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For All Nails #66a: In the Muck

Ciudad Tómas Jefferson, Boricua [1]
19 March 1973

Ezra Bakersfield, Foreign Minister to Governor-General Carter Monaghan, was
glad to have left his go-to-meeting shoes back in Burgoyne.  Locomobiles were
rare in Boricua, and the streets of Ciudad Tómas Jefferson gave plentiful
evidence of the large number of horse-drawn carts that transited the town.

The negotiations between the Confederation of North America, the German
Empire, the United States of Mexico and the Jeffersonist Republic of Boricua
were being held, appropriately enough, in the Ambassador Hotel, across the
Plaza de San José from the North American Consulate.  The name was no
coincidence, for the hotel (and in particular its associated pub) had long
served as an unofficial recreation spot for the consular staff, and the
hotel's name had eventually come to reflect it.

Within the mercifully cool and shady confines of the Ambassador, Bakersfield
sat at a round table with his various counterparts.  He was flanked on his
left by Exterior Minister Joshua Merkel of the German Empire, and on his
right by Secretary of State Benedict Denison of the USM, while Foreign
Commissioner Vachon Mola of Boricua faced him from the far side of the table.
Behind each man sat or stood aides, assistants, and translators.

Merkel had joined the Markstein government four years before, after a
financial scandal had forced his predecessor's resignation, and Bakersfield
had met him on several previous occasions.  Bakersfield found the German to
be sensible and remarkably straightforward for a diplomat.  Chancellor
Markstein apparently placed a good deal of trust in Merkel's judgment, for
the Exterior Minister rarely had to refer back to Berlin for guidance.

Denison had been appointed to his position twelve months before by President
Moctezuma.  As was often the case in Mercator's Mexico, it was difficult to
tell whether Denison was the President's man or the War Secretary's.  The
rumored power struggle taking place between Moctezuma and Mercator made
Denison's status even murkier.  Bakersfield had met Denison twice before, and
found him to be unlike Merkel in almost every way -- oblique, unctuous and
obstructive.  Whoever he reported to in Mexico City evidently kept Denison on
a short leash, since he refused to consider even the most trifling proposals
until he got clear word from higher up.

Bakersfield had never heard of Mola before flying in from Burgoyne for these
talks.  The Boricuan government tended to have an unusually high turnover
rate among its officials.  They appeared out of nowhere, gave interviews to
foreign journalists where they spouted the current official government
positions, then after a few weeks or months vanished back into nonexistence
again.  Bakersfield couldn't help recalling a sketch he had seen on the
MacAnuff show two weeks before, where a North American official met with a
series of Boricuans who were all obviously the same man wearing a variety of
easily-penetrated disguises.  He didn't /think/ Mola was the previous Foreign
Commissioner, Maximilian Lozano, dressed up in a wig and short beard, but in
Boricua you could never be absolutely certain.

The formal discussions were conducted in Spanish, a language in which all the
principal participants were fluent.  As host, it was Mola's task to open
their meetings.  Today he did so, as he always did, with a short speech
denouncing the CNA's attack on the Moca installation.  This morning Mola
chose to dwell on the various atrocities committed by the North Americans
against Boricuan civilians.  Merkel let show his disdain for Mola's
theatrics, and Denison nodded vacuously, while Bakersfield himself remained
expressionless.  Reaching the end of his tirade, Mola concluded, "Why should
we allow these bandits of tyranny to go free, when the blood of thousands of
innocents stains their hands?"

Bakersfield had noticed that despite their venomous bile, Mola's rants
nevertheless always led into a discussion of the topic on that day's agenda.
It was a peculiar way of conducting negotiations, but, God help him, he was
getting used to it.  In this case, Mola was opening the discussion of the
return of captured North American troops to the CNA.

"I deny these unfounded accusations regarding the behavior of the
Confederation's service personnel," Bakersfield responded without heat.  "Our
men comported themselves in strict adherence to the rules of war.  I further
note that Exterior Minister Merkel makes no such accusations, despite his
government's open support for the Jeffersonist Republic, and despite the fact
that most of the action that occurred during the incident took place between
the Empire's troops and our own.  By the terms of the Paris Accords [2], to
which the government of the Jeffersonist Republic is a signatory, captured
combatants are to be returned to their nation of origin upon the cessation of
hostilities between their government and that of their captors.  Since
hostilities between the Confederation and the Jeffersonist Republic have
ceased, the Jeffersonist Republic is required by the terms of the Accords to
return all captured combatants to the Confederation at the earliest
opportunity."

"The Paris Accords were intended to cover the actions of governments between
which a formal declaration of war had been declared," Mola responded.  "The
CNA's illegal and barbarous attack upon the liberty-loving people of Boricua
was neither preceded by a declaration of war nor followed by a formal
cessation of hostilities.  That being the case, the Jeffersonist Republic
feels fully justified in regarding these men as criminals engaged in a
criminal enterprise, and therefore not entitled to any of the protections
mandated by the Paris Accords."

Bakersfield said, "Is it the intention of your government to place these men
on trial, then?  If so, the Confederation will require that each man be
permitted access to his chosen legal counsel, and that the Boricuan code of
criminal justice be scrupulously observed at all times."

Bakersfield had yet to see Mola smile, but the Foreign Commissioner came
close as he said, "The Boricuan code of criminal justice allows the Liberty
Guards a wide degree of latitude concerning the proper treatment of enemies
of the state, including their access to legal counsel."

Merkel spoke up.  "As we have not yet come to a conclusion regarding the
applicability of the Paris Accords to the present situation, I feel it would
be premature to let questions of legal proceedings distract us.  I am not
convinced that Foreign Commissioner Mola's narrow interpretation of the Paris
Accords is one that the Imperial German government would support.  The
Accords do not specifically require that a formal declaration of war exist
between two governments before its provisions may come into effect."

It wasn't hard for Bakersfield to understand why Merkel should choose to side
with the CNA rather than the Jeffersonistas regarding the status of the
imprisoned troops.  Now that the CNA had implicitly accepted the existence of
the German missile base in Boricua, it was in the Empire's interest to
stabilize relations between the North Americans and the Boricuans as quickly
as possible.  The Germans had everything they wanted; the longer the status
of the North American troops remained unresolved, the greater the chance that
the Boricuans might goad the CNA into acting precipitately to redress the
situation.

Mola's expression of not-quite-joy now shifted to one of not-quite-annoyance.
"Naturally the government of the Jeffersonist Republic will adhere to the
generally recognized standards of international law.  If it is the consensus
of the world's nations that the Moca conflict does indeed fall within the
scope of the Paris Accords, the government of, by and for the people of
Boricua will of course accept that judgment."

Bakersfield didn't heave a sigh of relief, but he wanted to.  It would mean
more days spent mucking about in Boricua, listening to Mola's endless
inflammatory rhetoric, but he was reasonably certain that the release of the
imprisoned men could be effected here at the negotiating table.  Then there
would be one less problem facing the Confederation, the Governor-General,
and, especially, Ezra Bakersfield.

Notes:

[1] OTL San Juan, Puerto Rico.  This was also its ATL name until it was
renamed by the revolutionary regime in 1971.

[2] The Paris Accords of 1891 were negotiated in response to a number of
unfortunate incidents that took place at various times and places during the
Bloody Eighties.  Needless to say, their subsequent adherence by the
signatory nations has been spotty at best.