Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Mexican corruption’

It has not been easy to admit I stole Frida’s jade earrings when she was accompanying Trotsky on the armored train to Mexico City. Let me mention again that the President of the Republic, Lázaro Cárdenas, had entrusted me with the security for that entire moving fort of soldiers, sand bags, Howitzers and communist-leaning dignitaries. The President fired me for it, probably at the insistence of the fat painter husband. And that should be the end of it.

 

I had been had charged to ferret out the concentric rings of graft and extortion that would surely form around him. Which is precisely what I was doing and would have continued doing, had it not been for the independence of my fingers. I am talking about the common swindles learned from scam artists, then practiced by police. Beginning with the trickery at the bottom. Police selling magic bracelets, the kind with healing properties that last a year then have to be renewed through the purchase of a new one, even though you no longer believe in them. The seller gives you no choice.

 

Or swindles on a higher level. A man knocks at your door. He has a heavy package addressed to your neighbor. That person is not home, and the package is surely important, judging from its weight. Who will pay the cash on delivery since the owner is not home? The answer is: I, the good Christian. But when my neighbor returns, he denies all knowledge of the package. Together we discover it contains rocks. We have been taken. And you could say, with complete accuracy, that decency was to blame.

 

Newer technology brings more complexity. The local freezer allows you to continue receiving a dead relative’s pension by cutting off the proper finger and keeping it frozen—making it possible to continue supplying his fingerprint each time the government devises new and different ways of preventing fraud.

 

A trick I approve of less—because it tempts our venality—is the stack of ink-darkened paper money, in large denominations, that you can turn into clear crisp bills by using a special chemical. You demonstrate the procedure on a few of them. You explain that the original darkening is applied in order to get the money through customs. The victim buys the bills at a steep discount, given, you say, because you have to cross the border again, right now, in order to get more of the smuggled money. Later, when your victim repeats the procedure, the paper currency remains black and worthless. But I ask you, who in their right mind would not demand a random testing from deep within the stack of blackened bills?

 

As far as I’m concerned, God must have included scam artists and swindlers on his larger Noah’s Arc to keep us on our toes. Perhaps as a counterbalance to New Testament gullibility, so common in my own country—a ship of corruption that leaks oil, money and blood in a thousand different ways.

 

I prefer to look to the north, to a land with its own fair share of fools. Consider citizen Carlo Ponzi and his highly successful Securities Exchange Company, which offered 50% return in 45 days and 100% in three months. Or Philip Arnold, who planted industrial diamonds mixed with cheap garnets, rubies and sapphires purchased from Indians, and convinced bankers, generals and even the conservative Whig Horace Greeley to make disastrous investments in the worthless land.

 

Or better yet, George Parker, who sold the Brooklyn Bridge twice a week for years, before they were on to him. And then, the Baptist minister Prescott Jernegan, who announced he had a machine that could turn water into gold, planted nuggets in underwater collection buckets and attracted large investments from crafty New Englanders known for their common sense.

 

Then there’s the Great Florida Swampland Scheme, whereby innocents bought land that is underwater and teeming with long-toothed reptiles. On dryer land, all the federal money swirling around the construction of the U.S.’s transcontinental railway. Financial illuminati set up the Credit Mobilier, a clearinghouse for the many government contracts given. They skimmed a portion of it and invested it in Union Pacific stock. Then they sold shares of that stock to U.S. Congressmen at a discount, who then approved more construction grants and therewith fed the Credit Mobilier. When it all collapsed, investigations led to the highest levels of government, including to Vice President Schuyler Colfax.

 

Closer to home, at the Treaty of Guadalupe in 1848, marking the end of Mexican’s costliest War, our country ceded all or parts of California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and Texas to the United States. That government said it would honor existing property rights in the new territories. A certain James Addison Reavis, a man of keen imagination, claimed he was the hereditary Baron of Arizona and owned a large holding that spanned parts of Arizona and New Mexico, including Phoenix and rich mining areas around Globe and Silver City.

 

To back up his claim, he spent years digging up and altering various archived deeds in Spain and Mexico and even married a poor half-Indian in San Bernardino, California whom he had identified as the last heir of the Peralta family and now rightful owner of the counterfeited deeds. With these in hand, he demanded cash from those occupying his land, including from the owners of railroads and mines.

 

I must admit I am partial to schemes that defraud the rich and not the poor. I suppose you can persuade a man who is both stupid and poor, plus hungry, to buy rats that you swear are quickly proliferating Australians meat rabbits. But that is hardly fair. Poor wage earners also seem like they should be protected from either monetary loss or the humiliation of being tricked. The rich and their financial empires—Standard Oil, for example—seem to deserve being bilked, since they are involved in the same game, simply on a more massive scale.

 

As for the individual rich, I ascend the scale of tricks to include the Inexcusable. By which I mean the pilot Charles Lindbergh, the anti-Semitic ass who could find his way blindfolded for 33 hours across the Atlantic but could not keep an eye on his sleeping two-year old son. They finally found the German immigrant Bruno Hauptmann and, in April 1936, cooked him in the electric chair for extortion and murder.

 

The lesson in all this, I say, is to learn to see what is hidden. To be able to see the Brunos coming. To always test the river’s depth with one foot, not two. To understand that the mother of stupidity is always pregnant—most of all in oneself. As manifested by me not being able to keep an eye on my fingers when they were near Frida’s not very expensive jade earrings. Which I gave my wife. Whose love for me, if it still exists, is well hidden. I, the President’s detective, who was too dumb to know that one falsehood spoils a thousand truths. Well, perhaps more than one.

 

But I need to shake myself out of this spell. None of this ranks with the on-going mass executions of young democratic unionists and Trotskyites in the cold morning courtyards of fascist Spain on the one hand, or by the NKVD, Stalin’s leather jacketed secret police, on the other, who have come to Spain not so much to help the Republicans as to thin their ranks of their anti-fascist leaders who are not sufficiently Stalinist. Or who stay in Russia to execute Stalin’s enemies. First the show trials, then a bullet to the base of the skull, and then even a few more reserved for one or two of Trotsky’s own children.

 

Now, outside of Goethe’s Weimar, in Germany, witnesses report what they call the Singing Forrest inside the gates of the concentration camp called Buchenwald. What they hear, they swear, are prisoners—mostly Jewish or homosexuals—hung by their feet from scaffolds and left to slowly die. Governments, it seems, have agreed not to call this barbarity corruption. Even when it is its most venomous form: corruption of heart and soul. They are events beyond our control, we say, and we hurl no damning condemnations and gradually learn to profess ignorance.

 

By comparison, I must have sympathy for the harmless moral failings of my fingers. Stealing is the cleaner crime, especially when it is a few pesos here or there—or the un-extraordinary earrings belonging to a weekend communist idealist who owns another thirty pair just like them and whom I can help along the path to frugality.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Paris

Spring 2015

How many groups in exile have met in this city (or New York or Mexico City) to discuss the salvation of their countries of origin, or to simply write what they risked their life for by saying it at home? During different periods of history, they came from Argentina, Uruguay, Chile; from the Congo and Egypt; from Turkey, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Irak; from Palestine; from Germany, Cuba and The United States; from Vietnam, China, Russia and the Soviet Union. There is a long history of “Paris talks.”

I attend a daily two-hour conversation group for foreign students wanting to improve their French. All of us come in off the street, paying a small fee. I meet bright, kind, likeable young people, roughly 25 to 35 years old from some of these countries, and from many others. Some of them hate their governments for the oppression they exercise over their people. Some of these students will not being returning home, if they can help it, at the risk of living in exile.

Last night I attended a meeting at a private venue. There were perhaps twenty people, out of all of Paris, in the room. They were Mexicans. They had come to listen to a panel of Mexican scholars and writers discuss the political situation in Mexico. Mexico is where I live and, to a great extent, the subject of my novels and essays. I listened intently. What I heard was not new to me. What was new was being witness to a kind of exile group meeting to discuss what can be done to save their country from full-blown dictatorship.

They talked about what should resonate with almost everyone these days: living in a country where there is a long history of voter fraud, intense, unrelenting and reality-distorting propaganda, with essentially no outlet for massive grass roots discontent. Where the powerful in the country, elected or not, are disconnected from the base and answerable only to themselves and their allies and cronies. A great question looms, and that is whether, with the June 7, 2015 elections coming up, one should vote or annul one’s vote, rather than support a corrupt system. Because the voice of the people is blocked, the three speakers argued that that Mexico is essentially a dictatorship. What I thought they left out was the context: a country where there is no rule of law, where judges and prosecutors have no protection because all the police forces are corrupt; where journalists and labor leaders are murdered in great numbers (the most journalists of any country in the world); where a parallel narco government exists or merges with the regular government; where in two states at least (Michoacán and Jalisco) Army generals rule like war lords, committing more extrajudicial executions than the narcos; where auto-defense groups formed to protect their communities become the targets of Government, the narcos, the Army and other militarized groups.

During the meeting, the pendulum swung between despair, cynicism and hope. One speaker urge support for MORENA, a relatively new grassroots political group that grew out of the National Convergence and became the National Regeneration Movement (el Movimiento Regeneración Nacional), made up of many citizen initiative groups. MORENA is putting up civilian candidates: academics, writers, athletes and social activists in the up-coming congressional elections. Up to this point, in their brief history, they have won only about 2% of the national vote. But things may be changing if enough of the disenfranchised electorate can hear about them and act.

Of course, even if they could win in larger numbers, the citizen candidates would still have to contend with the reality of existing power: the separated, uninterested, entrenched, perpetually ruling political leaders (the PRI and the other parties) who have become the great masters of fraud; two television monopolies that are handmaidens to them; the Army (Marines, Navy); the corrupt police at all levels; the narco rule on the local and national level; and the legal vacuum which can offer them no protection to those who want and lobby for the rule of law.

One more Paris talk on how to save one’s home country from tyranny. Was it one of the seeds of a citizens’ non-violent revolution? We will have to wait and see.

Read Full Post »

Kaliman is a walking wreck, with hair like a bush, swarthy from complexion, some of it dirt, and of this I’m sure, he has identified me as a writer—since he is one, too—and is trying to infect me with all his insanity. His eyes are squinty from too much thinking. My mother would have faulted him for his dirty ankles, more for his lack of socks. “Were you brought up in a barn?” she would have said with her gentle scold. I’ve known him for thirteen years. He was brought up on the street, and apart from cows.

Today he spoke to me for the first time. I was sitting in a local wreck of a café, sipping moras y yoghurt, blueberries and yogurt, a berry-like tea for Mexican yuppies. The window was open to the street, and I sat behind an iron railing, thank god, a little below the slanted callejón where he was standing. He brandished some writing at me and said some unwritten words. I ignored him, like a dessert we’re wise to decline. So little separates us from Kaliman and, as much as I would like to have broken our thirteen-year silence, I did not. There are traditions to uphold. Plus, dementia often waits for us down the line. A little preview baked by Kaliman might have been ahead-of-time contagious. One bite of him could have been enough. One glance at his scribbling bereft of words as we know them could have destroyed my own—all part of his plan to induct me into the Hall of Insane.

Clearly, someone had told him I was a writer like him. And now he wanted to change that as well, infect it, so that my words collapsed into kuneiformed rubble like his own? But, hold on. I could be just as devious and put an end to harassment of this sort. I stood up, collected my Apple things and beckoned with my index digit to coax him into a cyber café, where I plopped him down in front of a computer—not that I cared one way or another whether he knew what one was. I showed him how to touch the keys, my account, meaboutme@gmail.comto an old and unresponsive friend, and only inserted a few words of my own. Camel, Allah, NSA-Great Satan. The rest of it looked like rat droppings fonted in pungent rows.

Some time passed while the words flitted through Our Coaxial Who Art in Heaven, and then the FBI visited me—its Mexican cell. The snoop cartel.

“Did you write this?” they asked, at my mesquite door, showing me a stamped and dated official copy of the time-sensitive drivel.

“No, my friend Kaliman did,” I replied—as truthfully as truth allowed.

“Who is Kaliman?” they asked—taking notes.

I described Taliban—I mean Kaliman—and where to find him, near the Museo de Leyendas, description enough—little visited repository of legends. An institution I thought would list him eventually, once things had passed.

They returned.

“He’s not sane,” they said.

“Who is these days?” I answered, palms outstretched.

“He doesn’t understand the words camel, Allah, USA or Great Satan.”

They looked at me with suspicion, looking for guilt.

“That should be ‘NSA-Great Satan.’ Not ‘USA-Great Satan.’ And written together,” I said, precise from my training as unionized teacher-citizen, California.

“Whatever,” said the less amused of the two.

The seat of his pants was shiny. I could see he is on his way to being Kalimanized. I wondered whether I should tell him, or what.

“You need to be careful,” I say. “He can infect your thinking.”

“Perhaps you’ve infected his,” says Agent Less Amused. “Adding words to his.”

“I have never spoken with him,” I said.

At that moment, Kaliman showed up. Not surprisingly, he had found out where I lived. He brandished a scribble. We were all in danger.

“He’s a writer like me,” I said. “And doesn’t wear socks.”

They tried to examine the page, but Kaliman clutched it, like a raccoon with an egg, and looked at me for help. I smiled at him and told him—breaking my vow of silence—he could trust me and that I would read it for him, without cracking the egg. His eyes brightened, one of them wept a cleansing line down his cheek. I had won his confidence. That much was clear.

I struggle with the first word. “Ben—gha—zi,” I read. “Benghazi,” I said. translating from Kalimandarin to English. “Al…al….al…,” I read.

“Al Qaida?” barked Agent Grouch, with a professional tone and ready to pounce.

“Al—lah,” I completed, nodding and pleased at my code breaker talents.

“It’s clearer now,” I continued. “Allah…be praised…my camel…Benghazi…knows more…about…Libya…than…Obama’s whole Stasi.”

I looked up at them, their darkened Homeric brows.

“That’s what it says, the rest is gibberish,” I said. And then, “I appreciate your trouble….”

“What does it mean?” they asked.

“Who knows?” I said. “The man is mad, as mad as a hatter—without doubt it’s a thing of no substance—of little matter.”

I often rhyme when it’s least appropriate.

Just then, Kaliman did me a favor, plucked the page out of my hands and stuffed it into his gob and, with shark-like pressure of grinding enamel, re-encrypted the code beyond all reach. He picked at his tooth where a phrase had got suck, spit out a glob of something penciled and strutted away, I supposed to re-establish the silence that he had broken between us.

“His brain is limited,” I said, “unlike our own. He must read the paper, AM or Correo or Corazón—all reliable rags. He’s like a parrot and repeats whatever he’s told. Nothing to worry about. Thank god there’s surveillance. I’ll keep you informed if I learn any more. Things that begin with ‘al…’—and words of like clout.”

The FBI said I would be hearing from them, but I never did. It’s possible they read my blog and tap my everything Google or Apple—looking for things like “NSA-Great Satan” and equivalent babble.

As for Kaliman, he avoids me with care, I suspect smelling treachery. And all has returned to its former quiet. I am still un-demented, my writing as well, don’t you think? Everything is good, everything swell. And so, Happy New Year everywhere, there’s nothing more to this, as there wasn’t before. But should more come up, you’ll be able to tell.

Read Full Post »

Un Autre Compte

French Lessons, Resources, and Culture

Sterling Bennett

Stories from Mexico, and other yarns ~ (See Sidebar for Menu/Table of Contents under "Flannery O'Connor")

Americas MexicoBlog

Stories from Mexico, and other yarns ~ (See Sidebar for Menu/Table of Contents under "Flannery O'Connor")

samquinones.com/reporters-blog/

DREAMLAND ... a Reporter's Blog from author/journalist Sam Quinones

Mexico Connect Latest Articles

Stories from Mexico, and other yarns ~ (See Sidebar for Menu/Table of Contents under "Flannery O'Connor")

Mexico Voices

Stories from Mexico, and other yarns ~ (See Sidebar for Menu/Table of Contents under "Flannery O'Connor")

True Tales: a Reporter's Blog

Stories from Mexico, and other yarns ~ (See Sidebar for Menu/Table of Contents under "Flannery O'Connor")

Writing in Fits and Starts

writing, playing music, creating community in a Guanajuato barrio

The Mex Files

¡COMO MEXICO NO HAY DOS! The "Real Mexico" from transvestite wrestlers to machete-wielding naked farmers. History, culture, politics, economics, news and the general weirdness that usually floats down from the north.