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“Hola Valentin, Cómo estás?” El Junior shouted right into Valentin’s face, like a barking angry dog, “You think you are a hot shot, eh?” Valentin’s face became blood red with anger, hating the man now shouting in his ear.
“I have no quarrel with you Beltrán,” rasped Valentin, “The people will choose who they want to represent them. I campaign on trust and honor.”
“What are you saying,” bellowed El Junior, “that I am not to be trusted, that I am not an honorable man? I own this town and I will own your wife. I can kick your ass right here like a cheap soccer ball.” El Junior represented the very worst of the modern Mexican culture that he was trying to change. The only problem was that he was not alone. Two known sicarios, paid assassins, stood at his back and were closing in like wolves on a kill.
“Now you are disrespecting my wife,” said Valentin clenching his teeth. “All of the Beltranes are the same. Always disrespecting the town, the women, the children, even the mangy dogs that run rabid like you.”
“So I am a mangy rabid dog?” mocked El Junior, “I can show you how rabid I can be. Look at me!” El Junior spat in Valentin’s face. “A rabid dog foams at the mouth and bites and kills!”
Valentin glanced nervously around, but it was almost two pm and most of the towns people had gone into their hot, humid houses to eat the main meal of the day. The streets were nearly empty and the bank was closing. A taco vendor scurried away to hide from the bloodshed he knew was soon to come. The mid-day rain had soaked the area just enough to make it steamy and sticky. Valentin began to sweat. His throat was dry and parched, not from thirst but from fear. Panic set in, paralyzing him like the day he was stung by the red scorpion as a child in the sugar-cane fields his father once owned.
Valentin’s elbow hit the jeep as he reached for his derringer. The three men surrounded him and grabbed him tightly, choking and tackling him to the ground. Valentin valiantly struggled against the hard grips, but was no match against the three of them. El Junior pulled a 9 mm Beretta from his boot, putting it against Valentin’s right temple. As the shot rang out, Valentin’s thoughts flashed to his wife Rosa and his four beautiful children: Karla, Eliza, Stella, and little Valentin. The military issue bullet pounded through his head and the pictures faded. Blood gushed everywhere, spilling like freshly cut watermelon.
The sicarios laughed like jackals before kicking his bloody body behind the jeep, out of plain sight. Rosa’s paycheck from the Technological Agronomical University, part of the family’s weekly deposits, lay on the ground and El Junior picked it up, placing it into his pocket. He pulled out his Blackberry to call the Policia Judicial in Zacatepec to come clean up his mess.
Word of Valentin’s murder reached Rosa at 5pm as she was teaching in the middle of the senior’s agriculture class at the Technological Agronomical University. A student from Zacatepec had heard the cover story concocted by the Policia Judicial from a bank employee that there had been a robbery attempt at the bank and Valentin was gunned down in the crossfire.
“Señora, Señora Ríos! Your husband is shot. They have taken him to Cuernavaca in an ambulance.” Rosa stood there, stunned. Her usually calm and relaxed demeanor suddenly eluded her wiry five foot five frame. She trembled as her legs stiffened with fear as shock crept into her body. She pulled her curly reddish brown hair back as she glanced into a mirror, seeing her pale complexion. She straightened her white gauze blouse.
Her voice trembled as she finally spoke, “But how? He was just with me! We ate at one pm and he was off to deposit my check. I don’t believe this! It must be a mistake!” The student said he saw her husband’s yellow jeep at the bank but not her husband.
Rosa rushed out of the classroom, still in disbelief, hailing a taxi on the curb. As she got in, she pleaded with the driver to drive quickly to El Hospital Civil de Cuernavaca, the local general hospital. Her stomach churned at the thought of her husband lying in the filthy and wretched Hospital Civil. She recalled the birth of their only son and the stench of urine and feces that had permeated the warm summer air flowing through the hospital. Valentin, now six, named after his father. The taxi arrived at the general hospital and she snapped out of her daze to pay him and stepped out onto the curb.
The tears she had felt as a child began to roll down her cheeks, burning her skin. The sidewalk seemed to move forward but she stood in disbelief, thinking, “This can’t be happening. Valentin and I have been through so much. The birth of our three daughters and son, his losing his job as an agricultural engineer, and finally the running for office has come to this end.”
Valentin had made the decision to run for office, in an attempt to help everyone in the town and most of the townspeople loved him for it. His father had employed many of them at the old sugar mill. She remembered his father lingering there ten years ago in this same dirty hospital. She was there to hold his hand until his death. The peso devaluation had left Federico Del Valle a broken penniless man. Now she would be seeing his son, her husband, perhaps dead. The thought was too much to bear. Her mind raced with anxiety. “Oh my god. I can’t do this. What will become of my children, our children? Oh my God no. Dios Mío, Dios Mío…” she cried inside.
On Good Friday, the day of her mother’s 60th birthday, Rosa Ríos Del Valle became more closely acquainted with these murdering dogs than she cared to be.
“Los Perros!” as the locals called them, “If you complain too loud, you wake up in a hell hole.” “Those dogs will take your bones,”one elder slyly grumbled. They called themselves La Campaña Contra Drogas. They were the Narco Drug Cartels and the dirty, greedy local politicians, police, and military who all played an extremely dangerous game meant to fool the Public into believing everything was under control.
Narco-Fosas became the new vernacular for what the newspapers used to call makeshift wells used as burial grounds. Throughout the country, dozens of Narco-Fosas were found filled with the beheaded, mutilated bodies of men, women and even children. No one was immune from the wrath of themillennium’s Mexican Drug Wars. The battered and dismembered bodies of illegal immigrants who were trying to escape the country were found buried on remote desert ranchos, piled up to a hundred deep. Sometimes, only bare bones and leftover vats of acid were found. Mexico’s idyllic countryside landscape became the bloodstained palette of the drug cartels. The battles over drug smuggling routes and distribution throughout Mexico had escalated into a civil war zone.
Valentin Del Valle was campaigning to be the next mayor of Zacatepec, Morelos, a small, sleepy sugar cane growing pueblo deep in Mexico. Valentin’s father was deeply admired for how he had run the sugar-cane mill and helped the town progress. His father’s legacy was a vision of schools and clinics in Zacatepec. Valentin’s campaign included not only the promise of progress but also of a new era in the town, free from the local corruption in government offices. His aggressive campaign alarmed the old guard of corrupt politicians and his opponent for the upcoming election, the son of the notorious Oscar Beltrán. They watched angrily as the people backed the new upstart and his idealisms. Young and charismatic, Valentin was short and lanky, barely weighing 150 pounds and had big brown eyes to match his wavy dark brown hair and thick moustache. He stood out in his bright plaid cowboy shirts and larger than life smile. He emanated an aura resembling Emiliano Zapata, the locally beloved revolutionary.
Oscar Beltrán Junior’s nickname was El Junior. He was the polar opposite of Valentin. He rubbed everyone the wrong way with his brusque, six-foot tall, 250-pound, sweaty body and loud mouth. His greasy black shoulder-length hair and piercing jet black eyes scared little children behind their mothers’ skirts. He wore gaudy gold chains and rhinestone encrusted T-shirts. His python snake skin cowboy boots were hand made in South America. Both sides of his family were infamous in Morelos. The Beltráns has migrated from the notorious neighboring state of Guerrero, the Spanish word for warrior, bringing the drug war and corruption with them. They used this corruption and fear to gain power in Morelos, becoming known as the intocable or the untouchables. All the sons led local gangs throughout the state. Kidnappings, beheadings, extortion, torture and bank robberies, were all routine to them. They paid off the politicians, police, and military, who could be bought, with money, drugs, cattle, and land. They killed off those who would not take bribes.
One of the bribed groups was the Policía Judicial Federal, known by citizens throughout Mexico as the new Gestapo. The agents were black-hearted killers waging a Reign of Terror that hung over Mexico like a dark, choking cloud of diesel gas fumes from the rickety transport buses. They were a brutal group of government law enforcement officers and a frightening force to be reckoned with, more powerful than the state police. They always wore plain clothes so no one ever realized they were present until it was too late. They carried out the assassinations of anyone who got in their way, including their own family members. In five years, over 100,000 people had died and thousands more simply disappeared.
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“A wild ride across Mexico, reminiscent of Thelma and Louise ala Mexicana!”
“This cartel-cult classic has something for everyone, young and old! A spirited, cognitive heroine; sexy, sassy partying side-kick; stoned-out young assassin; wise druglords; nefarious politicians; brave smuggling pilots, straight and gay; para-military cartel; gifted psychic healer; sacred Mayan ruins; magic mushrooms; decadent drugs. St. Clair has tapped into the current counter-culture of the Millenium.”
I did not know Aaron Swartz, unless you count having copies of a person's entire digital life on your forensics server as knowing him. I did once meet his father, an intelligent and dedicated man who was clearly pouring his life into defending his son. My deepest condolences go out to him and the rest of Aaron's family during what must be the hardest time of their lives.
If you want to see a roomful of people roll their eyes, just walk into a gathering of astronomers — or experts on ancient Mesoamerican civilizations, for that matter — and shout, “Mayan apocalypse!” For years now, the idea that the earth will be destroyed in a terrible cataclysm on Dec. 21, 2012, has been bouncing around the…