Greetings, Cherished Readers!
If you’re reading this, then it means that we didn’t all die in some sort of fiery apocalypse in late December with the changeover of the Mayan calendar. So at least there’s some good news…A lot of us were a little bit worried, what with the forest fire on Volcán de Agua, that small tornado in the capital,Volcán de Fuego going off back in September, and the big 7+ earthquake in November and the dozens of aftershocks. Just throw in some meteors and a plague of zombies, and it could have been a not-so-happy Solstice.
Welcome to the inaugural column of “Fijate vos…”. I’m thrilled to be the newest addition to Qué Pasa’s stable of excellent writers! You’ll probably notice that the writing in the column might not be quite up to the excellent standards elsewhere in this magazine, but that’s because I have specifically requested that the editors leave it alone. [Note to editors: You hear that? Don’t go correcting me! I can write good!]
[Editors’ note: That should be “I can write well.” But OK, it’s on your own head. Knock yourself out! It’s less work for us… We wash our hands of you.]
So, let’s get this out of the way first: Why is this column called “Fijate vos…”? Well, if you’ve spent any time in Guate, you’ve probably heard some version of this phrase. The verb fijar in Spanish technically means “to affix”, “to set (a time or a date)”, or “to determine”. But the most common usage you’ll hear is as a little verbal tic that chapines have. In offices, stores, and especially in the governmental bureaucracy, they tend to use the formal form “fíjese que…” as a way to begin to tell you bad news. It roughly translates as “Sorry to have to tell you this, but what you’re asking for is impossible. Sucks to be you.”
The other usage of fijar that you’ll hear in everyday conversation, “fijate vos”, is very informal and basically means “listen to this” right before the speaker is about to say something important (or tell some juicy detail).
So, yeah, that’s exactly what this column is about: interesting things (and juicy – possibly scandalous – details) about life here in the Land of Eternal Spring – and specifically about life here in La Antigua.
By far the juiciest of stories here in the City of Perpetual Roses is that, back in September, on the very same day that Volcán de Fuego blew its top in one of the biggest eruptions in quite a while, something else also sent shock waves through our fair city: the Mayor was arrested! Who’d’vethunk it? A politician charged with corruption?!? Not only corruption, but so very many different forms of it: money laundering, abuse of authority, conspiracy, fraud, obstruction of justice, and dereliction of duty.Wow! With all that going on, many Antigüeños have been asking, “How did he find the time to do any governing? Their short answer: it appears he didn’t, and that’s one of the reasons our infrastructure is crumbling and our population is grumbling.(Believe me, there’ll be more about this in future columns.) Ex-mayor Dr. Vivar (also known not-so-affectionately as Dr. Cándido Pérez – those of you who know Mexican/Latin American TV comedies will get the joke) was arrested on September 13th, just a couple of days before Independence Day, and as of this column’s deadline, he’s still in the clink – which means he’s either benefitting from the slimming effects of prison-issue stripes, or that suit he was arrested in is getting petty shabby by now. It’s quite a spectacle.
But it appears that Dr. Vivar thinks that he’s justified in all of this. It’s been reported that, in the first days of his incarceration, when he was asked by a supporter,“Who’s to blame?”about the situation, he said it was the fault of the voters who reelected him – after all, they already knew about his business dealings.
This whole unpleasant mess also seems to have put the brakes on the aspirations of Mrs. Ex-Mayor. Doña Sandra had been positioning herself as one of the early contenders to replace her husband in the mayor’s office the next time elections roll around in less than 3 years. But despite having been a very visible presence at all sorts of official, quasi-official, and unofficial functions in her bid to increase her visibility, she’s totally dropped off the radar since her husband was arrested. Could she be hiding out in Switzerland with some of the ill-gotten gains? Hmmmm… (And as a moderately scandalous sidenote, this columnist finds it very interesting that she was at her own house, not her husband’s, when the authorities showed up early that morning to arrest him.)
How all of this is gonna play out is anyone’s guess, but my gut feeling is that President Otto’s administration is going to want to make an example of Dr. Vivar. (After all, the President’s political party kicked Dr. Vivar out about 3 months before he was arrested, when the rumors of the shady dealings were getting louder and louder.) Only time will tell, but my sincere hope is that Lady Justice will kick some butt in this case. Or, as one local wag put it: “The time, trouble, and expense of a trial and imprisonment could have been saved, and the volcano gods could have been appeased at the same time, if they’d just sacrificed him into the Fuego eruption on the morning he was arrested.”
If you want to read more (in Spanish) about the mayoral scandal in La Antigua, you can check out Prensa Libre, el Periódico, Siglo 21, or any of the other Guatemalan daily newspapers online. (You can even find a story about this in English that appeared in The New York Times.) Just type “Vivar” into the search box.
In other bone-headed news: If you’ve tried to get into or leave La Antigua via the main road during December, then you know that you’ve had to wait and wait and wait, and then maybe wait some more. (In fact, your humble columnist got stuck in a traffic jam and it took almost two hours to go the last 3km back into town.) Why the problems? Well, therein lies a tale. President Otto’s administration did some excellent work fixing the divided highway that winds down the mountain between La Antigua and Santa Lucia Milpas Altas, and the only part that still needed fixing was the non-divided part here at the La Antigua end, running from Santa Inés to the bridge over the Pensativo River at the entrance to town. So, you’d think “No problem!” Just scrape off the old asphalt and lay down a new, thick layer of concrete, mark the lanes, and voilà. Done. But of course, it’s never that simple.
There have been several conflicting stories from the various parties involved, but as of this column’s deadline, the version that seems to be sticking is that the last 340 meters were supposed to be cobblestoned and that it was approved that way by City Hall last March, but the company doing the work used the wrong kind of cobblestones (rounded river rocks, not flat-topped stones), so it all had to come out. Supposedly, the work was to have been finished by the end of December, but the cost of tearing up the bad work and re-doing it was estimated at Q1.5 million! And this figure doesn’t include the lost tourism and ill will generated because of the long backups due to only one or two lanes (out of four) being open. C’mon folks! Get your act together! You’re embarrassing our city in front of the rest of the country and the foreigners who graciously spend their vacation funds in our city.
One final ALERT before I go: Any gringos (or for that matter, anybody at all) who made investments through former La Antigua resident and fraudster Steve E. Gwin (a.k.a. Steve Pittser) need to contact Beth Fernald (2326-4403) at the US Embassy/Consulate in Guate City. I hear that Steve’s now locked up in the States, and if he helped you invest, you may have been defrauded and the US Marshals will want to hear from you. (See…? I’m non-partisan. I’ll call out the mendacious miscreants, no matter what country they’re from.)
Well, that’s about it for this month, kiddos. Make sure to tune in next month – same Bat-time, same Bat-channel – for more. And if you’re very lucky, I might just tell you about which owner of a local watering hole was caught on video doing a little quid pro quo with members of the constabulary and how a half-case of tequila was exchanged for turning a blind eye to the afterparty.
Just to set the record straight (and to keep anyone else from being sued): All opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policies and opinions of Qué Pasa, the rest of its staff, its advertisers, or anybody else on the planet.
If you have a question, a comment, or a suggestion for a topic for Charlie, you can write to firstname.lastname@example.org.