Arequipa, my first Latin American city of residence and my wife’s hometown, made world news last month when the former police chief of Peru was arrested for heading a baby-trafficking gang. Excerpts from the report by Dan Collyns:
Police … seized the former police general Raul Becerra in a dawn raid on his home … along with his partner Cintia Tello. Both are accused of belonging to an organization of more than a dozen people, including doctors, who took babies from poor women to sell …
A pediatrician and a gynecologist were also arrested in … a mega-raid in Peru’s second largest city Arequipa, in the south of the country. Hundreds of police officers and dozens of prosecutors raided 18 homes and businesses and rescued a five-month-old baby …
Among those arrested are two women who, it is alleged, secretly touted for backroom abortionists outside a hospital. They persuaded women considering abortions to accept money in exchange for their newborn babies …
The cost of a baby was around 4,000 Peruvian soles ($1,187) …
Prosecutors are investigating whether the babies were offered for illegal adoption by foreigners or, possibly, for organ trafficking.
At first glance it’s a stunning case of corruption and hypocrisy. This wasn’t any police chief, he was the country’s top cop for a while … trafficking babies.
But you have to have a healthy skepticism. My own skepticism is what inspired my attempt at journalism (albeit hack journalism). You can’t just swallow anything you hear. There may be more to the story.
In this case I immediately zeroed in on the fact that the babies being trafficked were recruited out of illegal abortion clinics. The gang wasn’t stealing babies from families who loved them.
That detail mixed with my experience with Peruvian culture, which I often call the Bible Belt of Latin America. This is a place where abortion is illegal even in the case of rape and incest. And there is no movement whatsoever to change that. Of course there is crime and corruption, but lower than the rest of the region, and a seemingly higher degree of religious militancy.
I decided to flex my open-minded muscles and wondered, what if the dude is just a religious zealot? And instead of being a zealot in the gringo tradition of shooting up abortion clinics, what if he developed a market-based solution to save unborn babies?
So I interviewed my Suegro, the career police officer in Arequipa.
Note: Unlike a real journalist, I did not verify anything Suegro said. This is all heresy. But while it may even contradict what has been reported, this is the word on the street among Arequipa cops.
Our conversation below, translated and paraphrased.
ME: So, Papa, about this baby-trafficking story. I read that they got babies from poor women at abortion clinics. So for a poor woman who can’t afford a baby, getting paid 4000 soles to have the baby is the more attractive option over paying a few thousand to get rid of it. So I wondered, what’s the story with this cop? Is he possibly a religious zealot opposed to abortion?
SUEGRO: I don’t think so. He’s gay. In the newspapers and on TV they keep talking about his girlfriend, but she’s not really his girlfriend. He would keep a girl on his arm, but it was just a show. He’s “Gatorade.” Everybody knows it.
ME: Oh, wow. Gay? Well that would just about completely disprove my hypothesis. I know that some closeted gay dudes get immersed into a religion that doesn’t accept them. But they’d be outwardly pious and inwardly deviant, like touching up the altar boys when nobody’s looking, or smoking meth with gay prostitutes … but not even outwardly religious?
SUEGRO: Not just that. He was also known for always being around the money, if you know what I mean. He was always close to the rackets. He got started in the anti-motin squad here in Arequipa, the force that battles violent protests and riots. That’s a fairly inactive unit, and they have a ton of vehicles. So a common scam, which he started his career with, was to fill up the tank of the truck or car or whatever, and sell the gas. There are many other hustles, the anti-motin is full of them.
SUEGRO cont’d: Then he was moved to the border in Puno, where there is a shitload of money [“un culo de plata”]. There’s all kinds of contraband going back and forth between Bolivia: coca, illegal metals, real cash, counterfeit cash. Everywhere he went later in his career was a hotspot for bribes: Lima, Ayacucho, Trujillo.
ME: Why did he come to Arequipa?
SUEGRO: Well, he grew up here. But also, he made so much money and led an extravagant lifestyle, that it would raise eyebrows in Lima. Down here people mind their own business.
ME: I would think it’s the other way around. People mind their own business in the big city.
SUEGRO: Not in this situation. In Lima there are not only government big shots but also journalists who would start asking questions. So he came here.
ME: Well, my hypothesis is done. Stick a fork in it. But one last question … do they know if the babies were going to adoptions or organ-trafficking? Or both?
SUEGRO: They know some were going into adoption, but they don’t know about organ trafficking. But that is a real thing. Organ trafficking is a business here. Careful with my grandchildren when you’re out in public. There have already been six children snatched off the streets in Arequipa this year.
[End of Conversation]
Well there you have, me keeping an open mind. Case closed.
Is there a takeaway? I don’t think so. But at the heart of my curiosity was the question: would it be so bad if somebody were buying babies destined for abortion and selling them into adoption? I think most people would be OK with that.
But the trickier question: is it wrong for somebody to buy abortion-destined babies to sell to organ traffickers? I mean, granted it is organ trafficking. But at the end of the day, a baby that was to be aborted was born. And even though he or she would inevitably lose an organ, another life was saved.
Maybe I’ve gone too far. As the saying goes, “It’s good to have an open mind, but not so open that your brains leak out.”
Now let’s have a look at Becerra’s “pareja,” Cintia Tello Preciado. And yes, for those of you outside of Peru, that kind of talent does pass for a model in Arequipa.
Below, the gang’s all here.
Dubbed “The Soulless of Human Trafficking,” I’d say anyone who raises children in Arequipa is a tad heartless. Also, how about that guy smiling (lower right)?
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