansion. He described the tunnels as four feet wide, and said they were ventilated, and very comfortable. The next morning, he called Cipriani, who had been planning to visit the residence, and told him to stay away. Cipriani sent a message to the rebels that he had a stomach ache. He still didn’t know that they had rejected his proposal. Surveillance reports in the afternoon advised Fujimori that Cerpa and two other leaders had not joined in the fulbito game. The attack was postponed.

DAY 127

22 April 1997

At six, the MRTA gathered in the ground floor hall for exercises and chants. Cerpa led the refrain: “One month is nothing! Two months is nothing! A year is nothing!” At nine, the rebels summoned Ambassador Aoki to the ground floor. There, they congratulated him on his wedding anniversary. At one, the ICRC brought lunch: sushi and tempura for the Ambasador, ravioli for the rest. After lunch, Anthony Vincent turned up. In halting Spanish, he addressed the rebels and the hostages, apologizing for Cipriani’s debilitating stomach ache, attempting to assure them that all was well. Giampietri later wrote, “I grew impatient for Vincent to leave so that the soccer would start.” If the Admiral had known of the Canadian plan to murder the rebels aboard the amnesty plane, he might have been more sympathetic to the final visit of the Ambassador/counter-terrorism expert.

At three, Giampietri observed the MRTA assembling downstairs, dressed in their football shirts, shorts and sneakers. He sent a message to the pager recipients, advising them. At three fourteen, a return message came – OPEN THE DOOR. The escape committee unlocked the metal door in the Ambassador’s bedroom, then lay down as if napping.

Fujimori was testifying in a court case brought against him by his former wife when he receive a phone call from Montesinos. His spy chief assured him all the rebels were downstairs. The President gave the go-ahead, and at three-thirty explosives went off below the ballroom, killing the rebels who were playing soccer there. Simultaneously, an army group blew open the Residence’s front doors, and 140 troops and marines stormed the residence, via the tunnels, the entrance, and ladders over the walls.

Cerpa and three football survivors grabbed their weapons and ran up the spiral stairs. They were killed in a crossfire. A surviving rebel entered the second floor room where high-level government hostages were held. He had practiced executing them with a grenade on numerous occasions. “With a look of agony, he lowered his gun, turned around and walked out the door” hostage Rodalfo Munante reported. “He was going to shoot me. He could have done it. But he didn’t.” The guerrilla turned and left the room. Seconds later, he was dead.

Fujimori, wearing a bullet-proof vest, rushed to the residence to be filmed and photographed among the bodies of the dead. It was reported that US Navy Seals or Delta Forces, or UK SAS commandos, had been involed in the raid. Fujimori denied this. In the immediate aftermath, numerous hostages, Peruvian and Japanese, stated that several MRTA rebels had surrendered. Some said that Tito was among them. He was last seen handcuffed, pleading for his life. According to these sources, the security forces marched the surviving guerrillas into the tunnels under the building. None of them emerged alive.

Five years later, after the downfall of Fujimori and Montesinos, the Peruvian Institute of Forensic Anthropology reported that eight of the fourteen guerrillas were shot in the head while physically immobilized. A protected witness stated that Montesinos had ordered the killing of at least two hostages during the “liberation” – supreme court justice Carlos Giusti, and foreign minister Francesco Tudela.

Col. Roberto Huaman Azcurra was assigned the two murders, according to the witness. Huaman succeeded in killing Giusti. But in attempting to kill Tudela, he shot another Colonel, Juan Valer Sandoval, instead. According to another officer, who spoke to La Republica, Huaman was charged with ensuring that all the guerrillas were executed. The executions were carried out by another army Colonel, Jesus Zamudio Aliaga. Huaman headed the National Electronic Division of the SIN. Zamudio was chief of the “Zeus Group” – the military company in charge of Montesinos’ personal security.

Three years after the raid, Fujimori turned against Montesinos. The spy chief was accused of bribery, and selling Russian rifles to a Colombian rebel group. Engulfed in multiple crises, Fujimori fled the country for Japan and saught asylum there. It turned out he had been a Japanese citizen all along, hence never eligible for the Presidency of Peru. Montesinos was arrested in Venezuela and returned to Lima. Fujimori was also extradited to stand trial. Both men are currently in jail.


I signed up for an online discussion of Artificial Intelligence and the audiovidual sector, being run by the US Copyright Office. Somehow I was promoted to being a speaker. So I thought, I’d better take this seriously, and did a little experiment involving “AI software” and my own film, REPO MAN. The Copyright Office session started late and the first two panels ran over time (it was like being back in academia!) so in my little section we were limited to two minutes’ speaking time. These were my words:

My name is Alex Cox. I’m a writer and film director. Among my films are REPO MAN, SID & NANCY, WALKER, and TOMBSTONE RASHOMON. REPO MAN was made in 1983. The film is still under copyright. The copyright is owned by Universal Pictures. I own the US copyright to the original screenplay, sequels and remakes. So, in preparation for this panel I took my film as a test case and asked a friend at CU Boulder if a third party, who was using an AI program, would set his software this task: Write an outline for a feature film, Repo Man on Mars,

He got a response in seconds. It is a copyright litigator’s delight! Not only does the AI-generated document steal the plot, it steals specific sequences, dialogue suggestions, and uses the original character names – Otto Maddox, Bud, Leila, et al… The only substantive change the AI made was to relocate the story from LA to Mars.

The software which did this is called ChatGPT4. When its creators decided to “scrape the internet” so as to “train” or “educate” their program, they hoovered up the script and the film of REPO MAN, together with hundreds of thousands of other scripts, and films, and books, and plays, and pieces of music, and visual works of art. Some of this stuff was in the public domain. Much of it was not. In “scraping the internet” the creators of ChatGPT4 gained access to copyright material without a license. They did not even contact the copyright holders. This isn’t fair use, or fan fiction. It’s corporate theft of property, on an enormous scale.

ChatGPT4 is a project of Open AI. Open AI is a multi-billion-dollar, for-profit corporation. Microsoft owns 49% of it. Another 49% is owned by private investors, one of whom is said to be Elon Musk. When Open AI secretly entered my copyright material into their searchable database, without a contract, for a commercial purpose, they broke the law. By “scraping the internet” the AI companies have engaged in massive copyright theft. This is not a “potential problem of AI.” It is a signifigant, on-going criminal enterprise.

Who has the power to oppose this? In theory, the studios, music companies, and big five publishers should be all over it: they control the copyrights, so aren’t their interests at stake? In fact, I suspect we’re talking about the same corporate interests, the same handful of billionaires. John August of the Writers’ Guild explained why his Guild’s members are on strike. AI portends an artistic dystopia, where a producer can push a button and receive a third-rate manuscript full of stolen material, then hire a lowly-paid writer-technician to fix it and finesse the copyright theft.

Creators and artists look to the US Copyright Office to protect us!


That was what I said, more or less, in my two minutes. Overall I thought the participants in the event fell into two categories: AI grifters, and well-meaning librarian types. The AI grifters clearly hate “legacy” art and artists; they worship electrons and themselves. The librarian types are strangely defeated and apathetic. They know that this is all bullshit, and should be opposed. But they’ve given up before they started. “It isn’t going to be possible to label or identify AI” they say, dejectedly. “It’s in everything people use. It’s in Google, in Google Docs, in Facebook, in your personal home assistant…” Hasn’t it occurred to them that they can do without those things? That alternatives exist? That some things are just stupid, and not worth bothering about? And that others should be hurled into the fiery pit?

Clearly, the oligarchs and their corporations are trying to pull off yet another magical monpoly theft — ironically, of the copyright music and movies owned by the very same oligarchs and corporations, or their next-door neighbours. Thanks to benificent capitalism, a tiny fraction of the money copyrights generate currently trickles down to the artists who created the original material. AI should not be a tool to screw creatives by further denying them their copy rights.

Now, if you seek further suffering, here’s that ChatGPT AI-generated “Repo Man on Mars” outline:


I. Introduction

A. Year 2050: Life on Mars is a reality, and humanity has been living there for a decade.
B. Introduction of Otto Maddox, a 20-something Martian-born man with a rebellious streak, currently working in an Martian supermarket.
C. Otto’s frustrations with his mundane life, desire for excitement and adventure.

II. Discovery

A. Otto gets fired for his rebellious antics.
B. Befriending Bud, a seasoned ‘Repo Man’ working for the Helping Hand Martian Repo Service, who introduces him to the repo business – repossessing vehicles of those who can’t keep up with their payments.
C. Otto’s initial resistance, followed by acceptance after realizing this is his ticket to adventure.

III. Training and Life as a Repo Man

A. Bud trains Otto, teaching him the laws and philosophies of being a Repo Man – “The life of a Repo Man is always intense.”
B. Several adventurous episodes of car repossessions. Otto’s skills and confidence grow.
C. Otto learns about a mysterious “bounty” vehicle with an astronomical reward – a rover said to contain an alien artifact.

IV. The Mysterious Rover and the Artifact

A. Otto crosses paths with Leila, a member of a UFO conspiracy theorist group, who tells him about the alien artifact.
B. Introduction of rival repo men, the Rodriguez brothers, who are also after the bounty vehicle.
C. Otto becomes obsessed with finding the rover, starting a race against time and competition.

V. The Journey and Confrontation

A. Otto and Bud embark on a dangerous journey across Martian terrain, dealing with rival repo men, law enforcement, and the harsh Martian environment.
B. Confrontation between Otto, Bud, and the Rodriguez brothers. Bud gets injured, leaving Otto on his own.

VI. Unveiling the Alien Artifact

A. Otto finds the bounty vehicle, revealing the alien artifact – a device capable of terraforming Mars into a green planet.
B. A stand-off between Otto, Leila (who has been tracking Otto), and the Rodriguez brothers.

VII. Resolution

A. Otto outsmarts the Rodriguez brothers, secures the artifact, and decides to activate it for the greater good.
B. Leila chooses to help Otto, revealing that she has been trying to ensure the artifact doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

VIII. Conclusion

A. Mars begins its rapid terraforming process, shocking the entire colony and causing a frenzy.
B. Otto and Leila, now fugitives, leave Mars in the bounty vehicle, which is revealed to be a spacecraft.
C. Closing with the iconic line, “The life of a Repo Man is always intense” as they embark on their journey into the unknown, leaving a rapidly changing Mars behind.

{If you like listening to podcasts, I just did another one, mostly about the making of REPO MAN, forty years ago this summer, with the Hollywood Reporter.)


Last month I was invited to an event at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. It had been a while since I last attended a rock’n’roll show, but I couldn’t say no to this one, as it was a live performance of the REPO MAN soundtrack – as far as I know, the first one ever. As you might expect, I enjoyed it: much more than I expected. The performances were great, and I was reminded what an excellent score the picture has – perhaps the best of all my films. Not that this has anything to do with me! The soundtrack is a sampler of the amazing energy, irony, and political astuteness of LA punk circa 1984.

The Red Room Orchestra plays REPO MAN (© 2023 Photo by Jakub Mosur)

The band leaders were Marc Capelle and Allyson Baker, who have apparently done this kinda thing before, under the shingle of the Red Room Orchestra. Their chosen location was superb – as you can see form the picture above, it features booths, boxes and balconies, demented quantities of gilt, and looks like it was built around the time Charles Crocker, Leland Stanford and other kindly benefactors of humanity decided to construct the transcontinental railroad. It is a fantastic venue in the middle of absolute destitution: the Tenderloin. I don’t spend a lot of time in our great cities, and one of the reasons is that it makes me sad to see so many homeless people living on the streets. The Tenderloin makes LA or Portland look insipid – it is a literal movie set of wretchedness, with addicts shooting up on the sidewalk, huffing crack on street corners, while poor people root through garbage cans, and the middle class dine in upscale restaurants watching them (or attend punk rock shows).

Tito Larriva plays La Bamba (© 2023 Photo by Jakub Mosur)

But enough of misery! Frolic, Hieronimo! Star of the show was Tito Larriva, co-composer of the original score. I hadn’t seen him in decades but recognised him instantly from afar due to his splendid posture and massive charisma, which bounces off the walls, irradiates the room, and obliges you to stamp your feet and sing. In addition to his theme song, La Bamba, Tito played Hombre Secreto, Flor de Mal, Reel Ten, and my favourite, which circulates through my system to this day, El Clavo y la Cruz.

Tito was far from alone. Joining the Orchestra was original cast member Zander Schloss, who recreated some of his immortal scenes from the film, including the “stop singing” incident, and entertained us with Feelin’ Seven Up, and the Circle Jerks’ popular lounge song, When the Shit Hits the Fan. Zander invited me on stage to tell some lies and recount the story of the Elks Lodge Hall police riot, which it turned out was instigated by Tito’s manager.

Zander’n’Al (© 2023 Photo by Jakub Mosur)

Don’t Zandy and I look like a pair of aged crypto salesmen? Give us your money and we’ll make it disappear … I mean reward you with Non-Fungible Punky Monkey Tokens! Zander was back from a year-long tour with the Jerks. They play very fast these days, and he said it felt good to slow down … a little bit. All the musicians seemed to have brought their favourite instruments. Listening to Tito and Zander discussing their axes, I felt like someone overhearing Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday perusing Buntline Specials and shotguns — especially when they were joined by Billy the Kid, in the form of Adam Dubov. Adam is another Repo veteran, who provided radio voices (“mysterious showers of tiny cubes of ice…”) and impersonated Elvis for Milk Cow Blues.

Adam Dubov, in DuboVision (© 2023 Photo by Jakub Mosur)

Needless to say, these veterans of the film itself were not alone. They were joined by a truly splendid Orchestra which played not only the rock’n’roll material, but also performed the “old style” songs which Harry Dean Stanton listened to on his car radio. Karina Deniké, Dina Macabbee, and Petra Haden performed Rhumboogie and TV Party, while Karina soloed See See Rider and Petra essayed Let’s Have A War.

Zander, Karina, Dina, Petra (© 2023 Photo by Jakub Mosur)

And there were other notable contributers. Blag Dahlia of The Dwarves sang Iggy’s title song; you can see his performance here. And Eugene Robinson, lead singer of the band Buñuel, did a fine version of Sy Richardson’s song Bad Man. I am the author of the Bad Man lyrics, which are based on Sy’s dialogue in the film. Somehow this fact has eluded the rights authorities, but I’m sure BMI and ASCAP will be getting in touch any day now, to sort this out.

Eugene and Zander get down (© 2023 Photo by Jakub Mosur)

There were some veterans in the audience, too: among them producer Jonathan Wacks, musician Dan Wool (who refuses to play live), actors Tod Darling and Linda Jensen, and audio mixer Richard Beggs. But most of the crowd were authentic volunteers, who seemed to have a good time. Afterwards, Tito and Zander expressed a desire to do this again, in the City of Angels, where Repo Man was born. Tito modestly felt we should play the Hollywood Bowl. I called my friend Satya, who lives adjacent to the Bowl and knows about these things. He tells me it seats 200,000 people, and is booked up three years in advance. So maybe its’s not the venue for this year’s Fortieth Anniversary Repo Show.

But who knows? LA is still the home to some of the Repo crew, including Sy and Dick and Miguel and Del and ’em… Maybe Mike of the Suicidals still lives in Santa Monica, and would like to perform his chef-d’oeuvre, Institutionalized, with us. Where does Lee Ving live? Perhaps he can join us, for Let’s Have A War. And what of Iggy? I got an email from him only yesterday: he’s gigging in Chicago, and it’s snowing. Maybe he could come and gig with us in LA, where it never snows! Oh, wait…

Anyone with a decent LA venue is invited to get in touch. And you can do this too! Organize your own Repo Man show, and get the musicians to play some scenes (recommended are ‘stop singing’, and Miller’s and J. Frank’s speeches). Now that the US screenplay rights have reverted to me, you have my permission.


Roger Waters, the old rocker who founded Pink Floyd, has been universally condemned by the Mainstream Media for a speech he made yesterday to the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Outraged headlines suggest that Waters is a stooge of Putler, and an enemy of freedom. I watched his speech and thought it entirely sensible. He spoke from a consistent and intelligent anti-war position – which supports neither NATO, nor Russia, and demands an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine.

I entirely agree with him, deplore the ad-hominem attacks against him, and am pleased to print the entire contents of Waters’ speech here:

Madame/Mr President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I feel profoundly honoured to be afforded this singular opportunity to brief your excellencies today. With your forbearance, I shall endeavour to express what I believe to be the feelings of countless of our brothers and sisters all over the world, both here in NY and across the seas. I shall invite them into these hallowed halls to have their say.

We are here to consider possibilities for peace in war-torn Ukraine, especially in light of the increasing volume of weapons arriving in that unhappy country. Every morning when I sit down at my laptop, I think of our brothers and sisters, in Ukraine and elsewhere, who, through no fault of their own find themselves in dire and often deadly circumstances. Over there, in Ukraine they may be soldiers facing another deadly day at the front, or they may be mothers or fathers facing the awful question how can I feed my child today, or they may be civilians knowing that today the lights will go out, for sure, as they always do in war zones, knowing that there is no fresh water, that there is no fuel for the stove, no blanket, just barbed wire and watch towers and walls and enmity. Or, they may be over here, in a big rich city like NY, here brothers and sisters can still find themselves in dire straights. Maybe, somehow, however hard they worked all their lives, they lost their footing on the slippery tilting deck of the neo-liberal capitalist ship we call life in the city and fell overboard to end up drowning.. Maybe they got sick, or maybe they took out a student loan, maybe they missed a payment, the margins are slim, who knows, but now they live on the street in a pile of cardboard, maybe even within sight of this United Nations building. Anyway, wherever they are, all over the world, war zone or not, together they make up a majority, a voiceless majority. Today I shall endeavor to speak for them.

We the people wish to live. We wish to live in peace in conditions of parity that give us the real opportunity to look after ourselves and our loved ones. We are hard workers and we are ready to work hard. All we need is a fair crack of the whip. Maybe that’s an unfortunate choice of idiom, after five hundred years of imperialism, colonialism, and slavery.

Anyway Please help us.

To help us you may have to consider our predicament, and to do so you may have to take your eye off the ball for a moment, to put your own goals momentarily to one side. What are your goals by the way? And here maybe I direct my inquiries more to the five permanent members of this Council. What are your goals? What is in the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? Bigger profits for war industries? More power globally? A bigger share of the global cake? Is mother earth a cake to be gobbled up? Does not a bigger share of the cake mean less for everyone else? What if today, in this place of safety, we were to look in another direction, to look at our capacity for empathy for instance, to put ourselves in other’s shoes, like, right now, for instance, the shoes of that chap on the other side of this room, or even the shoes of the voiceless majority, if they have any shoes that is.

The Voiceless Majority is concerned that your wars, yes your wars, for these perpetual wars are not of our choosing, that your wars will destroy the planet that is our home, and along with every other living thing we will be sacrificed on the altar of two things, profits from the war to line the pockets of the very, very, few and the hegemonic march of some empire or other towards unipolar world domination. Please reassure us that that is not your vision for there is no good outcome down that road. That road leads only to disaster, everyone on that road has a red button in their briefcase and the further we go down that road the closer the itchy fingers get to that red button and the closer we all get to Armageddon. Look across the room, at this level we’re all wearing the same shoes.

So back to Ukraine. The invasion of Ukraine by The Russian Federation was illegal. I condemn it in the strongest possible terms. Also, The Russian invasion of Ukraine was not “unprovoked”, so I also condemn the provokateurs in the strongest possible terms. There, that’s got that out of the way.

When I wrote this speech yesterday, I included an observation that the power of veto in this council only lay in the hands of its permanent members, I was concerned that that was was undemocratic and rendered This Council toothless…. This morning I had a revelation……..TOOTHLESS! maybe toothless is in some ways a good thing……..If this is a toothless chamber……..I can open my big mouth on behalf of the voiceless without getting my head bitten off……. How cool is that. I read in the paper this morning, some anonymous diplomat quoted as saying, “Roger Waters! To address the Security Council? Whatever next?….. Mr Bean! Hwah! Hwah! Hwah! For those of you who don’t know, Mr Bean is an ineffectual character in an English comedy show on TV. So it’s a penny to a pound the anonymous diplomat is an Englishman, Hwah! hwah! hwah! To you too Sir! Ok, I think it’s time to introduce my mother, Mary Duncan Waters, she was a big influence on me, she was a school teacher, I say was, she’s been dead for fifteen years. My father, Eric Fletcher Waters, was a big influence on me too, he too is dead, he was killed on the 18th of February 1944 at Aprilia near The Anzio Bridgehead in Italy, when I was only five months old, so I know something about war and loss. Anyway back to my Mum. When I was about thirteen I was struggling with some knotty adolescent problem or other trying to decide what to do, it doesn’t matter what it was, I can’t remember anyway, but my mum sat me down and said, “Listen, you’re going to be faced with many knotty problems during your life and when you are here’s my advice, read, read, read find out everything you can about whatever it is, look at it from all sides, all angles, listen to all opinions, especially ones you don’t agree with, research it thoroughly, when you’ve done that you will have done all the heavy lifting and the next bit is easy, “Is it? Ok mum what’s the easy bit?”…….”Oh, the easy bit is, you just do the right thing.“ Hmm!

So speaking of doing the right thing brings me to human rights.

We the people, want universal human rights for all our brothers and sisters all over the world irrespective of their ethnicity, religion or nationality. To be clear, that would include but would not be limited to the right to life and property under the law for, for instance, Ukrainians, and for instance Palestinians. Yup, let that sink in. And obviously for all the rest of us. One of the problems with wars is that in a war zone or anywhere where the people live under military occupation, there is no recourse to the law, there are no human rights.

Today our brief is the possibility of peace in the Ukraine, with special reference to the arming of the Kiev regime by third parties.

I’m running out of time so,

What do the Voiceless millions have to say?

They say
Thank you for hearing us today
We are the many who do not share in the profits of the war industry.
We do not willingly raise our sons or daughters
To provide fodder for your cannons.
In our opinion
The only sensible course of action today
Is to call for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine.
No ifs, no buts, no ands.
Not one more Ukrainian or Russian life is to be spent.
Not one.
They are all precious in our eyes.

So, the time has come to speak truth to power. You all remember the story of the Emperor’s new clothes? Of course you do. Well the leaders of your respective Empires stand, in one degree or another, naked before us. We have a message for them. It is a message from all the refugees in all the camps, a message from all the slums and favelas, a message from all the homeless, on all the cold streets, from all the earthquakes and floods, on earth. It is also a message from all the people, not quite starving but wondering how on earth to make the pittance they earn, meet the cost of a roof over their head and food for their families. My mother country England is, thank god, an Empire no more, but in that country now, there is a new catch phrase “Eat or Heat?” you can’t do both. It’s a cry echoing round the whole of Europe.

Apparently, the only thing the Powers that Be think we can all afford is perpetual war. How crazy is that?

So, from the four billion or so brothers and sisters in this Voiceless Majority who together with the millions in the international anti-war movement represent a huge constituency, enough is enough! We demand change.

President Biden, President Putin, President Zelenski,

That, of course, will only be the starting point. But everything extrapolates from that starting point. Imagine the collective global sigh of relief. The outpouring of joy. The international joining of voices in harmony singing an anthem to peace! John Lennon pumping the air with his fist from the grave. We have finally been heard in the corridors of power. The bullies in the schoolyard have agreed to stop playing nuclear chicken. We’re not all going to die in a nuclear holocaust after all. At least not today. The powers that be have been persuaded to drop the arms race and perpetual war as their accepted modus operandum. We can stop squandering all our precious resources on war. We can feed our children, we can keep them warm. We may even learn to cooperate with all our brothers and sisters and even save our beautiful planet home from destruction. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Your Excellencies,

I thank you for your forbearance.

Roger Waters


This has been an exciting week in terms of progress towards armageddon. With NATO’s help, the Ukrainian military got some old Soviet-era cruise missiles airborne, and flew them hundreds of kilometers across Russia. One of them exploded over the Engels 2 air force base, where nuclear bombers and their hydrogen bombs are stored. Two Russian bombers were damaged, and three people on the ground were killed.

Meanwhile, back in the Land of Freedom, Northrop Grumann proudly “unveiled” the US’ latest nuclear bomber, the B21. I remember the televised “unveiling” of the B2 bomber, during George HW Bush’s twelve-year presidency, and this was one was even lamer. Turns out the miracle B21 has never flown, and won’t be airworthy for a while yet. And also turns out that its “stealth” coatings aren’t so stealthy, so the 21 won’t be able to travel to dangerous war zones, and will instead fire its missiles from thousands of kilometers’ safe distance. And also turns out that, being a miniature copy of the previous B2 flying wing, it doesn’t need a pilot! So there will be few Top Gun/Maverick job opportunities. The B21, built in mouth-wateringly small quantities due to its expense, will function – when the time comes to destroy the planet – as a drone.

This will be a drag for Tom Cruise, and the producers and directors of those movies, perhaps, but they at least will be secure in their New Zealand compounds.

As this is a little discouraging, perhaps, let me take you back in time, to the 1960s and 1970s, when our insane and inadequate leaders were also planning to embroil us in a fiery war of nuclear conflagration – but at least they were doing it with style!

First up, is the AVRO Vulcan, a British nuclear bomber from the 1950s and 60s. The above models are painted brilliant white, in order to reflect the flash of blasts in the vicinity. Royal Air Force pilots were instructed to wear an eye patch. If they were blinded by a nuclear blast, they could simply remove the eye patch, and use the other eye. Brilliant!

The AVRO Vulcan was designed to attack Russia. It was intended to fire rocket missiles at Moscow and other cities or bases, then swing back around to land in Germany, or England, not long after the missiles hit. The AVRO Vulcan is a famously-unreliable aircraft. On its “unveiling” in 1956, the first Vulcan flew around the world, then crashed while trying to land at Heathrow Airport. The pilots ejected safely, but four crew members in the back (including the Avro rep with his clipboard) were killed. Another protoype Vuclan crashed at a British air show in 1958, killing all four crew members and three people on the ground. And the same year a Vulcan crashed outside Detroit, killing all its crew.

Two Vulcans crashed in 1959 – the first wrecks without fatalities. In 1963, the Vulcan took delivery of its intended payload, the British “Blue Steel” nuclear bomb, and another Vulcan flew into terrain during a training exercise in Scotland, with 100% fatalities. In 1964, there were three more crashes – two more crews died. 1965-68 saw four more Vulcans crash, with multiple fatalities. in one instance a Blue Steel “missile training round” was on board the aircraft, which was totally destroyed by fire, on the runway at RAF Scampton, in Lincolnshire.

One might expect, as more of these planes were built, and flown, and loaded with nuclear bombs, that their reliability would improve. But it did not. Vulcans continued to crash on landing, and to incinerate the guys in the back.

Such a catalogue of carnage, wreckage, blazing jet fuel… It sounds like Blackhawks, or Blazin’ Air Combat. Yet none of this happened during a war. These disasters were all training exercises or air show events. Like the F-35, the AVRO Vulcan was an expensive and deadly blind alley of useless aircraft design. It killed numerous people, all of whom were on “our” side. Unfit for purpose, it ceased to have a purpose when President Kennedy cancelled the “Skybolt” missile, which was supposed to replace the highly-unreliable Blue Steel missile.

The Blue Steel missiles were withdrawn from service in 1970. The AVRO Vulcan could have been junked at the same time: up to this point it had done nothing but fly around the world and crash. But military boys will have their toys, and so the British nuclear bomber fluttered on for another decade. The seventies saw four more crashes, with multiple fatalities: one Vulcan broke up over a Maltese town, showering it with burning wreckage. Then, in 1982, came its salvation: Margaret Thatcher’s war to save the Falkland Islands.

At last, the Vulcan had a real mission! Several were prepared for the long flight to the South Atlantic, refuelling en route. This was apparently a world record in terms of distance travelled to drop a bomb on someone. And a couple of Vulcans made it all the way there, and did indeed drop several bombs. Unfortunately, returning from its first actual war experience, one Vulcan broke and had to make an emergency landing in Brazil. When it attempted to ditch its two remaining missiles, only one of them would fire. The Vulcan and its crew were detained by the Brazilian authorities until the end of the war.

Now, if the AVRO Vulcan seems an absurdist waste of money, human life, and fossil fuels, at least it had a sleek, original design. The same cannot be said of the Russian nuclear war-fighting craft seen below.

Behold the Lun Ekranoplan!

This was a big, heavy, ocean-going aircraft which flew just a few meters above the water, and was officially classed as a boat. At the front are its engines: eight turbofans, capable for pushing the massive creation forward at 550 kilometers an hour. Behind, and above, the jet engines are six missile launching tubes, intended to house conventional or nuclear cruise missiles with a range of 100-240 km.

The Ekranoplan sported various cannons, fore and aft, and had huge transport capacity, but its primary purpose was to be an aircraft carrier-killer. With a range of 2000 km, evading Radar due to its low altitude, it was to bear down on the fleet like a levitating whale and launch all six missiles, then – like Vulcan – turn around and go home. Designed in the 1960s, the Ekranoplan didn’t go into production till 1987, at the tail end of First Cold War. Only one was completed.

En route to its final resting place, a tourist attraction in Dagestan, the Ekranoplan was beached in 2020. Last year it was successfully towed ashore.


I met Lorenzo at the International Students Center at UCLA and we became fast friends. He’s a Peruvian who grew up in Lima and Mexico City, where he was educated at the “American School.” This was around 1977, 1978. We were still young pups. And one day Lorenzo asked me, “Do you know about Tlatelolco?” I did not. Lorenzo proceeded to tell me an amazing story, about a massacre of hundreds of protesters, most of them students, in Mexico City on the eve of the 1968 Olympic Games.

This surprised me, because I’d never heard a thing about it. I’d been thoroughly aware of the Olmpic Games that year: another pointless sports spectacle inflicted on a populace already saturated in the stuff. But a massacre? Of hundreds of students? I knew nothing about it. “Probably because the international press never reported it,” Lorenzo observed. “They knew about it, but they didn’t want to spoil the Olympic Games.”

When we shot El Patrullero, people were talking openly about the massacre. Jorge Fons had made a film about Tlatelolco, titled Rojo Amanecer – directed it in secret, in a warehouse far from the studios, without any state or studio funds. Fons was a bold, resourceful, inspired director (he died last week aged 83). His film doesn’t show the Plaza where the killings took place: he focuses entirely on a family who witness it all from their apartment. Inevitably, the massacre intrudes. (Rojo Amanecer is a remarkable film, finely acted, and hard to find.)

One day, in the cutting room in Mexico City, Carlos the editor told me another amazing story about Tlatelolco. Servando Gonzales, another filmmaker, had just revealed that he had been employed by the Mexican Government to film the mass killings (Gonzales was already under contract to shoot the Olympics). He said he used eight Arriflex 35mm cameras with 400mm lenses, situated on the 15th and 17th floors of a tower which also housed the ministry of foreign relations. Gonzales claimed he processed the negative at Churubusco, and handed it over to the military. He assumed a copy went to the President, Diaz Ordaz.

In 2008, the American writer Jefferson Morley released his book Our Man In Mexico: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA. There’s lots of fascinating stuff in here, about a fanatical anti-communist called Win Scott, an ex-FBI agent who bumbled his way into becoming CIA station chief in London,was befriended by Kim Philby – the infamous Soviet spy – and got shifted to Mexico, where, improbably but inevitably, he became the most powerful man in the country.

Winston Scott (me)
introduces Gen. Pinochet to a business associate

Scott did this, simply, by putting everybody on the payroll, and having them spy on each other. By everybody, I mean, of course, the highest and most influential policemen, generals, journalists, and politicians in the land. Diaz Ordaz received a monthly stipend and was code-named Litempo 2. A future president, Luis Echeverria, was Litempo 8. And an up-and-coming DFS policeman, Fernando Gutierrez Barios, was Litempo 4. Scott’s wife died in somewhat mysterious circumstances, and when he remarried, the CIA man invited several presidents to the wedding. They all attended, of course. But this was highly irregular. Scott, as station chief, was supposed to remain under diplomatic cover, in the shadows. Instead the US ambassadors, who came and went every four years, were the shadowy ones, subsisting off crumbs from Scott’s table.

Can you imagine my surprise when, three or four years back, I was invited to Mexico to play Scott in a series called Un Estraño Enemigo / the Unknown Enemy? Usually I am cast as disreputable characters: bums, maniac scientists, Fred C. Dobbs-like opportunists like the Gringo in La Ley de Herodes. Whereas Winston Scott is never without a suit and tie. He doesn’t take his jacket off. He’s usually seated, with a folder or a menu or a slim envelope full of money in his hands. And he has a lot to say.

Cox, season 1 cinematographer Jaime Reynoso, Daniel Jiménez Cacho

The original Scott spoke Spanish, but not particularly well. The Mexicans liked the big Alabama football boy, because at least he tried, and paid well. But Scott in the series is a true Machiavel, extremely well spoken (the very literate script is by the director, Gabriel Ripstein, and several collaborators), and has a lot of information to convey. Most of the time Scott seems to be playing the other significant characters off against each other: they all want to be President, and he promises them all support. In return, he wants to get the US military and intelligence agencies further imbedded, and constantly winding his colleagues up about the danger of student communism. The Olympics – a huge waste of money at a time of severe social hardships – is a perfect opportunity for Scott to up the ante. IIf he doesn’t order the Tlatelolco Massacre, he certainly creates the circumstances for it to happen.

Since then we’ve seen the model – snipers fire from a tall building into crowds at a large protest, killing both police and demonstrators – used in Managua, in Caracas, and in Ukraine. The intention is part of a strategy of tension: to force a change in government, or to force a hard-line government to become still more hard-line. The victims are numerous, the snipers are anonymous. And the beneficiary is always the same.

There’s a longer trailer for the first season of Un Estraño Enemigo here. The principal character – played by the fantastic Daniel Jiménez Cacho – is loosely based on Gutierrez Barios – Litempo 4. Having ended the first season in disastrous disarray, in the second season – which has just begun and can also be found online – Captain Barrientos climbs to higher echelons of power, and Win Scott finds a whole new line of work for him.


After we finished shooting WALKER, a handful of the crew remained in Nicaragua: me (the director), Lorenzo (the producer), Carlos (the editor) and his assistant Edgar, and Joe, the composer.

It rained a lot in the evenings during that time, and Joe would come over to my place, where I had a video player and two cassettes: Kurosawa’s RAN, and Peckinpah’s PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID. We watched both films many times. RAN gave us an approach to sound design in battle scenes, and showed us how the obsessive hero must be always be front and center, in the story.. PAT GARRETT seethed with violence and irony and political cynicism. It seemed, and still seems, the most political western of them all (though Kirk Douglas’ POSSE ain’t far behind). Joe, of course, imbibed Bob Dylan’s score, and during those weeks composed a score of equal brilliance, and greater variety.

Rudy Wurlitzer and his director, discussing his role in Pat Garrett

Rudy Wurlitzer had told us that he took Dylan to meet Peckinpah, in the hope that the director would cast Dylan as Billy. Peckinpah, manically contrarian, pretended never to have heard of Dylan, said Roger Miller was his favorite musician, and went with Kris Kristofferson for the Kid. Rudy and Dylan wrote the words for “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” on a stormy night flight from Durango to Mexico City. In his first version of the the story – written for Monte Hellman to direct – Pat Garrett and Billy didn’t meet until the very end. Whereas, for Peckinpah, this was – like RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY and THE WILD BUNCH – a tale of old buddies, one of whom betrays their code…

Who’s to say Peckinpah was wrong? The result of his collaboration with Rudy, and his actors, and his crew, Mexican and gringo, and his locations, is a masterpiece. But which version of the masterpiece did Strummer and I watch?

When I first saw PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID in 1973 it was quite short, missing its opening and ending, and lacking various other scenes of some importance. This, rumor had it, was the work of villanous studio head Jim Aubrey, who had fired Peckinpah and cut his own truncated version of the film. Something similar had happened on Peckinpah’s earlier Western, MAJOR DUNDEE.

In fact, the situation seems more ambiguous. Aubrey was a bad man, reputed to hate directors. Peckinpah was spoiling for a fight and couldn’t resist provoking the studio head. His drunkenness was reported in the American press, and he was photographed being carried to the set on a stretcher, drip-fed from a whiskey bottle. According to his friend Max Evans, the first cut Peckinpah showed the studio was three and a half hours long. Shortly after that, it appears he was fired. Or quit. He left the cutting room and did not return. Yet he retained his office – the Marilyn Monroe Suite – on the MGM lot and continued to hang out there, drinking with his cronies and throwing knives at the door.

The ailing director is assisted to the set.

What was going on? If Peckinpah had time for that, why didn’t he sneak back into the editing room and finish the film? Worn out by the usual vices, our director died in 1984, at the age of 59.

When we were cutting REPO MAN, the editor, Dennis Dolan, told me a remarkable thing. He had been an assistant of Roger Spottiswoode – the editor of PAT GARRETT. And when Peckinpah was fired, they sneaked a 35mm copy of his cut out of the studio, on the floor of Dennis’s VW bug. So that version was not lost, and, thanks to Spottiswoode and others, Peckinpah’s original cut was restored and a new print made. I saw it at the Director’s Guild in Los Angeles, in 1986. Coburn and L.Q. Jones introduced it, and the unwonted appearance of the deleted scenes gave the screening a dream-like quality. I’d thought I already knew the film. Now it was different…

Which version did Joe and I watch on a small portable TV, smoking spliffs on that rainy patio in Granada? This was 1987, so most likely we were relying on an old, truncated VHS for inspiration. The longer version of PAT GARRETT was quite magical. But on a second viewing, there was also something… long about it. The beautifully-photographed scenes often played for more time than they should have: say, five minutes instead of three – as if the director had rough-cut his picture and then departed the cutting room.

In the early 1990s, Ted Turner acquired the MGM film library. Possessed of a fine cowboy moustache and a herd of buffalo, Turner naturally paid for a new restoration of PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID, which premiered at the Taos Talking Pictures Festival in 1995. This included all but a couple of the long version’s many scenes, but sped up the languid pace. Again, Spottiswoode was involved, and the editorial choices he made were, I think, spot on. This third edition is the best.

The San Francisco WALKER crew

There are still problems with the film, as regards a coherent narrative. Emilio Fernandez (who had so memorably portrayed Mapache in THE WILD BUNCH) appears out of nowhere and is swiftly dispatched. Other interesting characters – L.Q. Jones’, Jack Elam’s, Rudy Wurlitzer’s – don’t receive enough screen time: they lurk in the background, say a few lines, and are dead. And at one point, Peckinpah presented his editor with a choice of scenes, both set in a whorehouse. In the first, seeking information, Pat Garrett, slaps a prostute across the face, whereupon she insists he slap her again, to make her reveal Billy’s whereabouts. In the second, Pat is found in bed with several prostitutes: we assume he has acquired the necessary information via his amorous skills and delightful personality. As I recall, the excellent Spottiswoode chose the second option.

Rudy wrote a scathing introduction to the paperback edition of the screenplay. Copies are hard to come by now, and very expensive. His descriptions of Peckinpah ditching his script, and reverting to scenes from his early episodic TV westerns, like The Rifleman and Zane Grey Theater, are most amusing. But, over time, I think he’s come to appreciate the finished film. Either way, as the author of the most political western ever made, he was the one and only screenwriter for WALKER.

This year Criterion will release a new disk of the PAT GARRETT. Which version(s) it will contain, I don’t know. But I’m excited to ride that morphing, magical trail again.

(Modesty forbids me to mention that Criterion also brought out a new bluray of WALKER.)

(Edit — and WALKER is now available for streaming here!)


Back in January 2017 I wrote the first of a series of thirteen pieces titled “Dodging the Bullet.” The theme was nuclear war: how miraculous it is that we haven’t had one since Nagasaki, and how blase the mainstream media and political class are about the possibility of one happening today. I called it “Dodging the Bullet” because that seems to me such a uniquely American expression – the idea that anyone can dodge a bullet is absurd, and yet the concept clearly exists. “Dodged that bullet, bro!” But no one can.

One thing that encouraged me was the United Nations treaty to ban the possession and use of nuclear weapons: the sheer number of countries that signed up for it. Just about the only countries which didn’t sign up were the ones which own nuclear weapons, plus all the members of NATO. It seemed a fine example, which might even influence a NATO membert or two. How about Spain? The last piece I wrote was about US plans for war with Russia, based on US Army publications. That was in July 2021. I’d written everything I could think of on the subject, I thought.

Wrong. Instead, an entirely preventable, regional war is spinning out of control due to the US and NATO’s desire to keep it going. Careers (in NATO and the arms industry) are made from threatening war and further enhanced (for a while) from making it. Pundits and politicians, Raytheon and Northrop, the three-letter-agencies, all profited and rose in status as a result of destroying Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan, and Iraq, and Libya, and Syria, and…

It was easy, as an American professional politician once remarked, to throw some shitty little country up against the wall every few years. It didn’t matter if this policy killed millions, wrecked functioning states, and created wave after desperate wave of unwelcomed refugees. For the people with a bit of money, war was always good business, and they could invest somebody else’s son.

Now US and NATO politicians bay for a boots-on-the-ground, shooting war with Russia. Maybe they will get one. In the mean time, they are practicing:

Starting on January 29 (a month before the invasion of Ukraine), NATO began war games in Estonia, on Russia’s border. British, French, and Estonian troops practiced “force on force” attacks, live fire, and anti-tank exercises. NATO’s “Enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup Estonia” is led by the UK’s Royal Tank Regiment, with France and Denmark providing forces on a rotational basis. Iceland also participates. NATO has other “Enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroups” in Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. These exercises were followed by “Operation Bold Dragon”, which began this month and involves aerial war games over Estonia by the Belgians, UK, French and Danes. Belgian F-16s have been deployed to Estonia for an indefinite period.

Meanwhile, in tiny Latvia, adjacent to Estonia, and also sharing a border with Russia, NATO has just started the “Namejs 2022” military exercises: a series of war games involving soldiers from the Czech Republic, Poland, the UK, Lithuania, Estonia, Albania, Czech Republic, Italy, Iceland, Montenegro, Canada, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.

In case you thought Lithuania was being ignored, don’t worry. This small state, which shares a border with the Russian territory of Kaliningrad, recently hosted its largest-ever NATO outdoor combat operations: “Exercise Iron Wolf”, involving thousands of troops from the US, Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Poland, plus the Lithuanian “Iron Wolf Brigade.” Another round is scheduled this year.

No doubt these ongoing NATO war games on their border in wartime will not be interpreted by Russia as aggressive in any way. We must all reassure ourselves that NATO’s pretend attacks and incursions will never accidentally spark a thermonuclear war.

If you would like a playlist to enjoy while following the progress of Exercise Iron Wolf, I recommend a couple of songs from The Clash. They’re both on the Sandinista album and entirely of this moment: the anti-war song The Call Up and the disco anthem, Ivan Meets GI Joe.

[Update: not that it makes any real difference, but the US, despite its congenital inability to appoint ambassadors, has managed to appoint one to oversee the brinkmanship in Ukraine. Her name? I kid you not: Bridget Brink.]

[Another update — continuing the Brink Theme, there is an organization called Back From The Brink, which seeks to convince the US government to renounce first use, cancel the 1.7 trillion dollar nuclear upgrade, and “actively pursue a verifiable agreement among nuclear-armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals” which sounds pretty weeny. “Actively pursue a verifiable agreement” is like “provide access to health care” – meaningless Democrat-ese which ultimately produces nothing. But less money for war is always a good cause.]

M/C BOY part 3: 1984 TOUR’S END

(Continued from the previous post, visible if you scroll down)

Via Estes Park and up into Rocky Mountain National Park as far as Rainbow Curve, for a magnificent view. Then backtracked and headed east to I-25. Riding north into a rainstorm, I pulled off the highway beneath a bridge to shelter. Stepping off the bike, I was almost flattened by an eighteen-wheeler, hurtling by a foot away… But I was not. On to Cheyenne. This place seemed like a ghost town as I rode in, late in the day, a wind storm blowing up. Checked out a room at the Plains Hotel, high up on the fifth floor, with a great view. But I thought the price too much – $35.00 – and moved on. I paused to take a photo of the Union Station. Back in 1978 the San Francisco Zephyr stopped here, and I’d got off and walked around. Amtrak didn’t stop here now. There was no antique locomotive outside the abandoned station. It seemed sunny and sad.

Missile Drive, Cheyenne, WY

Then the clouds rolled in. I took a $22.00 room at the Frontier Motel and watched the Democratic Convention on TV. Went out and roamed about. Ate an awful salad at the flourescent Bonanza Cafe. Dropped into a bar called the Eagle’s Nest, where a sign said, “Leave Your Colors & Your Attitudes Outside.” There seemed to be two factions drinking within – the denim jackets and the black t-shirts. All wore beards, tattoos, and red-rimmed eyes. Had a beer and took in the drunken engine babble, slurring, farting. As I exited, two cop cars pulled up outside. (A mere 165 miles today.)

Tuesday July 17th Breakfast at the Luxury Diner, across the street. Clouds piling up to the north. “Looks like it’s gonna rain again,” said someone. But, for the first day in a week, it didn’t. North of Cheyenne I left the interstate and rode west, then north, via Torrington. Stopped and poured another quart of oil into the Beemer. She burned about a quart every four days: with just over two quarts in the oil tank total, this was not a good sign. But I kept topping her up, and on we went. In Lusk I pumped quarters into a pay phone and called the big boss at Orion, to report on my researches and my meeting with Jon. “When can I have the script?” the big boss wanted to know. I promised within a month.

Past Mule Creek Junction a Disneyesque billboard welcomed visitors to South Dakota, and there was a list of increasingly heavy speeding fines, some including Mandatory Court Appearance. I endured ten miles of unannounced gravel road, and reached the town of Hot Springs, where I entered Wind Cave National Park. Here I discovered that I had no tread at all on my rear tire. Such an attentive motorcyclist! It was a Metzler, I’d bought it new only 7,500 miles ago. Rear tires wore faster as they carried more weight, of course. I knew that. So what was I doing out here, mid-adventure with a previously-unnoticed, utterly-bald tire? Trepidatiously I loped for the nearest town, Rapid City – view of Mount Rushmore en route. Rapid City is some fifty miles from Sturgis, which means that it was, and is, Harley country. There was no BMW dealership. None of the bike shops I visited had a tire for my machine. Finally I reached Pig Performance, on St Patrick Street. Porky, the proprietor, had a Continental tire which would fit my bike, for a good price ($62.00) but there was a problem. They were a Harley shop. No motorcycle other than a Harley had ever entered the premises of Pig Performance. That was not about to change. “What if I take the wheel off and bring it to you?” I suggested. Porky thought about this, nodded, and told me bringing the wheel into the shop would be acceptable. By now it was six, and he said to come back the next day.

In the adjacent car wash, I washed the bike. I did the motel tour and found a basement room for $20.00 – my desire to save a few bucks by staying in the least attractive premises continued unabated. I bought three beers and watched the Democrats again. Jesse Jackson was running for the Presidential nomination, and it was his turn to speak. I can’t describe his speech. It was the first time I’d ever seen a network broadcast something Jesse said in its entirety. He was inspirational. He was right. Later I called Vito, the mechanic, and got his permission to install a wider tire on the BMW. I watched more of the Convention, and saw more black people than I had ever seen on TV. Unusual television.

(321 miles today.)

Porky and staff, Rapid City, SD,1984.

Wednesday July 18th At 0900 I rolled my rear wheel into Pig Performance Parts and they changed the tire. Porky told me he was the local coordinator of ABATE, the anti-helmet-laws organization. He and his staff had beards and pony tails and earrings and ink before these things were universal. He confessed he knew nothing about Beemers, and asked me if they had a center stand. I said yes, luckily for me, as this had permitted the easy removal of the rear wheel. I didn’t reveal that unbolting the rear wheel, changing the spark plugs, and topping up the oil were the only maintenance duties I knew how to do. The boys posed for a photograph, and I aimed for Deadwood.

How happy I was! Riding in the warm sun through the Black Hills, rear tire connecting impeccably with the road. But where was I going now? And what had it to do with the script I was supposed to write? I had no idea.

Just outside the town of Custer, I encountered the Flintstones Campground, where large replicas of Fred, Wilma, Barney and co. presided over the RVs and campsites. Then there was Scenic, at the junction of 44 and 589: a town of a thousand dead cars, decaying buildings, two abandoned churches, and the Longhorn Saloon, also dead, decorated with thirty steer skulls and the words “Lakota Iyuskinya Upo – No Indians Allowed.” I bought a ticket for the Jewel Cave tour, but the lift broke down, so I turned back towards the Badlands. South of Rapid City was the Motion Unlimited bike shop and museum, featuring exotica such as a Vickers tricycle, and other antique four-cylinder machines in the style of the K100 and the GoldWing. The inline four was obviously a respectable engine option for motorcycles since the dawn of time… Indians, Aces, and other famous, long-lost marques had all built air-cooled, inline four. In 1984, the form factor was back, but the flying bricks had radiators, adding to their weight and bulk. Whereas the Beemer (insert idyll of the Boxer twin) …

Took the freeway east to Wall, home of Wall Drug, and checked into the Welsh Motel. Dumped my tank bag and headed out to see those Badlands. Pretty marvelous, they were. Cruising around, I turned a corner and discovered, against a backdrop of red and ochre ragged peaks, a Beemer rider named Bill, standing beside his machine, lighting his pipe. I shared a bowl with him and his wife Becky, and enjoyed the view. They told me I should join the BMW Owners Club (in due course I did).

Beemer and Badlands.

It stayed light till late, and I drank in the views for a long time before going back to Wall. Got in just after ten, in time for the Democratic Convention and the vote to nominate a candidate. Mondale, the hopeless toad, who had offered my printer a hundred bucks to run for governor, won the nomination (and went on to lose the election to Reagan, by a landslide). Jackson spoke briefly, but the energy was nothing like last night. Then Action News 7 began reporting a new, horrible massacre: twenty people murdered by a gunman at a McDonalds in San Ysidro, California. “Uphill” I wrote in my notebook. 295 miles.

Thursday, July 19th After breakfast at the Cactus Cafe and another quart of oil, I headed back out for those Badlands. Cruised around the North Unit, found it crowded with tourists. Took a dirt road to the South Unit, and up a winding track to Sheep Mountain Mesa. I was full of ideas of how the Beemer was a great bike in these semi-off-road conditions, how its long suspension made it particularly blah blah blah… Then, dismounting to take a picture, the side-stand slipped and I dropped the bike.

Dropping the bike is something you should never do. Only neophytes and bozos drop their bikes. In fact, everyone who rides a bike has dropped it – just as everyone who rides for long enough can point to various broken bones. Luckily, in this case, the saddlebags and cylinder guards (metal rails to protect those protruding pistons) had prevented a total, 90-degree collapse. The 90/6 was leaning on its bags and guards at a 40-degree angle, and was not hard to right. (Whereas a 100 RT, with a full fairing and bags, was impossible for a lone, skinny individual to pick up if it fell down. When we discovered my 100RT lying on its side in London, I had to ask the executive producer of another film, Margaret Matheson, to help me get it upright. Most embarrassing.)

Out of the Badlands, I rode south to Wounded Knee. In a shallow valley was a metal sign recalling the “Massacre of Wounded Knee,” The word massacre was on a plate which had been bolted over a different word. I wondered what the original word had been. Battle? Picnic? Beyond the sign was a cemetery, where the majority of the 150 Sioux victims – warriors, old men, women and children – had been thrown into mass graves. Some of the dead were named. One was called Scatters Them.

South into Nebraska. Fair weather; pretty rolling hills and trees, farmland. 385 took me to Alliance where, seeking lunch, I entered the “Cafe/Restaurant.” This turned out to be a bar, whose secret name was Lost Roads. Had two beers with the barman, Scott. He told me about his time abroad. “I was in Europe for three years, in Germany. Technician on the P2. Man, that sucker hit its target in 90 seconds. 4000 miles in 90 seconds. Up in orbit and down, like a rainbow. Makes a fireball 320 miles wide.” I was familiar with the Pershing missiles, together with their siblings the Cruise missiles, twin nuclear weapons to be employed by NATO against Russia and Eastern Europe, and his description of their speed and range was far greater than I had read. Indeed, it seemed incredible. Still, he had been there, and Thatcher was enthusiastically installing them in Old Blighty, prepping a massacre which would make Wounded Knee look like the work of amateurs. I asked Scott what he thought about nuclear war. “You can call me a wimp, but in the end I said, no way. They offered me a commission: $5000 just to sign up for eight more years. Eight years, dude. I got to thinking about it and quit. Two days later I was in civvies on the plane back home.”

Via backroads through Sidney and Lorenzo to Sterling, then the freeway to Boulder. I rode 481 miles that day. And my antics were not done. I changed clothes, ate with my generous hostess and her b/f, and hastened to the departure shed beside the Union Station in Denver. Fortunately for me, the Chicago Train was twenty minutes late.

(I spent three days on the train and visited Detroit. That had been the point of all of this, once: a bike ride all the way to where my film was to begin, acquiring screenplay inspiration. Now Detroit seemed like a sideshow, something to be attended to, before I could reunite with my machine.)

Tuesday July 24th Arrived back in Denver. In Boulder I washed clothes, and processed snaps – i.e. took my 35mm film negatives to the pharmacy for developing and a set of prints. For these were analog days. Departed mid-afternoon, up Canyon, into the mountains. Immediately the rain came down. Pulled over to don my raincoat and wrap plastic bags around my legs (fool! Never hear of rain gear?) and an R90S stopped alongside me, whose rider invited me to the local bar. This proved to be Marvin’s, in the charming former mining town of Nederland, where I played pool with Kevin and John, the Beemer boys. “Colorado is the best state!” everyone in the bar agreed. We smoked a joint at John’s – a little house two feet above a roaring torrent: his R100RT – dollar-green, like Michael Nesmith’s – was parked out back.

Then on! Into what seems to me now like a full day’s ride: first, down the winding backroad from Nederland via Blackhawk to the interstate, where the rain began again. Then, west – thousands of feet upward, through the Eisenhower Tunnel – it got very cold past 11,000 feet. Dressed more warmly in the bathroom of the Tastee Freeze in Vail. Then, as was my wont in those days (why was I in such a hurry?), I pressed on into darkness, missing the dramatic canyons east of my destination, Glenwood Springs. 189 miles.

Almost stayed at the ultra-seedy Western Hotel (only $10.00 a night) but something persuaded me to cross the river and check out the Colorado Hotel: a grand edifice like the Copper Queen in Bisbee, where Teddy Roosevelt had stayed during his famous bear hunt of 1905, and which was later patronized by Legs Diamond and Al Capone. “Corporate” room rate, $38.00. A block away, the world’s largest outdoor hotsprings pool and Indian vapor caves awaited. I learned this was the town where Doc Holliday died, in 1887, at the age of 35.

Route 128, Utah.

Wednesday, July 25th Up and into the hot pool. Swam, soaked, breakfasted, wrote many postcards. Then west on I-70, through red sandstone canyons. Entering Utah, I left the freeway and rode through Cisco, an old, decrepit town, on an unmaintained road, Route 128. This turned out to be the best road them of all: two lanes of alternating tarmac, dirt and gravel, following the Colorado River, crossing it via a grand, old suspension bridge. It felt like riding through the Canyon de Chelly, with a monster river coursing down the ravine. Another storm approaching. I ploughed through little flash-flood streams. An RV driver pulled over to warn me, “Y’better not shilly shalley.” North of Moab, I rode into Arches Park. Boots off, hiking shoes on, and off I went for a hearty hike. The rain did not fall. I walked past Landscape Arch as far as Double O Arch. Saw two deer up close. Came back through Fells Canyon. Five and a half miles. It was seven in the evening now. The storm had passed. I had been very wound-up, racing into the Park. The hike was the best thing in the world.

Stayed at the Prospector Hotel, and watched To Have and Have Not on the electronic hearth.

252 miles today – the best day of the ride to date, I noted.

Thursday, July 26th Up and out by eight. Breakfast in Monticello. South to Bluff. Then eastward, on what in 1977 had been a narrow, red dirt road. Now it was a wide gravel one, with big’n’chunky gravel pieces. Not good for two wheels. I turned back and made, inevitably, for Monument Valley. En route, still in Utah, paused to visit the remains of the arch Mr. Leone had built, back in 1968, for Once Upon A Time In The West. The wooden arch itself had collapsed, but the supports, set into the concrete dolly track, were still there. I took out my E-flat harmonica and played Charles Bronson’s mournful theme. The only thing I’d learned to do with my E-flat harmonica was to make doleful wailing sounds, but it did that very well. Then on, into Arizona, and the Valley overlook.

Motorcycle and Mittens, Arizona.

I didn’t take the Beemer down into the Valley proper. It’s a steep slope and I wanted no further embarrassments. Took pictures, and headed south to Kayenta, clipping the edge of another storm.

Northwest up 98 through Page and across Glen Canyon Dam (much hated by Ed Abbey, but the lake looked pretty in the late light), and on up 89 to the Paria dirt road, another of Mr Abbey’s points of reference, in search of the Paria Ghost Town movie set. This didn’t amount to more than four or five tumbledown gray buildings and I couldn’t think of a use for them in the screenplay – though Paria Canyon itself was a multicolored thing of beauty. I jammed back to Page and if I had been sane I would have called it a night there. Instead I loaded up on some dreadful mcfish, overlooking the Dam, and got back on 89 again as it got dark.

Rode down off the mesa through a steep pass. The plain below, laden with thicker air, looked like the ocean, and I had the feeling, hurtling down that two-lane road with darkness on both sides, that I was tearing along a narrow peninsula, surrounded by the sea… a waking dream. Arrived at Flagstaff a bit more than an hour after I left Page. The Beemer sat outside my room at the Carousel Motel, filthy dirty with red, brown and white mud from different portions of the trail. It looked good. I loved my motorcycle. 517 miles today. Unnecessarily many. Why was I in such a rush?

Friday July 27th I wake up to the “700 Club” – anti-Sandinista propaganda for TV Christians: support the contras for freedom! Alt 89 took me through pine forests into scenic Oak Creek Valley. Sedona seemed horrible, realty-land; Jerome was old and reminded me of Bisbee, but more decayed. Ate breakfast there and wrote the last of my postcards. Further south through Salome (which seemed a good location… remember the script!), taking the blacktop route. “Have you ever been to California?” an old feller with a camper and a dog asked me. “What do they inspect? Do they make you unload?” I enquired where he was going. “I don’t know. Ain’t made up my mind…” There was a strong scent of sage on the wind from the desert ahead.

Made such good time that when I got to Parker around three, I stopped and got a haircut, from a barber in a trailer. Ate a rancid salad (the last of my salad bar experiences – almost universally bad, staffed by teenagers throwing ice cubes and food) and shilly-shalleyed for an hour. Entered California at Earp, the tiny town named after Wyatt. My trip was almost over, I thought. I should be back in Venice, CA, around eight. Ha ha. First came the dust storm, filling the sky with reddish-brown dirt, tumbleweeds flying across the road. I slowed down and hunkered on through it. A pause in the weather came.

More, darker clouds loomed up ahead. I pulled over and got into my raincoat and plastic bags. Downpour. The blacktop was flash-flooded. Swelling rivers of water, mud and rocks rolled across the road. Thunder and lightning, almost simultaneous. I paddled forward at 15mph.

Another view of rain clouds, on Rte.128.

Joined the interstate at Desert Center. More rain, harder and heavier than before. Finally I gave up, pulled off the road, turned on my flashers, and took shelter in a culvert under the highway. I watched a scummy trickle of water spread down the channel, followed by a raging torrent. In a minute it was three feet deep. I climbed out of the culvert. Finally the rain lessened, and when I got back aboard the bike, it wouldn’t start. I hitched a ride to Chiriaco Summit and found a gentlemen with a pickup who, for $59.00, transported the cycle back to the garage there. Tried to get a room, but failed: “We can’t let you have a room. They’re too dirty.” In the shelter of the gas pumps, I waited for the machine to dry out. Various well-wishers shared their thoughts about my Beemer: “I used to work on airplanes and lawnmowers. The rule is, never buy anything unless you know how to work on it.” Finally, at 11.45pm, it occurred to me to remove the filthy sparkplugs and clean them.

The Beemer started right up. The rain had stopped. I burned back to LA, landing around 2:45. At that late hour the freeway was still full of cars. On the exit ramp, I saw a white TransAm go into a smoking tail-spin. The LA Olympics began the next day.

(524 miles on the last leg.)

I wrote that script, and called it War Baby. There were scenes in Detroit and Tijuana, of course, but also in Monument Valley, and the Flintstones Campground. Jon Davison was ready to produce. But the big boss didn’t like it, and the film was never made. So what did I get from all of this? I got paid, of course. I can’t remember how much, now. And I found an excuse to take that trip: 4,977 miles through the American West, at the age of 29, on a fine machine. The value of that was inestimable.

M/C BOY part 2: 1984 WAR BABY TOUR

In 1984 Orion Pictures hired me to write a script about bikers – specifically, a father-and-son team who ride their machines from Detroit to rescue the son’s mother/father’s ex from a Tijuana jail. Jon Davison was to be the producer. Jon lived in Telluride. So, always looking for reasons to leave Los Angeles, I proposed a research-oriented road trip, following our heroes’ route, with a stopover at his place in Colorado. The title of the script, though I didn’t know it yet, was War Baby.

At this point, the furthest I had ridden was New Mexico, so the idea of a bike trip all the way to the Motor City and back filled me with exotic delight. By this time I had acquired a BMW 90/6, the very best of my sequence of machines. It was perfect for the jaunt. In those days, 900cc was considered a large engine, and I imagined it more than sufficient for any cross country trip. The disk brake and shaft drive were my friends. There were two fiberglass panniers, and I had one of those tank bags with a transparent cover into which you could slip your map (for there was no GPS back then. Nor internet. Nor lots of other things. But life was still pretty exciting).

So, packing the panniers and the tank bag and strapping a sleeping bag and an (unused) self-inflating camping mattress to the rear seat, I set off. There were 44,280 miles on the clock. It was Saturday, July 7, and the reader might anticipate a tale of travels through sunlit summer landscapes. It was not so. I rode down the 405, crossed into Mexico at Tijuana, ate a late lunch at Cesar’s (a place I cannot recall at all, though it was apparently the home of the Cesar Salad) and headed east on Mexico Highway 2 – La Rumorosa. I’d planned to continue on this infamous road the next day, but it grew dark and I encountered an army patrol searching cars – they waved us on – and no room at the inn in Tecate: there was a fair in town. So I crossed back into the US, and fetched up at the El Portal Motel in El Cajon, CA.

Railroad tracks near Tijuana, Mexico.

(How easy all the above sounds! It was a 250-mile drive. But what amazes me today is to think of getting out of LA traffic, transiting San Diego, crossing the border twice … all in a few hours. Even on a motorcycle this would be a hard, long slog today. And why did I end up in El Cajon? It seems I embarked on this journey with little idea as to what my daily destination was, or what my options were. Maybe Detroit seemed destination enough…)

Sunday July 8 Idled east again, breakfasting in Dulzura, having coffee in Jacumba, and visiting a famous Desert Tower (again, forgotten). If you have a motorcycle, people want to talk to you about bikes: “I’ve got a Honda 750. Came off it in gravel three weeks ago. Did this. (rolls up sleeve) My son was on the back. We got a flat at 55. I went down through the gears. If I’d have touched the brakes we would have really ate it.” Riding through Yuma I encountered lightning and light rain. Fetched up at the Seashell Motel in Gila Bend, AZ – where the only seashells are fossils. Like many motels I stayed at, the place was owned by (East) Indians. Delicious cooking smells, but no food for sale. 319 miles covered.

Monday July 9 Cut south into Ajo, a mining town with an extraordinarily beautiful main plaza – a mixture of faux-Spanish and John Ford cavalry post. The mine was still active in those days, and the miners were on strike. Headed west on a minimal backroad, ate popovers in Sells, on the Papago Res, and reached Tucson in daylight. 177 miles. Spent the night with friends, sitting in a car on Mt Lemon, watching the city lights.

Arizona rain.

Tuesday July 10 To the BMW shop. In these days if you were a keen motorcyclist you visited the parts store frequently. Beemers were the finest machines, but they were not for the faint of wallet. The parts were every bit as expensive as their equivalents in BMW cars. Fortunately the only authentic Bavarian tech needed on this occasion was a rubber o-ring for the dipstick. I recall being pulled over by the Tucson police because I had a pillion passenger, riding side-saddle, and the two of us being warned by the officer that side-saddle was not an appropriate motorcycling technique. Was this the occasion when this happened? Or was that another trip? It was unseasonably humid in the Old Pueblo, and there were huge thunderheads to the east. I rode east past the airport, alone. Half an hour out of town it suddenly cooled down. Electric energy filled the air. Then lightning and a terrific downpour. I pulled over onto the shoulder of the Interstate, turned my blinkers on, and sat there as the rain fell. A car pulled up behind me and the driver hit the horn. Ran to the car, an Olds. Door opened. Inside were two army guys from Fort Huachuca. They gave me shelter and sat smoking cigarettes. The rain was so hard we couldn’t see the bike, 20 feet in front of us. One of them was being ordered back to Germany for three more years. The other was going to Monterrey “for languages.” After 20 minutes, the rain stopped and the sky appeared again. We said goodbye.

South via the Old Sonoita Highway, Route 33 – very picturesque. At Tombstone drank a beer in the Crystal Palace saloon, where men dressed as cowboys watched a Western on the bar TV. Thence to Bisbee, and a room in the grand and ancient Copper Queen Hotel. Watched a documentary about Dien Ben Phu, followed by the news. “80 percent of sulfur dioxide poisoning in the Western US is concentrated in a triangle including Bisbee, Douglas, and Cananea, Mexico…” Only 129 miles. Day most eventful.

Wednesday July 11 In the morning I took the tour of the open pit copper mine, a giant sore on the landscape which had devoured most of the town. “Stripping began in 1918, and by 1921 Sacramento Hill had become Sacramento Pit…” In a print shop window I saw a sign which surprised me: a pro-communist poster, in English, showing a woman endangered by a shadow, with a slogan – ‘With Socialism, Women No Longer Live in Fear.’ I entered to enquire about it. It was the work of Bob, the old printer, once a member of the Industrial Workers of the World. The movie business had come to town recently, shooting John Milius’ anti-communist film, Red Dawn, and Bob was hired to design and print some appropriate propaganda posters. He found it ironic and a lot of fun, as he had always been into politics. “Fritz Mondale gave me a hundred dollars to file so I could run for governor of Minnesota in ‘52. But I was drinking then, and didn’t have the nerve.”

Pancho Villa statue, Naco, Sonora.

Dipped into Mexico again at Naco. This was then a quiet, easy-going, tiny town. The border crossing was never busy. There was no wall and you could see for miles into Mexico from the US, and the reverse. There was a golden statue of a man on horseback and I asked a kid who it was. “Pancho Villa.” Of course! I crossed back into the US and drove east to Douglas, where Highway 666 began. Highway 666 is no more. Today in Arizona it’s called 191. Rumour has it that the number was changed at the insistence of the Vatican, which operates an astronomical observatory on a mountaintop adjacent to the road. This is unfortunate, as it was a memorable number for a memorable route.

The Vatican Highway.

Detouring to glimpse the Chiricahua National Monument (a million rocks), I passed through Safford and Clifton. Bob Richardson and I had ridden out to Clifton a couple of times. It was a pretty copper-mining town in the mountains. On our second visit things were pretty tense. The miners were on strike and on the lookout for scabs. So we didn’t stay long. In 1984, the strike was ongoing still: a blackleg miner hung in effigy from a Coors sign outside a bar.

Striking copper miner, Clifton, AZ.

Beyond Clifton, 666 wound serpentlike in between high, straight stretches. A lovely road, but a slow one. It grew dark, and threatened to storm. I pulled off the road, took off my helmet, and exchanged the clear lens for the yellow-tinted one: night-driving mode. I ploughed on into darkness. Black chasms fell away on either side of me. Sunset appeared briefly – a dark, red eye glowing beneath gray clouds. Lightning flashed below me. I rode on.

Three Honda GoldWings passed, going the other way. One had a sidecar. All towed heavy camper trailers. Such excess was uncommon, back then. Two deer crossed the road ahead of me, and a dozen cattle. (It was foolish to ride this at night as it’s one of the most beautiful roads in the west – 123 miles of high-altitude curves still known as the Devil’s Highway, in honour of old 666.)

Around 9pm I found The Lodge – an inn high in the White Mountains, in a place called Hannagan Meadow. Bob and I had stopped here one freezing snowfield day two years previously, and drunk scotches. The Lodge had closed, in theory, but was still open. $35 got me a cabin with a wood-burning stove. $2.50 bought me two cans of beer. I’d ridden 308 miles. “Life is good” I wrote in my notebook. “God bless Orion Pictures.”

Thursday July 12 At breakfast, I struggled over the title of this script that I was to write. Before the Storm? Into the Wind? The temptations to call it Born to Be Wild or Uneasy Rider had to be resisted… At St Johns, the Beemer and I entered the territory of Triple A’s Indian Country map (which still showed the road as 666) and headed north into red-dirt, Navajo country.

Indian Country.

Somewhere in the region of Ganado or Chinle, I lost my sleeping bag and self-inflating mattress (unused). Retraced my tracks for some miles but saw no sign of the missing items. Headed north again, into another brewing storm. It rained. I sneezed a lot inside my helmet. Then I cut eastward into better weather and still more scenic country. Rode into Cortez, Colorado, at sunset. Spent the night at the Frontier Motel. Ate a bad fish meal, and saw Gremlins at the movie theatre. 391 miles.

Friday July 13 A short 100-mile jaunt followed. Topped up on oil, and ate a huge hot green chile omlet at El Grande. Headed northeast into the most scenic country yet, and more rain. Rico was a charming, ghostly town. Telluride was a damp, hippie hangout. Three more miles of uphill dirt road brought me to Jon Davison’s place. I spent the afternoon with my producer, his charming girlfriend Sally Cruickshank, and dog Felix. The altitude – 8,500 feet – got me to gasping. A fine Italian dinner at the Sheridan Hotel in Telluride ensued. John memorably declared, “The only history of the West is MINERS!”

Saturday July 14 Departing the producorial ranch, I took the high and winding route via Ridgway and Ouray, to Silverton. This was apparently called the “Million Dollar Drive” on account of its visual magnificence, which the weather continued to obscure. According to my notebook, in Ouray I swam in a huge, outdoor municipal hot pool, then rode through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison: “Incredible Victorian-etching-type canyon, myriad of cracked-rock details.” I had now exited Indian Country, according to the map. 239 miles on, I spent the night in Crested Butte, another ski/rich/hippie Tellu-town, at the Elk Mountain Lodge – an old miners’ dorm turned hotel, with showers in the hall.

90/6 at the Continental Divide.

Sunday July 15 Not cloudy! Not raining! I crossed the Continental Divide at Monarch Pass (elevation 11,312 feet). Outside Leadville, saw a fleet of K100s heading west on the Interstate. These were the new touring bikes BMW had just introduced: instead of a twin, air-cooled motor, they hefted four cylinders and a radiator – like a car… or a Honda GoldWing! To observe this was not a compliment, as the GoldWing was the poster child for giant engines, radiators, heated seats, eight-track stereos and other things a motorcycle didn’t need. Heavy, powerful, unmanouverable, and reliable, the GoldWing ultimately became the model for all large touring bikes, but at the time these flying bricks seemed an odd departure for the company, given that the boxer 90/6 was the perfect motorcycle. In Georgetown, Colorado, I bought a book of essays by Edward Abbey – of course! When traffic stopped on the freeway I lane-split, California style. Passing a group of stalled Aspencades (fucking GoldWings, man), I got yelled at by their riders. “Asshole! Jerk!” Was lane-splitting bad form in Colorado, as riding sidesaddle seemed to be in Arizona?

Dropping 3,000 feet, I approached Denver. It grew hot and humid, and an endless, brown plain stretched ahead of me. Riding the BMW through the western deserts and mountains had been wonderful. The prospect of traversing that great, hot, hissing plain for a thousand miles seemed less than wonderful. I steered for the Amtrak station, which in those days was a shed adjacent to the tracks, parked, and obtained a schedule. Back in those days a train called the San Francisco Zephyr left Denver every evening at 7.10pm. It arrived in Chicago the following afternoon at 2.15. From Chicago there were three trains a day to Detriot, including the Twilight Limited and the Wolverine… I called the friend of a friend in Boulder, and backtracked to that small city on the eastern edge of the Rocky mountains. I had been told to sing the song “Beef Baloney” by Fear to this person, and did so, to good effect. My hostess, whom I had never met, said I was welcome to stay the night at her place. We dined at a restaurant called the Chataqua, followed by drinks at the stately Boulderado. By evening’s end I had convinced myself to take the next train to Chicago. 319 miles that day.

Monday July 16th But wait! What if my protagonists took a more northerly route on their motorcycle journey? I wasn’t tired of riding around – just intimidated by the endless, fruitless plain. Surely there was more of the west to be investigated! I rode north again.