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The Roberto Clemente death conspiracy

Was the Hall of Fame baseball star assassinated by the CIA?

From the Sandy Hook school shooting to the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight 370, it seems that every tragedy in recent times is accompanied by a slew of conspiracy theories. Yet history is filled with events that would be enshrouded in conspiracy theories if they happened today. One such event is the plane crash that killed baseball Hall-of-Famer and Pittsburgh Pirates legend Roberto Clemente on December 31, 1972.

Most of us are familiar with the story: Clemente, playing the role of humanitarian, decides to accompany a flight of emergency aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua, after the victims claim that the corrupt military dictator, Anastasio Somoza, was preventing the much-needed emergency supplies from getting into the hands of earthquake survivors. The rickety plane goes down off the coast of  Isla Verde, Puerto Rico, immediately after takeoff. Strangely, Clemente's body is never found.

This story has all the makings of a first-class conspiracy and would have set the Internet aflame with endless rumors and speculation had the tragedy taken place in 2014 instead of 1972. Here is a brief summary of ten odd facts which would've stoked the flames of conspiracy theory:

1. Clemente knew that he was going to die. In a 2002 ESPN documentary, Clemente's widow, Vera Clemente, stated that Clemente had told her several times that he thought he was going to die young. Even more eerie is a response he gave to a reporter in 1971, when Clemente was on the cusp of collecting his 3000th hit. Did Clemente believe he would reach the baseball milestone in 1971? "Well, uh, you never know. I, I, uh, if I'm alive, like I said before, you never know because God tells you how long you're going to be here. So you never know what can happen tomorrow," replied Clemente. Clemente would die just seventeen months later, a mere 93 days after tallying his 3000th hit.

2. Clemente was a major threat to Somoza. Quite simply, Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza was a prick of the highest order (he would ultimately be assassinated himself in 1980). After the quake which virtually destroyed all of Managua in December of 1972, Somoza didn't just steal food, clothing and medical supplies intended for the victims- he even went so far as to sell Nicaraguan blood plasma abroad, at a time when thousands of Nicaraguans urgently needed blood transfusions. Few dictators throughout history were capable of that type of super-villainy.

On the other hand, during the 1960s and 70s, Roberto Clemente was the de facto champion of Latinos around the world. In Latin America, Clemente was the equivalent of Ghandi, Bono, Oprah Winfrey, and Pope Francis all rolled into one.  When informed about the stolen relief supplies, Clemente effectively said something along the lines of, "Oh, hell no. Get me on the next flight to Managua!" It doesn't take a leap of imagination to see how something like this would be a threat to the Somoza regime.

3. Somoza altered the Nicaraguan constitution to coincide with Clemente's death. Anastasio Somoza's term as president was set to expire in May of 1972. However, he planned to regain the presidency in 1974 (the national constitution disallowed immediate re-election), so Somoza and his cronies tampered with the constitution and reached a compromise, in which a three-man junta would be PINO (presidents in name only), while Somoza himself would be the leader of the National Guard. In other words, Somoza would have total military control over Nicaragua.

Somoza and his triumvirate of PINOs drew up a new constitution, which was then ratified by the very same PINOs on April 3, 1971. Somoza then stepped down as president on May 1, 1972 but, as head of the National Guard, he effectively remained the  ruler of the country. When the quake of '72 struck Managua and martial law was declared, Somoza once again became the "official" head of state.  Interestingly, the United States backed the Somoza regime, even though the Somoza government was guilty as sin of embezzling relief funds, including funds given by the U.S. government.

President Somoza

4. The U.S. government was in bed with Somoza. Somoza's changing of the Nicaraguan constitution gave political fodder to Somoza's enemies, such as the FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front), which was helmed by Daniel Ortega. Because the Sandinistas were backed by the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Libya, the United States had no choice but to support Somoza, whether they wanted to or not.

Since Roberto Clemente, through his humanitarian efforts and worldwide fame, had the ability to single-handedly take down the Somoza regime, preventing Clemente from reaching Nicaragua would have been a pretty high priority on the Nixon administration's to-do list.

Imagine this scenario: Clemente's efforts result in the overthrow of the Somoza regime, which then results in a Sandinista power grab, which then puts the Commies right on Puerto Rico's doorstep. With Puerto Rico being an American territory, it was evident that Clemente had to be stopped at all costs.

5. Clemente's plane was accessible to the American military. Clemente's Douglas DC-7 took off from Isla Verde International Airport, which is a joint civil-military international airport, and home of the Puerto Rico Air National Guard. Under the "Total Force" concept, Puerto Rico Air National Guard units are considered Air Reserve Components (ARC) of the United States Air Force (USAF). Puerto Rico's ANG units are trained and equipped by the United States.

6. Clemente's plane was allegedly "unfit" to fly. In July of 1973, the National Transportation Safety Board ruled that Clemente's DC-7 was 4,200 pounds overweight, and that it had not been flown in over four months. The NTSB also declared that the plane's crash was the result of "extensive internal failure of the inboard left engine" during takeoff. They also ruled that the flight mechanic was untrained and that the plane's co-pilot only had 6 hours of total training.

According to the NTSB, the plane's first takeoff was aborted, and the pilot returned to the ramp for work on both right engines. Three hours later the flight resumed, swiftly crashing into the ocean. The plane was owned by a private Puerto Rican charter company.

This is interesting because the flight crew was smart enough to know something was wrong before it returned to the ramp. At this point, "mechanics" had three hours to either fix the plane's engines-- or tinker with the engines to rig a catastrophic failure.

7. Clemente wasn't an idiot. According to the NTSB report, an unnamed eyewitness informed Clemente that the plane was overloaded and unsafe to fly, but that Clemente didn't seem to care. This is wholly inconsistent with the mentality of a major league baseball star.

Whether Clemente realized it or not, he was an expert in several branches of science. You have to be, in order to amass 3,000 hits in baseball. Such a rare feat requires a player to be a master of statistics and analytics; judging a pitch's velocity, angle of descent, and adjusting bat speed accordingly is a precise science requiring split-second decision making. Such minds are not prone to saying "Oh, this plane is two tons overweight and being flown by nincompoops? Let's do this!" It would be the equivalent of swinging on a lousy pitch. As a lifetime .317 hitter, it's hard to imagine Clemente making such a foolish decision.

8. Clemente's missing body. When studying the nature of the crash, it's hard to explain why Clemente's body remains missing more than four decades after the crash. The NTSB reported that the plane climbed to an altitude of 8,000 feet before encountering engine problems, and then attempted to turn left to head back to the airport. The plane slowly lost altitude before crashing into the ocean, presumably at a very low airspeed, about 1.5 miles from San Juan's luxury hotels. In other words, this wasn't nearly the same type of incident as a jumbo jet crashing into the middle of the deep Indian Ocean at hundreds of miles per hour.

The body of the pilot and part of the fuselage of the plane were soon recovered. An empty flight case apparently belonging to Clemente was the only personal item recovered from the plane. Clemente's teammate and close friend Manny Sanguillén was the only member of the Pirates not to attend the memorial service; instead, the Pirates catcher chose to dive into the waters where the plane had crashed in an effort to find his teammate. Clemente's body was never recovered.

9. The empty flight case. Although details are scarce regarding the type/style of flight case used by Clemente, it's quite odd that an empty flight case was the only personal item recovered from the crash site. These days, flight cases are manufactured with waterproof and fireproof ballistic material able to withstand the impact of a plane crash. Surely, 1970s flight cases weren't as sophisticated in construction, but is it possible for a flight case to lose its entire contents in shallow water during a low-speed crash from a low-altitude flight?

Look at the vintage flight cases below, which showcase the most popular styles throughout the 1950s to the 1970s. The vast majority of these cases were leather, with metal locks in addition to leather straps. If Clemente had a similar case, the metal claps would have to be broken and at least two leather straps would have to become unstrapped, since the crash occurred so early in the flight that it is unlikely Clemente would've had an opportunity to open his flight case.

Common sense suggests that all of Clemente's possessions were collected from the crash site and pored over meticulously, perhaps by the CIA in order to determine if the star slugger had a hidden agenda for his Nicaraguan visit.

10. CIA director Helms was known for playing dirty.
Richard Helms was the Director of the CIA at the time of Clemente's death, and even President Nixon had misgivings about Helms' methods. Nixon mistrusted Helms so much, in fact, that Helms was to be excluded from policy discussions at the National Security Council (NSC) meetings.

During the Nixon administration, the CIA was tasked with domestic surveillance of American activists and protesters, an effort later becoming known as Operation CHAOS. Investigations were opened on Americans and their organizations based on the theory that they were funded or influenced by foreign enemies, especially the Soviet Union and other communist states.

These CIA activities were on the margin of legality, as the CIA was forbidden from domestic spying. In 1974, the Operation Chaos became a national scandal of Edward Snowden-like proportions. Helms was soon forced to resign.

Based on the ten facts listed above, it would appear that the death of Roberto Clemente was more than just a dark day for baseball, but an act of Cold War murder orchestrated by the government of the United States.

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