Thursday, November 27, 2014

Who are the ‘Good Guys’?

During a visit to Tarapoto in 2011 we rode in a moto taxi to an isolated jungle clearing to see petroglyphs. The site had the look of an attraction…if it can be called that, that hadn’t been visited or cared for in tears. The jungle is in the process of reclaiming it. The site is located at the end of a dead-end road, and as we got out of the moto taxi I noticed a man who had been sitting at the side of the road get up, and with the help of a young boy the man placed a tree trunk across the road.

It took only 10 minutes to view the petroglyphs and as we got into the mototaxi to leave I saw the man again stand up, but this time with an ancient shotgun in his hands. The moto taxi driver stopped at the tree trunk barrier. She said and did nothing but stare straight ahead…it was obvious she’d seen this situation before. After a minute or so the man motioned with his gun toward a pail the boy held. At that moment I actually had a flashback to the movie ‘Deliverance’. This was raw humanity in a jungle, stripped bare of all societal norms. My stubborn side didn’t want to give this guy a penny under these conditions, but I had Maribel and her father with me and couldn’t gauge what the shotgun toter would do if I refused so I put some money in the pail…I don’t remember how much. The man and boy removed the barrier and we returned to Tarapoto.

The following year on the outskirts of Jaèn in route to Zapotal we were stopped at a police checkpoint for a routine look at our identification documents. Having satisfied the police we resumed our travel, only to be stopped 100 years further by a large band of young men dressed in black military clothing from boots to beret. They were carrying military assault rifles. Maybe it was because of a gringo in the car that they waved us through. All other drivers handed money to the men before being allowed to continue. This was in full view of the police checkpoint.  

In Peru, the man and boy in Tarapoto and the quasi-military group in Jaèn are known as ‘ronderos’ – a sort of community vigilante force supposedly existing to provide protection to the public where the national police can’t or won’t do it. I would choose a different word to describe them – I think extortionist would be a good fit for what they do. How the activities of the ronderos described above is protecting the public is beyond me. And yet Maribel’s relatives living in Jaèn support them, saying that crime would be even worse without them.

An article appeared on the internet today dealing with the activities of ronderos in the city of Cajamarca. It is well worth reading in that it deals with the murkiness of these groups.

Incidentally, unless I’m reading it wrong there is an inconsistency in the article. One part of the article reads, “Esperanza Leon, the local chief prosecutor, said the rondas, which are illegal, are trying to create a parallel justice system”, while further down the page it says they, “won legal status in the 1993 constitution...” If anybody can clear that up for me I’d appreciate it.

Corruption in Peru is rampant. Organized gang theft and petty street theft is rampant. Both are imbedded in the culture. I am firmly convinced that crime in Peru is in an extreme condition and that extreme measures to combat it are called for. I see nothing wrong with corporal punishment including broken bones, and branding the foreheads of criminals with a T for thief. Nothing short of that will bring about change. If ronderos can help with that - and some of the videos the guy from Cajamarca has posted looks like he's on the right track, then I’m all for their existence. On the other hand if their main activity is extortion, they’re part of the problem. Get the branding iron ready.

Monday, November 24, 2014

We’re back from an enjoyable trip to the USA…

….and would like to tell you about it, but first an update on our hoped-for chocolatada in San Bernardino in December. We’re very close to being able to sponsor a full-blown food, candy, clown and toys chocolatada for both pronoeis in that village. Neither pronoei has the space for a joint chocolatada but the primary school located there has plenty of room and has all but promised to let us use it. We’ll hear for certain some day this week. Our target date is Saturday December 20. We’re only a few donations away from providing those 48 kids with a day they will remember for a long time. We need to start shopping for toys now, before prices go up. If you can help us please visit the Promesa Peru webpage. Thank you. Okay…on to the trip to the USA.

We began with a few days in Miami where we spent quality time with Dino and Sara Luisa; friends we hadn’t seen in four years. When not with them we visited beaches and just generally looked around. From Miami we drove ‘alligator alley’ to Ft. Meyers and then Interstate 75 to Clearwater Beach. I was last there 35 years ago when a friend and I drove our motorcycles from Wisconsin to visit. I was looking forward to showing the Adams Mark hotel to Maribel, with its tiki shack on the beach where my friend and I had consumed vast quantities of Piña Coladas.  That didn’t happen because Adams Mark isn’t there anymore. In its place is a construction project. We enjoyed 3 days of relaxation; walking the beaches, taking photos of the sunset from Pier 60, eating at the many fine restaurants, and doing other touristy things like cruising on the gulf looking for dolphins (there are 5 or 6 tour operators - we chose the Sea Screamer).

From Clearwater Beach we drove to Cocoa Beach, mostly for the purpose of being near to the Kennedy Space Center. Cocoa Beach is completely different from Clearwater Beach in that it is not tourist oriented at all. There’s not much happening at the Cocoa Beach pier, and nothing to see when walking the beach. Merritt Island provides a lot of shopping opportunities and we did take advantage of that.

We spent an entire day – from 9:00am to 5:00pm at the Kennedy Space Center and could have used more time. There is so much to see and do if you’re interested in the history and workings of the space program. For us the highlight was viewing the Atlantis space shuttle. The shuttle, rockets, spacesuits etc are so much more impressive in person than in photos.

We finished our Florida adventure in Miami with two days of marathon shopping at the Westland, Dadeland and Dolphin Malls. We had sunshine every single day. The Lima to Miami and return flights on LAN airline is about 5 ½ hours… a little lengthy for me so as an experiment we chose to stop in Bogota Columbia on the return trip. That broke up the flight into two 3 hour segments, which was good, but the 7 hour layover plus being limited to the ‘international connection’ section of the airport was too long. We won’t do that again.

It always feels good to get back to Chiclayo. With our internal travels in Peru and occasional trips to the USA we’ve got the best of both worlds.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

There’s something in the Air……

…..and it ain’t perfume. It’s been about two weeks since trash has been collected in Chiclayo. The problem as I understand it goes back to the arrest of the ex mayor and other city officials. There is no one authorized to sign checks (meaning a signature officially on record at the banks) for the trash collectors to get paid. At least that’s the story from the trash collectors. City residents have a different explanation. They say that the former mayor and his cohorts have taken all the money so there are no funds to pay the workers.

Whatever the truth, residents have taken to depositing trash in the middle of intersections in an attempt to force the city to take action. The Agency for Assessment and Environmental Control (OEFA) in Lima has apparently been in contact with Chiclayo officials urging them to get the issue resolved before it becomes a health hazard. It may not have reached that stage yet, but walking the streets these last few days is certainly a hazard to the nostrils.