The Undress EventbyFrancine-frcxa©
It was not the first time Barbara Waleski had been in Latin America, for she had often represented her company in parts of the region; but it was the first time she had been with such a large group. Barbara was Vice President for Development for her company, in the business of producing and marketing certain types of pharmaceuticals and biochemicals, and she was here with four associates attending a trade fair set up by the local government. Barbara was both the senior member of her delegation, and the only woman. With her were two engineers, a legal advisor, and a representative of the Finance Department.
However, these five were among over three hundred representatives of firms, mostly North American and European, in attendance. The objects of the fair were twofold; it was an opportunity for foreign companies to display their wares and make local contacts, but also a chance for the local Ministry of Industrial Development, which sponsored the fair, to attract foreign companies into the country. The area had many advantages, which the government wished to show off to foreign organizations in its effort to attract international investment.
Although the only woman in her own delegation, Barbara found plenty of female company at the conference. Other firms had also sent women among the delegations, and some of the larger groups had brought secretaries and hostesses to staff exhibits. Many of the attendees also had brought family members along to enjoy the sights.
As is usual in such events, the fair made use of a exhibition hall in the center of the large city which served as the country's capital, and most of the attendees were quartered in the numerous luxury hotels nearby. The host government had been generous in providing hospitality to the foreigners attending, and lost no opportunity to display the opportunities which existed within its population.
Barbara had been five days at the fair, and had about had her fill of cocktail parties and speeches by local dignitaries. At lunch she shared her thoughts with Ralph DeMaurice, her legal advisor.
"Ralph, are you getting much from all this talk? I came here to do a marketing job, and meeting with the local buyers and consumers is useful, but I've had it up to here with the political hard sell we're getting. Do you think these bureaucrats really have anything worth listening to? Personally, I'm about ready to pack up and get back home - you know I'm a new grandmother, and this isn't the best time for me to be away!"
"Barb, maybe your grand motherly instincts are getting in way of your hearing. They're not really wanting us to come into this city and set up sales outlets or production facilities, though it sounds like that. Now, I know you're a marketer, and you look at sales opportunities. What they want to do is sell to us - they want to get foreign capital to build manufacturing plants here, preferably light industry, like, say, ours. But they don't want any more building in the capital. That's why you here some much about the 'Terranovas' "
"And have you figured out what these Terranovas are? I've heard the word, but my time has been with the buyers, or ones we think might be buyers. They don't seem to have much to say about it."
At that point, Mark Atwood, who represented an electronics firm, approached the table. "This seat vacant? May I join you?"
"Of course," Barbara replied, her best sales style showing. Mark seated himself.
"Mark, Barb and I have been talking about the Terranovas - you sat in on the seminar about some of them yesterday. Maybe you could explain the concept to Barbara."
"The Terranovas? Well, I'll try. Terranova, of course, is just a way of saying new ground - and that's basically what they are. By the way, are you set up for the tours to any of them Friday?"
Barbara smiled. "Of course. I wasn't sure what the concept was, but I saw the sign up forms for the tours, and naturally our good friend the Minister is paying for them. I've had enough of this city, and so I picked the one that looked like it was the farthest away - that's Terranova Five. I figured it would give me a good chance to see the countryside at someone else's expense!"
She laughed a bit at her reasoning. Mark continued. "You'll find it's a sales pitch. As you have seen this city is awash in people - they keep coming in from the countryside, and all the facilities are overtaxed. There's not enough housing, or water, or telephone lines, or really anything. But out in the countryside, there's a lot of land and not much of it is crowded, because the people, especially the young ones, are gravitating to the city."
"To get jobs, and better pay - as they do in so many countries around this old earth," Ralph observed.
Mark went on. "The government has come up with the idea of creating small industrial centers - something like industrial parks - near a number of the outlying towns and villages. They have selected a number of sites, not in the little towns, but near them, and they have called them Terranovas. I suppose each will eventually get a name, but right now they just go by numbers. Nothing is really built there just yet, but they are hoping."
Barbara was listening with care. "Hoping for some company like us to decide to stick a factory out there and pay for it, then hire the local people to staff it?"
"Exactly," Mark continued. "My company has at least a little interest. The idea is that if small factories are set up at these sites, the workers will not come primarily from the little towns, but will come from the capital and will decide to move back out to these areas to get better employment and probably cleaner air and somewhat more spacious living. Many of the little towns have lots of vacant houses, or land where houses could be built, because people have been moving out of the little communities. To get foreign companies to build these plants, the government is offering incentives - tax relief, relaxation of labor laws, and even some help with financing. It may not be a bad thing to look at."
Ralph interjected, "But - and I heard it's a big but - this hasn't been given a lot of publicity in the country. It's mostly being promoted among foreigners. What I heard is that there is political opposition. What did you hear?"
"Someone mentioned that, but not the Minister or any of his bureaucrats. There does not seem to be any real opposition in the government, or in the city here. These people seem to be all for it. Now, I would think most of the people in the small towns affected would be for it, too; because, if it happens, it will bring a lot of money and jobs into their communities."
"Then who opposes it - other than ones like us, who would wind up footing the bill if we decide to participate?" Barbara asked.
"It seems that there are some in the rural areas, the small towns, who really don't like the idea of bringing people from the city back into their towns. They've sort of said 'good riddance' to many of them when they left, and won't welcome them back. Some of these people just like the small town way of life, and the see the Terranova plan as bringing them an influx of strangers, a lot of congestion, and, in short, big city problems."
"Is the opposition active, then? I heard there were some demonstrations," Ralph asked.
"Not violent ones, as far as I know. This country is pretty stable. But there apparently have been some protest marches, people sticking up signs, things like that. I really don't think it's much to be concerned about at this point."
"Anyway," Barbara observed, "we will see that Friday when we go on the tours. Since I'm going to Terranova Five, I was told it will be an all day trip, from morning to late evening. I'm not sure I'm sold on buying into the Terranovas, but I plan to enjoy the chance to get out of the city and see the countryside, as long as I have to be here anyway!"
"Going to the banquet Thursday night, Barb?" Ralph inquired, then added thoughtfully, "Free, you know. Courtesy of the Ministry."
"Wouldn't miss it. Right price. And Ralph, don't you dare try to put it on your expense account!" Barbara pointed a threatening finger as she laughed a bit.
The banquet indeed ran late, and it was nearly midnight when Barbara got back to her room. She noted that the tours on Friday were to leave early, hers at seven thirty. The night would be short, she noted. She laid out her clothes for the tour, glad to be able to dress casually for once, instead of having to present the proper image of corporate dignity.
Friday morning saw crowds of delegates milling around waiting for the tour buses to visit the Terranovas. She noted only forty people had signed up for her tour, to the most distant location. The shorter trips were obviously more popular, some requiring more than one bus to accommodate those who had signed up.
She found the bus designated for Terranova Five. A few people were standing around it, and others came in. Barbara recognized one woman she had encountered briefly before, and went over to her. "Hi - I'm Barbara Waleski - I think we met in the seminar on Tuesday? Do help me recall your name."
"Nora - Nora Concannon. Yes, we did meet. I have my secretary with me, here somewhere; oh, there she is! Evelyn, I want you to meet Barbara - she sells chemicals or some such!"
The women exchanged greetings, as the bus began to board.
Although forty persons had signed up, only 37 actually boarded - 32 men, and 5 women. There was also a driver and a representative of the Industrial Ministry, both men. Barbara noted the gender difference. "Well, ladies, it looks like we're in the minority - as usual. We're outnumbered about six to one!"
"Seems fair," Nora observed confidently.
Once aboard, they were treated to a rather thorough and prolonged briefing by their tour guide, who turned out to be a long winded minor bureaucrat named Antonio Gonzalez. He was at once humorous, cheerful, loud, and never at a loss for words. He mentioned a few sites of interest in the city, as they passed, but devoted most of his extensive discourse to the need to move people out of the city to the countryside and how the Terranova plan would address it.
Barbara was the only one from her company on this bus, and she really hadn't planned to do any heavy research on what they were to shown. However, she might be asked about the plan, so she felt it prudent to get out her notebook and record a few notes about what was said. She rather quickly lost interest, however, when the bus reached the limits of the city and set off on a rural road.
"Ah, fresh air" she noted to Nora, sitting beside her. "About time after all that pollution we've been living in!"
"Get used to it - we have almost two hundred kilometers to go to get to the Terranova Five site!"
"Good. I like the country - but this is the best part of it I've seen!"
Like two tourists they focused more on the sights outside, only occasionally mentioned by Tony, as he asked them to call him, than on his continued emphasis on Terranova. However, as Nora observed, "They're paying for this, so I suppose they have a right to talk about whatever they want!"
The bus did make a couple of short stops at sites of some touristic interest, but not for long; as the guide and driver seemed intent on getting them to their destination with minimum delay.
The route passed through hill country, covered with fairly lush tropical or subtropical vegetation, according to the altitude. There were a number of small farms and a few villages, but for the most part their route lay through a thinly populated rural region.
After about three hours of driving, they approached a village they guessed was about ten kilometers from their destination. Tony had explained that the site of Terranova Five lay not far from the town of Nuevo Campinas, which they would visit after seeing the site. This little village ahead was not the town they had expected to approach, but the bus suddenly came to a halt in the middle of the road.
"What is this for? There seems to be some obstruction in front of us," Barbara noted, trying to see ahead of the bus. Several passengers craned their necks trying to see what was in front of them. Their guide, never before at a loss for words, left the bus with the driver.
Through the windows, they could see a number of men, apparently somewhat agitated, moving about. Several walked around the bus, looking up into the windows. Voices were heard, now quite noisy and seemingly disturbed about something.
Clark, a man sitting across from Barbara, turned to her. "I think we have a problem. These fellows don't seem to want to let us through, and they are taking our driver and Tony away to some building."
"Are they police?" someone asked.
"No, there are no uniforms. I don't know who they are!" one of the passengers replied.
All of them waited. A man near the back called out, "Can't we get out, if there's a delay? Some of us need a bathroom stop - we haven't had one since the hotel!"
"Better stay on the bus," came a reply.
Nora turned quietly to Barbara. "That guy who wanted a bathroom stop could have been me! I sure could use one!"
Overhearing, Clark admonished them, "Better stay with it for now. I am not sure what's happening!"
They had not long to wait. A man dressed in very casual attire, but speaking fairly good English, climbed on the bus and called for the attention of the passengers.
"Friends - we welcome you to Nuevo Campinas, which is where you are going to be for a while. Your driver will be replaced by a new driver. I am Miguel Mortinas, representing the People's Committee of Nuevo Campinas. You can call me Mike." He smiled at the anglicized version of his name.
"My friends and I will take you into the town of Nuevo Campinas, which is about fifteen kilometers away. You will not be going to what the government has called Terranova, as the People's Committee does not recognize the government's plan, which would disrupt our town and our way of life. You must understand that we bear no ill will to you, as you are guests in our country; but we must show our government that the Terranovas must not be built. Unfortunately, you were sent here by the government ministry that is planning the Terranovas, and your companies are those which might come into our area to build factories we do not want. We must impress you, your companies, and especially our government, that their ideas are unacceptable to the people of this area. I regret very much that we must use you to show our disapproval, but that is what we must do to preserve our way of life. We are a peaceful people, and our actions are peaceful, but you must understand they are necessary and we are determined."
He stopped for a moment, apparently for emphasis. Meanwhile, two other men had climbed aboard the bus, and one took the drivers seat.
"We mean you no harm, but you must stay with us for a time. If you do what we ask of you, you will be able to return later. We do not intend to harm you, but, I must point out, we are determined and we are many. Some of my men are armed, but we are not trying to scare you with weapons. Instead, we want you to come to a party in our town! We insist you must come - you will be the biggest part of our celebrations! But, please, we mean no personal ill will to you. So please cooperate with us and all will be well!"
The passengers turned to each other. "Looks like we're being hijacked," one noted.
Al, sitting near the front, turned to those behind, saying "You got the message about their weapons, didn't you? I think it's best to cooperate. We're way the heck out in the hills!"
"Who's going to help us?"
Another man was more thoughtful. "We're going to be missed - the police, and if need be, the army, will be coming for us. We don't need to make any trouble ourselves. They just want to make a protest and get a lot of publicity, and this will probably do it. Play along with them - they've no reason to hurt us!"
Barbara looked at Nora. "I don't like this, but it does liven up the day. But, we might as well make the best of it. They're not going to miss us back sat the hotel until late tonight - maybe not until tomorrow!"
Nora was a bit more pessimistic. "I wish I could feel good about it. But I don't. And I still need a bathroom."
Miguel, or Mike, smiled at them, but continued to explain firmly that their cooperation was needed; and he insisted that if it was, things would be peaceful. He left unsaid what would be the consequences if they were uncooperative.
The bus continued along the road for perhaps half an hour. They came into the town of Nuevo Campinas, and the passengers could see townspeople out in the streets looking at them. Their arrival was not unplanned. Something was going to happen.
The bus came to a halt outside a building which apparently served as a market. It was a large, open-sided structure with an assortment of tables under the roof. It was largely empty, but in front of it barricades had been set up, and a number of men, and a few women, were placed around them.
The door opened. Miguel told the passengers, "OK - everybody out; go over by the tables. Leave all your things on the bus. You will not need anything!"
The passengers, all thirty seven, filed out of the bus, and headed for the designated area. More and more people came, forming a cordon around the barricaded area.
They were allowed to carry nothing with them. A woman who tried to take her purse was instructed to leave it on the bus.
After the passengers were assembled under the roof, Miguel stood in front of them and addressed them.
"We want you to know we are not thieves - we intend to keep nothing of your belongings. What you have left on the bus will be taken back to the city with it - but all in time. Your driver and the government man will not be harmed either - they will be taken back to the city, too. Now, if you continue to cooperate, you, too, will go back to the city - but not for awhile. We need you to be part of our little party, here. Now we must get you ready for our party and our parade!"
He hesitated a moment for emphasis. Then he gave a loud command.
"Strip. All of you. Take your clothes off - put them on the tables! They will not be stolen, we will put them on the bus and send them back with it. But for our party, you no longer need them! Now - everything comes off! Men must strip naked - but as for the ladies, we are courteous to the ladies - they may keep on their shoes and underwear. Now - please start!"
He was firm. The group exchanged glances. There were grumbles and shrugs, but the obvious consensus was to comply. There seemed to be no alternative.
Clark looked to Barbara, standing near him. "At least you get to keep your underwear! Let's be thankful for small blessings. Well, ladies, I never planned to do this in front of you, but--." With a resigned look he began to take off his shoes. Other men had started to remove their footwear and shirts. Those with jackets were taking them off.
Three of the five women collected together slowly. None of them had started to remove anything so far; they just looked at each other. Two other women were scattered among the men in the group.
"Well, girls" one woman announced, "we'd better get started before they change the rules. At least we're allowed shoes and underwear!"
Barbara slipped off her jacket, then started to unbutton her shirt. "I feel sorry for the men - they didn't get any kind of break! They lose everything!"
"We'll get it back - they said so," observed Nora, rather cynically.
"Do I detect skepticism there? Here, I'm Grace Collins - I'd rather say hello now than have to meet you in my underwear later!"
"What counts as underwear?" asked Evelyn, not one of the first three, but coming over to join them.