Barreto guided the Land Cruiser through a diesel-choked traffic jam, north toward the Caribbean, west past an oil refinery and across a plain toward the mountains. He stopped at the pale-blue cinder-block house where the old farmer was living under house arrest.
"This is an injustice," Arístides Sánchez said, sitting in a plastic chair in the backyard, as a carnivorous lizard stalked the chickens in the rising heat.
The minister of justice had accused Sánchez and his wife, 60-year-old Lesbia Quezada, of being accomplices to the kidnapping. The minister told reporters that the two let the kidnappers use their home—about 10 miles from the actual hideout—as a logistical base. He said they provided food for the kidnappers. The apparent connection between the couple and the kidnappers was strengthened by the fact that the mysterious man with the Colombian accent left a wine-colored Nissan Xterra parked in front of the couple's house for several days while the kidnapping unfolded. The charge was more serious for the couple's 27-year-old son, Alexander Gregorio Sánchez. The authorities listed his name among those of the kidnappers.
Their prior records probably did no favors for father or son. Arístides admits he served 19 months in prison in the 1970s for shooting a man to death in what he says was self-defense. ("This guy showed up at my house to kill me, and I had to defend myself," he said.) According to his mother, Alexander was visiting a relative's house to borrow cooking oil several years ago when the police burst in and charged everyone with drug distribution. The mother says Alexander had nothing to do with drugs.
In any event, Arístides Sánchez denies that he knowingly helped the kidnappers. As for his wife, multiple witnesses say she was out of town visiting her paralyzed 86-year-old mother when the kidnapping took place. As for their son, Arístides says he was fishing at the time. Alexander has tuberculosis, and his mother says he's lost 100 pounds and has been unable to work for two years. He has two small children of his own, and until Nov. 11 they all lived together in Agua Clara in a house of wood and mud.
"Alexander was fishing," Arístides said from his plastic chair. "I saw the ruckus the government was making, and I went out to find my son because I didn't know what was happening. There was the national guard, the helicopter....
"One of the army comes up and says, 'Where's the skinny one?'
"'What skinny one?'
"'Your son. We're looking for him.'"
Sánchez continued with the story.