July 25, 2008

The legend of Los Pumas

pumaMountain lion, cougar, or puma
Photo: Wikipedia

I'm going to tell you a legend that has been going around La Ceiba for many, many years, long before I came here. El Jefe believes that the legend is true and has a friend who knows Los Pumas, so I believe it, too.

Los Pumas were four friends who were formerly Honduran police officers. Whether they left the police force because of the corruption, the pay, or the frustration with constantly seeing criminals go free, I do not know.

The friends decided in a vigilante fashion ('vigilante' being used here in the English language sense, not the Spanish sense of a guard) that they were going to do something about crime, at least some crime, or at least some criminals. They called themselves Los Pumas.

The former police officers became, well, sicarios (paid assassins, contract killers), but killers for the good, if there can be such a thing. I suppose there cannot be such a thing as 'good killers', but I'll have to admit that I do begin to get a different attitude when I see how the justice system works in Honduras. Many Ceibeños believe that they are good, kind men. Those who know them say that if you don't know what they do, you would never, ever guess.

Allegedly, if someone has done some injustice to you and gotten away with it in the legal system, you can go to Los Pumas and pay them to get your justice for you. That is a little worrisome if the bad guy should get there first and tell a different story. Sorry, I don't know the current rates.

A woman who El Jefe knows related this story: The woman runs a small pulpería (corner store) in her home. One day, her husband, an ex-police officer also, was on the roof making some repairs. Mareros (gang members) came in, pointed guns at the woman, and robbed her. The police investigated and captured the suspects (a rare occurrence) and the wife identified them as the robbers.

The husband knew how poorly the justice system works and knew that before long they would commit more crimes. He also feared reprisal against his wife when (not if) the criminals were let free by the courts. He told the police that he would not file the denuncia (official complaint needed for prosecution). He said to let them go.

At this point in the story, I was wide-eyed, mouth gaping open, saying, "WHY would he tell the police to let the criminals go?!"

But the police understood. They released the mareros. A couple of weeks later, these same men were murdered and their bodies were disposed in the river. Their killers were never found.

Los Pumas also do pro bono work. It is said by some that they sometimes work with the police by doing their own investigations and doling out their own justice. Los Pumas despise mareros.

Las Mercedes, up at the top of a very high hill, is one of the most, dangerous, gang-ridden areas in La Ceiba. Taxis won't go there. Rarely will police go there unless they are going in full force. (I've been there.) The mareros don't allow the good people who live there to move away, as they realize that the decent people are the only reason that the police don't just come and blast the whole colonia away. How do they stop people from moving away? They tell them that they will kill their whole family if they do.

La Suyapa is an adjoining colonia. Because the gang members often came to La Suyapa to rob and terrorize the inhabitants, people were afraid to walk at night or even leave their homes day or night. Los Pumas were consulted. One by one those mareros were eliminated until the rest of them learned to leave La Suyapa alone. Now people walk freely in their neighborhood as they used to do.

One of the Pumas was murdered. Now there are only three. The story goes that another group of men once claimed to be Los Pumas for a time. There is only one Los Pumas group. The imitators were eradicated.

In another neighborhood (or possibly the same, I'm not sure), a Miskito man had been and was continuing to rob a lot of the houses. People complained to Los Pumas. Shortly after that, they were told that there would be no more robberies and that they would read in the newspaper about a body dumped into the river. They had no more robberies and a body was reported to by found in the river the following day.

So, readers, what do you think? Real or fiction?

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