It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. “I’ve been busy” is everyone’s excuse for laziness, but I can’t come up with a better one. For those of you who follow the news in Central America, you will know that I am in hiding in an undisclosed location in Belize. Hiding out is no fun. I’ve always wondered why people on the run turn themselves in. I now know the answer — boredom.
I am in a one room house in an uninteresting location. I have not been outdoors for five days. I have no cable or satellite TV and I have three DVDs — The Human Stain, Tierra and Naked. I have no books. I do have an iPad, but no charger. They are difficult to get in this country. I have 21 per cent charge remaining — I have been rationing. Since, in the end, the only person you can trust is yourself, I have had no contact with anyone other than telephone interviews with the press.
The Gsu have issued additional charges but have not divulged what they might be. Having spent one night already sleeping on the concrete floor of the Belize City jail I am not excited about the prospect of returning. Yes, there are no beds in Belize jails. Or toilets. A half cut milk carton serves the purpose. It was tolerable until 1am when a drunk was added to the cell and he immediately kicked over the container. Five of us slept crowded together in the least contaminated corner. I was out before dawn so I shouldn’t complain.
My lawyers tell me there is absolutely nothing to worry about, so that makes me very worried. They will be negotiating with the government today, if all goes well.
I’m down to 17 per cent charge. I will leave you.
John McAfee, the founder of McAfee Antivirus, posted this to a private message board on May 7; his home in Belize had just been raided by local law enforcement, he’d been rousted from bed naked and confused to discover Belize’s Gang Suppression Unit at his gates. They shot and killed his dog and arrested him for possessing an illegal firearm. They arrested a few of his employees too. He went on the lam.
You might’ve heard the news reports; this is his side of the story.
Buckle up. It’s crazy.
McAfee is most famous for creating the antivirus software you know so well. But that was another life. Another time. After cashing out of the software business, he went on to found a company that attempted to launch a next generation antibiotic headquartered in Belize. That company cratered when its chief scientist left. But McAfee stayed behind, operating a ferry and a bar. He had, in a literal sense, gone to the woods.
And then, on the morning of May 4, he awoke to the sound of bullhorns.
“I jumped out of bed, I’m naked, I ran out on the porch where I could see troops with automatic weapons and in their assault stance, the low walk, definitely agressive hostile movement,” he said via telephone from an undisclosed location in Belize. “I went inside, puts some pants on, came back out and was shoved up against the wall. And that began my day. As I was being handcuffed I could see out of the corner of my eye the fire axes with which they were busting down doors — which were not locked by the way — and ransacking.”
The motivation behind the raid on McAfee’s home still aren’t completely clear. According to McAfee, the warrant claimed he was operating a meth lab; but no one in an official capacity with the government of Belize will confirm that — or even that there was a raid, for that matter. We spent hours on the phone trying to find out what happened, bouncing from one police official to another — from a terribly reluctant and somewhat suspicious police sergeant, to an extremely reticent and annoyed police press officer, to an eager-to-get-off-the-phone and highly aggravated assistant police commissioner. Despite the very basic nature of the questions, nobody would provide answers. Even Belize’s Embassy in Washington DC was unhelpful.
The one person in an official law enforcement capacity willing to talk was only willing to do so off the record, and only on a conversation held on his “burner” mobile phone that made it impossible to verify his identity. And all he was willing to say was that McAfee had been arrested and that a firearms charge was still under investigation. Which of course, we already knew.
There is, perhaps, a likely explanation for all this reluctance to say anything.
“All the phones in Belize are tapped. All telephone conversations are recorded and kept for two years. This conversation is being recorded as we speak,” McAfee said. This sounds like the paranoia of a man who had recently been incarcerated, but is — believe it or not — actually quite plausible. Whether or not the government is actually listening, it has put legal mechanisms in place that certainly would enable it to do so. In short, nobody’s talking.
So welcome to Belize. Meet your guide: John McAfee.
Now, look, John McAfee is a weird guy. Let’s get that out of the way. He’s wiry and covered in tribal tattoos and lives in the jungle, for crying out loud. He’s had some dubious business ventures and is possibly living abroad to hide from legal action here in the US. Yet while McAfee may not be the world’s most reliable narrator, he is also not a meth-lab operator. And in any case, he has a hell of a tale.
“I was arrested and charged with the possession of an illegal firearm,” McAfee told us, “but I had licences for all the others, nine or 10, why would I choose not to licence one of them? And in any case, my people found the original paperwork, took it down to the station, and even then they didn’t let me out. It required the intervention of the US Embassy to get them to drop the charges and release me. The following day [the police] issued a statement saying I was running an illegal antibiotics laboratory — in the third world such a thing is a serious crime, the drug companies don’t particularly like people interfering with their business. But basically what I developed is a topical antiseptic. They did not charge me for that. That’s what they claimed was my meth lab.”
So why did the police go looking for a meth lab on McAfee’s property in the first place? Nobody who knows is talking, which just leaves room for a bunch of Yankee speculation.
“I don’t have any general information about his case,” says Eric Heyden, public affairs officer for the American Embassy in Belize, “I am as perplexed and confused as you are as to why the gang suppression unit would be taking action about a private American citizen.”
According to Heyden, gangs are a real and serious problem, especially in Belize City, where people are routinely shot in inter-gang conflict. The GSU is a reaction to that, formed in 2010 to try to combat the growing violence in this country of 300,000.
Yet there is ample evidence that it is now taking part in extra-judicial activities. Heyden told about a recent arrest where the suspect died in custody, allegedly breaking his neck while trying to escape before an autopsy revealed he had been beaten to death. The media in Belize has accused the unit of random acts of violence, and of being an enforcement arm of a political party, the United Democratic Party. McAfee sees a connection.
“I did not donate to a local politician and he was very irate,” he explains. “it was simply a message saying ‘look don’t mess with us and when we ask you for something, give it to us.’”
McAfee is in limbo. He’s not in hiding any longer, but he also hasn’t returned home and, in his words, is keeping a low profile. There is, very literally, no telling what will come next. Fitzroy Yearwood, the press officer for the police force in Belize, refused to answer any questions other than via email, and failed to reply to those submitted in writing. Attempts to reach anyone in the government who could answer questions as to why the raid went down, or what was coming next were unsuccessful. Requests to speak to GSU boss Marco Vidal, or Belize Police Commissioner Gerald Westby were refused.
For his part, McAfee is fighting. “I don’t back down from things,” says McAfee. “I’m 66 years old, my life is very dull normally.”
Bullshit. Of all the things McAfee’s life may be, dull is not one of them.