By the time Josué Giraldo arrived in the Eastern Plains in late 1987, his party had been decimated and he had lost his confidence. Once a young and brash political leader, he had been reduced to looking over his shoulder at every corner. He never stood in one place for too long and sometimes even refused to answer the telephone. Jaime Pardo Leal had been shot as he drove to a wedding with his family a couple of months earlier. The prominent Eastern Plains' senator, Pedro Nel Jiménez, was killed as he picked up his daughter from school. Others were hiding or fleeing the onslaught. The assassins seemed to be everywhere, and Josué was still wounded from the recent attempt on his own life some months before. "When I arrived," he wrote of the time, "the rosary for the UP who'd died was an everyday thing."
The man who had given the first order to kill Josué was one of his childhood friends. The two had gone to school together, been playmates, and "shared dreams," Josué wrote later. It was May 1987, a full year after Jaime Pardo and his UP colleagues had shocked the country with their electoral showing, and several months before Josué would arrive in the Eastern Plains. Despite their hard work setting up plays and passing out pamphlets, Josué's UP cadre in his hometown in the coffee-growing region hadn't won any political posts. But they had scared the local power brokers who'd given the order to gun down the UP leader. Josué said that his childhood friend was part of a group of paramilitaries who were financed by the local drug trafficker in the area. He wasn't José Gonzalo "El Mejicano" Rodríguez Gacha, but this trafficker was powerful enough to rid himself of his enemies. Josué and his UP colleagues were at the top of that list.
The FARC had also paved the way for the first attempt on Josué's life. As peace talks with President Virgilio Barco of the Liberal Party unraveled, the guerrillas had begun showing their teeth again. They had grown since the