Spoiler alert! - Read Chapter 4
Armando Lobos was a businessman who had built his career on the cronyism of the one party system that had held Mexico in political monopoly for seven decades. But the old power structure was fading and now it was a precarious prospect to assume one’s business interests could be kept preserved with the help of corrupt politicians feeding on inflated public works contracts where everyone took a cut to deliver a substandard product to the public. In spite of skimming the cream on government contracts, Armando had prided himself on doing good work and completing his projects, even if they were costly to the taxpayer. Moderation, even in corruption, was a good thing and the reason he had survived his competitors. As a general rule Armando never involved himself directly in politics. Granted all human interaction was politics, but participation in the public kind meant the loss of one’s identity and dignity. At most, he would stay loyal to the party, regardless of what political heads rolled, while pursuing business as usual.
The reason the system worked was that for many decades it had been a national policy to give everyone, except the poor, a cut. In a government monopoly that was easy enough; it meant greasing the hands of those who made decisions and forgetting everyone else, but now the landscape had changed. For the last decade since the ruling party lost the presidency, along with many regional governorships and mayorships, Mexico was discovering political competition; the cost of doing business had gone up since one had to back several horses, unsure of which would win the race. One had to contend with upstart community leaders and NGOs, and modern multimedia where an offhand comment, unflattering photo, or incriminating video could be posted for the world to see in real time. And if the documentation was dubious, selective editing could supply the smoking gun to ruin one’s reputation and career. Furthermore, one had to deal with foreign competitors who could now make a deal without going through a government monopoly, or who could simply underbid a contract by capitalizing on lower labor costs and an inferior but cheaper product. In such an environment one had to take certain precautions to survive, principle of which was the need to protect one’s privacy. While marketing could create a good brand image, the dirty work of business was best done behind closed doors, by proxy and in anonymity.
Though he was aging, Armando was as macho as they came and not about to go out quietly, retire to his rancho and live off his investments. No, the point of business for him was not the money, it was to win, and in so far as money was important, it was only as a measuring stick of victory. For Armando, what made business interesting was discovering opportunities, developing strategies, and most importantly, negotiating, where one could determine who was a cobarde and who was a chingón.
He owed his business acumen to his upbringing. His family had a rancho and he had learned the business with the intention of taking it over from his father. They sold their produce wholesale in the city and were self-sufficient. The simple life on the rancho was something Armando enjoyed, but he wanted to make real money, so he cultivated marijuana and poppies in the highlands of the Sierra Madre Occidental to supplement his income. Of course, other farmers were doing the same thing, but he took the initiative and bought wholesale from them and, after making some contacts in the United States, contracted others to move the product north. His operation grew, along with competing operations, until some strangers came for a visit and threatened to kill him and his family if he continued. While the local farmers he worked with were happy to make a little money on the side, he had stumbled onto the drug business writ large.