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For *All **Nails*, pt. 39-b:  Tropical Paradox

13 July 1968

Ponce, Provincia Autónoma de Puerto Rico, Estado Español [1]

Lieutenant Ramón Betances was a happy man.  He was hot.  It was humid.
 He felt like his entire body was encased in spittle.  His ears were
ringing.  He was thousands of miles away from home, in a country he
didn't care about fighting against people he didn't care about for a
purpose he could not fathom.   But he didn't care.

The good side was Rocío.  Oh, not because he was in love with her or
some such idiocy.  No, Rocío was nothing more than a boriqueña, the
daughter of some poor jíbaros shoved into one of the "new villages"
that the autonomous government had established *all* over the center of
the island.  That had been an ugly job, but thankfully Ramón hadn't
been part of it.

The sex was good, but sex was freely available in this pathetic wreck
of a country.  No, his relationship with Rocío was a good thing
because she had hooked him up with Falcón, who had gotten him the
marijuana seeds from the Mexican.   Armed with the seeds, it was
pretty easy for Corporal Betances to explain to resettled jíbaros why
cultivating them could be a win-win situation *all* around --- marijuana
was highly popular among Spanish draftees posted to this tropical

The Mexican, though, was hooked up with much more than simple mota. 
Much more.  And he could get it for a good price.  The endless stream
of draftees coming over from Spain provided a ready market.  At least
they did until the goddamned Puentistas took over in Madrid after the
riots.  [2]

Now the troops were paid in scrip, putatively redeemable for pesetas
in Spain itself --- but only to the registered recipient --- or in
goods at the Spanish army's bases.  That was very bad for Betances's
business.  Nobody grew opium in Puerto Rico, so he needed hard
currency to pay the Mexican.  And unless he planned to stay in Puerto
Rico forever --- which would happen only if his heart stopped first
--- he needed something he could spend back in Valencia.  Or, better
yet, Cuba or the República Cisplatina.  [3]  Why go home?  Home was
like here, only with better weather.  And people in the combat zones
at home didn't even speak Spanish.  [3a]

The result was that business was bad and getting worse.  Luckily,
Falcón had another suggestion.  "They pretend to pay you," he had
said, over beers in the sordid southern town of Ponce, "Why don't you
pretend to fight?"

"What do you mean?" Falcón had asked.  He plonked his beer, awful
thick Boricua beer, down on the table.

"Exactly what I said." Falcón looked down his beak-like nose at

Betances rolled his eyes.  "You're not making any sense."

Falcón leaned forward, looking for the *all* the world like a vulture
crouching over fresh carrion.  "You fight because the rebels fight
you, right?"

"Well, yeah.  Your point?"  

"What if you didn't?"  Now Falcón had started to smile.  It had not
been a pleasant sight.

"They'd kill me, asshole.  Stop dancing around."
"Okay."  Falcón straightened up in his chair.  "I have contacts among
the rebels.  That is no surprise.  What may be a surprise is how much
money the rebels have.  It certainly was to me.  I am suggesting that
when on patrol, you not go to certain places.  If you encounter
resistance, you surrender.  If you receive a certain message, you pass
false intelligence back to your superiors."

Intrigued, Betances leaned forward, his elbows on the table.  "My men
might not obey orders not to fight."

Falcón just cocked an eyebrow.  

"Okay," said Betances, "The men won't care.  Half of them just run
away from anything resembling combat anyway.  They're just marking
time."  [4]

"See?  Money for nothing.  Literally." Falcón looked satisfied.

Betances was not.  Not yet.  "How will I be paid?"

Falcón nodded.  "Cash.  North American pounds.   In twice the amount
of your net from the dealing."  Now it was Betances turn to nod.  "How
can you resist that?"

"It sounds good."

"First cash in your hands on Tuesday, where you'd normally make
pickup.  We'll communicate the same way we do now." Falcón stood up
and shook Betances's hand.   As always, Betances wondered how such a
skinny fellow could grip so hard.  "Leave thirty seconds after I do." 
With no more speaking, Falcón strode out of the bar.  [5]

He strode out of the ramshackle bar onto the dirt street.  Well, it
wasn't dirt, exactly, but so badly paved that you could barely tell
the difference.  Spanish soldiers in mud-colored fatigues drove by in
their German-made lokes.   And the walls were covered with the posters
bearing Thomas Jefferson's visage and labeled with a single word: 
"¡Progreso!"  Right here in Ponce, the rebels could act with impunity.
  He snorted and moved on.  Jefferson's face and Mercator's slogan,
but no, Mexico had nothing to do with the insurgency.  Por supuesto.

Betances was a block and a half away when the bar exploded.

Once he got over the shock, he smiled.   He might be here less time
than he feared.

[1]   Spain's monarchy went down in the 1880s.  The name "estado"
deliberately leaves vague the current nature of the Spanish
government.  I leave the details to others.  The only key features
(alluded to in the rest of this post) are that the Spanish government
is unstable, corrupt, and maintains an uneasily "neutral" stance
towards the German Empire.  Sobel declared that Spain was neutral in
the Global War itself.

[2]   Followers of someone called Carlos Puente.    Their beliefs? 
How they came to power?  I leave these details to others.

[3]   OTL Uruguay.  Usually called the Cisplatine or Cisplatina in the
CNA.   Cuba is dirt poor, and therefore cheap. The reason is that the
CNA and the European Zollverein protect their beet sugar industries. 
Educated Cubans have moved to the USM in droves, while uneducated ones
have flooded into the CNA over the decades since the Global War,
particularly Tampa and New Orleans.  Those two cities are ground zero
for Latin American immigration to North America, the equivalent of Los
Angeles and Miami respectively.  New York is far less Hispanic than
On average, the Anglo-Caribbean islands are richer than OTL, while the
Spanish Caribbean islands are poorer.  Cuba is hard to compare, but
FANTL Cuba in 1959 was significantly worse off than OTL Cuba in that
year.  ATL Cuba in 1968 is heavily subsidized by the USM, but nowhere
near as heavily as the Soviets subsidized socialist Cuba in OTL. 
Additionally, the USM refuses to do the one obvious thing that would
help the Cuban economy:  let sugar imports in freely.  Mercator may
have taken on the big growers, but that was an easy way to score
populist points back in the 1950s.  He is not going to jeopardize the
middle-class prosperity of the Mexicano sugar-growers in Chiapas,
Hawaii, and México Central by letting any foreign cane into the
Mexican market.
Governor Skinner has alluded to North American free trade with the USM
through 1972.  (That would be, I would guess, a Mason-era policy.) 
Skinner didn't mention it in his speech, but Georgian beet sugar
growers are vociferous proponents for protection against Mexican
sugar.  They already have it from Cuba and Spanish Puerto Rico.

[3a]  The Basques and Catalans have not been treated well by the
various Spanish governments.  There is a serious terrorist problem in
both provinces.

[4]  The new Spanish government is widely perceived as unstable.   The
common expectation is that Spain will pull out of Puerto Rico:  the
question is when.

[5]  "Falcón" is not a Spanish name.  Falcone, however, is an Italian
name.  There are lots of Italian-Mexicans in the USM and even more
Italian-Americans in the CNA.