a personal memoir
Latin America: Predictably unpredictable
By Alex Kvassay
Former salesman for Beech and Learjet
This is a story of 5 Latin American presidents, one who could not afford a Learjet, 1 who had to cancel an order for 2 Learjets, 1 who illegally acquired a Learjet, 1 who confiscated a Learjet without paying for it and 1 who leased a Learjet, which was destroyed by US Navy SEALs.
President of Ecuador, Guillermo Rodriguez Lara, ordered 2 Learjet 25s but had to cancel the order for both because of popular outcry in the press, whre it was written that a blue interior on the 1st had been ordered for the president and a gold interior on the 2nd Learjet ordered for the 1st lady.
This extravegance was controversial because they had just prohibited the importation of all cars due to the lack of foreign currency.
Fidel Castro obtained a Learjet through a fraudulent transaction by purchasing it through a man who pretended to be a Panamanian businessman.
We demonstrated a Learjet 23 in 1965 in La Paz to Bolivian President Trujillo Oroza. The Bolivian Air Force later found a cheaper option. They confiscated a Learjet 35 belonging to Clay Lacy Aviation on a routine charter flight to Bolivia.
Panamanian President Manuel Noriega's Learjet 35A was leased from a company in Florida. During the American invasion in 1989, the aircraft, quietly parked at night at the small Paitilla Airport, was attacked and destroyed by US Navy SEALs.
My connections with General Alfredo Stroessner, the president of Paraguay, go back to my Beechcraft days in the 1950s. Paraguay was—and no doubt still is—the poorest country in South America. I went there a number of times during my Beechcraft days but only made one courtesy call in Paraguay with a Learjet because we did not think the country could afford a presidential jet. President Alfredo Stroessner agreed. If we had waited a few more years, I may have had more luck with a fellow Hungarian refugee, Juan Carlos Wasmesy, then president of Paraguay.
But going back to my Beechcraft days, the mainstay of the Paraguay Air Force was the Beechcraft Bonanza. There was a Beech distributor in Asuncion, Nicolas Bo, who was a clever operator. And he made a good living on his Beech franchise by buying and smuggling Beech Aircraft spare parts into Brazil.
The Brazilian Beech distributor was an untouchable since he was a friend of Beech President Mrs Olive Ann Beech. Tito Carnasciali's company sold hundreds of Bonanzas in Brazil, but dealing with service or spare parts was far below his dignity. We heard nothing but complaints from Beech customers about having to go to Paraguay and smuggle parts from there into Brazil. It was frustrating for us Beech sales representatives, but we could do nothing to change the situation.
On arrival in Asuncion with our Beechcraft TravelAir demonstrator, with Bo driving, we passed by some high walls. As Bo pointed out, they were part of the presidential compound. "Let us go in and invite the president to come out and see our aircraft," Bo said, just like that.
He turned in through an open gate, with no guards visible, and stopped next to the veranda where the president was having his afternoon tea. "Come on, join me for tea," yelled General Alfredo Stroessner, the feared military dictator of Paraguay. I was looking around for some secret service or military guards, but there was no one around. He may have been a feared dictator but he did not seem to fear for his own life.
The president came out to the airport to see our Beechcraft. But later, when we visited with a Learjet, he declined our invitation and sent out only his son, Air Force Cadet Stroessner.
In 1989 General Stroessner was exiled to Brazil where he died at age 93 in 2006.
Alex Kvassay sold corporate aircraft for 30 years, earning a reputation as the industry's premier international salesman of his day. Now 86, retired and living in Wichita KS, Kvassay continues to travel for pleasure—recent solo trips have taken him to Argentina, Libya, North Korea and Cuba.