Here, at last,
was something to give his life meaning again, something uncomplicated and
clean. Contras against Sandinistas. Democracy against Communism. Freedom
against tyranny. Shoot or be shot. Life or death.
thousands of dollars buying medical supplies for the contras, shoes and
clothing he would take back to his countrymen. He felt that all the guilt that
came from the distance between him and his barefoot past would thus be erased,
all the hollow materialism of his present life would be redeemed.
Gómez, leader of one faction of the contras and better known as Commander Zero,
wanted Arguello to act as a figurehead for the cause, a money-raiser and public
speaker. "That would not be honest," said Arguello. "If I believe,
I must fight."
He addressed a
group of people at a party in Atlantic City. "You may never see me
again," he said. "I am even looking forward to being killed one
In 1983 he went
to the contra camp in Costa Rica, put on fatigues and trained with a machine
gun. The rebels greeted him like a hero, then said, man, what are you doing
here? He felt himself living on the edge again, between hunger for battle and
fear of its consequences; it was an aliveness he had not felt since
Days passed, with
no command to attack. He grew restless again. One day, without orders, he and a
group of 35 men began a week-long march to a Sandinista stronghold, the village
of San Juan del Norte. Their plan was to launch a surprise attack and blow up a
bridge to cut off the enemy's escape.
From tree to tree
they darted, drawing near enough to shoot. Suddenly they were spotted; bullets
were zinging the air near his ears, plumes of dirt jumping from the ground near
his feet. Zelayita, a man who had become his friend, made a desperate attempt
to rush closer. A spatter of red holes appeared across his chest.
left him. He fired a clip wildly. He ran to his dead friend and began to haul
him away. Contras were screaming at him to leave the body and flee, bullets
were biting off tree bark all around him. Resolution was a terrible thing.
He returned to
the camp and looked around him. Contra leaders were living in fancy houses in
Costa Rica. They were driving brand-new Range Rovers. One day they promised him
money to continue championing their cause, crushing his idealism even more. He
pleaded with the officer in charge of supplies to issue him medicine and shoes
and food to give to the nearby Indians, who were shriveling from dysentery and
starvation before his eyes.
dying," he said.