It is worthwhile, though hair-raising, to read Kidnap for Ransom and Extortion Assessment, a report by Hazelwood Street Consultants, LLC, headed by attorney Bruce Kaplan. It can be found on the Internet.
That bloody, million-dollar business nourishes the most sinister terrorist groups in the planet: the drug traffickers, the ethnic mafias, the mara gangsters and everyone else who owns a firearm, lacks scruples and does not fear an almost always nonexistent justice.
The story begins.
Let’s say he’s called Manuel. I don’t want to give away any information that might lead to his arrest and deportation from the United States. He is Honduran, 24, with a wife and a small, unruly daughter. Manuel is as hard-working as an ant. He works from dawn to dusk as a gardener.
A few years ago, in his homeland, he was visited by some neighborhood gang members known for their history of bloody violence. They told him they needed him in the gang. Manuel is tall and strong and owned a pick-up truck that he used for his work.
They wanted him to traffic in cocaine and participate in extortion jobs. The invitation could not be turned down. If he refused, they would kill him or his daughter or his wife — maybe all three. The number of cadavers is never a problem in that tortured corner of the world.
Manuel asked for a few days to think it over. It made no sense to go to the police. Likely, some of the policemen were the gangsters’ accomplices and would reveal the source of the complaint.
Manuel was an honest and desperate person. He was even religious. When he was a child, his mother read him the Bible at night, and he made it a habit to pray to the Virgin of Suyapa. He didn’t want to become a criminal. Nor did he want to die or see his family killed.
He sold the truck for $4,000 and gave the money to a “coyote,” or smuggler. After a thousand stressful experiences, he managed to cross the border and settle in California. Today, he looks after his family with his honest job. He hopes that his daughter, who already speaks English, will become an American citizen with all the rights it brings. He wants her to become a dentist when she grows up. He has been told that dentists make a lot of money.
Technically, Manuel is an illegal immigrant. In reality, he is a runaway from terror. We need to distinguish between someone who emigrates in search of a better future — which is perfectly reasonable — and someone who flees from a brutal, lawless society to avoid being murdered. The difference is tragically important.
What fails in Latin America is the rule of law. It fails from the top down, when politicians and functionaries steal with impunity. It fails when legislators allow themselves to be bribed and judges prevaricate or sell their rulings. It fails when the intermediate officials ask for paybacks, and nothing can be done to avoid those demands. It fails at the base, when the gangsters run wild, without anyone stopping them.
What message does the Venezuelan society get when Nicolás Maduro, Diosdado Cabello and the entire government, directed by the Cuban dictatorship, protect a general accused of drug trafficking and associating with criminal gangs to commit all kinds of crimes?
The message is obvious: Laws are worthless. The official discourse is false. What’s important is to get rich by any and all means. Why should Bolivians respect the law when they’ve heard Evo Morales say that he breaks the rules and his lawyers take care of the mess?
What do Dilma Rousseff’s Brazilians, Cristina Fernández’s Argentines, Pepe Mujica’s Uruguayans, Rafael Correa’s Ecuadoreans and Daniel Ortega’s Nicaraguans think when they see their president approving the Venezuelan mess and smiling “Thank you” at a madman who talks to the birds?
They think that their leaders really live mired in cynicism and deceit. They think that they’re better educated but no better than the slum robbers.
Therein lies the origin of the disease. The backbone of a republic is the respect for the law and the state’s ability to protect its people. That has been lost in almost all of Latin America. That is why a desperate Manuel began his trek to the north. They say he cried every night.