The International Writers Magazine: Guard your luggage

Dangerous Holidays
James Skinner

Javier Marañon is a local businessman in Cacún, Mexico, a Spaniard who emigrated there 15 years earlier and runs the ‘Oasis’ hotel, one of the most prestigious on the peninsula. He is also the Honorary Spanish Consul for the region.

On Monday, 9th of October, he received a call from the local police station advising him that a Spanish citizen had been arrested on charges of illegal possession of arms. The police officer did not expand on the details; pretty normal circumstances in the arrest of a foreigner. He put the phone down, thought for a moment and then reached down to the bottom drawer of his desk and took out his ‘consular diary’. He entered the time, ’09.30’, and the name of the Spaniard, ‘Ana María Rios’ followed by a simple comment, ‘arrested, waiting charges’. He walked out of his office and into the foyer of the hotel. At the reception desk he called over to the clerk on duty, ‘I’m down at the police station. Call me on my mobile for any emergency.’ He turned and walked out of the hotel.

When he arrived at the police station he was greeted by the officer on duty who then briefed him on the case. ‘The suspect was about to board an aircraft back to Spain when the customs officials found illegal weaponry in one of her suitcases,’ said the officer. ‘May I see the report?’ responded Javier. After it was handed to him and he read through the information as well as Ana María’s declaration, he looked up at the policeman and said, ‘a few empty cartridges and ‘parts’ of some sort of detonator, do you call these arms?’ The officer refused to comment. ‘I wish to speak to the prisoner!’

A few minutes later, Jaiver was with Ana María and the full ordeal came to light.

Ana María came from a small village called Canicouva in the Province of Pontevedra but travelled daily to neighbouring Arcade where she ran a small hairdressing saloon. The town, 5 miles from the city of Vigo, is famous all over Spain for its oyster beds and caters for the major part of this sector of the seafood industry. Young, not necessarily beautiful, Ana María had just got married to Marcos Da Silva and like many honeymooning couples they decided to cross the Atlantic to the warm and sunny beaches of the Caribbean. They had discarded Santo Domingo or Puerto Rico, two other Spanish speaking holiday areas and decided for the third, yet still extremely popular resort in Cancun. Little did they know what was in store for them as they completed their romantic holiday, readying for a future of starting a family.

At the airport, after having checked in at the airline desk, they proceeded to the usual security check point, placed their hand luggage through the scanners and crossed into the final search area prior to the exit lounge for some duty free purchases or the odd drink before boarding the aircraft. During a last minute search of Ana María’s hand luggage, some empty ‘military’ cartridges fell out onto the floor and a small ‘piece’, not even the full mechanism of an explosive detonator was found. It is not necessary to go into the details of what happened next.

Back in Spain, the news ran through the village like a bolt of lightning. Ana María’s mother, Gloria Bemposta and her uncle, Roberto Manuel Alvarez were on the next plane to Mexico The local press and television stations was immediately sending out their envoys to pick up on the story. In the meantime, the General Spanish Consulate in Mexico had flashed the information back to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Madrid who reacted in the normal manner of ‘caution’ awaiting the results of the accusation during the investigation of criminal offences in another country’s jurisdiction. The President of the Regional government of Galicia was another high ranking politician who offered his ‘moral’ support. But this did not necessarily help in Ana Maria´s plight. After all, she had supposedly been caught ‘red handed’ with bellicose material that could be used as evidence of involvement in terrorist movements in Mexico.
It was a smart newspaper reporter sent out from the Atlantico in Vigo who researched a similar, yet more sinister case that happened at the same airport a month prior to the Spaniard’s ordeal. Alejandra Rey, a veteran news envoy from the Argentine newspaper La Nacion’ was with a team of reporters sent to Cancun to cover the events of hurricane ‘Wilma’, when this time, during her entry into the country on a flight from Buenos Aires with a stopover in Panama, none other than 44 kilos of cocaine were found in two of her suitcases. Her plea of innocence, similar to Ana Maria’s was simple; someone or some persons had handled her luggage during the flight or the transit through the airports, whilst said luggage was out of her possession. Although both cases are difficult to prove, the rationale makes sense. ‘Why should I be so stupid as to blatantly bring in this amount of drugs, when I’m here on a genuine news reporting assignment for my newspaper?’

Ana Maria´s case was even more bizarre. ‘A member of a honeymooning couple, from a small remote village in Galicia, who had never ventured out into the inhospitable world of arms dealing or terrorism is suddenly trying to ‘smuggle’ out of a Latin American country a bunch of used bullet cartridges and a piece of junk that looked like a detonator and hence bundled into jail to await trial! It’s preposterous!’ Thus was the resounding message in the newspapers on either side of the ocean.

So what’s the beef behind all this then?
Speculation is twofold. In Alejandra’s case, it was a simple ‘try it and see’ by the drug barons trying to smuggle in cocaine to the north of America. Switch suitcases in mid stream and if she was not caught, someone would soon be waiting to take over the two suitcases full of the white sniffing rubbish and dismiss her with a stupid look on her face. The theory in Ana Maria’s case was for the same reason but with a different twist. Cause a rumpus in one area of the airport by sending in all the troops and machinegun totting guards whilst at the other end, in a supposedly ‘unguarded’ area, our same drug barons would be moving the same stuff from different area, different flight, and different arrival.

Sound like stories out of one of John le Carre’s novels? Probably. We writers know that truth and fiction go hand in hand in most novels yet when horror stories actually happen to living human beings like both Alejandra and Ana Maria, the reality show ends and the real drama takes over.

My advice on holidaying in today’s screwed up world? Stay at home and watch the travel channels on television.

© James Skinner. November 2006.

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