Reagan, Colonel North, the Contras and Me
It was 1984/5. I was in the food business with my brother-in-law Bob. We had started to import shrimp and lobster tails from Ecuador.
We never knew how much was coming. The contact in Ecuador would ship us whatever the big boys didn’t take on a particular shipment (read “fell off the truck”). It would be flown up on an airline that only operated 2 days a week from Guayaquil, Ecuador and it would take off early evening and arrive in Miami sometime after midnight.
We would get a call around 5 PM saying the shipment was coming that night and then it was up to us to figure out when to get it. The problem was no-one was around at the airline office after 6PM who spoke English. We would try to get an estimate from the person alerting us and then go down to Miami to pick up the order.
Bob and I would go in 2 station wagons. We would stop at a topless bar where we knew the bartender. This bar was owned by a guy in Fort Lauderdale who we delivered food to for his location in Fort Lauderdale. We knew the bartender from the Fort Lauderdale location. She had been transferred to the Miami location.
We would stop because it was right next to the Miami Airport; and with the bartender’s help, we could get someone who spoke Spanish and English, to call the airline and see if the plane had landed yet. This would usually be at 2-4AM.
We really did go there for the plane and not the entertainment.
Once we got word the plane had landed we would proceed to the tarmac area where the plane was parked. We would locate the forklift operator and give him $20 to take our shipment off first so we could get out of there.
These times were the height of the “Drug Wars” in Miami. Miami Vice was the most popular program on TV. We were caught up in the hysteria.
Customs routinely searched every shipment that came into Miami after 12 midnight for drugs. They were particularly suspicious of us because:
1. We arrived in station wagons with coolers instead of tractor trailers with refrigeration.
2. We were getting relatively small quantities and the forklift guy was unloading us first
3. We stuck out like sore thumbs.
We were routinely searched, both ourselves and the cartons.
One time I thought this female agent was going to shoot us because we went on the tarmac before she had cleared the shipment. She had me braced against the wall and then ordered me off the tarmac.
Fortunately no drugs were ever shipped with our stuff.
Unfortunately we never saw the same customs agents twice so they went through the whole routine with us each time.
We did this about every three weeks for several months.
On one particular occasion, we arrived at the topless bar and had someone call the airline. We were told the airport was shut down because of a hazardous chemical spill at the tarmac area adjoining where our shipment was. The shipment had already been cleared by customs and was sitting on the tarmac melting.
It was July, 90 degrees and humid.
This was disastrous.
We got the guy to tell us there was another gate further down the road that we might try. Bob and I proceeded to that gate.
That particular gate was a customs gate, manned by a customs agent. We approached the gate and the agent came out to see what we were doing there, it was a restricted area.
We explained our problem to him and begged him to let us in to pick up our shipment before it melted all over the tarmac and was ruined.
Unbelievably he agreed to let us in. We would have to exit via the same gate and we agreed to give him 10 lbs of frozen shrimp.
We entered the gate and turned down the wide road that led toward the tarmac we wanted.
Planes were landing and turning onto the road we were on. It was very disconcerting. Why were they so close to us???
We were on a taxi way!
We managed to make it to the tarmac where our shrimp were waiting. The whole plane had been unloaded and the cargo sitting on the tarmac melting. The airline workers were amazed to see us. The airport was supposed to be quarantined. They were also somewhat surprised at the route we had gotten in by. I don’t think cars are allowed on the taxi way.
We loaded our shrimp, turned back on the taxi way and made it back to the customs gate. We paid our “toll” and left the airport.
We got a couple of more shipments after that and then they stopped. We never found out why.
About 7 years ago, I read in the newspaper that some one had uncovered some CIA documents that talked about the CIA, Reagan and Colonel North shipping weapons to the Contras in South America. They used an airline out of Miami to do so.
They would make clandestine flights late at night. The story went on to say how the CIA would shut down the area of the airport where they were loading the plane with arms so as to be undetected. The airline they were using was right next to the tarmac area we used. In fact it was the area that was shut down that July night for a “hazardous material” spill.
Coincidence, I think not.
Glad to know we did our part to fight the Godless Commie’s.