Date Published:Jan 18, 2009
It is disconcerting to share a hotel room with someone who needs to tell you in detail how he learned to use a machete to chop the human body up into unrecognizable chunks of flesh. Vladimiro's military training showed not only in his butchering prowess, but also in his upright posture, an odd juxtaposition of perfect etiquette and lethal brutality.
A friend had brought Valdimiro by my hotel in Apartadó, knowing my colleague and I were interested in interviewing members of Colombia's paramilitary forces. Although Vladimiro arrived in civilian clothing, the phone call from the hotel receptionist made clear that he needed no uniform in order to inspire fear. "You are needed down here," she tersely informed me. When I walked down the stairs into the lobby, the three hotel employees behind the main desk all made a point of being intensely involved in their paperwork and sweeping, never looking up as I shook hands with Vladimiro and invited him and my friend Jefferson upstairs. I glanced back over my shoulder—their tasks continued to be riveting.