The desert eagle: The gun that never stopped killing

One gun, passed between drug traffickers and paramilitaries, has been at the center of decades of armed conflict in the Sierra Nevada region of Santa Marta. This is its story.
 
This gun, known as ´The Desert Eagle,´was given to the Mejìa twins by Hernàn Giraldo (Él Patròn).

It was extravagant, the gun that came in a shipment in 2001, when drug trafficking leader Jairo Antonio Musso shipped cocaine by speedboat from the Colombian Caribbean to his partners of the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico. They returned the payment in fliers lined with cash, guarded by his men. Interspersed between the bills almost always were rifles or ammunition: in Colombia the exporters of illegal drugs fought a counterinsurgency war of blurred boundaries.

The allies of 'Pacho Musso', as the underworld called him, were the brothers and well-known traders Elías and Hernán Muñoz, who, having to move money to open the sale of cocaine to Rhodes in American cities, had organized fast cash returns from Panama and its neighboring islands.

The leader of this rapid business was Hernán Giraldo, the boss of the paramilitaries of Magdalena, together called the Tayrona Resistance Front. One of his men, known as Walter Torres, stayed guarding the pistol that came along with  R-15 and AK47 rifles, cradled between dollar bills.

It could kill an elephant: a high-caliber silver-plated iron, square mouth and futuristic body, designed by the company Magnum Research in conjunction with the Israeli military. In the hands of Walter, the gun, known as "The Desert Eagle", proved to be as lethal as its designers had imagined.

Walter had joined the paramilitaries of the department of Magdalena, collectively called the Peasant Self-Defense of Magdalena and Guarjira, at a time when a man by the name of "Tolima" served as its boss and Giraldo as chief commander. Soon after came the war between paramilitary factions in which Giraldo lost land to Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, known as "Jorge 40," who looked to expand his domain from the South to areas beyond the Santa Marta´s Sierra Nevada.   

"Tolima" was killed in 2001, and Walter was sent to Medellín to study at the school "Corazón," whose director was the former military soldier Carlos Mario Garcia, known as "Rodrigo" or "Doblecero." The gun would soon fall into his hands.

When he returned to his paramilitary group in the Caribbean, it had been renamed the Tayrona Resistance Front. He was sent to the cities to catch anyone who seemed like a guerilla. With his multinational pistol, Walter became trigger-happy.

One warm day, around 11 a.m., Walter and his patrol arrived at the store Casa de Tabla for a soda. When the shopkeeper came to collect their money, one of the young armed men, as a joke, told her that he had taken nothing. She became furious.

"My commander grabbed the pistol and went to where the he was," a member of the paramilitary group recounted to Verdadabierta.com. "Perhaps due to nervousness, he insisted again that he had not taken the soda and without hesitation, he [Walter] blew off the store owner´s head with a single shot. Then he said: ´This isn´t for the fucking soda, or for how much it cost. This is so that she respects me.´"

And so Walter continued killing all who stood in the way of his Eagle. Another day, in a pool room near the entrance of a small avocado shop, belonging to a woman known as "The Caleña," a farmer began to drink, became intoxicated and fell asleep. She took the money he had in his pockets. The next morning, upon realizing that he had been robbed, the farmer approached "The Cañela," who denied any involvement. According to a demobilized paramilitary member, speaking with Justicia y Paz, the man in question went to Walter, and Walter sent for the woman.

"She was daring," the paramilitary member said. ´Cero dos´ (Walter) was driving his truck, a Toyota 4 by 5, and the woman stood by the passenger window. ´Cero dos´ said: ´You stole that money. Return it. Today, I feel kind and don´t want to kill you.´ She refused, but as Walter insisted, she, becoming haughty, said to him: ´Well, if I stole that fucking money, now what, are you going to kill me for it? He took the Desert Eagle and shot her in the eye.´"

In the same manner he killed thirteen people whom he had previously identified as "drug addicts or thieves." Another young paramilitary member who witnessed the events told VerdadAbierta.com how Walter ordered his group to approach people at an intersection and tie them up. "He was up every Saturday and Sunday to execute," he said. He described how, one time, when they had 13 men tied up, Walter ordered them to construct a large ditch and to climb in. "Then he took the pistol and fired one shot in the head of each person...my commander was a man to be afraid of; he was looking off into space; he was a murderer."

Walter was causing such havock with his Eagle that he became a threat to his organization. He ordered the massacre of the Sarmientos, a family of evangelicals, because one of the sons was a police informant. He continued killing as much as he could: the elderly, women, children. According to an evangelical pastor from the region, before being shot with the Magnum, the grandfather of the Sarmiento family managed to give Walter a fateful prophecy: "Look, sir," he said, "you may kill us, but I swear on the Bible that this is your last criminal act."

Days after the massacre, Walter stole several tractors loaded with chemical products, but the Sijín (police) of Santa Marta seized the van where he hid the stolen goods. According to a witness, Walter went to meet them, expecting to negotiate. He cimbed into his car, accelerated and advanced to the sidewalk of la Revuelta y la Esmeralda. He got out, and after arguing with the police, both sides mutually armed, the police promised that it would be fixed. "Walter put the pistol in his underneath his shirt and turned around," said the witness, "and just as he turned, a police officer took the Eagle from and put it to his neck, with such bad luck that he shot Walter and destroyed his aorta."

Walter´s men reacted with gunfire, killing two police officers. Other officers responded to the shots, and finally fled to Walter´s truck, the paramilitaries to the Sijín´s small car, an Aveo. Walter was rushed by his men to Gauchaca hosiptal, where he was attended to with the intention of being taken to the hospital in Santa Marta. Upon seeing a police roadblock, however, Walter´s men continued instead toward Riohacha. Walter died a few kilometers before they arrived. "Thus ended the life of this man, with the gun he used to kill so many people," said the witness.  

No one knows what became of the Desert Eagle for four years. It appeared only during the few days when Giraldo, as part of preparations to demobilize his paramilitary army after the 2005 negotiations with the Uribe government, sold the area he controlled, complete with clandestine ports to smuggle drugs, to the twins Victor and Miguel Angel Mejia. They set up a new group known as Bloque Nevado, a criminal gang with little self-defense. For this reason, they linked with other paramilitaries, including one led by a man known as ´Moises´, who had been the head of the Bloque Catatumbo on the border between Norte de Santander and Venezuela. ´Moises´ was found again with the Eagle and told his boss, alias "Juan Carlos," whom Giraldo had entrusted to direct the joining of his organization and that of the Twins. They asked "The Twin" Miguel Ángel if he wanted to give it to his bodyguards, but he desisted.

According to the research of VerdadAbierta.com, "Coyote," who became the head of Los Nevados, inherited the Eagle after one twin was killed by the police and the other was extradited to the United States; however, he lost it at the hands of another criminal gang, "Los Paisas." It then ended up with "Los Gaitanistas," one of whose members, allegedly, has it in his power today.