March 29, 2013 |
Out of the Wild West called Belen a thug with a cap pulled low over the brow grabbed and began shaking Maria the ´purse´ of Yellow Rose of Texas. He picked on the wrong person at 8am on March 14, 2013 at the early waterfront market. Buttons popped as the two slugged and shook allowing citizens and vendors along the crime ridden waterfront to get a make on the youth´s face. The thief tore loose the purse and ran down a long stair with Maria tumbling end for end after to gain speed.
He escaped onto the plank maze of sidewalks on stilts above waterworld Belen but he had victimized the wrong girl connected to the right bunch. The Yellow Rose of Texas Rangers was born to serve the Belen and Iquitos territory and stop crime against tourists and Peruvians.
The next day I was Maria´s bodyguard. With a bruised and scraped leg having had medical attention and another sizeable purse under a fresh blouse bouncing like a heartbeat, I shadowed her like a father. The crime scene is at the foot of Palcazu Street with one hundred concrete steps descending to the Rio Itaya. Smoked fish wafts into our nostrils at the first fish table where a senora explained past a gold tooth what happened.
´Maria has been my good client for four years. Her first daily stop when the purse is full is where you are standing to get the morning catch. Would you like to try it, senor? The youth has been watching her day after day knowing her purse would be heavy with cafe money at the first stop, and he attacked as she pulled it. Maria fought, but the youth was stronger and he ran down the stairs with the purse and Maria on his heels. She slipped and slid down the stairs.´
´Do you know the robber?´ I asked. ´I do,´ she answered.
´I know him better!´ bellowed Omar the vendor at the adjacent stall. ´He has terrorized our clients and pick pocked the tourists for years. He´s been in and out of jail, but he keeps coming back for more. The police can do nothing but raise the iron bar over his head and release him because the courts are crowded.´
I offered a reward for the bad man: 10 Soles ($US4) for the name and 20 Soles for the capture- a small fortune. And I returned to the Yellow rose outdoor tables where the day before over a gordo omelet I had seen her return bleeding and empty handed.
´May I be her bodyguard?´ I asked restaurant owner Gerald Mayauex.
´You´ll need backup,´ he agreed wisely.
I put the word out on the grapevine to Richard Aku Fowler, a legendary figure in Iquitos, who ambled up with the sun at his back even as I took the last bite of the omelet.
We explained the crime, the threat to tourism, the apparent shy law enforcement to enter the lower market, and the need for a solution. He pulled a sheet of paper out his pocket, revealing handcuffs dangling on a belt loop, and other bulges under the pants.
´DON´T MOLLEST THE TOURISTS IN BELEN. THE LONE RANGER.´ the wanted poster read.
The Lone Ranger is a fictional hero, an ex-Texas Ranger who with his faithful Native American companion Tonto, fights for law and order in the American old west. The character is an enduring icon in American culture. Departing on his white stallion after righting a wrong, the stranger would shout, ´Hi Ho Silver!´ leaving behind one silver bullet, and someone always asked, ´Who was that masked man, anyway?´
We grabbed a motokaro taxi with a surrey fringe to the Belen market. Thousands of tourists from around the world visit the seamy, flea hopping market each year, and one asks, why? It is a ten block study of fascination of food and human odors, shouts by vendors, wonderful people, action around each bend, and you can get everything you want- even pickpockets- at the Belen market. About one tourist per week is shorn, hardly ever harmed, of his valuables. The young hoods also pick off Peruvians riding by on motorbikes with a fat wallet sticking out a back pocket. The sting is always the same: The ragamuffins hangs at the top of one of five stairwells, lying in wait like little lions panting in the heat with the Jones of a drug habit, until a prey comes, strike boldly, and scamper down a hundred steps to the river. I have been robbed of a camera, watch, and seen five other tourists fleeced. The thief is faster and rarely collared, leaving behind tourists with shrugs and scowling citizens. The Belen police are vigilant and somewhat brave, but haven´t figured out the scheme, overburdened with Billy clubs, tear gas and pistols, nor do they care even with that to enter the lower bowls of the waterfront.
Aku and I staked out the crime scene standing ten yards apart and ostensibly minding our own affairs, him examining cabbage, I feeling tomatoes, and waited. After thirty minutes the flies began to bite, but thirty minutes later a reticent fish vendor whispered in passing in my ear, ´The Rato is eating at a table one hundred meters away, follow me…´ and we tailed him there. A National Policeman in brown stood behind the eater watching every move of the knife and fork. Aku cooed, ´The perpetrator will be high as a kite from the money, but he´ll have just a few Soles to pay for the meal. Officer Vela ordered the man,
´Stand up, you´re under arrest!´ and Aku was on him in a flash, and snapped handcuffs on surprised wrists and shoved them into the small of his back. Another policeman joined us, and they marched as if Aku was their Captain for three blocks to the Sixth Street Belen police station.
´My job is done,´ he said at the entrance handing me the silver key to the handcuffs, and vanished into the market.
´Who was that stranger?´ asked Officer Vela.
´Why, that´s the Lone Ranger.´
Left alone on the station step. I trundled the hombre into the lobby past a beefy policeman with a shotgun and a keen eyed cop with an automatic rifle. The police chief´s face over the counter registered shock as he waved us upstairs. Around a corner and up a flight of stairs I met head detective Fernando Rios ´Sherlock Holmes ´ Zarate of the criminal investigation department of two.
Their office is one small room that catches the heat from downstairs with two desks, one modern computer, a shelf of documents, and the perp was roughly seated on a long hard bench. ´Senor Rato, Sherlock asked gruffly. ´What do you have to say for yourself?´
´I didn’t do it.´
´What didn’t you do?´
´Whatever the gringo says I did.´
Officer A. Vela S., twenty years old and lithe from what he calls ´eighteen months of very hard and valuable training at the National Police Academy on the Nauta highway, joined and explained what had happened and punctuated, ´And then a tall stranger took over, left a silver key, and disappeared.´
´Who was he?´ asked Sherlock.
´Why, that was the Lone Ranger´ said Vela.
He dissected my face with his eyes, and I began almost to fathom the profound intellect and memory of Sherlock Holmes, a trouper for 28 years. As the perp writhed on the bench in withdrawal, begging the cuffs be loosened, I explained the tourist and expat view of the Belen marketplace.
´Peru tourism has risen like a meteor that will peak in early May when 100 travel agencies land in Iquitos from around the world for a Peru Tourism Conference. They will arrive on Copa Air on one of the first international flights and be greeted by a new airport immigration agency. With the addition of a 5-Star hotel Iquitos will become the gem of Peru. The one sore spot in Shangri-La is Belen. Most tourists go there, about one in forty is robbed, and the strategy is usually the same.´ I explained the stairway escape hatches that the robbers use.
He leaned forward, and stared thoughtfully into my face. ´Thank you for bringing in Senor Rato. We will begin a police report now.´ The man gave his name as Elvis Gafica Reategui, 30-years old, height 5´7¨, weight 70 kg., pocked face, no document, with no particular address and nothing in his pockets. The gold tooth senora was brought in to identify him and sign an eye-witness statement, and left.
‘He didn’t resist arrest and was amicable,´’ I piped, ‘So there´s no need to hit him.’ ´ Vela,´ ordered the boss without glancing up from the report. ´Take Senor Rato to his cell.´ A few minutes of paperwork later a burly cop entered and informed, ´His real name is Eliseo Baos Aneulo, age 30, domicile Penjamo, he´s been in and out our jail three or four times on the same charge, and admitted today´s crime.´
´How did you find out?´ I wondered. The head detective smiled as the officer retorted, ´I raised an iron bar over his body and he squealed.´ He did not say he hit him.
Two hours later, Sherlock put the last punishing period on the handwritten one- page report, and pushed it across the desk for my signature. I signed, with a flourish an addendum swearing, ´I do not speak Spanish,´ and shoved the document back. Then I handed the detective the poster ´Don’t molest the tourists in Belen. The Lone Ranger’ that he beamed over for a full minute after I snapped a photo.
There was one more thing to do before leaving the station. The silver key. I went downstairs alone to the rear building and surveyed the Sixth Street holding tank. There are two 10´x10´ block cells connected by a narrow alley where a ragtag youth slept but arose as I stepped over him. He tried to pickpocket me, but I pushed him down and asked, ´Where is your bed?´ and he curled up like a pup and slept. In one cell a misfit awaiting an interrogation or eyewitness gawked through the slats as if he was seeing a ghost. The heavy bar doors are unlocked and can be opened from the inside… but then there are the shotguns and rifles. I opened the door to view Eliseo Aneulo crashed on the bare concrete and gently prodded his shoulder. ´Ohh, ´he groaned, and rolled away. I removed the cuffs, he rubbed circulation back into the wrists and hands, and indicated he was hungry. I nodded and slammed shut the door.
The sun was setting on another market day as I exited the building, when suddenly I was sided by a hefty uniform filled with self-importance and multiple stripes on the sleeves. He cordially introduced himself as the new shift ´Sherriff´, adding, ´Word is going around on the case, and I wish to thank you, and especially the Lone Ranger.´ I gave him some change to buy our thief a meal, and left.
The next morning Maria the Purse was the hero of Belen and did not need a bodyguard any more. They cheered
and showered her with spinach, bananas and greens for her own kitchen as she made the hour round of 80 kilos for the restaurant. For the first time a policeman stood watch over each Belen staircase as one patrolled the stem on a motorcycle. The case was closed and Belen is safer for a time.
Sherlock has forecast the fate of the thief in the legal procedure. He will be held for about four hours and released. Since the robbery was for 300 soles ($US120) it is a misdemeanor, far less than the 1400 soles required for a felony to send him to the Brazil Street carcel. Assault is not taken into account unless it causes a serious injury. There must be a testimony to make a police report from either the victim or, as today, the eye witness senora Gold Tooth. Since the thief has a record and address he will be sent a notice to appear in court. ´It will be ignored,´ guesses Sherlock. In another week a second notice will go out, a third, and then ´We will start looking for him. If I didn´t release the mugger today I’d lose my job. We do about five reports daily at the Belen station alone. The courts simply do not have the time or money to process cases that do not at least pay for themselves.´
Tourism is on the rise outside Iquitos too, in Lima, up at Machu Picchu, around the Amazon and throughout this national paradise. The Texas Rangers of the old American West had a saying, ´One riot, one ranger.´ Now two centuries and half way around the globe in Iquitos their aims are to help the police, update the antiquated laws, change the revolving door court system that puts Senor Ratos back on the streets in four hours, and to make Peru a safe tourist haven.