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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

No Mercy for Dogs Part 5

by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker

Part 4 can be read HERE

It would be highly illogical of me to say that Cerralvo was not what I expected, because aside from the tourist traps of the Riviera Maya I had never stepped foot in a Mexican town. Even still, it was not what I had expected.

I had traveled Europe a few times, and all over the United States. Everything I knew about people had taught me that when human beings grouped together, they were supposed to do so in certain predictable ways. My economics courses had instilled in me the belief that the hard realities of supply and demand would normally force every segment of the socio-economic ladder into their proper places. This sorting out process was supposed to be synonymous with balance, and a sign of a healthy free-market economy. Cerralvo would not fit neatly into any Econ 101 textbook, because it is absolutely, fundamentally broken. To start with, most federal tax dollars (the ones normal people actually pay, I mean, which is not as common as you would expect) are spent in the capital, attempting to placate 25 million residents. The Distrito Federal occupies roughly 570 square miles of terrain in the southern portion of Mexico, but represents about a quarter of national voters, so you can see how this imbalanced state has come to exist. What monies that are actually sent to the provinces tend to get smaller and smaller as you radiate outward from the DF, with most of that going to the large cities. Cerralvo is a little less than 1000 kilometers from the seat of political power, so you can imagine that very few of the federal breadcrumbs ever land on local tables. Even in theory, that would represent a pretty wretched state of affairs. It gets worse when reality intrudes its ugly head into the picture. It is conservatively estimated (by government sources, who, let us say, are not terribly objective in this matter) that roughly 40% of all tax revenue is stolen or misappropriated by crooked politicians in Mexico. When you drop the perspective down from a national level to that of small-town politics, that number doubles. What all of this boils down to is that even in a state with some socialist values enshrined in the constitution, there are few government services in places like Cerralvo. Unless, of course, by providing them the ruling mayor and his cronies can greatly enrich themselves and their friends. It is, not to be snide, a model for exactly what Republicans would like to do to the entire US: de-fang the government and make a few very wealthy individuals responsible for everything. This works out great if you happen to own a rock quarry or the distribution center for Coca-Cola. For everyone else, not so much.

Roughly 60% of the town's streets are concrete, but only because local businesses bind together to pay a private company to come out and lay them - a company that happened to be owned in Cerralvo by the brother of the Mayor.  There is a local radio station, but it, too, is owned by a small group of businessmen loyal to the current regime. Even the police drive around in brand new Dodge Ram pick-up trucks donated by this consortium. The people in the People's Republic of Mexico are largely forgotten. Aside from the office of the socialized medicine system (which works wonderfully, by the way ~ no  “death panels" in sight), the only real government program I saw in effect was the small business development plan, which consisted of a caravan of social workers bussed in every six months from Monterrey who set up a large tent in one of the plazas. There, they would teach free classes on how to set up one of four businesses: a restaurant, barber shop, auto repair workshop, or, of course, a deposito. What this meant was that towns like Cerralvo had about a bazillion of each of these types of negocios, and little else.

A system like this would normally collapse in no time, if it weren't for two vital lifelines of financing. The first consisted in the visits paid to towns up and down the frontera by family members living in the US. Cerralvo had about ten thousand normal residents, but this- number swelled to at least double that on any given weekend. During the holidays or the summer months, the town absolutely bursts at the seams, with as many as 60 or 70 thousand revelers crammed into a space built for less than half that. Roughly 2/3 of the homes in town are vacation homes for families with dual citizenship. This influx of people kept all of these tiny businesses afloat, but because there were so many of them no one could ever hope to crack their way into the middle class.

The homes in Cerralvo are mostly very modest adobe or cinderblock affairs. Still, they are generally very clean, and an immense step up from the decrepit shantytowns that echo out from the centers of most large Mexican cities. Some are actually quite large, but this is often because multiple generations and several branches of the family tree can be found living under the same roof. Sprinkled amongst these habitations are the palaces of the narcos, the second major source of cash in modern Mexico. No one knows exactly what percentage of the economy is represented by the drug trade, but it is a certainty that most of the large Mexican banks would fail without it. It is also undoubtedly the largest source of new capital in the nation. This was obvious to me as we passed their castles, which all sat behind imposing concrete walls decorated with elaborate friezes depicting scenes from the Bible. As tall as these walls usually are, the homes behind them tower over everything, temples to the real Golden Rule: he who has the most gold rules.

We passed many of these manors on our drive through town, and I was amazed at just how many of them sat in half-finished states of disrepair. The message was obvious: you can have all of this, young sicario, but only if you survive long enough. There has to be a small army of men locked up in federal prisons currently with photos of their half-finished mansions, all the motivation they need to get out and complete the work. Surprisingly, the Hammer did try to give me some context as we drove through town. He showed me the two plazas, the business and cultural centers of any Mexican town. The Plaza Grande - the big plaza- was a charming square filled with towering elm trees obviously imported from elsewhere. In the center of this stood an old iron bandstand that was used for weddings and occasional music events. Cerralvo's tiny professional class all had their offices here, such as the one dentist not a part of the socialized system, and three lawyer's offices. I perked up when Mr. Ramos pointed out the library, and I made a mental note of its location. The buildings in this part of town were all made of adobe, and looked to be at least a hundred years old. Still, they were very well maintained, with mostly fresh coats of paint. The police station, civil registry, and the sole Benavides pharmacy in town were also located there.

La Placita - the small plaza - was actually twice the size of the “big” one. I still have no idea why their names weren't reversed at some point. It may have triumphed in size, but the placita clearly lagged in aesthetic appeal. In place of towering trees, the placita sported only a few scraggly bushes. The businesses surrounding it on three sides were more prosaic as well, and included the largest grocery store in town, a discoteque, and about fifty depositos of the drive-thru variety. Pretty much everything was centered around the sale of beer to out-of-towners. Naturally, because of this the placita was hugely popular during the weekends. The main activity in such small towns is to “go on a vuelta,” which simply means to drive around and get drunk. Hundreds of youth will congregate along the sidewalks of the plazas, most walking in a counterclockwise direction. The older crowd drives around going the opposite direction, stereo systems blaring. The entire scene is charged with an unbelievable amount of sexual tension, the entire process basically designed to ensure that unwanted pregnancies were the norm in the families of Cerralvo

One entire side of the placita consisted of an enormous white villa done up in an Arabic style. When I commented on its size, Don Gelo merely grunted.

"Ees house of Don Michel.” He made the universal sign of holding a bulging stack of cash in his hands. "Eez very reech. He sell the soda all over Tejas. Eez brother to big politico een Monterrey. Eez also un pinche idiota."

I thought about this for a moment. “'Soda' is cocaine, right?“

"Thees house, she is no beelt selling Pepsi on de corner.”

I mostly shut up after that, trying to take it all in. We soon circled back towards the Big Plaza, so he could show me the main church in town, Parochio San Gregorio, and the movie theater, which had one screen. Eventually we left el centro headed north. The main streets here were concrete, but more and more of the offshoots were made of gravel. As he drove, the Hammer began to point out houses he owned. At first I thought he was bragging, but I soon realized that he was simply showing me the places where he could be found on any given day. I couldn't believe that he was doing this. Obviously, Chespy had relayed my desire to be somewhat more informed, but I had never expected this.

I immediately assumed that these were lies he was feeding me, some sort of test. Only later would I realize that this was simply a testament to how safe he felt in Cerralvo.

“I need to make stop," he informed me at one point, shortly before he pulled up to a small but neat home painted in a bright shade of pink. There was a forest green Chevy Malibu in the driveway and beyond that I could see an old white Jeep Cherokee. The truck still running. Don Gelo beeped on the horn twice. A moment later a small boy of 11 or 12 years exited the front door. I could tell that he was incredibly excited, but that he was trying to appear calm. I knew immediately that this was one of Ramos's sons. He had those same ridiculously oversized hang gliding ears, though it looked like he would at least manage to beat his father in height one day. Upon approaching the driver’s side door, he gave me a surprisingly sagacious stare before nodding to me.

"Quien es ese tipo?"

Ramos answered him in English. "Eez your brother. He come from el otro lado."

The youth pondered me for a moment with the most startling blue eyes before responding in a completely accentless and flawless English. "It is a pleasure to meet you. Brother." This last had a touch of skepticism to it, but still he reached across his father to shake my hand.

"He speaks the English very good, no?" Papa Ramos declared, and ran his-head through the boy’s hair. This caused the youth to blush; but I could tell that he would have done just about anything for a kind word from his father. Good luck kid, I thought.

The Hammer soon pulled a white envelope from his shirt pocket and gave it to the boy.

"You give to you mother. I come back later."

"You promise?" I could tell by the way he said this that the boy wished he had not. His need was broadcast in neon.

"Si, Now, you go stoody."

The boy backed away from the truck and waved to me as his father put the vehicle in gear.

"Como te llamas?" I called out to him.

He smiled at me for the first time. "Soy Pedro...Peter."

"Soy Rudy."

"Come back later, and I will help you with that accent. It sucks."

I laughed, but we were already moving down the street, so I never got to respond.

"He no is wrong. You accent do suck."

"Everybody is a fucking critic."

He kept up the nickel tour as we crossed through town. Much of this information dealt with town politics, which seemed synonymous with the vagaries of the drug trade. Several homes he pointed to housed children of his, and I began to understand that the Hammer had a serious weakness for the female sex.

After the fourth or fifth location of a mistress was pointed out, I couldn't help myself.

“How many bloody kids do you have?"

He snorted. "I lose de count.”

I thought that unlikely. You don't get into a position like he had and survive there for long by losing count of anything. I would eventually come to calculate the number at 17 children, spread across 13 women. And those were just the acknowledged ones. In Mexico and Texas. It struck me at this point that among all of the accouterments useful for worshipping "the goddess marvelous after dark" I had located in the Love Shack, I had not seen one single trace of a condom. If nothing else, it would seem that the "wisdom" of the Catholic Church was at least great for the real estate market in Mexico.

Eventually we pulled off of the main streets and followed a long cinderblock wall. Roughly fifteen feet tall, this barricade was topped with what looked like broken cola bottles cemented in place. You could see the tops of oak trees peeking out over the partition, but no sign of a house. Shortly we pulled up to a massive metal gate that looked to weigh about a thousand pounds. Without transmitting any signal that I could see, this behemoth began to slide smoothly to the left, and we drove into the Ramos compound.

To Be Continued…

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© Copyright 2012 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker. All rights reserved

3 comments:

Tootems Lo said...

I have recently started reading blogs from Thomas and I get two vibes from different writers: 1)Thomas is a good guy who doesn't deserve the death penalty, and 2) Thomas is a sociopath who deserves to be right where he is.

I was born and grew up in a household with a legit sociopath--my own father. Sociopathy, psychopathy and dyssocial personality disorder can all be used interchangeably as a marked antisocial personality disorder 301.7 according to DSM-IV criteria. In order to meet the criteria for antisocial personality disorder a person must have exhibited disregard for and violation of the rights of others since 15 years of age AND exhibit 3 or more of the following for the duration of their lives:
1. Failure to conform to social norms
2.Deceitfulness
3.Impulsivity
4.Irritability and aggressiveness
5.Reckless disregard
6.Consistent irresponsibility
7.Lack of remorse

Common Traits: lack of empathy,being cynical, inflated self-esteem, lack of concern for themselves, and exploitative in their sexual relationships.

Sociopathy or Antisocial (more appropriately called) has a duration of a lifetime and symptoms reoccur throughout the lifetime of the person.

Now, if you look at the criteria you will see that some of it does, indeed, match Thomas, however, Thomas today is not the same Thomas as he once was. Therefore, if you really want to get down to the jist of things, it would be considered "acute" antisocial personality which really doesn't exist in the DSM, but when the crime happened it would probably be appropriate to say that he was displaying criteria for "acute" antisocialism which means "rapid onset and a short, severe course."

I'm no psychologist so I can't appropriately diagnose, nor do I want to. But, I can tell the readers here that I have written Thomas and he is very remorseful for the things that has been going on in my life. In fact, he lifts me up. He is starting his MA (how many people have their master's?) and he's doing great in all of his academic areas. He has not shown any aggressiveness in years, and to be personal he actually asked me if my husband was okay with the fact of he and I writing one another. He actually wanted to make sure it was okay and wanted me to discuss this with my husband. I doubt many guys would suggest and/or say that. Overall, I do not see Thomas as your average "sociopath", however, I happen to know one and if you'd like to know what a real one is feel free to ask. :)

God Bless.

Tracey said...

A message from Thomas....

I wanted to leave a quick message to those readers who regularly correspond with me, since I know I'm a little behind on my responses. To put it simply, I am just beat at present, totally exhausted. My conditions lawsuit abruptly heated up recently, meaning that I am trying to cram several books' worth of legal nonsense into my head, in hopes that I can at least pretend to know what I'm doing. On top of that, my friend Preston Hughes (who has a date in November) asked me to try to help him with something his attorneys do not want to include in their writ of cert before SCOTUS. This obviously has a rather hard and definite deadline, and is eating up several hours of my daily schedule for the next few weeks. Add to that my school and my regular posts for MB6 and www.bayareabutchers.com and I am consistently finding myself running on empty by the time of evening when I usually write letters. It doesn't help that the vents on this side of B-Pod have never worked and it gets so hot in here during the day that I sometimes I have to dump a bottle of water over my head and lay down on the concrete like a dog. I'm going to try to catch up shortly, as soon as I finish my work for Preston. I'm really sorry for the delay, because you all deserve better.

AJ said...

While the DSM-IV is used as a diagnostic tool it does not, and cannot, take the place of a person describing how they learned to emulate "feelings" like putting on masks while growing up, using (for true sociopaths) their above average intellect to sway people. Growing up with one doesn't guarantee you'll recognize one through his writings (should this be true). After all, I worked with felons all week, and hung out with a fairly tight group of people that I thought were safe until I found out one is now on death row. Just food for thought.