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For All Nails pt. 71:  Southern Exposure

February 17, 1971

Bogotá, New Granada

President Augusto César Hermión was fat and happy, but mostly fat.
Amazingly fat.  Grotesquely fat.  Colonel Alexander Elbittar, standing
in the back of the seated military section of what was laughably
called the Cabinet Room could barely stand to look at the man.   [1]

Hermión sat in his office in the grand Presidential Palace of Bogotá.
He looked out over his mountainous city and saw it was good.  His
people were happy.  New Granada was great.  All was right with the
world.  No one else in the room thought so, but Hermión knew that his
family had taken care of New Granada and would always continue to do
so.  It was their birthright and responsibility.

"Your Magnificence," said one of Hermión's courtiers, bowing before
the President on his throne, "I bring bad news.  The Mexicans have
just announced that they will be allowing the dólar to float freely on
international markets."

"What does that mean?" boomed Augusto César the Great.

Another courtier stepped forward and bowed.  "It means, great one,
that the value of the dólar has fallen."

"And what," said the Presidente Constitucional de la República Libre y
Popular de Nueva Granada, "Does that have to do with me?"  He sprawled
in his throne, presidential sceptre in his left hand, his pudgy right
paw drawing random patterns on the plush armrest.  [2]

The first courtier, looking nervous, bowed and attempted to answer El
Máximo's question.  "Your grace, it means that the value of the dólar
will fall."  The courtier gulped.  "That will put pressure on the
peso."

Augusto César looked annoyed.  "What does that mean?"

Hermión's Minister of Finance spoke up, reluctantly.  "Well, due to
the oil price crash, our exports are worth less than before, but we
have continued to import the same amount.  Now that the Mexican dólar
is falling, we will begin to import even more.  The only way to fill
the gap, absent borrowing, is to exhaust our reserves of foreign
currency."

The fat man on the plush throne nodded.  He was not stupid, even if
his immense self-centeredness often obscured that fact.  "Vargas!" he
barked at the head of the Banco de Nueva Granada, who also happened to
be his cousin.  "Our savings, convert them to pounds immediately.  The
people's wealth must be protected."  He meant the people of the
Hermión family, whose welfare he often confused with the people of New
Granada.

"Yes, your Excellency," said Vargas, bowing.  "I'll call the family
immediately."  After all, it wouldn't do for the extended Hermión clan
and its hangers-on to be taken unawares by something as drastic as a
devaluation of the peso.

The finance minister cleared his throat.  "Your Grace, such an action
might precipitate the very devaluation we seek to avoid."

The Kin ... er, the President's eyebrows drew down and together.  "Did
you not say that we would exhaust our reserves of foreign currency?"

"Yes, but..."

"Then you would risk the people's wealth in a futile defense of
nothing more than your own ego?"  The President's jowls quivered.

"No, your Ex..."

"Then did you _lie_ to us about the state of our finances?"

"Of course not, Pres..."

"Then _do not_ spread such calumnities, Minister Lobato!"

Finance Minister Alfredo Lobato hung his head.  "I apologize, your
Excellency."

His Excellency settled (well, more like sunk) back into his throne.
"Good.  Apology accepted."  President Augusto César Hermión was no
General Cardoso, the Regent of Grão Pará, who regularly executed
advisors who annoyed him.  "Vargas!  Make it so!" he yelped.

The President's retainers bowed.  Colonel Elbittar stood silently
behind the fat and useless Hermionista generals, clenching and
unclenching his fists.

-----------------
February 29, 1972

Meta Province, New Granada

Times were hard.  Times were getting harder.  Marcelino Buceli was an
unhappy man, but he wasn't going to take it anymore.

When the first settlers after the War had come out to his land, Buceli
had accepted it.  [3]  Times were good, and he needed workers and
sharecroppers.  When the provincial government's cadastral survey had
declared that his family's land wasn't all his family's land, he had
accepted it.  When the central government began encouraging the new
settlers to buy up his other chunks land at subsidized prices, he had
accepted it.  When the central government reduced the price of fuel
and electricity and began guaranteeing payments on his coffee, he had
_welcomed_ it.

Perhaps he was no longer as large an estanciero ... but he could see
how life and the nation had improved.  Paved roads, free power,
guaranteed incomes ... the glorious victory in the War had indeed
brought all the benefits the Hermión family had promised.  [4]
Buceli's sons had gone off into the Fuerzas Armadas de Nueva Granada
after the War, and one of them had died in the secret campaigns in Rio
Negro or Guatemala or the New Territories, but the rest had returned
to their own farms carved out in the llanos or to comfortable
government jobs.

But then came the oil price crash.  The devaluation, the inflation,
the budget cuts.  Now the vultures in Bogotá, the bloodsucking Hermión
family, had stopped the coffee valorization payments.  And the result?
 These new peasants refusing to pay the debts owed to him for trees
and tools and land improvements, or worse yet encroaching on what
remained of his ancestral lands.  When the stenciled visages of Tómas
Jefferson began to appear in the town center, Marcelino Buceli knew
what needed to be done.

He phoned his friends---when the phones were working---and phoned his
sons, and they phoned their friends and sons, and so the thirty-odd
men gathered in the sala of the Buceli homestead and formed the first
"Comité sobre el Peligro Actual."  The women attended them, and the
men spoke about the feckless Hermión and how they had raped a great
country, the stab-in-the-back from the traitor Moctezuma, the creeping
threat from the Jeffersonistas, the accelerating land invasions by the
newly unemployed.  Several of the men gathered were officers in the
FANG, and they nodded along to the complaints.  Yes, the Comité was
talking treason, but treason against the ursurping illegitimate
Hermión clan who had led a great nation to ruin, not treason against
the beloved Patría.

The next night 15 of those men, led by Marcelino's son (a reserve
officer in the FANG) and armed with New Granada-made versions of the
Mexican-designed Rojas-65 assault rifle, moved out into the lands
occupied by the squatters.  They then moved into the lands of those
who refused to pay their debts.  The next day, the sun rose over a
field of crucifixes, the bodies of dead or dying adult men and women
nailed to them.

---------------
January 4, 1973

Cartagena, New Granada

The two colonels eyed each other.  Both were dressed in civilian
clothes.  Both were lean.  Both were dark-haired and light-skinned.
Neither was particularly tall, nor particularly short, not
particularly handsome, nor particularly ugly.  On one, those features
were pure coincidence.  On the other, they were a prerequisite for his
job.

Alexander Elbittar and Martin Falcone stood atop the great Castillo de
San Felipe de Barajas, on a hill overlooking the city.  They saw the
busy port, and the extensive naval base.  The FANG naval division was
second only to Mexico and North America in the hemisphere, equipped
with the best ships, the best airmobiles, and the most advanced
equipment.

Elbittar tossed his cigarette over the edge.  "Mercator will support
us?"

Falcone nodded.  "Oh yes.  Most certainly."

"Fucking civilians."  It wasn't clear if Elbittar meant the
back-stabbing President of the United States of Mexico, who had
abrogated the long-standing customs union between Mexico and New
Granada, or the corrupt President of the Free Republic of New Granada,
who had led his country to ruin.  It probably didn't really matter.

Falcone just nodded.  He had no particularly liking of President
Moctezuma, despite his oath "to preserve, protect and defend the
Constitution of the United States of Mexico."

Elbittar took a deep breath.  "You can promise me aid and equipment?
Our military cooperation will continue?"

Falcone nodded again.  "It will be unofficial and unremarked upon, but
it will not only continue, it will be stepped up.  You know it already
has been, even if neither of our putative commander-in-chiefs are
aware of it."

Elbittar nodded.  "I know."  He lit another cigarette.  "In return,
you want the base near Ciudad Hermión expanded?"  [5]

"Yes.  We have a project we wish to relocate there, outside the USM."

"And you wish to expand our naval and air bases here as well?"

"That is correct," said Falcone.  Under the provisions of the mutual
defense treaty, which dated back to the days of the Mexican
occupation, Mexican ships, troops, and airmobiles could freely make
use of all New Granadan military facilities.  Now Mercator's
representative was standing here promising to spend _billions_ of
dólares in a crash program to expand them.  Why?  To defend against
such powers as Quito and Grão Pará?  To send the Germans a signal?

Elbittar looked at his compatriot.  What was he planning?  In that
instant, he decided he did not want to know.  If Mercator would help
him rid his country of the parasites who had occupied it, he need not
know why.

"That is ... acceptable.  In fact, it is welcome."

"Then we have an arrangement?" asked Falcone.

"We do," replied Elbittar.

The two men shook hands, then turned and saluted the giant blue and
gold New Granadan flag flying above the Castillo.

The next day, Elbittar met with a man from the embassy of the
Confederation of North America in Bogotá.  Both were dressed in
civilian clothes.  North American diplomats came in two breeds.  The
first were pompous, idealistic, and overeducated aristocrats, carrying
out their deep sense of noblesse oblige towards the other peoples of
the Earth.  The second were formerly pompous, idealistic, and
overeducated aristocrats, veterans of the Mason Doctrine, who had now
become highly cynical about the world outside the blessed spot of land
that was North America.  Fortunately, the ambassador from the CNA was
of the second type.  More fortunately, the North Americans were still
overly naïve about certain things --- could the North American have
imagined the small miniature audiograbadora that Falcone had provided
Elbittar?  [6]

"You will recognize us?" asked Elbittar.

"Monaghan will," said the Ambassador.  "There is no love for the New
Granadan government in the CNA."  That was an understatement --- both
the New Granadan and West Indian communities in North America hated
New Granada with a passion that far exceeded any wariness towards
Mexico.

"And Monaghan's offer of doubling aid will still stand?"

"Of course," said the Ambassador.  "You realize that this meeting
never took place, however, and that we will issue the usual dismay
over the coming events."

"Of course."  Elbittar smiled.  He had a very charismatic smile.

----------------------
January 8 - May 21, 1973

Bogotá, New Granada

On what would later become "El Día de la Patría," the Hermión dynasty
died.  The immensely fat President Augusto César Hermión was arrested
for treason.  A week later, he was "shot while trying to escape," a
miraculous attempt from a man who could barely move without the help
of two attendants.  Thousands of other Hermión family members and
Hermionistas would flee to Spain or the CNA or die in the following
weeks.  Colonel Alexander Elbittar would take the oath of office as
the new provisional President of the Republic of New Granada.

Pointedly, the government of the United States of Mexico refused to
recognize the new regime until it held "free and fair elections."
Governor-General Monaghan of the CNA, however, issued only a vague
statement of regret, but his government went on to recognize President
Elbittar.  Meanwhile, the Mexican War Department began extensive crash
construction projects in Cartagena and Ciudad Camacho.  [7]  The FANG
received extensive shipments of modern attack airmobiles and five new
warships from the USM, despite the official non-recognition policy.
The first use of the new equipment was against the growing
Jeffersonista insurgency in the coffee zones.

President Elbittar watched with interest the North American failure in
Puerto Rico.  Puerto Rico, of all places?  The Norteamericanos
couldn't defeat the _Boriqueños_?  He watched the Tampa summit, and
the humiliating return of the North American prisoners.  He watched
the much of the Norteamericana media trumpting how the failure
vindicated the nation's traditional policies of neutrality and
non-interventionism.  He watched the increase in the PJP's vote.  And
he thought about what it meant.

Elbittar knew his nation desperately needed two things:  a new source
of foreign exchange, and something to reignite the people's sense of
pride in their country.  One day in mid-May he stood on the beach on
Isla Margarita, and looked off to the west.  There, over the horizon,
was something that could give his nation both, and the evidence of the
past few months indicated that there was nothing to stand in his way
...

[1]  "Elbittar" is a Hispanicization of an Arabic name.  In OTL there
was a not-insignificant Lebanese migration to Venezuela.  The same has
occurred in the FANTL.  English first names are rather common in OTL's
Venezuela, and that pattern has repeated itself in the FANTL's New
Granada.

[2]  Officially, New Granada is a republic.  In reality, it is a
hereditary monarchy under the rule of a branch of the Hermión family.
As of 1971, the Hermións of New Granada and the Hermións of Spain are
in contact with each other, although the Bogotá branch of the family
considers itself superior.  Benito Hermión, however, is a professor of
linguistics in Madrid, and is embarrassed by the shabby pomp of the
exiled Hermións in Barcelona, or the disgusting excess of the ruling
Hermións in Bogotá.  Pedro Hermión, Benito's son, is an accomplished
professional equestrian, and is equally embarrassed by the rest of his
family.

[3]  The population of New Granada in 1972 is 59 million people,
almost twice the combined OTL population of Colombia, Panama, and
Venezuela at that time.  Most of the difference is due to higher
population growth in the 19th century, but some is due to higher
immigration in the 20th.  In fact, the population of the country would
be several million people higher by 1972 were it not for a long
history of emigration to the USM and CNA.  The New Granadan population
of Mexico is almost invisible, since the migrants rapidly assimilate
into the Mexican mainstream, but there is a rather distinct New
Granadan immigrant community in the CNA concentrated in New Orleans
and Tampa.  New Granadan emigrants to the CNA tend to be less-educated
and darker-skinned than their counterparts in the United States of
Mexico, for reasons which should not be particularly surprising.

[4]  From the New Granadan point of view, the Global War was indeed a
glorious victory.  New Granadan ground forces succeeded in conquering
British Guyana and partioned Dutch Guiana between themselves and the
German Empire.  (The former French Guiana had been a German territory
for decades by the 1940s.)  New Granada's relatively small but highly
efficient naval and marine forces (with some German and Mexican help)
also succeeded in taking and holding the Netherlands Antilles (inc.
Aruba), although a joint German-Mexican-New Granadan assault on
Trinidad was repulsed with the help of the North American "volunteers"
operating naval vessels and airmobiles on "detached duty."  (For those
of you who are wondering, San Martín---including Saba and St.
Eustasius---has been a Mexican territory since 1914.)

The USM military is large and very competent and well-equipped.  The
FANG is qualitatively better.  Unlike the USM army and navy, the FANG
is all-professional and experienced at operating as deniable USM
assets - therefore very good at conflicts other than war,
low-intensity operations, covert stuff generally - as well as being
used as operational testbeds for USM kit before introduction into main
force service with the USM.  The "Cazadores" is the name of the
extremely high-quality assault infantry in which the FANG specialises,
trained in jungle, fallscreen and marine operations.

Also note that New Granada, while poor, is much richer and much much
more industrialized than the OTL nations of Panama, Colombia, and
Venezuela, as well as being twice as populous.

[5]  Ciudad Bolívar, Venezuela, in OTL.

[6]  It appears to be canon that Mexican electronics are more advanced
than elsewhere, and that the lead is only increasing.

[7]  Formerly Ciudad Hermión.  Ciudad Camacho is named after the
Adolfo Camacho, the last prime minister of the Kingdom of New Granada,
who led the resistance to the Mexican invasion in 1890.