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The Death Of Ladrón
A Prologue To
The Pineapple Republic
El Banco Honrado de San Doloroso is situated on the corner of Calle 27 Este and the Avenida Mayor. It is a modern, concrete building occupying eighty–five square metres of land. Two security guards stand watch at all times, one on the inside and one on the outside. The men swap positions every hour as the interior of the building is air–conditioned and it is difficult to stand out in the sun for any length of time. Both guards are armed with ageing semi–automatic rifles. The training they receive is minimal.
At six twenty–six pm on the ninth of April 1990, José Morir was patrolling the front steps of the bank. He was twenty–four years old and new to the job. The Plaza Mayor was fairly busy but there were only three customers inside the bank. Morir had just leaned himself up against the corner of the main entrance when two green mopeds sped around the corner of Calle 27 and into the plaza. Each machine carried a driver and a passenger. The figures were dressed in the distinctive t–shirts and baseball caps of the Azulitos. The men on the back seats were sitting side–saddle, carrying automatic weapons. Before Morir had a chance to react, the men opened fire. In less than three seconds, thirty–seven bullets had struck the unfortunate security guard. Twenty–three were caught by the young man’s body armour. The rest impacted directly.
Inside the bank, the second security guard had ducked down behind a desk. This was standard procedure. The desk was directly opposite the main entrance. The guard raised his rifle and aimed it at the doors. At the same time, a cashier pressed the emergency alarm, sending a signal to the police station some half a mile from the Plaza Mayor.
The mopeds had pulled up and the two passengers were running towards the doors of the bank. Passers by stumbled back, protecting themselves. Others, including several children, simply stood and watched as José Morir bled to death on the pavement.
As the two robbers entered the bank, the second security guard tried to open fire. Unfortunately, his rifle jammed. The intruders swerved apart and screamed at him to drop the weapon. The guard had no choice but to obey.
Customers and staff were ordered onto the floor.
At exactly six thirty pm, the branch’s vault sprang open on an automatic timer. The staff of the bank were powerless to prevent the robbers from entering the safe and simply helping themselves. The two men produced bags and loaded them up with eighty–five thousand Cambures in used notes and twenty thousand American Dollars.
By six thirty–six pm, they had returned to the street and clambered back onto the waiting mopeds. The getaway vehicles were able to leave the Plaza Mayor without being challenged.
Police arrived at the bank approximately three minutes later. A cordon was thrown around the city but it was already too late. None of the four men were apprehended and the mopeds, which had been stolen, were never recovered.
An ambulance was called to attend to the security guard but by the time the vehicle arrived, it was no longer required.
A subsequent police investigation focused heavily on the timing of the robbery. The thieves had obviously received inside information about the opening of the vault. This meant a member of staff was in league with the robbers.
The felon was quickly identified as one Roberto Inocente, a lowly cashier who had been with the bank a little less than four months. His cousins were known troublemakers and a warrant was issued for their arrest. Inocente was himself arrested and interrogated at some length. Eventually, a confession was obtained.
Photographs of his relatives were distributed to nearby police stations.
A day later, a young child stumbled upon four bodies on the outskirts of Ausente. The fugitives had each been hacked to death with a machete.
The Commissioner of Police was unperturbed.
‘That is the way justice sometimes works in Ausente,’ he was quoted as saying.
The machete is the traditional weapon of the Azulitos. The dead men had apparently been masquerading as members of the organisation and Azulitos do not take kindly to imitation.
Roberto Inocente was later sentenced to life imprisonment. The cashier committed suicide three days after the sentence was handed down, hanging himself by the neck with a belt that, through an oversight, had not been confiscated.
The manager of the bank, Jorgé Cabrón, expressed regret over the whole affair. Security procedures were tightened.
His brother Emanuel is a senior figure in the Azulitos.
General Federico Hernandez Malvado watched calmly as his men moved forward to surround the building.
It was one o’clock in the afternoon and the protesters had barricaded themselves into the barn. Police reports stated that seven men and three women were occupying the building. The group was armed and hostile. It would be difficult to get them out without resorting to violence. A company executive, who had been trying to reason with the protesters that morning, was being held hostage. That was why the army had been called in.
Inside the barn, the protesters huddled together. The group consisted of two married couples, a grandparent, three adolescent youths and a twenty–five year old farm hand. They were armed with nothing more than a few spades, a scythe and several large kitchen implements. The group was, in fact, an extended family and their only aim was to keep possession of land that had been in their family for generations.
The company executive, an unpleasant American, had lost his temper during negotiations that morning. He had grabbed hold of a seventeen–year–old girl, Conchita Corazón, and tried to drag her away. The girl’s fiancé, the farm–hand Paulo, had understandably over–reacted. He’d hit the executive over the head with a shovel. The other officials had departed at this point and the two families had carried the man into the barn so they could tend to his wound. They’d given the American some bread and water and now he was sleeping peacefully.
At three minutes past one, Paulo Gonzalez saw the soldiers advancing. He was standing at the front of the barn, watching proceedings through a small crack in the wall. Two other men – one of them Conchita’s father – were keeping watch at the rear. They eyed each other nervously as the soldiers approached. Malvado’s men were heavily armed and the protesters had no equivalent arsenal with which to defend themselves.
General Malvado was in no mood to parley. ‘You are surrounded,’ he informed the protesters through a loudhailer. ‘You are to release the hostage at once, unharmed, or we will not be responsible for the consequences.’
A quick exchange of glances established the mood of the group. The protest was over. The two families had made their point. Now they would give themselves up before anyone else got hurt.
Paulo shifted the barrel blocking the main door.
After the General had delivered his ultimatum, he allowed precisely five seconds for a response. When nothing was forthcoming, he lifted his hand and a signal was sent to the surrounding soldiers. Just as Paulo was unlatching the front entrance, the men opened fire.
The young farm hand dived to the ground just in time to save himself as the bullets smacked through the mud and straw of the barn walls.
Panicked cries erupted from within and when Malvado saw that the barn door had been opened he ordered his soldiers to cease–fire.
For a moment, there was silence. Then Paulo rose to his feet with his hands held high. The young farm hand was wide–eyed and his arms were shaking.
General Malvado regarded him cautiously. ‘All right, bring the rest of them out!’ His men moved forward and Paulo stepped aside to let the soldiers enter the building.
One of them pushed him roughly to the ground.
The protesters were manhandled out into the open. Two of the men had been wounded, but their injuries were not life–threatening. Neither man was offered medical treatment.
Paulo Gonzalez was still on the ground. A soldier stood over him, aiming a machine gun at his head.
General Malvado came forward. He recognised the farm hand from an earlier description. ‘That’s the ring–leader,’ he confirmed. ‘Take the others and get them out of here. Tell the yanks the place is all theirs.’
The soldier saluted and moved away. Malvado bent over and lifted Paulo up by the collar. Conchita Corazón was being dragged away, but she turned now and tried to claw a path back to her fiancé. Hands grabbed hold of the girl and she was forcibly restrained. The young woman could only stand and watch as General Federico Hernandez Malvado removed a small gun from his holster and calmly aimed it at Paulo Gonzalez.
Paulo took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
The gun was fired at point blank range.
Within two and a half hours, the rest of the family had been successfully relocated.
Three days later, on the eighteenth of April, Miguel Vicente Ladrón was emerging from a hot bath. He wrapped a towel around his legs and walked out into his regular dining area. A trail of water splashed behind him as he crossed the marble floor.
In the centre of the room was a small table with one chair. Two attendants were setting up breakfast. As Ladrón approached, one of them pulled back the chair and allowed the president to sit.
The other attendant was carrying a tray with hot coffee and some fresh orange juice. He placed a cup down on the table and poured out some hot liquid from the pot. The coffee was black and un–sugared, as Ladrón preferred it. A third attendant came forward, carrying a fresh chunk of pineapple on a plate.
Ladrón waved the attendants away. He took a slurp of hot coffee and gave a satisfied sigh. Then he cut himself a small slice of the fruit. He held the pineapple to his mouth and sucked at the rich flesh.
It was several seconds before anyone realised anything was amiss. Ladrón had stopped eating – with the piece of pineapple still held in his mouth – and was staring into the middle distance. One of the attendants, bolder than the others, came forward to enquire if the president was quite all right. At that moment, the great man slumped forward onto the table and under his weight the table toppled forward onto the floor.
Security guards flooded the area within minutes. Ladrón’s personal physician was dragged from his bed, only to pronounce on sight that Miguel Vicente Ladrón had passed away.
A post–mortem was quickly carried out. It concluded that the president had suffered a massive heart attack. The coffee and fruit were taken away for toxicological analysis, but government scientists reported no trace of any poison. The inquest upheld the original post–mortem results and the coroner delivered a verdict of death by natural causes.
Neither the provisional government nor any member of the opposition disputed this conclusion.
But nobody believed a word of it.