On the left, Mexico City, June 22, 2001 – Noel Guerrero Santiago, “Che” Guevara’s confidential aide, guerrilla warfare expert and the original leader of Nicaragua’s FSLN Sandinista Liberation Front and. Perhaps, a COMINTERN agent since the 1940s . On the right, Caracas, Venezuela, 1979 – Plutarco Hernandez Sancho, the Sandinista Front’s Comandante Marcial (his bride’s next-door-neighbor in Costa Rica, and a post-Cold War friend of the author) in Caracas as a representative of the Sandinista Front at an international donors conference (author’s collection).
In between Marine enlistments, in his Chapter 8, “The Bay of Pigs: A Love Story”, Brown describes dodging a job offer that could easily have ended his life of foreign affairs before it even began: “ If I’d accepted, my next visit to Cuba would have taken place at Playa Jirón, better known as the Bay of Pigs. Given how that turned out, I made the right decision. Since then I’ve visited Playa Jirón several time. It’s probably the worst place in Cuba to make an amphibious landing. A better name for it would be Suicide Swamp.”
Thailand: By now re-enlisted in the Marines and trained as a Thai language Intelligence Linguist, in his Chapter 9, “Thailand - Into the Realm of COIN”, Brown describes his baptism into the world of counter-insurgency: “While with the 1st ITT, my life among the more restless natives of this planet really began to roll. There were interesting wars underway all over the region, some of which the media knew about.”
Ninh Hoa, Vietnam, 1968. On the left, author calling artillery fire against Viet Cong positions in the nearby mountains. In the center, he is practicing his diplomatic skills with a rifle. On the right, Salvadoran Faribundo Marti (FMLN) insurgents in Hanoi with their North Vietnam instructors at approximately the same time the author was in South Vietnam (courtesy of FMLN commander Ferman Cienfuegos).
In Chapter 25, “Phoenix”, he suggest that some things can be so ludicrous they can make you laugh, even in the midst of a war, “Other images remain vivid - the portable crapper local officials mounted on the open bed of a three-quarter-ton truck for then President Ngo Dinh Diem’s use during a visit to Ninh Hòa on the off chance he might want to drop his drawers and take a dump before the masses.”
In his Chapter 26, “Exiting Vietnam—Lessons Learned”, Brown describes some conclusions he reached, “By 1967 the [Vietnam] war had deteriorated into a rather desperate attempt to defeat an exceptionally well-entrenched insurgency with a hybrid or, more precisely, bastardized civilian and military mixture of guns, butter, and bullshit.”
Mexico: From Vietnam he’s off to Mexico. In Chapter 27, “Mérida—La Ciudad Blanca”, Brown describes just one of the hundreds of hazards he and his family faced during his service abroad, “The local Director of Public Health delicately explained to me soon after we arrived, ‘if feces were florescent, Mérida wouldn’t need electric lights.’”
And in his Chapter 29, “Alarums and Excursions—and Shrimp”, he notes that, even in the most unlikely places, diplomats runs risks, “It sounded more dangerous than Vietnam—board a shrimper full of drunken sailors and prostitutes, relieve the Captain, and order the crew to sail the boat back to the United States without me aboard.”
Paraguay: Some years later, now assigned to Asuncion, Paraguay, Brown has yet more experiences, four of which he relates in his chapters 30, 31, 32 and 35, and introduces to his readers to the amazing realities of some of diplomacy’s stranger charms.
In “Paraguay—Big Rivers, Bigger Egos”, his Chapter 30, he describes Stroessner-era Paraguay as, “A veritable snake pit of intrigues, jealousies, backroom machinations, plots, counterplots, and corruption and an economic system was crawling with smugglers, money launderers and drug traffickers. It was just my kind of place!”
On the left, Villa Hayes, Paraguay, the ceremony accepting a copy of the arbitration decision by President Rutherford B. Hayes that led to its being named Villa Hayes. The author is the one standing on the left wearing a moustache and silly grin while American Ambassador Landau is the tallest gentleman on the far right, while the author’s son, Timothy Patrick, holds the U.S. flag. On the right, the author is in Sapucai, his favorite agricultural village, riding herd on some of Paraguay’s biggest “non-export.”
In his Chapter 31, “Nixon, Stroessner and the French Connection”, he relates one of the most bizarre experiences of his entire diplomatic career that took place when he was serving as the interpreter of a personal emissary that had been sent to Paraguay by President Nixon, “I held my left hand up in [President] Stroessner’s face, my right in the face of President Nixon’s august spokesman, smiled, apologized abjectly - and sat down on the floor. After all, what else was I to do?”
In 32, “Fat Colonels, Mau Maus, and Chilean Blonds”, he suggest one reason for some of his successes, “Being a strong believer in the Eleanor Parker theory of seduction, ’Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker’, I began by inviting some of them to our home and getting them drunk.”
In Itaipu: The $19 Billion Dam, his Chapter 35, Brown comments on his efforts to “sell America”, “One especially colorful TV commentator said, using sweeping hand and arm gestures to emphasize his point, ‘The Brazilians shoved it right up our ass - all the way to the elbow. And they didn’t even use Vaseline!’”.
North Holland, the Netherlands. Author and family dressed in traditional Dutch attire. Left to right, daughters Tamara and Rebecca, Leda (seated), the author, who still has his moustache, is standing next to his daughter Barbara, listening to his son Timothy Patrick play an accordion.
Then, in chapter 40, “Terror in the Tulips”, the horrors, “When Leda picked up the phone a male voice said to her in Dutch-accented English, ‘I see your husband just left for work. So the children will be leaving on their bicycles for school in a few minutes, and you will be alone, won’t you?’ The caller was a bona fide, convicted terrorist“.
Returning to Washington, DC, Brown goes on to describe some of his more memorable experiences while serving inside the State Department. In Chapter 41 on his years as Paraguay-Uruguay Desk Officer, “Turf Wars—The Office of Pariah States”, Brown discusses the inevitable clashes of interests inherent in the policy making process, “We spent so much of our time working on issues related to political prisoners, torture, disappearances, and so forth that we privately called it the Office of Pariah States.”
In “Croat Terrorists and the Nazi Death Doctor”, his Chapter 42, he describes one of the most bizarre incidents he had to handle during that assignment, “The Paraguayan Ambassador’s chauffeur-bodyguard turned out to be a Croatian terrorist with a black belt in karate who was in the United States under a false name on a Paraguayan diplomatic passport.”
Having moved on to become the Deputy Director of European Economic/Political Affairs, where he’s involved with some high strategy issues, in his Chapter 43, “Crude, Crud, and Cuba”, he comments that, “In case of an all-out war it would be irrational for Castro to take on NATO or the United States. But Castro had proven during the Cuba Missile Crisis that he was perfectly capable of acting irrationally.”
By now Deputy for Cuban Affairs, he becomes involved in some of the most highly politically partisan matters of the day. In his Chapter 44, “Cubanisimo!”, once again politics, policies and his Nevada connections clash, this time at the highest level. Speaking on behalf of President Reagan, Senator Laxalt of Nevada calls him to say, “We need ideas and someone to help push them through. Only two limits. No one can get hurt and what we do shouldn’t cost any money.’ They weren’t exactly looking for some Kabuki Theater, but it was close.”
In “Rum, Coke, and the Eternal Embargo”, his Chapter 45, Brown comments on arguably the hottest issue in US-Cuba relations, one he’s now responsible for handling on a daily basis, the Cuba Embargo, “The Cuba Embargo is a sterling example of myth trumping truth… an important part of my job was to review and approve export licenses.”
In this Chapter, he also includes three once highly classified, since declassified documents. One, a Confidential Department of Defense memorandum on Radio Marti suggests its potential as a psychological warfare platform. The other two are classified cables he wrote, one a Secret/EXDIS cable to US Ambassador to Japan Mansfield concerning Cuban nickel and the other a Confidential cable to the Embassy in Mexico threatening to label PEMEX, Mexico’s national oil company, as an “Enemy Agent.”
In “Doing the Guantanamo Flip-Flop”, his Chapter 46, Brown can’t resist commenting on what is still a hot topic, untried prisoners languishing in American prisons. “When Reagan assumed the presidency, some 2,746 unconvicted Marielitos were languishing in American prisons by edict of Carter. When I became Deputy for Cuban Affairs, I found all 2,746 of them sitting right on top of my in-box.”
The French Caribbean: From Cuba Affairs, Brown is assigned as Consul General in Martinique, arguably the United States’ oldest diplomatic presence abroad, where he’s responsible for handling the bilateral relations between the United States and three provinces of France, each part of both the European Union and the Americas, an assignment much hotter politically than he could ever have anticipated.
There was terrorism: In Chapter 47 – “Martinique Magnifique—America’s French Caribbean Mistress” he reports his first, but far from last, brush with terrorism in the Caribbean, “Leda and I were awakened by a large explosion. Rolling over, we said to each other almost simultaneously, ‘Bet that was the Consulate.’ Then the French Gendarmes called and asked politely, ‘Monsieur le Consul General, would you care to see what just happened to your Consulate?’”
There were mini-wars: When the United States invades nearby Grenada, everything changes. In Chapter 48, “Invading France”, Brown finds himself involved in an, until then, unheard of joint military operation – at the request of the French. “[The tiny island of] Marie-Galante was fast becoming a royal, post-Grenada pain in the ass for the French, thanks to the Mayor of its largest town, Gran Bourg. So the French Prefet called me to ask if we would be so kind as to join the French Army in invading the damn place and scare the living crap out of him.”
Even politics: By Chapter 49, “The Ambassador, the Battleship, and My Posterior Anatomy, he’s ginning up shows of support for France’s position in the Caribbean while also enjoying the high life. At the end of his hosting the first-ever visit by an American Ambassador to Martinique, he mentions that, “One day, I found myself sitting next to the American Ambassador to France enjoying a lunch of newly caught lobster, quail eggs, and caviar served by the Rockefeller’s butler.”
And terrorism, always terrorism: In chapter 50, “The Terrorist’s Vacation”, Brown comments on one incident, “The bomb had been set by Luc Reinette, the leader of a local separatist group. But the way he’d done it seemed so stupid I found it hard to believe.”
Reinette then tries to return the favor. In chapter 52, “Solve Haiti? Why?”, Brown finds himself on an assassination list, “An assassination list drawn up by the local branch of Reinette’s terrorist ARC outfit incensed me. How dare they put the American Consul General fifth!”