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The Crime Pages

6 September 2004

When the going gets tough…Thanks to George W. Bush and his “creative” economic policies, there’s little or no money here. I didn’t come here to be rich, or live off the fat of the land (it’s a skinny land, despite our having the second-highest – next to the U.S.A. – rates of obesity in the world), and to be honest, I don’t work particularly hard – and poverty is no disgrace… it’s just so damned inconvenient at times!As I wrote this, I was living in a bureaucratic limbo: I exist in Mexico as a business (a personal fiscal), but not having my papers completely processed, I don’t exist as a human (a persona moral). This isn’t such a big deal, except, being fiscal and not moral, I have no way to pay my taxes. Being a moral person (though not a persona moral), I try to live by the rules (besides which, try doing something normal, like ordering a telephone or opening a bank account when you don’t exist): but rules were made to be broken.

There are some time-honored ways to deal with little annoyances like paychecks and bills. For a time, I had a creative employer who paid me out of a Texas bank account for “personal services”. Given the difference in incomes between that – and this – side of the border, I wasn’t earning enough in the US to file income tax forms. And, I didn’t exist in Mexico. Neat, clean, but probably illegal. Popular with employers and illegal alien employees alike are “honorarios” These are the receipts (printed at one’s own expense, I might add), everyone uses for … everything from reimbursing the secretary for petty cash expenses to paying the doctor to hiding employees. Again, one is SUPPOSED to be a persona moral to get the forms, but I’ve been paid many times under other people’s names. This is also illegal, and a bit inconvenient: You add 15% to your base income to cover future itemized deductions, then subtract 10% of the base for income tax, and 10% for social security. Don’t ask me to do the math, but it works out to 92% take-home pay – unless, of course, the person providing the honoria is not paying their taxes (or isn’t going to declare income they didn’t earn, which might lead to something nasty like an audit), wants their 10% income tax up front. Or doesn’t – since they aren’t reporting their income in the first place (something like 6 out of 7 Mexican taxpayers neglect to report their income).

And, there are honaria among thieves. It used to be easy to figure out what your taxpayer ID number should be, and to just have some black market honaria forms printed. The Treasury Department got smart to that, and has added some randomly generated numbers on the end. One can still fake the taxpayer ID, but if you’re working with a relatively honest employer (relative is the key word here: that means they actually pay you, as opposed to the employers who encourage naïve foreigners to fake the ID, then claim they can’t pay, because the number doesn’t exist in the government computers). Going this route requires consorting with … criminals… as opposed to… oh, those of us who uh, bend the rules. One of the more sensational newspapers was having a dry spell last week, and wrote an expose on the fake honoria racket – as if it was new. Plaza Santo Domino has been THE place for false papers of all kinds for the last 400 years. The forgers are right across from the old Palace of the Inquisition (which used to burn forgers at the stake – come to think of it, today’s forgers are probably descended from the guys who got off thanks to some dubious Indulgences). Foreign-looking people wandering through the Plaza, who don’t look like obvious tourists are always asked “¿Honorarios?” They probably wouldn’t blink an eyelash if I said ,“no thanks, but I would like to order a Bulgarian passport.” They probably have the price listed somewhere.

And there’s always cash.

A policeman’s lot … or less than zero tolerance…

In Queer, William S. Burroughs bragged about seducing policemen and giving them narcotics. But, Burroughs never understood Mexico, nor was he even minimally fluent in Spanish. Who was using whom? Burroughs seemed to be under the impression that the cops represent order in this country. In the benighted past, gay men, along with drug addicts, alcoholics and the simply twisted – rejected by their families and forced to make a living somehow – found employment with the police. There are still plenty of twisted souls (and alcoholics, and drug addicts) doing police work, but the situation is slowly changing. Emphasis on “slowly”. Let’s put it this way – the police are getting better (and when a poll found that trust in the police was a whopping 16% it was front page news), but there are … uh… challenges. A few weeks ago, when a suburbanite was hit by a patrol car, he called for help – not the police, but the neighbors. They took the drunken coppers hostage, and only turned them over to the authorities when assured the arrest warrants were in order.

Police work is low-paid and low status. Only in Mexico would there be a classic “western” (or, “northern”, to be geographically correct) where it’s the new schoolma’rm who shoots it out with the sheriff (and, plugs the galoot, to our eminent satisfaction). No, our police are not the best – thankfully. This country would be unbearable if we had to live completely by the rules. No one has the money or patience (and Mexicans are famous for their patience) for that.

In a country where cops are social inferiors to garbage men (people cheer the garbage trucks and boo the police cars — or turn their backs during the Revolution Day parade), and where everybody engages in more than a few minor infractions every day, the new “zero tolerance” campaign doesn’t look promising. Our socialist-populist mayor hired Rudolf Guilani to head the whole thing up — which makes for very weird politics. Suddenly the far right (who are pushing for legal executions) is worrying about human rights for minorities. Guiliani is being paid by private donors — the rich guys hired a foreign conservative politician to work for a socialist mayor… the very rich are suddenly supporting the socialists. Except for the socialists who are also entrepreneurs without permits. And all the politicians are talking about honesty. One nice thing about the multi-party system: two parties can might get away with something, but with four or five (let alone 12), everybody has zero tolerance for somebody’s peccadilloes.

I’m dubious of the premise. While I can see not tolerating bank robbers, kidnappers, wife-beaters or organ grinders (I’m almost in favor of the death penalty for those particular social irritants. Maybe they could be sent to Islas Tres Marias, the Mexican Devil’s Island), nobody much cares if you ignore inconvenient regulations. Besides a few national heroes who weren’t exactly sticklers for legal niceties (so Pancho Villa was a cattle rustler — William Randolf Heast could only eat so many steaks anyway. Besides, Villa preferred the New York Times, and stealing Hearst cattle was good PR), some of our “criminals” perform needed public services otherwise unavailable. I wouldn’t have time to get my shopping done if it wasn’t for unlicensed merchants prowling the subways. The people selling a little of everything on the subways certainly are appreciated. It saves a lot of time to buy toothpaste, pencils, flashlights, books, the Periodic Table of Elements while commuting (yup, the latter is sold on subways — and learning the elements in Spanish ha been immensely valuable in solving cross-word puzzles).

One of my students (a tax accountant, no less) pointed out that 4 people buying the 1000 peso pirated version of MS-Office (opposed to the hard-to-find 4-5000 peso official version) creates a market for 4 or 5 computers (and 4 or 5 copies of Windows, helping Bill Gates recover some of those billions he lost), and gets money in the pockets of 4 or 5 vendors. It helps Bill Gates while furthering national development goals — increased computer access, and helping the domestic electronics business. I somehow doubt lady selling left-over doughnuts is collecting sales taxes, but she’s earning a living, and I’m getting perfectly good doughnuts at a cheap price. And, if construction workers are living in the unfinished building across the street, at least they’re living somewhere, and shopping in the local stores.

Live, nude fat ladies!

In other crime news… first it was the dance students. This time it was farmers (who’ve been losing their shirts anyway). Naked protesters are running (marching? cavorting?) amok! But what good’s a parade (even a nude one) without a band? The choices of instruments Mexican strolling musicians select makes you wonder about them. Cellos aren’t easy to lug around, but people do; luckily it takes two guys to play a marimba, since it takes two strong men to carry one. But harps? That was one strong naked farmer! I’m sure there’s some law on the books against walking down the street wearing nothing but your sneakers and a strategically-placed harp (though, given the size and bulk of a harp, there’s not much strategy involved). Maybe we should settle for zero tolerance of really annoying stuff — keep the naked harpists, but send the organ grinders to the firing squad.

True Crime Stories…

Weird news of the day – one of the conservatives in the Veracruz state assembly wants to make witchcraft a crime. The witches — both good
witches and bad witches – bring in a lot of tourist dollars, not to
Vote for me!mention the witches who all fly in (mostly on Aeromexico and not on broomsticks) for their annual convention (I wonder if the Catecamo Hilton keeps a bubbling cauldron of bat wings and toe of frog for room service requests). If the assemblyman isn’t laughed out of the State, I expect he’ll be turned into a newt.

Forgive us our trespasses…
“Lead us not into temptation” ends at the church door — the bootleg CD stalls are right outside (I once bought the Rolling Stones Greatest Hits at the cathederal — they always test the CDs for you, and there’s something twisted about blasting out “Sympathy for the Devil” at 10 on a Sunday morning). At least the piratas have … uh… catholic tastes. I really don’t need more than one or two cumbia or salsa collections — I’ve found everything from Los Beatles and El Doors (both still very popular here) to Billie Holiday to Danzon (Cuban waltz music) to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Wolfgang was from the Slovenian National Orchestra, but on what a pobre maestro makes, it’s what you buy.

Shady Ladies
(Ma Bakker and Esta Elba Gordilla)
(August 2002)
Still not talking, but alive and kicking is Delia Patricia Buendia Gutierrez. She’s the new role model for women in business: she sucessfully broke through the glass ceiling in another tradional bastion of patriarchy. Alas, our local Mafia Don (er, Donna), was one of those “hands-on managers” — shooting a city councilwoman in the middle of the night is one thing, but offing a federal judge on a bus in the middle of rush hour is just sloppy. Apparently, with the fall of the Arielo Felix brothers (her operation had a profitable employment service division, handling rub-outs for the narcotrafficantes) she made the same mistake a lot of top managers do — cutting human resources and training budgets, and entrusting managers with tasks outside their area of competence. “Delia Patricia Buendia Gutierrez” isn’t a real catchy gangster name, and makes for long, boring headlines. Besides, “Ma Bakker” makes her sound like a gringa, and they’re capable of … anything! But, it sounds more like “moba-CAR” on TV.Adhering to a more traditional female role is Elba Esther Gordillo, the schoolmarm and president of the Teachers’ Union. Boy, if you thought your 6th grade teacher was mean, count yourself fortunate not to have cross Senora Elba Esther. The OTHER Teachers’ Union filed murder charges against her this week — their organizers tended to fall off roofs, commit suicide by shooting themselves two or three times in the back of the head, or simply disappearing from the face of the earth back when Elba Esther was in charge of union discipline. Hmmmm … maybe they just didn’t file their lesson plans on time, and needed, er… mentoring.

Sra. Gordillo is a probable candidate for mayor. Politics here is a contact sport, and there’s no penalty for unnecessary roughness. Murder charges aren’t necessarily a disqualifier, though a conviction probably would be. Otherwise, the city fathers and mothers have been almost virtuous lately. The police department chief on Ma Bakker’s payroll was even fired — it looks like he might have to sell his Jaguar (showing up at a crime scene in a band-new Jag is likely to draw the suspicion of even the densest auxiliary cop: that, and the fact that his son, the hit-man, was the criminal under arrest).

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 19 December 2007 4:52 pm

    Really nice site you have here. I’ve been reading for a while but this post made me want to say 2 thumbs up. Keep up the great work


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