THE RETURN OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS
Dr. Lester CN Simon
Of all the rundown, forgotten offices in town, she had to stumble into mine. The one with the rotten, twisted sign. The partially opened, creaky, wooden door ushered her into a constrained, rhomboid waiting room dimly lit by a solitary energy-saving light bulb that had seen brighter days and thinner cobwebs. No sign of a receptionist; neither a plant nor a flower, real or artificial; just a few jaded, screw-face magazines and a small, ancient book on the floor in a corner; three benches outlining the complete unevenness of the floor; three strangulated pictures on the walls depicting the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria; a signed seaman certificate dated 1492 and a pinup 2008 almanac. She no doubt thought the sign outside must be wrong. This could not be the office of a private investigator. But it was.
She turned to leave as I waltzed through the door apologizing for the absence of a receptionist. It’s awfully difficult getting good people to work these days. Everyone, including the criminals, is working three or four jobs to get money to meet needs and wants, including taking a cruise. Taking a cruise. Queen Isabella! If only I had a mite of what they have when I started out.
She came to see me because her son was killed. I told her she should go to the police. She told me that would take forever. Trying to relax her, I pointed out that the police was not too far away, as if taking forever meant the time it would take her to get to a police station. She smiled and reminded me that of the four strapping policemen who came in from Canada, two of them, thus far, went back after they realized they would have to live here forever to make even a small impression on the police force. And it seemed I had come well recommended. After all, a man who discovered one new world while trying to find another and who was reincarnated as a private detective to discover more things, more than five hundred years after his maiden transatlantic voyage, must be good. He asked about my retainer.
I told her I had returned for many reasons. Some of my people, the tourists, could not understand how this continent and chain of islands had become so corrupt. After all, I had to remind her that the author, Charles Mann, had correctly written in his book, 1491, that the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan had running water and immaculately clean streets and was larger than any contemporary city in Europe before 1492. I explained how the Americas had started genetic engineering by creating corn. There were black people here before 1492. How else did the banana, of African origin, end up in Peru before I came here?
When tourists referred to these countries, pejoratively, as a banana republic, how much had I and my people contributed to the endemic corruption she has to endure? Caught between the poor cocaine producers in the south and the rich consumers in the north, these islands have become nothing but transit points. Lives in these in transit terminals become shorter and shorter as trafficking increases more and more. In protest, I hear many a Rastaman have ceased smoking herb, or they are growing their own, since the shippers now marry marijuana, cocaine and guns in one all inclusive package for optimal distribution.
I recovered the little book off the floor and explained to her that evil had long inhabited and nested itself in the fabric of these parts. I quoted from The Devastation of the Indies by Bartolomé De Las Casas that says, “……for in the beginning the Indians regarded the Spaniards as angels from heaven.” Some years later, Las Casas described butcher shops that sold human flesh for dog food: “Give me a quarter of that rascal there,” one (Spaniard) customer said, “until I can kill some more of my own”. The twisted irony is that these charming islands are so beautiful, the beauty hides the ugliness; but then again, good and evil have always walked together, even in Eden.
Then I told her I would accept her case under one condition. She and her family and friends must petition the government to deploy a reformed army with crystal clear rules of engagement. You cannot have a group of women talking about taking back the night when criminals are in charge and soldiers are waiting for an invasion that has already happened. The reformed army must pitch tents in real and present danger areas as well as areas of potential danger. A reformed army is the primary and principal force best suited to assist the police in winning back the confidence of the people in the security forces of the state.
Those who see the army as a traditional army should visit the website of the Regional Security System (RSS), www.rss.org.bb. It underscores the changing roles of the RSS, which comprises both military and police personnel. “The threat of external aggression or destabilization, once seen as a problem, is now almost non-existent and Member States are no longer concerned with the threat of external aggression from any of its neighbours, but rather with the more pervasive influence of narco-trafficking, terrorism, crime and their consequential impact on civil society. The increase in crime is aggravated by the influx of criminal deportees from…….and by the availability of firearms…” They changed the role of the army on the web and left the old army marching aimlessly on the ground. Move from at ease and come to attention, our attention!
And so I concluded, the government cannot continue to refuse to permanently reengineer, reform and deploy the army, with crystal clear rules of engagement. The government cannot take blind refuge in citing (inciting) the image of the country in the eyes of tourists and wait until tourists are killed to pull out all the stops. Tell them I sent you. I am the original tourist and I am scared stiff living and working here. If they still refuse, warn them that if a man more than 500 years old can see the way to stop the immediate haemorrhage, whilst other long term measures are put in place, and they cannot see the way out, then they have long passed their expiry date. And so, it is time for all of them, as I close my office and bid you goodbye forever, to sing with me, altogether now, “Garn Ah Guassa”.