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“Hello, welcome to Skydive Chicago, I’m Roger, pleased to meet you, I am one of the instructors here”. These were the words Roger Nelson would invariably use when greeting newcomers to his drop zone. No mention of being the boss, the drop zone owner, nor any mention of his shady past which involved drug smuggling and four and a half years in prison for not paying income tax on his ill-gotten gains.
Roger was a very charismatic character loved by most, hated by a few, but always someone to leave a lasting impression on whomever he met. ‘Sugar Alpha’ sub-titled ‘The Life And Times Of Señor Huevos Grandes' is the story of some of the most exciting of his experiences in smuggling marijuana into the USA from the Caribbean and particularly from Belize.
Sugar Alpha is a Douglas DC3 Dakota, registration N85SA. Roger’s skydiver daughter, Melissa Nelson (now Melissa Lowe) has written this book from extensive notes left by Roger, rounding the story out with dialogue and has researched additional background information where necessary. Roger sadly died in a skydiving landing collision in 2003. Sugar Alpha is not the whole story of Roger’s smuggling adventures or time locked up but in Melissa’s foreword in this book she suggests his other adventures, the later years after Sugar Alpha, will be told in a book to be called Charlie Bravo. We’ll have to wait and see.
Sugar Alpha is a book that is a fascinating insight into the adrenaline charged adventures that appeal to the sort of people who ride fast motorcycles, hang precariously off mountains, scuba dive flooded caves and skydive. If you are a skydiver, a pilot or a drug smuggler you need to read this book, if you are none of these you will still enjoy the adventures, some of which are stranger than fiction, but all true.
Roger decides that he will make one last smuggling run, bringing a full DC3 load of Marijuana from Belize into the USA, this will be his retirement run, the last one, then he will concentrate on his passion for skydiving and running a drop zone. The plan is audacious; landing Sugar Alpha on a straight stretch of road in the Belizean jungle, loading it with cargo then getting away as quickly as possible. The book builds up to this breath-taking climax.
The growing and exporting of the illegal crops was one of the few ways people in Belize could survive
Belize, formerly the colony of British Honduras, self governing from 1964 gained its full independence from UK in 1981. However a British military presence remained to deter a Guatemalan invasion. Roger and his co smugglers had several frights as RAF Harriers flew low over marijuana growing sites and possible aircraft landing sites. But the jet jockeys were either on a jolly or not bothered about the activities on the ground; if they saw anything it was not reported to the Belize authorities.
Belize is not blessed with large oil or mineral reserves and 50% of its economy depends on the export of raw sugar. It may be that the European Union’s insistence on subsidising European farmers to grow sugar beet has been to the detriment of cane sugar producing countries, so it could be argued that growing marijuana is a good cash crop in some of the more deprived areas of the country. The growing and exporting of the illegal crops was one of the few ways people in Belize could survive.
The book includes a distressing description of the damage caused by the US DEA (the US Justice Department’s Drug Enforcement Administration) spraying paraquat weed killer from helicopters onto the marijuana crops, killing them, but also destroying the kitchen garden vegetables plots essential for survival for the rural poor. Drug smuggling is illegal and immoral, but there is much more to the problem, and third world poverty is a factor. This book provides a fascinating if limited insight to some of these issues.
When did all this happen? There is no date or time given in the book, but the early 1980s would be most likely. The only faults with the book are that some of the spoken dialogue does not seem to quite fit with the 1980s and this excellent book suffers from missing the eagle eyes of a good proof reader. Do not be put off, it’s a good read.
Sugar Alpha is available from: Amazon