War Criminal Sanctuary: Happy Endings For Evil Men in FL
I have neglected you. It’s been far to long since I posted a story here. I took a job at a magazine, ending my 10 year career as an undistinguished freelance writer. The new job takes up much of my time. I’m getting the hang of it, but I want to return to you, my reader.
I can’t blame the job entirely. A lot of my creative effort has gone towards my podcast, Cheeseburger in Babylon. As of this writing, I’ve recorded 33 episodes. I don’t know why I didn’t just post each episode here. I think I stubbornly thought I could do both. I think writing is different than podcasting. Writing is much harder.
I had one reader write me a stern email, asking where my writing was and threatening to cancel her subscription if I did not publish soon. It should have kicked me into gear, but it felt a bit paralyzing. I am both beholden to others and myself and I spiraled into a bit of a writer’s block. I wanted to make something good to make up for my absence, but instead it made it more intimidating. I am not upset with my reader, rather I suppose I should be flattered that they want me to write more so that they could read.
So from here on out, I will share each episode with you through this newsletter and write supplemental material. I will reflect on the podcast and talk about things I wish I had said or didn’t say. You can reach out to me and tell me I am dead wrong about something. Or tell me I say “like” too much. Or I should shut up and let my guest speak.
I’m surprisingly proud of the podcast. I usually hate everything I make, but recording conversations and sharing them is different somehow. The written word needs to be perfect, flawless. In other words, something that can never be. A conversation feels more like a game of pickup basketball to me. It happens, it’s over, and then you start all over again. It doesn’t feel like I’m keeping score or trying to create a masterpiece.
This week’s edition of Cheeseburger in Babylon is my first proper solo episode. No guest, just me. There’s some meandering thoughts in it, but the core of episode is about how Florida is a sanctuary for war criminals and dictators.
Please listen here:
Cheeseburger in Babylon, Ep. 33 - Where War Criminals Retire
I always knew Florida attracted unsavory characters.
It is an empty land that people with sordid pasts can escape to in order to leave their past behind, or carry out more of their schemes because they are no longer welcome in their community. But it wasn’t until I saw that video of Jair Bolsonaro, the former president of Brazil who likely organized the January 8th in Brasilia (AKA the even stupider version of Jan 6), aimlessly wandering through the aisles of an Orlando-area Publix after he lost his election to Lula da Silva, that I learned the extent of just how many unsavory characters have moved to Florida.
Our state is filled with war criminals and despots who escaped judgment in their homelands to retire comfortably in our sunshine. I thought I’d make a Buzzfeed-type listicle of a handful of the most noteworthy villains that murdered, raped and pillaged, and got waterfront property in exchange.
Let’s start with Bolsonaro. He may not have retired here yet, but he has applied for a six month tourist visa. Since losing the election to Lula, Bolsonaro fled to Florida and into the arms right-wing Brazilian expats. He says he is going to return to Brazil to save it from the new left-leaning government, but there’s a good chance he could get thrown in prison for helping to incite the January 8th attack on congress. "Today I am well aware and will say it loud and clear," said new president Lula. "I am certain that Bolsonaro actively participated in that and is still trying to participate.”
Now, he’s exploring the many fried chicken joints Florida has to offer.
Bolsonaro really should stay away chicken for two reasons. First, he is constantly getting hospitalized for his bizarre stomach issues. After not taking a shit for many days, Bolsonaro was hospitalized and it’s rumored that they had to remove a kilo of feces through his nose. Secondly, he admitted to having sex with a chicken on a TV show.
I’ve heard from some Brazilians who say that Bolsonaro and Lula are equally bad, so they don’t really care either way. While that may be the case here in America, Bolsonaro is particularly heinous. And while Lula isn’t the Brazilian Mao (unfortunately), there’s really no comparison. Bolsonaro has destroyed untold swathes of the Amazon, catalyzed extrajudicial killings of the poor in favelas, sold off his country’s resources to gangsters and advocated for for bringing back the military dictatorship that ruled the country for 21 years.
Expect Bolsonaro to continue to plot his return to Brazilian politics from Mar A Lago. Or if he wears out his welcome there because of his tummy issues, the Minion-themed room in the Orlando home of former UFC fighter José Aldo.
Florida is also the home to Carlos Sánchez Berzaín. Also known as the Dick Cheney of Bolivia. Berzaín was Bolivia’s defense minister in 2003 when had his soldiers fire on protestors, killing 67 of them. He was run out of the country and Evo Morales was elected president shortly after.
Berzaín now lives in a million dollar gated waterfront suburb in the Pinecrest neighborhood of Miami. He keeps a low profile and is well liked by his neighbors. "He's a really bright guy, an excellent person," says Guillermo Alvarez, a retired corporate exec who lives next door. "Whatever happened in Bolivia was just politics.”
In 1982 Gilberto Jordán, a Guatemalan soldier in an elite paramilitary group led a unit of 20 soldiers into the town of Dos Erres. “Jordán grabbed the first baby he saw and threw it down a well before his unit interrogated every man in the village, raped most of the women, and then murdered 251 townspeople — many by smashing their foreheads with a hammer and then throwing them down a well.” Link
Jordán left for Miami in the 90s, where he lived a pleasant middle class lifestyle. But in 2010, he was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for lying on his immigration application. He didn’t fill in the bubble of “mass murderer and rapist of children.” After his prison term they deported him back to Guatemala. Unclear what has happened to him there.
Prosper Avil, who advised Haitian dictator François "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his son and then did a coup himself in 1988, fled to Florida with hundreds of thousands of embezzled funds when his government was overthrown. He returned to Haiti in 2001 in hopes of returning to power, but was thrown in prison for a few years. He escaped and ended up back in Florida where he now enjoys “reading novels.”
Florida resident Telmo Ricardo Hurtado, also known as the “Butcher of the Andes,” a Peruvian lieutenant, killed 74 villagers in 1985. Hurtado had his troops ransack a village and put all its people in a couple houses. They riddled the homes with machine guns, threw grenades inside and set the homes on fire.
The grandson of Anastasio Somoza, the dictator of Nicaragua, owns a gallery here in Sarasota.
Of course, Cubans make up the vast majority of war criminals to live here in Florida. Starting with Gerardo Machado in 1925, who ruled Cuba on behalf of US organized crime before Batista. Machado’s secret police brutalized the black population of Cuba and sent the country’s wealth overseas. When he was driven out of the country by an uprising in the 1930s, he went straight to Miami.
Since then, more Cuban killers have made a home in Florida. Maybe they don’t count because they didn’t retire to Florida, but rather they operated OUT of Florida, but take a look at Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles. These two “counterrevolutionaries” were responsible for the murder of Chilean ambassador, Orlando Letelier, who was killed by a car bomb IN WASHINGTON D.C. The two also bombed Cubana Flight 455, killing all 73 civilians onboard.
On September 16 of 2021, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis awarded the Florida Medal of Freedom to CIA killer Felix Rodríguez, the man who executed Che Guevara in Bolivia.
While there are countless others, the last war criminal to make it on me list is Special Operations Chief Eddie Gallagher. If you don’t remember Gallagher, he was the Navy SEAL who was so evil that his own soldiers testified against him in court. Gallagher was tried for murder, premeditated murder, attempted murder and a whole host of other war crimes.
The accusation that stood trial was the murder of 17 year old ISIS soldier and prisoner of war, Khaled Jamal Abdullah. The teenager was captured and being treated by a medic when Gallagher was heard to have said “he’s mine” over the radio. Gallagher walked up to Abdullah without saying a word and stabbed him multiple times to death. Gallagher and his commanding officer, Lieutenant Jake Portier, then posed for photographs of them standing over the body. “Gallagher then text messaged a friend in California a picture of himself holding the dead captive's (ISIS) head by the hair with the explanation ‘Good story behind this, got him with my hunting knife.’”
Other soldiers said they say Gallagher shoot an unarmed man young girl. And Gallagher wasn’t ashamed of his actions. He boasted about all the people he killed. Said he averaged three kills a day over 80 days, including four women.
In the end, Gallagher was acquitted of all charges but one—“wrongfully posing for an unofficial picture with a human casualty.”
He didn’t serve a day in prison.
Instead, he lives in Florida and hawks t-shirts and coffee beans with his smiling, blonde wife. The Tallahassee Police Department hired Gallagher to train deputies in close quarter combat. He’s a celebrity here.
I used to think you came to a place like Florida to start over. But now you dont even have to hide it anymore. You are a celebrity for your evil deeds.