National Geographic : 1996 Aug
markets where sliced watermelons and pineapples made heaps of red and gold in warm morning shadow. At the police station Marco Antonio Barriga looked worried. He was director of preliminary investigations for the state attor ney general's office. His next case was the summons for the arrest of Valentfn Garcia, the Barzonista who hadn't paid his debts. Now the official was facing Valentin's wife, Maria Bon illa, and 14 solemn Barzonistas. Barragan sat down in front of Barriga's desk. The others crowded around. Barragan spoke quietly with that little shrug of humor that must have told Barriga he was serious. "Look," he said, "this is wrong. The police should not be used to settle debts." He smiled. The Barzonistas stood close around the desk. The tension was concealed. The guys around Barriga's desk could have been a group of farmers negotiating a corn sale. The scene was orderly and calm, which gave it power. These pro testers were not some fringe group; they were the heart of the nation, once its stability, now a source of upheaval. In a few moments Barriga was smiling, and so was Maria Bonilla. Like many other cases in which El Barz6n has been involved, the arrest had been indefinitely postponed. Maria and her husband were safe for now. Another little piece of Mexico's authoritarian rule had eroded, and another small piece of Mexi can debt went unpaid. Why are there no big confrontations over these refusals to pay debts? "You can't take someone's house, because there's no one to buy it," banker Chavez had told me. Barragan had a different answer. "Look," he said, "the gov ernment and the judges don't want people making a lot of noise. They don't want a small thing to turn into a big thing." In other words, they are afraid. The Barzonistas strode out of the station. The pickup trucks rumbled slowly away down the street. Alejandro Barragan got into his old red truck and went home to his family.