Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
December 20, 1999
An uneasy gathering of rich and poor
Esteban Gumucio tells a story of Christmas as he imagined it in Chile. But it could have taken place in Brazil or anywhere else for that matter, Nicaragua, Colombia or any place on earth where rich and poor live in an uneasy relationship with each other.
In Esteban's story, the inn of Bethlehem was similar to the hospidaje in a small village not far from where he lived. Everybody who was booked in the small hostel that weekend had heard that somewhere on the plantation of the great landowner a child was born in an abandoned shed.
"I don't like this business of transients and their brood in the neighbourhood," said the engineer. "It delays progress on the paved highway which will go right past this cardboard shack.
"Watch my words. These good for nothings will possibly start a walk-in clinic for single mothers there. A darn good thing they didn't stop here or we'd be scratching for fleas by now."
Dona Rosa, the proprietress of the inn, lowered her eyes and busied herself with her knitting. She pretended to have lost a stitch so she wouldn't have to answer the challenge of the big city guest.
A well-dressed man sitting by the window joined the conversation. "Madam, last night, around midnight, someone came to the door to rent a room, but I thought you said there was no vacancy. Isn't that true?"
Irritated, Rosa stood up to face her inquisitor. "It is not true! This is a respectable inn. Almost a two star hotel. We don't just accept anybody on these premises."
A rough voice broke the ensuing awkward silence. "I am the boss here!" shouted a colonel in the full uniform of the Cavalry of Death.
"Would you believe it, just when I was relaxing with a bottle of wine, here comes this polite report of another land occupation by the homeless and birthing in places not approved by the law. Trespassers without valid permits from the responsible authorities!
"I am the boss here!" he said again while he pounded his chest with the medals he had won for rounding up subversives.
Dona Rosa was not easily intimidated. "In this place," she reminded the colonel, "I have the last word. As for you, why don't you give the order to slaughter the innocents? What are you waiting for?"
"Well now," said the colonel, "not a bad idea. But I'm on holidays now and the best I can do is to charge these landless peasants with disturbing the peace and national security and get them evicted."
"What do you think," the gentleman at the window asked the engineer, "the poor just wandering in here disturbing our well-deserved peace?"
"Don't ask me any political questions," the engineer countered. "Why don't you check with an economist. The bottom line is: who will pay for the housing, health and welfare of these non-functional citizens?"
So the gentleman got his cell phone out and made a long distance call to his friends down east who had always shown great interest in eradicating poverty.
In the meantime, out in the fields, under bridges and in culverts, there lived the unemployed and underemployed who were informed by messengers of the good news of a child born in the abandoned shed.
They gathered some blankets, some rice and beans, a few tortillas and a bit of goat cheese and hastened through the night to be with the young mother.
By the time the colonel came with his troops there was such a joyous celebration among the outcasts that even the soldiers began to believe in peace on earth.
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