The New York Times' Paul Montgomery was there. So was Marlene Nadle of the Village Voice. He wore an open necked shirt and sneakers, she an eye popping chartreuse turtleneck blouse, sky blue toreador pants, and calf high black patent leather boots.
There too were Philippe Nourry of Paris' Le Figaro, the AP's Jorge Canelas, UPI's Marty McReynolds, Reuters' Christopher Roper, France Presse's Mario Bianchi, Italy's ANSA, Spain's EFE, Hamburg's DPA, Canadian Press and French Television, CBS and NBC. The London Times' Richard Wigg had to scoot off to Rio for the IMF meeting but returned later, and correspondents for the Washington Post and the Manchester Guardian were on their way down.
The press pack had moved into Camirí for the sensational trial of Frenchman Régis Debray, the young communist intellectual author who had been captured by Bolivian troops as he left the guerrilla area with a personal message for Fidel Castro from guerrilla leader Che Guevara and the special mission of organizing a guerrilla support apparatus abroad. He was captured in the company of communist Argentine artist Ciro Roberto Bustos, also being tried, and George Roth, an enterprising young Anglo Chilean free lance photographer who had located the guerrillas only a few hours before.
Camirí, the nation's oil capital, is cradled among peaks of the Lower Andes in Southeastern Bolivia. Its dirt streets go up and down and end abruptly against steep hillsides. During the very short winter gusty surazos speed through the area, cutting through clothing like icy blades, but in summer, which covers most of the year, temperatures soar over 100 degrees.
With the exception of Marlene's exotic costume, which she topped with a pert bow tying back her hair and the blackest sunglasses, most of which she soon discarded, we newsmen dressed much the same: outside the pants short sleeve sports shirts, light cotton trousers and either sneakers or open leather sandals. Debray's trial began in late summer. It was hot and dusty in Camirí, stifling.
Most of the newsmen stayed at the Hotel Oriente, Camirí's best. It had an imposing front, inasmuch as it was probably the biggest wall in town, broken only by a couple of windows in front and a wide door through which the owner drove his truck. The hotel was its garage. The rooms were at the back. One door, one window, dirt floor and the most primitive of toilet facilities. The guys would queue up before the common bathroom at daybreak amidst giggles of the maids, for they were barely covered since there was no place to hang up anything in the shower stall. There were other less "prestigious" places, but better in other ways. The Hotel Beirut had a lovely interior patio full of well tended flowering plants and fruit trees. The Hotel Londres boasted Papa Debray among its guests and drew newsmen who thought he would provide a pipeline to his son until the old curmudgeon began accusing us all of being agents of the CIA.
The influx of newsmen was so great that the town's hotel men immediately set about building new rooms. Montgomery and I wound up in one of the Hotel Oriente's unfinished upstairs rooms once. We had chartered a plane out of La Paz and got into Camirí late without knowing Hugo Burgos of West Coast Cables had rented a room for us in a private home. Montgomery and I had already stayed in the Oriente before. We had gone down on a scouting mission long before the opening of the trial was set and spent a couple of days there. Our unfinished new room still had no door or window, just the openings. The light switch was two bare wires carrying potent 220 that required tricky hooking together in the dark, and the access was perilous: to get to it required walking over a void on loose, widely spaced planks that served as a temporary continuation of a covered balcony that ran along the back of the hotel but did not even share its protective railing. The mosquitoes ate us up.
We moved in with Señora Alduína Hoyos next day. She had a sprawling house on Capitán Manchego Street with a cement floored indoor patio and a yard filled with lime trees and a huge palo borracho then full of white blooms. Doña Alduína was a pleasant woman who lived with four girls, her slim and pretty teen age daughter Charo; her young widowed niece Teresa; Mari, who roomed there and worked in a drugstore; and the young maid Aída, who went to night school. Doña Alduína rented the street part of the house to a couple of families and ran her own business besides. She owned several Jeeps, the Camirí taxis, had the candy and soft drink concessions at the local movies and was always going or coming to Lagunillas, Monteagudo, Ticucha or some other nearby village, where she sold household goods and clothing. Chris Roper of Reuters moved in with us a few days later and promptly fell in love with Charo. In the warm evenings he used to walk among the lime trees, holding a mate gourd in one hand and Charo's hand in the other. Aída who was home most of the day washed our clothes and went out after cold beer for Paul and me while we sat in the shade of the courtyard writing our files. In the afternoons we'd all have tea together in the large living room and talk about the trial, the people involved or the military, who were giving us newsmen plenty of trouble, or about the States, which none of the girls had ever seen. On Sundays they would pile into a couple of Jeeps with us and we'd all go for a swim in the cool Parapetí River.
I took most of my meals at Marietta's, the restaurant owned by Italian Federico Forfori. Doña Anna, Federico's wife, made fresh pasta daily and she and Candy, as we called Candelaria, the waitress, ran the restaurant. Federico sold kerosene stoves, electric fans, furniture, and other goods, which he got on consignment from Brazil. His place was great in the evening. We ate and drank until late around tables set in the patio, under fragrant flowering vines that grew along wires strung overhead.
Constant snags had delayed the opening of the trail for weeks. Most of the press pack was settled and had overcome initial difficulties such as getting clearance from both the military and the political police in Camirí and the biggest problem, communications, was being worked out. Time passed slowly for most of the gang.
There had been a few interesting developments. Papa Debray became a pest, both to the press and to the army, whose authority he refused to recognize. He insisted on talking to his son through the bars at the Casino where Régis was prisoner until a guard one day scared his pants off by firing a shot right over his head. The sporadic shooting we used to hear, we finally learned, came from Colonel Luis Reque Terán's pistol. Reque, the commander of the Fourth Division, helped some prisoners refresh their memories by outlining them against the wall with pistol shots. He finally winged one of them, but apparently not without results. There were also rare interviews with Papa Debray and with an occasional visiting big shot such as General Alfredo Ovando, the commander in chief of the armed forces. But the time dragged and we spent most of it hanging around the Casino corner hoping to catch some high ranking army officer or to buttonhole the defense lawyers after they had visited the prisoners. We interviewed priests and peones alike, anyone we thought might shed some information about developments, or what Debray and the other prisoners were doing.
The opening of the trial brought new challenges. A new credential was required to gain admittance to the courthouse and as of the day before the trial opened some newsmen were still struggling to get it. Television cameramen were busy arranging lights in the courtroom, taking light readings, and trying to figure out ways to smuggle their film out of the courtroom should guards not let them out while the court was in session. Some cameramen included a piece of rope in their gear with which to lower film down to assistants, who were to be on the lookout from the outside.
By dusk Monday, the eve of the opening of the trial, soldiers were out in force along Avenida Petrolera, the wide, esplanaded oiled down dirt street in front of the courthouse. The military restricted access to the courthouse area by erecting a six foot high wire fence across Avenida Petrolera at each end of the block and stationing soldiers with bayonets at the ready in front of the fences and all around the block.
The military were very annoyed with the press. They felt the press was making a hero out of the young Debray, whom they viewed as an enemy of the State and a common criminal. They threw several newsmen out of the area, including Irineo Guimaraes of France Presse. Other newsmen found they could not get permission to return to the area once they went out. Among those shut out was the AP's Canelas. It was difficult to get clearance to remain in Camirí, difficult to get the necessary passes, and difficult to move around—one needed a safe conduct to go to the airstrip, or even to go swimming in the river.
Thus it was no surprise when we discovered that Reque had sneaked the prisoners into a room at the back of the courthouse at daybreak on Tuesday morning.
The crowd of curious onlookers gathered early. They pressed against the fences, looking towards the courthouse. We newsmen were challenged by the soldiers at the fence gates despite our passes and frisked on going through. Two dozen sharply dressed soldiers in olive green fatigues armed with bayoneted Mausers and Swiss .30 caliber SIG submachineguns guarded the courtroom entrance. They wore bright red neckerchiefs tucked under their blouses and German Army type white helmet liners.
Pint sized Reque, a former military attache to the U.S., showed up shortly before 8 a.m. in spotless khakis, a .38 caliber revolver swinging from a gun belt at his right hip, a swagger stick, gloves in his left hand, a diaphanous white scarf tucked under his open shirt collar, and his overseas cap set at a precipitous angle. Marlene, who soon found the heat too much for pants, boots and turtleneck blouses, turned out in a screaming magenta blouse, stamp sized black and white skirt with a houdstooth pattern, and sneakers. She had already become the talk of Camirí. She was known as La Minifalda, the miniskirt, a title bestowed upon her for introducing the style to the Bolivian Chaco, and it was reported by a columnist for La Paz's El Diario that the women of Camirí crossed themselves as she walked by. Reque reacted differently. He called over an aide who brought over a case Reque opened to reveal a 16 millimeter movie camera.
"You're taking pictures of me," he told us, "so I will take pictures of you." With this he whirred off a few feet of film, mostly of Marlene.
At that moment a captain with a bullhorn came running up to Reque and said, "Colonel, the defense attorneys have no passes to get in."
"That's all right," said Reque, as he ordered the captain to tell the guards at the wire fence gates to let them in.
After showing our credentials again and getting another frisking at the door, we entered the courtroom.
We had been in there before and watched the refurbishing process that turned the oil workers' meeting hall into a military courtroom. We had watched the television cameramen set up their tripods on the balcony at the rear. The photographers had been assigned to the balcony and it was great for them. We reporters had been told nothing and were greatly surprised to discover we had been given the seats at the very back of the ground floor. The first two rows behind the dock were reserved for the military brass and the succeeding ones for local observers, citizens of good standing, and leaders of Camirí. I was surprised there was no one dressed in black, widows or relatives of those killed in action against the guerrillas. A young girl in yellow feigned she was clandestinely distributing leaflets. They were from the Damas Camireñas, the ladies of Camirí, and repudiated "the ignoble attitude of elements indoctrinated by the Castro communists who support and encourage foreign mercenaries that have invaded our territory." The ladies demanded "justice."
We immediately began talking to the members of the audience, trying to find out who they were. The man I approached owned a hardware store. "The guerrillas have been bad for business," he said. "A lot of construction has stopped. We want to see those sons of bitches get what they deserve. I'd like to see then strung up." My interview came to a quick end as the major in charge ordered everybody to stand.
Colonel Efraín Guachalla, the president of the military tribunal, walked in followed by the other four members of the court, their legal advisers and the clerk of the court. They sat facing the audience, side by side along a long narrow table set on a dais. Behind them high on the wall was the seal of Bolivia and right under it in huge bright red letters a sign saying, "The sea is ours by right, it is our duty to regain it." What an outlet to the sea had to do with the trial of seven men accused of guerrilla activity was never explained, but those of us familiar with the Bolivian psychosis arising from their failure to accept the loss of their coastline in the War of the Pacific got the idea. The message was going to be seen on millions of television screens and in pictures in newspapers and magazines, though largely by audiences that would not understand Spanish.
Two soldiers stood by the Bolivian flag to the right of the judges, and the prosecutor, Colonel Remberto Iriarte, sat on a high stool behind a lectern. Two desks were set in front of the bench, one at each side of the courtroom, one for the two civilian lawyers representing the relatives of those killed by the guerrillas and the other for the defense lawyers. The dock faced the bench between the lawyers' desks; the prisoners' chairs were set side by side before a line of seated, white helmeted soldiers, their rifles upright between their knees, their backs to the railing separating the court from the audience.
It was 8 a.m. sharp when Guachalla ordered the prisoners brought in. First to step through the rear door to the left of the judges was Debray, looking pale, drawn, and thin. His cheeks were sunken, his belt drawn to a tightness obviously not customary. He wore a dark blue shirt, blue gray cotton pants, and he carried a small notebook and a tobacco pouch in one hand. His sandy hair was overgrown, his moustache bushy, his sideburns long. His entrance set off a wild scramble, completely disrupting the small crowded courtroom. Photographers had been promised 10 minutes to take pictures and they rushed through the railing gate, followed by television cameramen and some of us reporters with cameras, used principally to gain access in order to fire off a few questions. No one even noticed the other defendants, immediately cut off from Debray, who was caught in a circle of rushing newsmen. In the midst of the whirring of movie cameras, the clicking of shutters and the clacking of reflex camera mirrors, Richard Valeriani of NBC shoved a mike at Debray.
"Do you have something to say? Are you nervous?"
"No," answered Debray in a flat voice.
"Do you think you will get a fair trial?" I broke in.
"No, it's not free."
Valeriani shot a few more questions to him, along with a few other reporters, among them McReynolds.
"My lawyer told me not to talk."
The scrambling for angles, a second shot, one mores, close ups, and wide angle views to relate Debray to the court room continued with the inevitable pushing around and backing up of cameramen, blind except for what their one open eye sees through the viewfinder. Ponderous Luis Choucino of CBS burdened with a big movie camera stepped back against the defense attorney's desk, fell on it and broke off the two front legs below the front panel. Colonel Reque, taken aback by the unexpected development, reacted quickly, ordering the two soldiers to break off the two back legs. The operation, which lowered the height of the desk but at least left it level, almost went unnoticed in the scramble taking place. The commotion in the court continued until the soldiers ushered us out at Guachalla's order.
The tall, thin, dark, pompous, mustachioed Colonel Guachalla banged his gavel three times and began a short opening speech. He extolled Bolivian justice, pointed out that despite the law foreign lawyers were being allowed to take part. He cautioned the defendants that they could not speak, except through their lawyers, and after instructing the audience to be quiet, declared open the Council of War. He tapped his gavel once more and announced:
"The case will be tried.”
Relator Judge Colonel Remberto Torres followed Guachalla. He had reviewed the evidence and visited each of the defendants to ascertain if their depositions were correct and to give them a chance to repudiate or change them if they wished. Colonel Torres said the defendants were charged with murder, theft, and other crimes and asked the Clerk of the Court to read excerpts of the testimony.
The clerk began in a low monotone, broken only by stops required for him to move from one excerpt to the next, starting with a series of general charges against the accused. Debray was accused of having made illegal use of his entry into Bolivia, of having under false pretenses acquired maps of what was to become the guerrilla area during his 1964 trip to Bolivia, of having been with the guerrillas when the guerrillas carried out attacks against the army, of having come to interview a supposed personage about whose presence there was no proof, and of being the mastermind behind the guerrilla movement.
The supposed personage Debray was accused of coming to interview in Bolivia was Che Guevara, whose presence in Bolivia was confirmed by the army shortly before the trial started. The trial record, however, did not include such proof. Debray had denied any complicity with the guerrillas, claiming he was only a newspaperman carrying out a journalistic assignment.
General charges against Argentine Ciro Roberto Bustos were that he had entered Bolivia with a forged passport under another name and that he was with the guerrillas when they attacked the army.
It was a long reading, with many breaks as the clerk came to the end of one excerpt, looked for the next, and continued. The courtroom was hot. The sun burned through the east wall. The torpid audience came to life briefly every time the clerk stopped, only to be mesmerized again, this time by the muted, monotonous hum of the electric fans straining to move the heavy air.
The excerpts read by the clerk also explained that Englishman George Roth and two others had been released since it had been proved they were not involved in the guerrillas.
At this point, Captain Raúl Novillo, Debray's court appointed lawyer, rose and objected. The trial, he said, could not continue unless the Decree of Charges was read. Guachalla denied the motion. But Novillo persisted. The quick exchange of words broke the monotony and reawakened the audience, which shook its somnolescent torpor as Guachalla banged his gavel, blurting at Novillo:
The clerk continued, but the audience never went back to sleep. This time the clerk began reading details up until then withheld from the public because of the secrecy of the preceding summarial process of the trial. He began by reading parts of Debray's deposition, a 355 page question and answer document.
The young Frenchman denied having killed or stolen and said the guerrillas were already organized when he arrived and that he had not indoctrinated the members of the rebel group. He defended his book, Revolution in the Revolution, explaining it was the result of studies carried out over four years and described it as a literary and social work having nothing to do with the guerrillas.
His declarations at the start, covering the first few hours after his arrest, also revealed he suffered from myopia. He said his glasses were taken from him along with other possessions.
The deposition also traced his movements during his three trips to Bolivia. Debray described his last entry as "casual," and explained that François Maspero, the Paris publisher, had called him and requested an interview with Che Guevara.
"I was to look for a person every day at 6 p.m. in front of the Hotel Sucre Palace in La Paz," said Debray. He had been instructed to stand and wait in front of the hotel with a copy of Life magazine in his hands.
"This person took me to Sucre where I met `Tania.' She took me to Camirí, along with Bustos, and from there to Ñancahuazú."
Ñancahuazú was the guerrillas' base camp, and Debray and the others had to wait there for Guevara's return to the base on March 19th.
Debray also described his interview with Guevara. The famous guerrilla leader, said Debray, had told him he did not plan to remain long in Bolivia, that he only planned to stay long enough to organize the guerrillas and teach them his ideas. Debray said Guevara planned to set up a popular government in Bolivia and that his aim was to establish a guerrilla base for Bolivia and the rest of Latin America.
According to the deposition, Debray also admitted he had fired a gun while with the guerrillas. He said he had practiced target shooting with a .22 caliber rifle. He also admitted he had gone hunting—in quest of food. He said he shot a brown bear one time and a bird another. He said he had also fired two larger caliber rifles on another occasion.
Guachalla declared a 15 minute recess after the clerk finished reading the parts of Debray's deposition the prosecutor had chosen. Most of those in the audience poured out and headed over to nearby Marietta's for a cold drink. Debray's father Georges who had been quietly listening, his white shirt open at the collar, his sleeves rolled up, walked over to the rail where photographer were scrambling to get more pictures of his son.
We of the press corps also seized on the recess period to complain about the fans. They made too much noise and made it hard for us at the back to hear. When the court resumed they were turned off.
The clerk read part of Salustio Choque's deposition, which the prosecutor also wanted made public since he felt Choque's statements incriminated both Debray and Bustos. The depositions of the other four defendants in the courtroom were not read. The court had no evidence from the seventh defendant, Jorge Vásquez Viana, who was being tried in absentia. The army reported him as a fugitive from the hospital, but we knew they had killed him.
Prosecutor Iriarte came next with a blistering accusation of the kind prosecuting attorneys hurl at juries and that tend to shock the uninitiated. Many of my colleagues, general reporters like myself, and those who sympathized with the guerrillas' cause along with some Camireños were astounded and incredulous at the violence with which Iriarte lashed out at the accused.
"The guerrillas," began Iriarte, "pretended to implant communism in Bolivia and later in the rest of Latin America, and more especially Castro communism, pretending to impose the regime of the paredón of ignominy, of jails, and all forms of Red imperialism.”
Then especially of Debray and Bustos:
"These pseudo leaders, writers, philosophers, journalists, artists, who call themselves political directors give themselves over to the task of murderous massacre.
"The line of revolution now is violence. For them there are no governments or societies more or less perfect. All must and deserve to be transformed. They write books for export, and war manuals. The result is bloodshed, mourning, and tears, as has occurred in our fatherland after Ñancahuazú.
"Revolution in the Revolution is the most effective instrument, the most exploitable, that causes terror and death in our country. It is the clearest and most patent proof of criminal banditry carried out by Red mercenaries and by traitors to the fatherland.
"Debray, following the slogans of Latin American communism, comes to Bolivia, calling himself an anthropologist, a sociologist, a professor, journalist. He teaches and incites our working class in this criminal adventure. This impostor who wheedles maps out of the government, this romantic ideologue who receives the slogans and instructions of his master Fidel Castro gives lectures and makes propaganda only to install himself later at Ñancahuazú and propagate crime and sadism. He who preferred the machinegun to the pen."
Iriarte then mocked Debray:
"I came here to interview the Guevara. No, I didn't. I didn't have a gun. Yes, I hunted, I killed a bear and a bird."
The prosecutor, who sat in his high stool and addressed both the judges and the audience, often looking at and pointing to the accused, then passed to accuse Debray specifically.
"He intervened directly in Ñancahuazú and he carried arms. He is the bandolero, brigand, known as `Danton'. He carried an M1 with 200 rounds.
"I will present proof opportunely, and ask that these photos be accepted as part of the evidence," continued Iriarte, flashing some pictures which reportedly showed Debray carrying an M1.
"They—Debray and Bustos—are the masterminds of the crimes that are the subject of this trial.
"To sum up, Gentlemen Magistrates, I accuse Jules Régis Debray, nicknamed `Danton,' and Ciro Roberto Bustos, called `Carlos', of the crimes of murder, theft, and serious wounds resulting from the ambushes in Ñancahuazú on the 23rd of March and Irripití on the 10th of April of this year, where they killed officers and men of the army and took their clothing and possessions and also property of the Bolivian Government."
Iriarte named three other defendants besides Debray and Bustos, accusing them of complicity, adding:
"I ask for the maximum penalty, to set an example—to show that in Bolivia the simulation of banditry will never prosper."
His closing words brought wild clapping from the audience.
Jaime Mendizábal, Bustos' civilian lawyer, followed Iriarte. He asked for a fair trial and reminded the military judges that being judges and jurymen they would have to remove their military uniforms and replace them with lawyer's robes. It was a rhetorical suggestion but Guachalla took offense, banged his gavel and glowering at Mendizábal cautioned him not to go too far. The soft spoken lawyer went on to challenge the court's jurisdiction and was immediately joined by Debray's lawyer, Captain Novillo.
The first day's session ended on that note, and we ran for our typewriters and the "cable office."
The cable office was a big improvement over conditions existing in Camirí when the first of us went there after it was announced Debray and the other guerrilla prisoners were to be tried in the War Zone.
I remember the day Montgomery and I visited Camirí, long before the trial date was set. We went to check transportation, accommodations, and communications facilities.
Air travelers to Camirí landed at the Choreti airstrip five kilometers away. Landing there was a big thrill because it required the pilot to carefully approach the valley and then watch his wings closely for about the last mile as the canyon got narrower and narrower. We discovered that getting copy out by plane was out of the question. One beat up DC 3 of Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano visited the Choreti airstrip three times a week, twice from Santa Cruz, and once from Sucre, and these flights were often cancelled.
The communications set up was worse. Montgomery and I found a man with a hand key at the telegraph office, a crumbling old adobe building with a red tile roof that also housed the post office. I was amazed to see Montgomery pull out his cable credit card.
"Will you accept this card?" Montgomery asked the telegrapher.
"Yes," answered the man, leaving me even more surprised.
The operator gave us telegram blanks and carefully explained we could send anything except information about the military unless we had it cleared by the censor at Fourth Division Headquarters. Montgomery wrote a message to his foreign editor at the Times and promptly got it back, with the request it be accompanied by a copy in Spanish. Montgomery carefully wrote the translation out in Spanish, "Los Tiempos de Nueva York, etcetera." The man counted the words, gave Montgomery his card back and said, "It will be five pesos." We laughed along with him as we paid for our telegrams and left. Credit was no problem, but the hand key would never do. No one could possibly clear the tremendous amount of copy that would come out of Camirí by tapping it out in dots and dashes.
Thanks to the West Coast Cable Company and especially to the efforts of Manager Colin Sharp and Hugo Burgos and the tremendous pressure brought by us correspondents on the government in La Paz, the government finally allowed the cable company to install a single channel telex connection betwee Camirí and La Paz. This meant Camirí could transmit by teleprinter to La Paz on the 66 word a minute radio channel; however, it could not receive, and had to rely for communications from La Paz on a radio voice circuit. But it was a great improvement anyway, and West Coast could keep the circuit open as long as necessary or as long as the operators held out. West Coast began testing it the day before the trial opened. Prior to that stories had been going out by hand key and by plane to the West Coast office in La Paz.
The agency men began filing early the day the trail opened and continued throughout the day. McReynolds had his typewriter in the back of a nearby drugstore, where he was assisted by the pretty salesgirl. He would dash from the courtroom to the drugstore, type out his stories and messages, and give them to a messenger boy he'd hired to take them to the cable office. Other agency men would run to their hotels, or straight to the cable office, where West Coast had set up a couple of typewriters for us in a small room adjacent to the telex operators' office. The two operators sent down by West Coast worked from 8 a.m. until 3 a.m. the next day getting out the first day's copy. They transmitted over 25,000 words despite a four hour period of atmospheric interference that caused several correspondents to miss their deadlines.
But the local telegraph operator stayed with us and we became great friends. Occasionally he could get a message through when the telex failed. One of his duties was to contact the nearby small town of Muyupampa on the town's one telephone, located in our press room. It was a lung bursting operation, and those of us who covered the trial will never forget him screaming, "Aló, Muyupampa. Aló, Muyupampa." I don't remember him ever getting an answer.
We found the town's walls covered with posters when we went to breakfast Wednesday, the second day of the trial. The posters were especially heavy on the building walls close to the courtroom.
"Father, if you don't defend me from the Castro Communists, I will do it," said a poster showing a school boy dropping his books and picking up a rifle. Some of the old posters, we'd seen elsewhere in Bolivia were up too, including one aimed at Debray that carried the legend, "He who kills with steel, dies by steel." The posters had signs scrawled all over them: "Sons of bitches, out of the fatherland." "Thugs, bandits, communists." "Bolivia without Castrismo." "Death to the criminal communists." Another poster showed pictures of the officers killed in the guerrilla war over a legend saying, "These are the three officers cowardly assassinated."
We went through the same frisking procedure as the day before but found the soldiers at the door in better humor. A woman guard who frisked the women on Tuesday had not arrived and the men guards were fighting for the privilege of doing the honors to the women going into the courtroom. They ignored us pretty well, except for Marlene, until the woman guard arrived and deprived them of their fun.
Guachalla and the other members of the tribunal had discarded their uniform blouses and ties and were now wearing open neck short sleeved shirts.
Wednesday's session began with the reading of a summary of the proceedings of the previous day. While the clerk droned on a crowd began to build up outside. Late arrivals whispered to those sitting by them, and soon an aide came after Navy Captain Luis Hurtado. Those of us who went outside to investigate found the guards holding back some 80 to 90 demonstrators trying to get into the courtroom, including several in mourning. Among those in black were retired Army Captain Fidel Peláez, his wife Piedad, 17 year old daughter Adela, and Matilde Cadimá, a cousin of 21 year old soldier Luis Peláez who had been killed by the guerrillas. The young girl was in tears, her fingers white as she grasped and shook the wire fence.
In the courtroom Mendizábal pressed forth his argument that the court was incompetent to try the accused, claiming it was a case for the civil courts. He was supported by Captain Novillo. The defense also objected to manifestations of partisanship from the spectators, especially the military, who had clapped long and loud the day before when the prosecutor had asked for the maximum penalty for the accused. The defense lawyers also claimed that certain documents, such as the Constitution, plus the passports and other belongings taken from Debray and Bustos when they were captured should be in the courtroom. Guachalla proudly held up a copy of the Constitution, but the other things were not there.
The commotion outside built up again. This time it was obvious something serious was going on. We could hear shouts and commands and the unmistakable noise of scuffling. The number of demonstrators had more than doubled despite the blinding sun, dust, and oppressive heat. The unpopular soldiers' exhortations to the demonstrators to stay back had only served to exacerbate them, and it was obvious they were going to bring the fence down when Captain Hurtado rushed up with a squad of military policemen who ran right up to the fence with bayonets drawn.
"We want Debray's head," shouted the demonstrators. "Long live free Bolivia." A Jeep with loudspeakers drove around the area, blaring: "Death to Debray. Out with the communists. Let's put Debray against the execution wall."
The menacing and morbid tone of the crowd brought out Prosecutor Iriarte. He shouted, pleading for quiet, seeking to be heard: "I am the prosecutor. It is I who represent you."
"We want to see the bandit. Let's put him up before the execution wall. Paredón. Paredón."
"I want to answer that citizen," said Iriarte raising his right arm, "The one who wants to put Debray before the execution wall. The execution wall, the paredón, is precisely what we Bolivians object to."
But the crowd would have none of it.
"We want to see the bandit. Execute Debray. Where is that philosopher?"
Guachalla denied the defense lawyers' motion challenging the court's competence but could not deny accepting their appeal to the Supreme Court of Military Justice in Sucre. He recessed the trial shortly before noon pending appeal.
The army was left with the problem of how to get Debray back to his cell. Two squads of military police had moved out. One held some of the people back in the streets and the other held the crowd back at the fence, but the mob still managed to tear the fence down.
Colonel Reque came out and ordered the armored van used to transport the prisoners to and from the courtroom taken away. The driver moved off almost casually, drove around the block, and parked by the bridge over a canal running along the back of the courthouse. The ruse didn't quite work. The crowd caught sight of Reque and a squad of soldiers escorting Debray and the five other prisoners out the back, along the canal bank, and into the van, already moving by the time the demonstrators, still shouting "Death to Debray," reached the canal. Temporarily foiled, they doubled back as their leaders screamed, "To the casino," and began running diagonally across the plaza towards the casino prison while a platoon of soldiers stupidly sought to cut them off by running the longer way around the main square. The crowd, still shouting "Death to Debray" and "Debray to the wall," beat the soldiers to the casino but the van was already pulling away, followed by Reque driving a Jeep and several guards who hurried to close the casino gate in the face of the angry screaming demonstrators. The pursuing soldiers moved right into the demonstrators from behind, pushing and prodding them with their rifle butts and menacing with their bayonets. A few demonstrators actually scuffled with the soldiers and only Reque's timely intervention prevented bloodshed. He ran into the green mass of soldiers, ordering them to close ranks and to keep their cool and after whipping them into line broke through them from the rear just in time to stop a hysterical mother and daughter in mourning from hurling themselves at the line of bayonets the soldiers presented. Reque caught one woman in each arm and sought to calm them. I could not hear what the women were saying; their faces were running with tears.
The soldiers gradually pushed the crowd back to the plaza, but remained in a solid line across the intersection, bayonets at the ready.
The day ended dismally for us. West Coast was unable to move all of the copy. Only 10,000 words of an estimated 30,000 filed that day got out. In the afternoon, a Jeep driver knocked the aerial down and by the time it was put up again atmospheric conditions were so bad that La Paz couldn't make heads or tails of the garbling they were getting from Camirí.