The professional mercenary Sir William Walker instigates a slave revolt on the Caribbean island of Queimada in order to help improve the British sugar trade. Years later he is sent again to deal with the same rebels that he built up because they have seized too much power that now threatens British sugar interests.
In the Nineteenth Century, the cynical and pragmatic British agent William Walker arrives in Queimada, a Portuguese colony in the Antilles, to promote a revolution and benefits the sugar trade with England. He finds in the water and luggage carrier José Dolores the necessary potential to be the leader of the slave revolt, and the Portuguese troops are expelled from the island; then the provisional government of President Teddy Sanchez assumes the power with the support of the British government. Ten years later, William is hired by the Royal Company that is exploring the sugar cane plantations and the Queimada government to chase José Dolores that is disturbing the economical interests of England in sugar cane with his army of rebels.
- Sir William Walker (Marlon Brando) is called to the island of Queimada in the Antilles to foment a rebellion against Portuguese rule, to benefit British sugar traders. He singles out a porter named José Dolores (Evaristo Márquez) and tries to insult and humiliate him to goad him into betraying some rebellious spirit. When this eventually works, Walker beings to fashion Delores into a revolutionary leader. At the same time Walker meets with the colonial leaders (ethnic Portuguese) and encourages them to lead the revolution, lest the slaves lead the revolution on their own, which would threaten all white infrastructure, and lives, on the island. The revolution succeeds, the Portuguese are expelled, subtle power struggles ensue between the former colonials and the freed black slaves, and the future of sugar exports is uncertain. Having completed his mission, Walker returns to England.
10 years later representatives from a sugar company are trying to find Walker with a business proposition. They find him in the slums of an English city, apparently not living a lifestyle becoming a gentleman of his status, his clothes notwithstanding. He is then charged with ending a rebellion on Queimada between the former slaves and the white rulers.
Upon arriving on Queimada, Walker gives an expository on the phases of rebellion and truce that have transpired on the island in the last 10 years. He sends an envoy to Delores (the same leader as before) inviting him to dialogue. He also sends a familiar alcoholic drink. Delores responds by sending a wagon to a government fortification with three dead soldiers, and the alcohol, making it clear that he is not prepared to talk.
Walker then sets out to destroy the rebellion. First, however, he takes the time to lecture the government leaders that the rebels are desperate and destitute while the government forces are comfortable and have much to lose. This makes the rebel guerrilla far more formidable then that government soldier. The rebellion is crushed with a scorched earth policy which alarms a plantation owner. This also causes the forced relocation of impoverished mountain villagers, whose starvation has probably not been well-known until this point. Delores is captured. While his fate is being decided, a soldier suggests that Delores might not be executed, but jailed, and one day, freed. Delores then pontificates that true freedom is never given freely–it can only be taken by force. At the same time the governor is discussing which form of execution they will use to dispatch the rebel leader. Walker convinces him not to turn him into a martyr but a traitor. When the governor presents Delores with a bribe to leave Queimada forever, the offer is sardonically refused. The next morning, when Walker sees soldiers building a gallows, there is little doubt as for whom it will be used. He helps one of the soldiers make the noose, then proceeds to find Delores unguarded, and cuts his bonds. When Delores meets Walker's instructions on how to escape with stone silence and inaction, he is left to guess the reason for it. Walker's best guess is that it is a kind of "revenge".
As Walker is preparing to leave the island, he is approached by someone from behind who greets him with the same line that Delores greeted him when he first arrived on Queimada. Walker turns around with a smile, expecting someone whom he should know is dead, but his expression changes when their eyes meet. Walker is then knifed in the belly, and collapses.