Los Angelitos

This chapter originally appeared as Los Hermanos Angelito in Bogota on the Expat Chronicles blog.

Abdon and Christopher were cellmates for a few months in La Modelo when Christopher learned the nickname for Abdon and his brother, Ernesto, was “Los Angelitos” (The Little Angels). They were mid-level gangsters and associates of the Cali Cartel. Aside from the occasional contract killing and kidnapping, Los Angelitos specialized in clearing drug mules through El Dorado airport security and onto international departures. As Christopher saw in his failed attempt, Abdon dressed as a pilot.

Their friendship was further cemented when Christopher agreed to take all the blame for the cocaine. After Abdon was released, he and Ernesto visited Christopher regularly and gave him money. They believed he was going to be their mule into Europe.

When Christopher was released in 1989, Abdon and Ernesto picked him up in Ernesto’s BMW. They went drinking at a tienda near the prison. Now with three years immersed in Colombian Spanish and culture, Christopher noticed Los Angelitos’ particular style. They were embambados (blinged out) in gold jewelry and designer clothes.

While drinking in the tienda, another car rear-ended Ernesto’s BMW while trying to park. Before the drunk driver could get out, Ernesto approached his car and shot him in the head. This was Christopher’s first night out of prison. Then Los Angelitos took Christopher to a whorehouse. The shooting was not mentioned the rest of the night.

Christopher moved into Los Angelitos’ family home in Barrio Estrada near Simon Bolívar Park. In addition to Christopher, residing in the large home were Abdon, Abdon’s girlfriend, Abdon’s girlfriend’s niece, and Los Angelitos’ parents. Ernesto lived nearby with his wife and their three kids.

Christopher could not leave the country according to court order, so he certainly was not going to smuggle drugs for Los Angelitos. In fact, he had no intention of bringing drugs to Europe, but Los Angelitos did not know that yet.

Los Angelitos had a different job for Christopher. From Killing Pablo by Mark Bowden on Colombia’s criminal culture:

In what may have begun as simply a method of debt collection, [Pablo Escobar] would recruit thugs to kidnap people who owed him money and then ransom them for whatever was owed. If the family couldn’t come up with the money or refused to pay, the victim would be killed. Sometimes the victim was killed after the ransom was paid, just to make a point. It was murder, but a kind of murder that can be rationalized. A man had to protect his interests … If someone cheated you, you either accepted your losses or took steps yourself to settle the score … As the amounts of money and contraband grew, so did the need to enforce discipline, punish enemies, collect debts, and bribe officials. Kidnapping or even killing someone who had cheated him not only kept the books balanced; it sent a message… Kidnapping for debt collection evolved soon enough into kidnapping for its own sake.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Colombia developed a reputation for kidnapping. Most were linked to the cocaine business, as was the lawyer who Los Angelitos kidnapped. They visited Barranquilla, identified him, and got him drunk. While he was inebriated, they forced him into the trunk of Ernesto’s BMW and drove over 24 hours back to Bogotá. The lawyer’s brother had a debt with the cartel, which Abdon and Ernesto were contracted to collect.

Los Angelitos set Christopher up to babysit the lawyer at a finca (country house) owned by the mysterious “Don Javier,” Los Angelitos’ contact with the Cali Cartel. Located a few hours outside Bogotá, the finca came with typical cocaine baron luxury. It was a mansion with a swimming pool, outhouse for the servants, pool table, televisions, stereos. The surrounding area was tropical paradise.

The lawyer was obese and the finca lay in the bottom of a valley. Christopher says the lawyer could not have escaped if he wanted to given his physical condition. Christopher was in great shape from training with M-19 and playing soccer, so he would easily catch him. So Christopher did not keep the lawyer tied up. He told him the first day that if he tried to escape, Christopher would shoot him. No questions asked. He showed the lawyer the gun Los Angelitos had given him.

Once that was established, Christopher suggested they enjoy themselves during their stay. They became friends. Los Angelitos had given Christopher a brick of marijuana. He went jogging every morning and enjoyed leisurely swims, smoking joints all day long. In addition to shooting pool, Christopher taught the lawyer how to play backgammon. The two spent over a month together by the time the lawyer’s brother paid his debt. Christopher returned to Casa Angelito.

Los Angelitos, instead of collecting cash for the ransom, accepted a piece of real estate in a small pueblo. Whether it was false documentation or subject to seizure by the Colombian government, the brothers never converted the real estate into cash. Christopher was never paid one peso for babysitting the kidnapped lawyer, but he enjoyed his time at the plush finca.

Back in the city, Christopher found work teaching English. He was quickly flush with cash. One day he invited Abdon’s girlfriend and her niece for a drink at a bar. After only a couple drinks, the girls were too nervous to stay. They said Abdon would beat them if he found out. So the night out was cut short. Christopher later found out Abdon was having sex with both women. When the girlfriend learned of the affair with her niece, she moved out. The niece stayed.

A few months into his stay, Señora Angelito insisted Christopher move out to make room for a friend of the family from Cali. Christopher could feel the disdain the mother had for him. She had found him secretly throwing away plates of food she cooked for him, which he says was worse than the food he ate at the prison caspetes.

Christopher was thrilled to leave, as he saw it as an opportunity to forget his obligation to be Los Angelitos’ mule. He moved into a posh apartment in the north of Bogotá and settled into a comfortable life. After a few months seeing Los Angelitos less and less, Christopher came home one night to find a letter from his empleada (maid):

Abdon llamo su hermano murio

In Spanish, addressing someone in the third person is a sign of respect, and it is the norm in Bogotá. The empleada’s note could have two meanings. “Su hermano” could be “your brother” or “his/her brother”. Christopher took it to mean “Abdon called, your brother died.” It was raining, and back then Colombian phones did not work during rain storms. He could not call Ireland. Believing his own brother in Dublin to be dead, Christopher started drinking.

Christopher was good and drunk by the time he learned that Abdon’s brother, Ernesto, had been killed. Ernesto was sitting in his car with his mistress when he was shot six times in the head. The mistress took three bullets in her left leg.

A month later Abdon was found shot to death at Ernesto’s grave. The setting was another Colombian quirk — sending a message of terror by executing Abdon while he was mourning his brother’s death.

Christopher later learned through the underworld grapevine that the caleño sent from Cali killed Los Angelitos. They had borrowed cocaine on loan and did not pay on time. Their mother had kicked Christopher out to make room for her sons’ killer. He ate and slept in the family home while planning the murders.

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