For All Nails #71: Southern Exposure
by Noel Maurer
President Augusto César Hermión was fat and happy, but mostly fat. Amazingly fat. Grotesquely fat. Colonel Alexander Elbittar, standing in the back of the seated military section of what was laughably called the Cabinet Room could barely stand to look at the man. FN1
Hermión sat in his office in the grand Presidential Palace of Bogotá. He looked out over his mountainous city and saw it was good. His people were happy. New Granada was great. All was right with the world. No one else in the room thought so, but Hermión knew that his family had taken care of New Granada and would always continue to do so. It was their birthright and responsibility.
"Your Magnificence," said one of Hermión's courtiers, bowing before the President on his throne, "I bring bad news. The Mexicans have just announced that they will be allowing the dólar to float freely on international markets."
"What does that mean?" boomed Augusto César the Great.
Another courtier stepped forward and bowed. "It means, great one, that the value of the dólar has fallen."
"And what," said the Presidente Constitucional de la República Libre y Popular de Nueva Granada, "Does that have to do with me?" He sprawled in his throne, presidential sceptre in his left hand, his pudgy right paw drawing random patterns on the plush armrest. FN2
The first courtier, looking nervous, bowed and attempted to answer El Máximo's question. "Your grace, it means that the value of the dólar will fall." The courtier gulped. "That will put pressure on the peso."
Augusto César looked annoyed. "What does that mean?"
Hermión's Minister of Finance spoke up, reluctantly. "Well, due to the oil price crash, our exports are worth less than before, but we have continued to import the same amount. Now that the Mexican dólar is falling, we will begin to import even more. The only way to fill the gap, absent borrowing, is to exhaust our reserves of foreign currency."
The fat man on the plush throne nodded. He was not stupid, even if his immense self-centeredness often obscured that fact. "Vargas!" he barked at the head of the Banco de Nueva Granada, who also happened to be his cousin. "Our savings, convert them to pounds immediately. The people's wealth must be protected." He meant the people of the Hermión family, whose welfare he often confused with the people of New Granada.
"Yes, your Excellency," said Vargas, bowing. "I'll call the family immediately." After all, it wouldn't do for the extended Hermión clan and its hangers-on to be taken unawares by something as drastic as a devaluation of the peso.
The finance minister cleared his throat. "Your Grace, such an action might precipitate the very devaluation we seek to avoid."
The Kin ... er, the President's eyebrows drew down and together. "Did you not say that we would exhaust our reserves of foreign currency?"
"Then you would risk the people's wealth in a futile defense of nothing more than your own ego?" The President's jowls quivered.
"No, your Ex..."
"Then did you lie to us about the state of our finances?"
"Of course not, Pres..."
"Then do not spread such calumnities, Minister Lobato!"
Finance Minister Alfredo Lobato hung his head. "I apologize, your Excellency."
His Excellency settled (well, more like sunk) back into his throne. "Good. Apology accepted." President Augusto César Hermión was no General Cardoso, the Regent of Grão Pará, who regularly executed advisors who annoyed him. "Vargas! Make it so!" he yelped.
The President's retainers bowed. Colonel Elbittar stood silently behind the fat and useless Hermionista generals, clenching and unclenching his fists.
- Meta Province, New Granada
- 29 February 1972
Times were hard. Times were getting harder. Marcelino Buceli was an unhappy man, but he wasn't going to take it anymore.
When the first settlers after the War had come out to his land, Buceli had accepted it. FN3 Times were good, and he needed workers and sharecroppers. When the provincial government's cadastral survey had declared that his family's land wasn't all his family's land, he had accepted it. When the central government began encouraging the new settlers to buy up other chunks of his land at subsidized prices, he had accepted it. When the central government reduced the price of fuel and electricity and began guaranteeing payments on his coffee, he had welcomed it.
Perhaps he was no longer as large an estanciero ... but he could see how life and the nation had improved. Paved roads, free power, guaranteed incomes ... the glorious victory in the War had indeed brought all the benefits the Hermión family had promised. FN4 Buceli's sons had gone off into the Fuerzas Armadas de Nueva Granada after the War, and one of them had died in the secret campaigns in Rio Negro or Guatemala or the New Territories, but the rest had returned to their own farms carved out in the llanos or to comfortable government jobs.
But then came the oil price crash. The devaluation, the inflation, the budget cuts. Now the vultures in Bogotá, the bloodsucking Hermión family, had stopped the coffee valorization payments. And the result? These new peasants refusing to pay the debts owed to him for trees and tools and land improvements, or worse yet encroaching on what remained of his ancestral lands. When the stenciled visages of Tómas Jefferson began to appear in the town center, Marcelino Buceli knew what needed to be done.
He phoned his friends---when the phones were working---and phoned his sons, and they phoned their friends and sons, and so the thirty-odd men gathered in the sala of the Buceli homestead and formed the first "Comité sobre el Peligro Actual." The women attended them, and the men spoke about the feckless Hermión and how they had raped a great country, the stab-in-the-back from the traitor Moctezuma, the creeping threat from the Jeffersonistas, the accelerating land invasions by the newly unemployed. Several of the men gathered were officers in the FANG, and they nodded along to the complaints. Yes, the Comité was talking treason, but treason against the ursurping illegitimate Hermión clan who had led a great nation to ruin, not treason against the beloved Patría.
The next night 15 of those men, led by Marcelino's son (a reserve officer in the FANG) and armed with New Granada-made versions of the Mexican-designed Rojas-65 assault rifle, moved out into the lands occupied by the squatters. They then moved into the lands of those who refused to pay their debts. The next day, the sun rose over a field of crucifixes, the bodies of dead or dying adult men and women nailed to them.
- Cartagena, New Granada
- 4 January 1973
The two colonels eyed each other. Both were dressed in civilian clothes. Both were lean. Both were dark-haired and light-skinned. Neither was particularly tall, nor particularly short, not particularly handsome, nor particularly ugly. On one, those features were pure coincidence. On the other, they were a prerequisite for his job.
Alexander Elbittar and Martin Falcone stood atop the great Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, on a hill overlooking the city. They saw the busy port, and the extensive naval base. The FANG naval division was second only to Mexico and North America in the hemisphere, equipped with the best ships, the best airmobiles, and the most advanced equipment.
Elbittar tossed his cigarette over the edge. "Mercator will support us?"
Falcone nodded. "Oh yes. Most certainly."
"Fucking civilians." It wasn't clear if Elbittar meant the back-stabbing President of the United States of Mexico, who had abrogated the long-standing customs union between Mexico and New Granada, or the corrupt President of the Free Republic of New Granada, who had led his country to ruin. It probably didn't really matter.
Falcone just nodded. He had no particular liking of President Moctezuma, despite his oath "to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of Mexico."
Elbittar took a deep breath. "You can promise me aid and equipment? Our military cooperation will continue?"
Falcone nodded again. "It will be unofficial and unremarked upon, but it will not only continue, it will be stepped up. You know it already has been, even if neither of our putative commander-in-chiefs are aware of it."
Elbittar nodded. "I know." He lit another cigarette. "In return, you want the base near Ciudad Hermión expanded?" FN5
"Yes. We have a project we wish to relocate there, outside the USM."
"And you wish to expand our naval and air bases here as well?"
"That is correct," said Falcone. Under the provisions of the mutual defense treaty, which dated back to the days of the Mexican occupation, Mexican ships, troops, and airmobiles could freely make use of all New Granadan military facilities. Now Mercator's representative was standing here promising to spend billions of dólares in a crash program to expand them. Why? To defend against such powers as Quito and Grão Pará? To send the Germans a signal?
Elbittar looked at his compatriot. What was he planning? In that instant, he decided he did not want to know. If Mercator would help him rid his country of the parasites who had occupied it, he need not know why.
"That is ... acceptable. In fact, it is welcome."
"Then we have an arrangement?" asked Falcone.
"We do," replied Elbittar.
The two men shook hands, then turned and saluted the giant blue and gold New Granadan flag flying above the Castillo.
The next day, Elbittar met with a man from the embassy of the Confederation of North America in Bogotá. Both were dressed in civilian clothes. North American diplomats came in two breeds. The first were pompous, idealistic, and overeducated aristocrats, carrying out their deep sense of noblesse oblige towards the other peoples of the Earth. The second were formerly pompous, idealistic, and overeducated aristocrats, veterans of the New Day, who had now become highly cynical about the world outside the blessed spot of land that was North America. Fortunately, the ambassador from the CNA was of the second type. More fortunately, the North Americans were still overly naïve about certain things -- could the North American have imagined the small miniature audiograbadora that Falcone had provided Elbittar? FN6
"You will recognize us?" asked Elbittar.
"Monaghan will," said the Ambassador. "There is no love for the New Granadan government in the CNA." That was an understatement -- both the New Granadan and West Indian communities in North America hated New Granada with a passion that far exceeded any wariness towards Mexico.
"And Monaghan's offer of doubling aid will still stand?"
"Of course," said the Ambassador. "You realize that this meeting never took place, however, and that we will issue the usual dismay over the coming events."
"Of course." Elbittar smiled. He had a very charismatic smile.
- Bogotá, New Granada
- 8 January - 21 May 1973
On what would later become "El Día de la Patría," the Hermión dynasty died. The immensely fat President Augusto César Hermión was arrested for treason. A week later, he was "shot while trying to escape," a miraculous attempt from a man who could barely move without the help of two attendants. Thousands of other Hermión family members and Hermionistas would flee to Spain or the CNA or die in the following weeks. Colonel Alexander Elbittar would take the oath of office as the new Temporary Maximum Leader of the Republic of New Granada.
Pointedly, the government of the United States of Mexico refused to recognize the new regime until it held "free and fair elections." Governor-General Monaghan of the CNA, however, issued only a vague statement of regret, but his government went on to recognize Leader Elbittar. Meanwhile, the Mexican War Department began extensive crash construction projects in Cartagena and Ciudad Camacho. FN7 The FANG received extensive shipments of modern attack airmobiles and five new warships from the USM, despite the official non-recognition policy. The first use of the new equipment was against the growing Jeffersonista insurgency in the coffee zones.
Temporary Maximum Leader Elbittar watched with interest the North American failure in Porto Rico. Porto Rico, of all places? The Norteamericaños couldn't defeat the Boriqueños? He watched the Tampa summit, and the humiliating return of the North American prisoners. He watched much of the Norteamericana media proclaim how the failure vindicated the nation's traditional policies of neutrality and non-interventionism. He watched the increase in the PJP's vote. And he thought about what it meant.
Elbittar knew his nation desperately needed two things: a new source of foreign exchange, and something to reignite the people's sense of pride in their country. One day in mid-May he stood on the beach on Isla Margarita, and looked off to the west. There, over the horizon, was something that could give his nation both, and the evidence of the past few months indicated that there was nothing to stand in his way.
Forward to FAN #72: Closing Time.
Forward to 18 June 1971: Chamber of Manufacturers.
Forward to New Granada: Henry the Bad.
Return to For All Nails.