The Many Regimes of Corozco

Dan Moreau Click to

Dan Moreau’s fiction has appeared in The Carolina Quarterly, Chicago Quarterly Review, Slice, and been reprinted in The Best Small Fictions (Queen’s Ferry Press, 2015). This story is part of a cycle of tales about an imaginary South American country, others from which have been published in descant and Twelve Stories.

Señor Don Armando’s throat was slit in his sleep under a full moon, the same fate that befell his other men. As daylight broke, his decapitated head speared on a stake greeted the dawn, a pointed warning to other outsiders. King Juan Carlos, having not heard from his envoy, dispatched another crew of brigands, misfits, criminals, psychopaths, rapists, child molesters, murderers and other psychotics to find Armando’s men. I need not tell you what happened to these miscreants, suffice it to say that their bones were picked clean and that they complimented the stew of roots, cassava and turtle meat nicely. More powerful that their guns, swords and spears, however, were their germs, which crossed an entire ocean, incubated for months aboard a filthy ship, a virtual floating cesspool. By the time they made land, most of the men—those who had survived the sojourn—were sick. Within weeks, the natives developed boils, sores and itchy rashes never before seen, none of which could be cured by their brews, spells and potions. Convinced they were being punished by the gods, they accepted the newcomers as their rulers and, within decades, the natives were indistinguishable from the European conquerors, so much had their genes intermingled.

The first Spanish ruler of Corõzco, Carlos Izquiera, died of malaria within two weeks of arrival. Izquiera, who expected to land upon a tropical paradise, was quickly disabused by the larvae infested waters, the stifling heat and humidity, the impenetrable jungle, and the vapid, starch heavy indigenous food. By the end of the second day he was sick of cassava, plantains, taro root and manioc. In his final moments, delirious from the mosquito borne disease, too weak to reach for a glass of water at his bedside, he called out for his mother and asked for water.

Miguel Santiago, the first indigenous person to hold office, was overthrown in a coup d’état orchestrated by the CIA over concerns about his coziness with the Soviets. One dawn the army raided his house and, finding him not in bed but sleeping on the floor because he was used to sleeping on it as a child, the army shot him dead. That very same night the head of the army General Jorge Huerta was sleeping in the former president’s bed.

Not long after, following a series of kidnappings, police beatings and harassment of the press, General Huerta died from eating a bowl of tripe stew. The cook was apprehended and executed on the spot. Said a guard, “I never liked his cooking anyway.” Some said the tripe was poisoned, others that the cook had purposefully not cleaned out the intestines. Either way, the dish, which was already popular among the poor who had been eating it for centuries, became sought after among thrill seekers and gastronomic daredevils.

The first democratically elected president of Corõzco, Pablo Morales — nicknamed El Niño not for the much maligned weather phenomenon (of course, a bad weather pattern had to be foreign) but for his babyish features — died when the stage he was speaking from collapsed, killing him and dozens of his supporters who were celebrating his victory. El Niño was given a state funeral with full military honors (although he clashed with the latter on several issues). Both those who watched the funeral on television and those who saw it in person agreed that the former president in his open casket looked every bit as youthful as he had in life.

Fidel Conteras’s short-lived presidency ended when his private plane crashed over the vast uninhabited interior. It took days of arduous trekking and machete hacking through the jungle to reach the crash site, during which time one of the rescuers died of dengue fever. No black box was ever recovered from the wreckage, the cause of which was chalked up to mechanical failure. However, it was rumored that a member of the opposition was servicing the cabin that day and, having made his way into the cockpit, wrested the controls from the pilot and made the plane nosedive into the jungle. It was also said that the man crossed himself and kissed a locket of the Virgin Mary he kept around his neck before impact. In his native village, his family erected an altar in his image with a small toy airplane. What was recovered from the crash were a case of the president’s favorite cigars, five kilos of cocaine, and a pallet of thousands of singed dollar bills. News of the crash was withheld from the public until a suitable successor could be found thereby preventing the opposition from filling the power vacuum. The choice was clear. General Sanchez was not only the head of the army but the president’s right hand man. In fact, he was scheduled to travel with the president that very day but—conveniently or not, depending on your political affiliation—he happened to oversleep the morning of the flight.

General Gustavo Sanchez, convicted of genocide, bribery and corruption, was executed in a fusillade by his own men in the Plaza Domingo after which his body was spat and trodden on by the locals. Rather than have one bullet and several blanks distributed among the firing squad, each soldier had a bullet in the chamber of his rifle so that each one could say with pride that his bullet had been the one that killed the General.

Luiz Gusman died in the Terre Haute federal penitentiary in southern Indiana from type II diabetes. During his rule, Corõzco became the biggest narco trafficking state in the southern hemisphere. Blatantly disregarding international condemnation of his regime, which provided protection and support to the drug cartels, he was abducted by Navy Seals in a Black Ops raid and extradited to the U.S. on drug charges. It took two full days for his security detail to realize he was missing, so notorious were his marathon drug benders which could last days without anyone from his staff ever seeing him leave his room.

Efrain Nocera was executed at The Hague following a successful conviction for crimes against humanity, the first sentence of its kind. The court, not equipped to carry out such a sentence, built an execution chamber which, over years of disuse, was ultimately converted into auxiliary office space, the occupants of which reported strange happenings, from a malfunctioning copier that would print blots of red ink to an overboiling coffee pot that would whistle and hiss. Needless to say, the office was vacated, boarded up and used as storage thereafter.

Fernando Gomez, a Harvard educated technocrat and reformist—who vowed to bring Corõzco into the twenty-first century by funding education, linking every village to the Internet, and acknowledging the crimes of the past through a truth and reconciliation tribunal did not die. Seen as an outsider with his PhD and expensive suits, he never connected with voters. He lost handily whereupon, discouraged and dispirited, he returned to Harvard to take a post-doctoral fellowship, wrote many papers about the economic dysfunction of Corõzco and became a professor of economics. In his fifties he was tapped as Corõzco’s next economic minister, a post he politely declined by citing his family and health. In truth, he’d aced his last physical, his wife and he were estranged, and his children grown.

Enrique Sandoval, a popular and handsome telenova actor who won in a landslide, died of an overdose shortly after taking office. Much beloved, news of his passing devastated the public, especially its women who sobbed day and night for a week. Reruns of his telenovela ran nonstop on state television. During his funeral procession, mourners carried large placards with his picture. Husbands and boyfriends, however, breathed a sigh of relief as they would no longer have to compete with Sandoval, whom every woman in the country was secretly in love with. So many bouquets and cards were deposited on his gravesite that local boys would take the freshest bouquets and resell them.

Uriel García, by the far the longest tenured head of state at two months, three days, eleven hours and fifty-three minutes, was found dead in his favorite whorehouse. He passed so quietly that Isabella did not notice anything wrong except that his staying power seemed vastly improved. Her screams brought his security detail into the room. His death confirmed—a bad heart; women and spicy food were his downfall—his security detail wrapped him in a sheet, put him in the trunk of the presidential Mercedes and drove him back to the presidential compound, where he was placed in bed, a doctor summoned, and the official time and cause of death recorded. A great man mourned throughout the country for his commitment to indigenous rights, no one at the funeral cried harder than Isabella whom the secret service out of indulgence permitted to attend.

At Fernando Ruiz’s state funeral there was no open casket. There was no official medical report stating the cause of death. Some of the pallbearers were rumored to have said that the casket was surprisingly light. No sooner than he stepped into office that he fell prey to accusations of embezzlement. One newspaper report claimed that as much as five million dollars were missing from the state coffers. By one account, he is living in exile in Miami where he spends his days at the beach, smoking cigars, enjoying the view, and watching women in bikinis stroll by.

Jóaquin Jimenez, strangely, did not die in office. Well aware of the inauspicious end that befell his predecessors, he nonetheless took the oath of office. He may have been the only president who out of precaution cooked all his own meals. His handpicked security detail, each member of which he personally vetted, always varied their route. He never took a plane, helicopter, boat or any other conveyance that posed a risk, even though he was an expert sailor. At all times under his suit he wore a bulletproof vest. Anyone who came within ten feet of him, even his staff, was frisked. He rarely travelled and, if he did, he travelled by car in a convoy of multiple armored vehicles. Each speech he gave, each meal he ate, each hand he shook he expected to be his last. His heart raced whenever he was in public. He governed judiciously and diplomatically, avoiding conflict and making few enemies. In fact, his tenure was so unremarkable and unmemorable that much to his relief he lost reelection. So it goes without saying that people took news of his death barely a day out of office as a shock. It appears the ex-president, so happy to have survived his tenure in office, celebrated his newfound freedom by taking his catamaran out to sea. It was a clear beautiful day, perfect for sailing. No one could have predicted the gathering clouds on the horizon that seemed, without explanation, to converge on the tiny vessel.