An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of March 17, 2008
Written in the community of 2 de Junio between Pujiltic and Venustiano Carranza,
in the Central Valley of Chiapas, MÉXICO

"THE BITE"

Every six months I must acquire a new tourist card in order to remain in Mexico. The last few times I renewed on the Texas/Mexico border but now I'm much closer to Guatemala than the US. Therefore, last Monday morning I took three microbuses and a taxi to the Guatemala border, taking two and a half hours.

On the Texas border if you have a US passport the Mexican customs agent just gives you your card. Down here, at customs in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Cuauhtémoc, I was told I couldn't have a tourist card until I got an exit stamp in my passport from Guatemala. So I entered Guatemala in order to leave. The Guatemalan officials told me I couldn't have an exit stamp until I'd been in the country for three days.

However, for 500 pesos, about US $50, they could arrange something special. When I indicated that I'd just camp nearby for three days I was shown that day's newspaper full of gory photos of bloody bodies from the previous day's shootings and stabbings, to make the point that getting to someplace safe and staying for three days would make a $50 investment seem like a good deal.

One printable name for bribes down here is "la mordida," which means "the bite."

With a new six-month tourist-card I was back in Pujiltik by 2 PM that same day, having NOT paid $50, but being unable to say publicly how it was arranged.

While heading back home I passed time thinking about whether in Nature there are analogies to a government's corrupt local officials.

First I considered the fact that Mother Nature does seem perfectly content tolerating fairly high levels of parasitism, robbery and deception. Think of mistletoe, the nectar robbery in flowers I've written about several times, and orchid blossoms getting themselves pollinated by looking like the mates of certain insects.

However, does Nature put up with anything like "the bite?"

When government officials invent or bend the law, it's a little like a mutation arising in Nature. In both cases it's a matter of accepted procedures being unexpectedly changed. In Nature the incidence of mutations is fairly rare, most mutations hurt the organism or kill it, but rarely a beneficial mutation does come along and evolution is advanced.

The kind of ten-dollar corruption at the Guatemalan border, however, is not rare, appears to go unpunished (I endured similar problems at the same crossing years ago), and I can't imagine any eventual long-term benefit arising from it.

The closest analogy in Nature I can find to such unimaginative, small-time, common corruption is that of an ailing body's spontaneous production of cancer cells. Facebook Icon.