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Strange fruit in the Texas Big Bend

5 October 2009

Having been for a very short time the Brewster County Bureau Chief for the now world-famous Big Bend Sentinel, I wasn’t so surprised to hear about alleged shennagins in the Presidio County Sheriff’s Department (Marfa  businessman Randy Quaid is alleging that Sheriff’s Deputy James Davis provided information about his and his wife, Evi’s arrest over a disputed California hotel bill to gossip magazines and websites).  Ehhh… that’s just typical  Marfa … a place where the rich and famous pay good money to pretend they’re locals, and the local-locals  pretend they don’t know who the famous people are.  And usually don’t care.

However, when one of Brewster County’s own, Terlingua-based river guide, bionic woman and “la Benimerita de Boquillas” — Cynta de Navaéz — fesses up in the same publication to smuggling, that is reason for concern:


Several weeks ago a friend of mine and I went to Ojinaga to shop. We managed to do it in 7 exhausting hours and then found ourselves at the Presidio Port of Entry.

“Have anything to declare?” We told him everything we had (or rather, thought we had). No, we could not get out of the truck and refresh our memories by lifting the cooler lid, we had to stay in the car so the officer could be safe. They went back to look in our coolers, came back to our window and asked a second time: “What do you have to declare?” We went through our memories again, laughing because it was all so ridiculous because, we live here. We know the score. But we didn’t. My friend had done some “impulse shopping” and there were 5 guayabas in a fruteria bag that we had completely forgotten about. The officers asked us a third time. We answered again by listing everything we could remember verbally. And that was our third strike.

We were informed that we owed the port $300 for trying to smuggle 5 guayabas into the country. If we would have declared them, said their name out loud, they only would have been confiscated. But $300 smackers? It wasn’t as if we had 5 crates of guayabas under the floorboard. I thought I saw some of the other uniformed officers wince. Yes, very harsh. To us it felt like entrapment. My friend was furious and refused to sign their ticket. It would have been an admission of guilt, even though we would only have had to pay $175 at the time. We took the ticket with us, feeling angry and cheated and as though we need to protect ourselves from our own government.

Who knew guayabas would be so heinous? Especially since we had both completely forgotten that we had them? The next day my friend called the Agriculture Department of the Customs Department in Virginia to plead his case. The officer said, “Look. Just don’t buy your groceries in Mexico. The list of acceptable and unacceptable goods changes regularly. There is no way to know.”

So, my friends, the moral of this story is: Make A List of Everything You Buy In OJ And Hand It To The Officer In The Booth. Plain and Simple. It’s Mexico, for Chrissakes, you are going to want to try new things to eat, to impulse buy, if you will, in the produce section. And you are going to forget something you have purchased. If your purchases have all been put on a list then all that can happen, if you have something unacceptable, is that they confiscate it. No one wants to pay $300 for fruit they cannot eat.

I will say, in all fairness, that the officers were respectful and professional; this isn’t about the officers, it’s the law. Be forwarned.

When she’s not smuggling fruit, Cynta is doing what she can to lend a helping hand to the remaining people of Boquillas de la Carmen, Coahuila who were wiped out economically and socially when the informal border crossings were closed after 11 September 2001. “Weekend America (National Public Radio)” interviewed Cynta last January.  Much more impressive than being a movie actor.

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