Commentary

Great Thieves, A taxi story

Hardly any clouds interrupt the intense blue of Cusco’s sky. Maybe the period of cloudiness, chill, and rain is finally over. At least this is a break from the weeks of gray light and moisture in what is supposed to be the dry season.

As always, the weather lets conversation begin between strangers.

“Buenas tardes”, I said as I slipped into the back seat of a red Toyota taxi. Not marked with the formal taxi sign or the radio, or cell phone, of a formally inscribed taxi, this was a pirata, someone with a car who drove to make money informally.

After giving my destination, I said “fuerte esta soleando, ¿no?” (the sun is shining strongly.)

“Yes. And, it is warm today, though it gets very cold at night. Where are you from?”

I told him, went through why I speak Spanish, and then mentioned that I had come to Cusco for the first time in 1976 on a train from Bolivia and that luck and my job, allowed me to return a lot.

Waving his hand, as we drove out of the Cusco’s colonial core, he observed “None of this was here when you came in 1976. The city was mostly just the core.”

“You are right. The valley floor and the slopes were mostly fields. Back then, San Sebastian and San Jerónimo were separate towns along the highway to Puno. And even the city of Cusco was different. At the time there were a lot of pickpockets around the Plaza de Armas and nearby streets. Hardly anyone came to Cusco without having their pockets emptied.”

“There are even bigger thieves” the driver said as he hit the break to avoid a car that suddenly pulled into our line without enough space. “Our politicians and government officials are the biggest thieves.

“It used to be we would say that it did not matter they stole as long as they did works, but look at Cusco. They have messed us up. They have taken millions of dollars and what do we have? Bad roads, no new airport in Chinchero, and an unfinished hospital. We need that hospital, yet our politicians just slow it down and take more money.

“Instead of doing something with the money like they should have, they take it to banks in other countries, leaving us poorer.

“If they had given me a million dollars, I would not have done that. I would have invested in a business. I could have bought more cars and started a taxi service, employing a bunch of people and building something profitable.

“Or”, he waved his hand pointing at the passenger bus that had blocked our path and now pulled to the side I could have bought more than a dozen of those. You can imagine, with a profit of some 150/S a day per bus, I could make money to invest in our city and help people.

“The politicians don’t help us like they should. They don’t work and just want money to live the happy life, when they could give it to us and let us invest. Then our city would be better off.

“What have we done to deserve these thieves?”

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