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ADRIFT IN A SEA OF CHOICES
Gary Smith
October 21, 1985
Alexis Arguello once considered suicide as an escape from the contradictions and ambiguities that filled a rich life with betrayal and despair
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October 21, 1985

Adrift In A Sea Of Choices

Alexis Arguello once considered suicide as an escape from the contradictions and ambiguities that filled a rich life with betrayal and despair

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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.

He spent 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.

Edén Pastora 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 day."

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 retiring.

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.

Arguello's senses 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.

"They're dying," he said.

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