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Luciana Monteros memoirs - Less Able_ Climbs Higher

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									Luciana Montero’s memoirs – “Less Able, Climbs Higher” Part XII – ONE BUST MORE IN THE HALL

The race for the presidency started immediately. And with only two candidates standing. One of them was obviously myself, I had no time for hesitations, that was my chance. And the other one was Martín Peña. Martín Peña was a trade unionist, and follower of “Poder Obrero”. When it was obvious that I would be the candidate of “Renacimiento Político”, the leaders of the other two parties started to co-operate, if each party presented a different candidate, sure they would be blown by me, so they decided to join efforts, and to present just one candidate, who represented both parties. And he had to be from “Poder Obrero”, because “Partido Reformista” was suffering a disastrous decline after so many years in government with catastrophic results. The candidate for the presidency was the leader of the miners‟ trade union, I had spoken with him several times during my governorship of Santa Ana. He was a sound leader, but I had always doubts about his integrity. Soon the opinion polls started to be taken. At first, when the only certain candidate was me, I had 70% of the votes, but when Peña was selected, my percentage started to decrease. Even with all my popularity and all the failure of the actual government, the name of Peña was important, he had the support of the workers, even of those who were benefited by my recommissioning of the mines. And with the addition of the support of what was left of the two big parties, he managed to reach almost the half of the vote in the opinion polls. One month before the election, a new custom copied from other countries was adopted by Andinia. It was the television debate by the candidates for the presidency. That occurred on Sunday night, in “Actualidad Política”, the same program in which Lucas had revealed the recording that accused Dr. Cuesta, former governor of Santa Ana, of discrimination. I had been invited there many times before, during my governorship and also during my time on the Congress. But that would be the first time in my condition as a quadruple amputee. Normally, a TV debate between two candidates, shows each of them them standing on a platform, with a microphone. That gives them the aspect of a politician in a tribune doing a speech to his people. But given my condition, I wouldn‟t be able to stand on a platform. So to make the things even, we were both sitting on chairs, well, I was sitting in a wheelchair, in my revised wheelchair with the corresponding shackles attached on my back to avoid me toppling forward. I assumed that the debate would be about economic questions, I would defend the possibility of bringing new capital from abroad, to install new companies. And he would defend national industry, and to stop waiting for help from outside our country. But his first dialogue was totally different.

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“Dear people of Andinia, I know you are all waiting for me to tell you how I will solve the hard economic situation that all of you are living. But first of all, I want to say some words about my opponent. I want all of you to look at her.” – All the cameras pointed to me – “What does she inspire in all of you? Respect? Affection? Charm? No, what she inspires is compassion, what she inspires is pity.” “Mr. Peña, this is a political debate, what are you talking about?” – I interrupted starting to get angry. “Miss Montero, respect the rules of the debate, I have my time to speak and after I finish my speech you can answer.” “Ok, go on. But beware what you say.” “Don‟t threaten me, Miss Montero. You know what? I‟m not so moved looking at you. And none of you must to be moved.” – He pointed toward the camera when he said „you‟ – “And I‟ll tell you why right now. All of us know about the terrible fate of the war victims, who were mutilated by criminals and had to face their life handicapped, and who certainly deserve all our compassion. But the case of Miss Montero is quite different, everybody knows that her amputations weren‟t because of the war. Well, we have the official version, a circulatory disease that causes gangrene and amputation. Quite easy to use as an excuse, in my opinion.” “An excuse???? Mr. Peña, I‟m starting to get more angry.” “Don‟t interrupt Miss Montero. I want all of you to forget all the sympathy that the picture of this severely disabled women evokes in you for a moment. When did she appear in public for the first time? About twelve years ago, and she was missing an arm then. And when did the war finish and all of us found out about those terrible mutilations? About twelve years ago. Coincidence? She did her great performance bringing a prosthetics company to that little town, whose name is…” “Mizco, Mr. Peña, you seem not to know too much about our country‟s geography.” “Stop interrupting, I know perfectly about our geography. Well, she appeared in Mizco and gave those prosthetics to all those war victims just in time, and exactly from the same place from she came, England. And here is the point. She gained the confidence of all the people of Mizco, not too hard to achieve for one who comes from a developed country with all the technology and the money in her favour. Well, but when she realised that her thirst of power wouldn‟t end with just a little town.” “Mr. Peña, you‟re insulting…” “Could anybody shut up this woman and let me go on with my speech, please?” “You can do it by yourself, just put a piece of tape on my mouth, I won‟t be able to pull it off.” “Don‟t take advantage of your disability with me, Miss Montero, you won‟t beat me with that. Well, just some months before the provincial elections she disappears and suddenly she appears again, …. with both arms cut off!!! How convenient! And where did she travel to be operated on? England. She brings in more British capital and with it she rebuilds the railways and the mines…”

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“That‟s not true, and you know that, the mines were recommisioned without foreign capital.” “I‟m not so sure of that, well with those magnificent successes she continues with her ascent, and then she has to get rid of all her possible rivals in a presidential election, what does she do? Well she travels again to England, comes back without a leg and convinces all the country that amnesty law has to be revoked. And she blackmails a deputy so to obtain the majority in the Congress.” “I won‟t tolerate one more calumny!!” “Let the people to determine who‟s telling the truth, Miss Montero. Well, she gets a deputy to vote in her favour by promising to reduce his prison sentence and who knows how big a bribe she might have paid to him in addition. And to crown it all, when the country has its worst crisis, she travels back to England to have her last limbs removed so she can come back totally innocent of what happened here and to be the Saviour of Andinia. Well, let me tell to all of you what I think of this woman. I think that she is an amputee by choice. Does anybody know what this means? Well, I will explain this to all of you right now. There is a strange psychological disorder called „Apotemnophilia‟, that means that there are people who have the desire to have some of their limbs removed. Well, I think that this woman suffers from that disease, and not circulatory disease as she claims. But she needed to have an excuse to have her amputations done, so she invented something that nobody could prove. And as she also has thirst for power, she gets everything she wants, to be limbless and to be powerful. People of Andinia, if you think that you could put such a person on the most important political position and give her the responsibility to lead us, just vote for her. But if you think wisely, you won‟t let her have what she wants and she planned to do from her first and secret arrival in our country. I don‟t have anything more to say.” “Miss Montero, your response.” – Said the chairman. “Let me swallow my feelings first… Ok, I‟m calm now. Well, I thought that this would be a debate in which each candidate would explain how he or she would manage to solve the real problems of our country, but all I heard was a bunch of lies, calumnies and defamations. Well, I think I came to the wrong debate then. So I have nothing to say. Paulina, come here and take me out of this place before I….”

Everybody froze, except Paulina, who didn‟t care that she was on TV and nobody had made her up, and she crossed in front of the cameras and approached me and pushed my wheelchair out of the TV studio. What I nearly said in my last phrase was that I was about to cry, but I stopped myself to avoid showing weakness in front of the cameras, but it wasn‟t just theatre. Just as we crossed the door of the studio I cried tearfully. I was totally shocked. How could somebody come out with such a web of lies and hurt me in a way that is even more painful that the sum of all the knives that cut off all my limbs. I knew that politics was a hard game. But never before I received such a blow directly to my heart.

When we went back home, María was there waiting for me, and we did our armless embrace, both with tears in our eyes. “How could such a beast be named as a candidate?” – Said María when our tears started to subside. “I don‟t know, I don‟t think they could find anyone appropriate and as they cannot fight fair, they chose play dirty. But I never expected such an attack to the bottom of my heart, does that guy have the minimum idea of what anyone could suffer being disabled?” –I replied between sobs. “It seems that he doesn‟t, I would have given him a straight kick in the centre of his groin.” “And after that, I would bite his dick and to made it bleed until it is cut in half.” “Oh, that sure would hurt him.”

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We couldn‟t go on with our dialogue because the phone started to ring. And then I could restore all my spirit. One after the other, all the followers of our party called. Everybody wanted to talk with me to affirm their support for me and to give me their courage to go on. But the phone call that moved me the most of all was that from Pancho. - “Hello, darling, I was watching the debate, and I am very, very angry. But I want to know how you are, you looked very upset on TV.” - “And I was, still I am upset. Could you come over? I need you, please!!!” - “I‟ll do my best, I‟ll be there in just half an hour.” And he came, and he wheeled me to my room. And there I couldn‟t help it but I fell into tears again. “Honey, stay calm, you cannot be beaten by that.” “But, Pancho, did you hear what he said, how he treated me? How could anyone think for a single moment that I could have desire to be an amputee. Mother of God, what kind of mind can he have?” “It‟s just strategy, Luz, he was trying to make you submit, I think that it was the only thing he could find to say against you, that‟s a good signal, honey.” “A good signal, how could you..?” “I‟m a soldier, Luz, and I know a lot about psychological warfare, how to find the weak point of your enemy and hit directly there. That was what he did. And if he is using those arguments it‟s because he has no other way to fight against you. Now you must show him and all the people that you were not hurt by his dirty play and that you fell on your feet, er., well, you know what I mean.” “But this is just politics, not war.” “Believe me honey, some times I think that war is handled with more rules than politics.” “And what can I do now? I made a very bad spectacle of myself there, before one million people.” “To show oneself moved after receiving such an attack isn‟t a bad spectacle, it‟s proof of how human you are. And that will be very well taken by the audience.” “I hope so, honey, but now hold me very tight, I need you.”

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The following days a lot of ink and voices were spent on my „amputee by choice‟ affair. All the politicians of both rival parties who were interviewed talked about psychology and about weird customs imported from abroad. And all our supporters talking about my integrity and how anyone could wish for the suffering of the life of an amputee. In the meanwhile, we started a big research effort to find a proof of my disease. But it turned to be more difficult than I thought. And all because the death of Dr. Collins. In London‟s Hospital where I was treated there were only records of my amputations, but no previous examinations that could prove my circulation disorder. Only Dr. Collins has those records in his files, but it would take months to find them, he was an old fashioned doctor who only kept paper records, and in his very long life as a doctor he collected tons of papers and documents, and he hadn‟t classified all that stuff in a way that something could be found quickly. So it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. And in Andinia we had only the testimony of the Doctor who had examined me, and it was a partial testimony, he was a follower of “Renacimiento Político” too. So I only could stand on the trust of the people. And in the first days after the TV show, I started to be disappointed of them. The surveys of my popularity started to decrease, and soon I was below Peña in the opinion polls. I was so sad that I wanted to throw it all in. The following weekend, Pancho was with me in my room. “Pancho, I can‟t stand anymore, I want to quit. And to leave this country. I can‟t stay any longer in a place where I‟m not respected.” “That‟s not true, Luz, the people respect you. And have a lot of confidence on you.” “But look at the polls, my popularity is decreasing every day.” “You don‟t have to believe in opinion polls, honey.” “But they are pure statistics, the numbers don‟t lie. I thought that the people of my country were cleverer than to be confused by such a calumny. I can‟t love a country that has that kind of people.” “In the army, I learnt to love my country as much as my own mother. And that feeling must be so strong that no circumstance can change it. And this country has given you all that you have.” “Well, you must be right, but...” “So you must not lose your hope in your country and in your people, sooner or later, the truth will out. And I‟m working in that matter.” “That‟s my man, can you tell me what do you have in mind?” “Just army things, nothing else, my darling.” “But, army means war, don‟t tell me your thinking about something bloody?” “Luz, in an army there are not only soldiers who fire guns, there‟s also something called intelligence.” “Oh, you‟re talking about spies?” “Not exactly, but for the moment that‟s all that I‟ll tell you.” “Keep me informed, honey, beware that if I win, I‟ll be your boss.” “Not too different than the present.”

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And so it happened in the following days, there was a strange campaign. I hardly moved from my house, I wasn‟t in condition to cross the entire country giving rallies everywhere, just four months since my operation and I was still weak. But the words certainly crossed from here to there. And the numbers also were a mystery, but that was also because the people started to be tired of our discussions, they wanted solutions to their terrible problems and not accusations from one side to the other. But ten days before the election, I finally received what I was waiting for from Pancho. And then the blood went back to my heart. I was ready for the counterattack. For that Sunday I called for a second TV debate. And Peña accepted, he was very confident and he thought he would beat me again. But that time I chose to be the first to speak. “Dear Andinians, I think all of you are tired of what happened during the last few days. You were expecting us to tell you what we going to do for the benefit of the people, and instead of that we‟ve been squabbling between us like mad dogs.” - “That accusation is yours, I don‟t subscribe.” - “So you also like to interrupt? Well, I think is time for telling the people what are our plans to recover the economy of our nation. And I think that is very simple, is just a matter of confidence. At this very moment, the world has lost its confidence in us. And we must bring it back. And all we can do to achieve that is to show the world that we are honest people, that we follow the rules, and that we let everybody come here, to invest here and to collect the corresponding profit without sucking the blood of our people and without having to pay extra costs because of corruption. And I think that the world can trust in a party that has showed the integrity and honesty of its members, from the mayor of the smallest town to the leaders of the Congress.” - “Trust? What trust could anybody have on a woman that will give any part of her body to get what she wants? Can the world trust in a woman who cannot even sign a piece of paper?” - “Oh, the signing affair, it gives me so many memories, how could you still use that stupid argument? Well, yes, I‟m not able to sign, I‟m not able to raise a hand, I‟m not able to so many things that all of you are able to do, for example I‟m not able to pick my nose, as I see you‟re doing right now..” - The camera turned fast to show how Peña withdrew his finger from inside his nostril. - “You see? Not being able to do some things isn‟t a disadvantage at all, is it?” - “You‟re just making arguments, Miss Montero, and the people don‟t want arguments, they want facts, they want proof.” - “They want proof? Well, then let them have proof. María, can you bring that piece of paper here, please?” I raised my head pointing to the place where María was standing among the cameras. She was holding a piece of paper with her mouth, and at my call, she walked directly to my place, carrying the paper between her teeth. - “Oh, that‟s freak time!!” - Commented Peña laughing. -

“María Velazco is a real victim of the war, and she is also one of my assistants, and she is bringing me a piece of paper that will be the proof Mr. Peña is looking for. Come here, María, bring the paper here and show it to the audience.” María turned to the cameras, biting the piece of paper from its upper edge, so it could be clearly read by the public when the camera took it in foreground. When Peña saw what was in that piece of paper in the big monitor that was in front of us his face turned to intense red. What he saw there was a drawing of a woman, with marks made in both shoulders and in both hips, and down to the right was a signature, that said very clearly: “Martín Peña”. A loud murmur started among the people that were sitting there, it was a surprise, nobody expected that and I hadn‟t told anything to the producers of the program. As everybody froze, I took the chance to talk. “That‟s the proof the people were waiting for. But now let me tell you a little more. The Central Intelligence of the Army has made a thorough investigation, and this piece of paper was just one of the pieces of evidence they could find. But there is something more terrible, you will be wondering who was the poor woman who received this kind of mutilation. And I have to tell with great regret that this woman has passed away. But it wasn‟t just because of the severe amputations she received, she was delivered in a perfect state to her owner, Martin Peña. And he could even take advantage of her, but what he didn‟t know is that she had cardiac problems from before her operation. And her poor heart couldn‟t stand the tremendous change in the circulatory system that occurs after such radical amputations. I can testify by my own experience how difficult is to recover from the loss of a single limb at a time, she lost all of them in one operation. Well, I think this debate is ended, the face of my rival is quite revealing so I won‟t say anything else. Paulina, you can wheel me out of here.”

And Paulina wheeled me, but in this time, my face was of victory and everybody applauded as I passed, everybody… except María, of course. If his strike was to my heart, mine was directly between his eyes. And he had to quit, one week before the election, and he was imprisoned two days later. As the opposite coalition had to change their candidate just about the election day, the way to “Palacio San Martín” was clean. So that journey wasn‟t as the previous ones in which I had to wait with suspense until the night to know the result. And about the way in which I voted, it wasn‟t different from my vote as a triple amputee, the only difference was the place, because I voted in Nueva Sevilla. But Paulina wheeled me to the room, picked the ballot for me, put it into the envelope and handed it to my mouth. And she took me to the ballot box so I could insert the envelope inside, this time she had to push the wheelchair very close to the box because shackled to the chair back I couldn‟t lean forward, I could just do a little movement with my neck and the ballot box had to be raised to my height.

And I won, I collected 65% of the votes, the rival coalition 15% and there were about 20% of blank votes. That disappointed me a little, but I had to understand, the last days of campaign were full of struggles between the candidates, sure many people had lost their confidence in me watching me fighting against my rival. But I hoped to regain it with facts. That night, when the results where evident, I chose to do my speech from the door of my house, I wasn‟t strong enough to go to the “Plaza Mayor” of Nueva Sevilla to do a speech from there. So there were more journalists than public there because of the lack of space in the street. And my speech was short and direct. “People of Andinia. This is a hard time for our nation. And I can‟t promise to you that I will solve all of your troubles in a short time. The country‟s economy is devastated, all of you know that, and it will take a lot of time to recover it. But what I can certainly promise you is that I will do my best for the benefit of everybody, and your effort will be fairly distributed among you, those that have more will pay more and those that have less will pay less. Now let me end this speech with two phrases: “Voy a gobernar esta nación con MANO dura y voy a PISOTEAR a la corrupción” (I will govern this nation with strong hand and I will trample on corruption). “Yo soy la LUZ al final de un largo y oscuro túnel en la historia política de Andinia” (I am the light at the end of a long and dark tunnel in Andinia‟s political history).” – Those two phrases, invented by an advertising agency, provoked the applauds and cheers of everybody there. “Luz, Luz, Luz, Luz, Luz!!!” – Was the acclaim of the public.

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When I entered “Palacio San Martín” again, as the elected president, the things were so different from when I was there to discuss amnesty law with former President Morales. I was wheeled through a hall that was the antechamber of the main hall where the accession ceremony would be celebrated. In that chamber, there were busts of all the former presidents of Andinia. Those busts, made of bronze, were just an upper part of the torso and the head of each president. “Look Paulina” – I commented – “In my case it won‟t be necessary to hire a sculptor, just make a plaster mould of my body and you have the bust finished.”

The transmission ceremony was really strange. The custom is that the leaving president puts the “Presidential ribbon” that is a fabric ribbon with the colours of our national flag, green and white on the shoulders of the new president and then he gives him the “Presidential baton”, a golden stick. But as much as he tried he couldn‟t manage to put the ribbon on my shoulders. It fell unavoidably from my shoulder and he had to replace it four times, when he was about to surrender, Paulina appeared with a pin and pinned it to my dress on my shoulder. Then the president took the baton and handed it to me, I smiled gently and said:

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“Please, Mr. President, put it on the table, I don‟t want to catch it between my teeth, it would be in bad taste.”

But the presidency wasn‟t child‟s play. It is much more difficult to be the leader of a nation than to lead a town, or even a province, or even a Congress. You need to make decisions every day, every hour, that affect the interests of millions of people. My first measure was very drastic and effective. Every public official of executive, legislative and judicial powers wouldn‟t receive a salary for three months. And all the national employees that had the biggest salaries would have their salaries capped. All the funds collected would serve to pay the overdue salaries of the national employees who didn‟t collect them for three months. But since salary controls weren‟t enough, I also started to conduct an extensive audit to check every budget even of the smallest things like a pencil for the secretary, and to pay for them market values, even if they were just agreed and invoiced for the former government. And that measure was effective, we could pay every cent that we owed to the employees, and the strike ended. But I needed to collect more taxes, and I didn‟t want to increase the rates, they were already high. But I had another way to achieve that. I knew that most of the biggest companies of Andinia were used to finding ways to avoid paying taxes. But they did that in a pseudo-legal way, hiring accountants and lawyers who found gaps in the rules and laws so to decrease the taxes that the companies had to pay. And the biggest example of that behaviour was Conrado Navas, owner of “Navia”, the main dairy company of Andinia and the biggest in capital and number of employees. That company, during the last recession had fired many employees and decreased its activity to the minimum. So I decided to attack directly there. And I made an appointment with Conrado Navas in my office. “Madam President, what is the subject that you want to discuss with me?” “Mr. Navas, I‟ll go directly to the point. Our country is collecting less taxes than it should.” “So, why don‟t you increase the rates then?” “No, Mr. Navas, I won‟t make the people to pay a cent more, I think that we can manage with what we are not collecting and we should.” “What exactly are you referring to, Madam President?” “Mr. Navas, I know about economy, and I know about some manoeuvres that all of you use to do to pay less than you have to.” “I‟m paying all my taxes, I was inspected and audited many times and nobody could ever find that I missed to pay a single tax.” “Well, having the judges and the auditors in your favour that doesn‟t surprise me.”

“The law protects me, Madam President, there‟s nothing you can do about that.” - “I don‟t think so, Mr. Navas, I have majority in the Congress, I can change the laws.” - “Madam President, let me be frank with you, if you put more pressure on me, I will have to close my company, and many people will be left without a job, do you want that to occur?” - “I knew that sooner or later you would use that argument, but now I‟ll speak to you in the only language that you understand, that is money. Paulina, can you bring that folder here please?” Paulina, who was sitting on a couch, stood up and came to the desk with a fat folder and placed it in front of Mr. Navas. - “What is this, Madam President?” - “This is a dossier that our finance team has made specially for you.” - “And what does it say?” - “We have done extensive research, very professionally. In that folder you‟ll find a plan to reinvest in your company, to capitalize it and to make it bigger, so you‟ll be able to export your products to the world, and in a short time, you will be making much more profit than you have now.” - “How could you do such a work, you don‟t know about my business.” - “We have specialists in finance, in companies and also in the dairy market around the world. There is a big demand for your products, and the quality of them is close to the requirements of the European Union, all you have to do is some investment. And that plan includes re-hiring all the employees that you made redundant and to pay all the taxes you owe, with a small interest, and to pay what you have to from now on.” - “I cannot believe that, Madam President, I have twenty five years of experience in managing my company, you cannot come from outside and tell me what I must do with it.” - “Well, all that I want of you is that you take that folder and show it to your experts. I will be waiting for your answer.” - “And what if I refuse.” - “No problem, I have a lot of investors demanding a feasible project to invest in Andinia. I‟ll send them this same brochure, and I have no doubts you‟ll receive many offers to buy your company.” - “And if I don‟t want to sell it?” - “Then they‟ll have to install another company, and to compete against you. I don‟t think you will want that to occur, will you?” - “Well, Madam President, let me take it and you‟ll soon have my answer.” And his answer didn‟t take much longer, and it was positive, as I expected. Having convinced Mr. Navas, it wasn‟t difficult to convince the rest of the biggest entrepreneurs to do the same with their companies. And soon many employees were hired back and the taxes collected started to increase. But I had another problem to solve, and it was trade unionists.

I had taken a measure that struck directly at their cash, and it was to take away health security from trade unions. In the past, trade unions were in charge of the health security of their workers. By law they paid a percentage of their salaries that went into a fund managed by each trade union to take care of the health of their workers. But that led to a lot of injustice, because there were richer and poorer trade unions and so the health security that their workers received was different depending on the trade union to which they belonged. But it also led to corruption, because the leaders of the trade unions robbed part of those funds for themselves. So I decided to remove the health security from trade unions, and by law that discount went to national health system and from then on the workers would be attended in national hospitals. That put trade unionists at war with me. They were already angry with me because I unmasked Peña, who was their former leader. So they declared a national strike. Even though the public image of the trade unionists was very poor, there was something very strategic that could help them to have a successful strike. And that was the railway. The leader of the railway workers trade union was a close friend of Peña and now was the leader of the congress of national trade unions. If he managed to stop the trains, as the majority of the workers needed them to travel to their workplace, they wouldn‟t be able to get to work and then the strike would have a lot of followers. The night before strike day, I decided to make a TV speech to the nation. “Workers of Andinia. I want to ask to all of you to think who is defending your interests better. Your trade union leaders are calling you to strike, and this isn‟t because you‟re not collecting your salaries. You‟re receiving them on schedule. This isn‟t because there are a lot of workers that lost their jobs, most of them are back in work and soon I can assure you that nobody will be left without a job. The excuse is that you‟ll lose your health security system. Well I can prove to you that this is totally wrong. Maybe in the past, the need of a different health system was justified because the national hospitals weren‟t enough to satisfy the needs of all the population, and then trade unions filled the gap by building many good hospitals and clinics. But what‟s left of them now, they are all obsolete and badly staffed, the doctors and nurses don‟t collect their salaries, and they have not renewed their equipment. Now I‟ll talk directly to the workers of our beloved railway system. Who was the responsible of bringing the train back to Santa Ana? Your trade union leader? No, he was in Argentina then, and only when the trains were back running on the railways did he return to have his job back. He didn‟t do anything for you to get your jobs back. And tell me, why most of you went to Santa Ana‟s provincial hospital instead of being attended in the railway workers Trade Union one? Well, I won‟t add anything. All of you have the right to join to the strike, and you‟ll still receive your pay, even if you do, I won‟t go against the law. But think very carefully of the decision you‟ll make tomorrow, because the country‟s future is on your hands.”

And my success was total. Only 10% of the train workers didn‟t attend their jobs, and the railway system worked normally. And there was an absence of less than the 15% averaged in all the country. All the trade union leaders resigned and elections were called to renew their authorities. I had climbed the second hurdle in my race, but now remained the highest one, and it was the I.M.F. Even with all my success, the I.M.F. refused to remove our default condition. And it was very harmful for our economy. I received a call from Steve Carter, manager of Mizco‟s prosthetics company. “Madam President, Steve Carter of Mizco‟s prosthetics company speaking.” “Steve, you don‟t need to call me Madam President, we know each other very well, you‟ve seen me in underwear after all, just call me Luciana please.” “Well, Luciana, I must tell you that this company will be closed in a month if things continue like they are.” “But, what‟s the problem, Steve? Isn‟t the company profitable anymore?” “The problem is that we need further investment, and the investors wouldn‟t add one more cent if Andinia remains in default condition.” “That bloody default, how damaging it is to us. But don‟t the investors look how the company profited in recent years?” “Yes, but they have rules to follow, and those rules prevent them from investing in countries that are in risk of bankruptcy.” “I know that very well, Steve. Well, just hold on for a while, try to extend the terms, and trust in me, I‟ve never disappointed you in the past, have I?” “No, you haven‟t, well, I‟ll do what I can.”

And Mizco‟s company wasn‟t the only company with that problem, almost all the companies that I helped to install with foreign capital had the same trouble, and that included the railway. So I had to do what I didn‟t particularly want to do in my first presidential days, I had to talk to the I.M.F. And this time I preferred that Muhammad went to the mountain and not to wait that the mountain goes to Muhammad. I decided to travel to Washington, to talk directly with I.M.F. authorities. I was recovered enough to travel, and I wanted to use the presidential plane for the first time. I was disappointed not having the chance to enjoy my last journey on it, because I was unconscious. But the plane needed some alterations to allow me to use it. We had to determine a place where to locate my wheelchair and to fasten it to the floor of the plane during take-off and landing. And also the toilet had to be altered to allow me to use it. It was suggested then I should replace my manual wheelchair by a motorised one. I refused at first, I never thought I needed a power chair because I always had to have a caregiver with me and they would push me, but my colleagues in the

government argued that it was a sign of weakness to show before the I.M.F. authorities being wheeled by a caregiver, it was stronger to show them how could I move by myself. I accepted then, but with the condition that the other 7 women who remained quadruple or triple amputees could receive the same wheelchair as I received. Josefina was one of them. Mine was fitted with a control that I could operate with my chin. Nevertheless, I didn‟t think it particularly useful as I still had to have Paulina with me. I was driven to the airport in the new presidential car. This wasn‟t an indulgence, replacing the stately but elderly Cadillac limousine, but it wasn‟t good for me to have to be lifted in and out and my wheelchair stowed in the boot. The new car, provided by one of the car manufacturers that had set up factories in Andinia, was a tall large-windowed vehicle, in which I could ride while sitting in my wheelchair. I was very nervous before my appointment with the I.M.F. authorities. I have read a lot about their meetings with former presidents and how hard they were with them. As usual, I decided to get directly to the point. “Gentlemen, let me say just a few words. Just look at my body, this is a symbol of what my country is suffering at this moment. I want to tell you that I ended up in this condition because of a circulatory disease that necessitated that all my limbs had to be removed. But I had some responsibility for that, because when I lost my third limb, I was warned that if I didn‟t do any activity with my remaining leg, I wouldn‟t lose it, but I didn‟t hear the advice and I lost it. Well, Andinia‟s condition resembles me very much. It was left armless and legless first of all because you‟ve never helped it to recover, and also because it‟s own leaders didn‟t handle things well. But, unlike me, who will be limbless for the rest of my life, Andinia can recover its legs to start walking, and can recover its arms to start working. I won‟t ask you for more loans, I don‟t want to mortgage the future of our nation. All what I want from you is a vote of confidence. Just tell the word that you warrant the recovery of Andinia‟s economy. And if you need a warrant, I can be that warrant. Just check what I have done first in Mizco, a little town, and later in Santa Ana, a big province. I can do the same in the whole of Andinia, but I don‟t want to do that by putting more pressure on my people. If you let us breathe, I can assure you that all the conditions set down in the past will be fulfilled, and every cent of interest owed will be paid. Just give us the necessary time to grow and I won‟t need to ask anything else of you in the future.”

And I.M.F. responded. And soon all the foreign investments that were stopped started to come in again. And the economy of Andinia revived. In one year we were paying not only the interests owed to the I.M.F. and other creditors. We could also start to pay part of the capital, reducing the whole amount of external debt. That wasn‟t an easy decision, I could have decided to save those extra funds and to use them to enhance the hospitals, the schools, the routes, a lot of things. But it was taken thinking in the future, I dreamt in a future with a zero external debt, could that be possible?

María has married Mariano Leguizamón, they agreed to have the wedding at the beginning of last year, when the country‟s economy started to improve. It was a wonderful event. The ceremony was held in the Cathedral of Nueva Sevilla with a huge reception afterwards. I managed to talk my way out of acting as a bridesmaid, but Lupita and three other disabled women did attend the bride. Maria looked absolutely lovely in a white satin strapless crinoline dress and it didn‟t spoil the effect in any way that she showed only her tiny stumps instead of arms. The bridesmaids were in pale blue dresses. Lupita, the only one with two arms walked on her peg leg, Lucrecia had no left arm and Juana and Julieta were both armless. All five of the girls wore large corsages of fresh flowers instead of hand held bouquets. When it was time for throwing the bouquet to the guests, Maria tossed her corsage with her teeth. Of course I had a very special outfit for the event, a dress of pink silk which ended at my wheelchair seat and had neither sleeves nor armholes. Even Paulina, not normally one to dress up, was nicely dressed and made up. Word got around the city in spite of the couple trying to avoid publicity, and there were many spectators outside the Cathedral to catch a glimpse of the proceedings. Now she is a proud mother of a little baby girl of six months old, and she chose to call her Luisa, the name of her murdered mother. They visit me often and it fascinates me to watch her caring for Luisa with her feet and teeth.

Epilogue Well, reader, I‟m arriving at the end of my story. But not the end of my life. I‟m forty years old now. So I can say that I‟m about on the middle of my life. So what‟s the need to write my memoirs so early? Well, I think that I have lived the more intense years of my life and from now on I won‟t have so much material to write. But I know my disease is not a killer and now I have lost all my limbs I am less likely to have any more attacks so maybe when I‟m eighty years old I could write the second part. I‟m the president of Andinia, and the most famous politician of the world. And not only because I‟m a quadruple amputee, but because I managed to make Andinia the most powerful economy of Latin America with the biggest per capita annual income. This was recognised throughout the whole of Latin America last month when the presidents of most of the countries in the continent came to Andinia to attend a conference I hosted to advise them how they could revitalise their economies as we have done. I was quite proud to be able to show them the new found prosperity of our country and to symbolise that I wore expensive jewellery with designer dresses to which was pinned the new insignia of the presidency which I commissioned to replace the green and white ribbon. Yes. I know what you‟re thinking, that I‟m being extravagant and showing off, but I wasn‟t really. The jewels already belonged to the national treasury, to be used by previous presidents‟ wives, and the dresses were bought out of my own money. But this was an occasion that demanded that I look my very best. The powered wheelchair didn‟t

appear. I didn‟t like to be seen manoeuvring the control with my chin so I went back to my unpowered chair and Paulina to push. And that‟s how it‟s stayed, the power chair isn‟t used very much. Next year, 2003 will be election year, and I‟m confident I will be re-elected for the next four-year term. And in 2007 I‟ll have to give up being the president. The Constitution says that a president can be elected for one more period and the he cannot ever be the president till the end of his life. And I won‟t disobey. I‟m still having my weekly encounters with Pancho, well, Commandant of the Army Lieutenant General Francisco Martínez. Could anyone who knows Latin American political history of the last thirty years imagine that the president and the commandant of the army are passionate lovers? I can now make our relationship public, we are both so popular that nobody would bother if we are in love, we make a very happy „royal‟ couple here. But we cannot think about marriage, at least until my second presidency period ends. Then both of us will be free to go on with our lives without national responsibilities. So then we can think about marriage. And about having children? Well, I know that deep in his heart Pancho wants to be a father. But I will be fortyfive years old then, not very suitable to starting a pregnancy. And I don‟t think I could do a good job in raising kids with my limbless body, even if I know that Josefina had two beautiful daughters and she could manage to raise them successfully. Maybe we could adopt a child, I don‟t know, I am aware that judges who grant adoptions in Andinia, among other requirements request that both parents must be in good health, and I cannot say that about me, but given my background… Paulina is still with me, and she‟ll be with me until the end of her days, I think. That‟s a question that is starting to bother me a little, because in time she won‟t have the strength needed to take care of a quadruple amputee, but I don‟t want to hire another person, she is my life. I know that Pancho will be as helpful as her and he‟ll do it with pleasure, but is not fair that he would have to be at my service every minute, even if he would be retired at that time. Well, although I‟m a total prisoner within my own body, I am the most powerful person in the most efficiently run country in the South American continent, so I don‟t think I have any more mountains to climb. I cannot become less able than I am, I cannot lose more than I have already lost and I have a life of absolute helplessness before me. So this is a good place to end my story. The End


								
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