Stories Like This are Worth Reading Twice

Mounted on his red motorcycle, protected by a black helmet and sunglasses, corporal Hugo Gonzales takes to the streets and avenues of Santa Cruz each day as a traffic officer, convinced he should work with respect and integrity.

"People think police officers are harsh and mean and that we don't feel anything, but under this uniform there are people with hearts and feelings," said Gonzales, who won the public's respect this week when he rejected a Bs. 500 bribe offered to him by a lawbreaker who had covered his vehicle's windows with black screens. Rather than accepting the bribe, the officer detained the driver.

Born on 25 December 1971 in San José de Chiquitos, he became an orphan immediately as his mother died during childbirth. "I've never even seen a photo of my mother, I only know about her through stories and my father didn't raise me, that should be made clear," he said slowly.

After having been cared for by a nun in a San José convent, he was taken to the Santa Clara orphanage in the same town, at six months of age, which is one of the Padre Alfredo group of orphanages.

There he was reared along with 16 other children over the next seven years by Socia Ortiz, the foster mother who cared for him. He remembers that she fed them, took care of them and supervised them while they did their homework. He says Socia was an energetic woman and everyone obeyed her rules. The children took turns cleaning the bathroom, or washing the dishes, and everything functioned in an orderly manner.

Days at Socia's house were complemented with visits from Father Alfredo Spiessberger, founder of the orphanages that bear his name.

"He was young. He gave each of the children a tight handshake, smiled and was funny. He played with us and we liked to get up on his lap and stroke his beard. We were happy when he came to the house," remembers Gonzales with a broken voice. "Each day I try to do the things Padre Alfredo taught us and I do everything I can not to fail him because I want him to be proud of me."

In the 1980's the members of the Casa Santa Clara were transferred to Santa Cruz and when Hugo was in eleventh grade he decided to drop out of school to enlist in the military. He did this without telling anyone at the orphanage and they, after looking for him desperately, finally gave him up for lost. He did his military service in Roboré. He still shivers when he speaks of the whippings he received that split open his legs and buttocks when he left the barracks one day to clean a clay oven at someone's house so he could earn a few pesos.

"I returned to the orphanage with my military registration card under my arm and showed it to Father Alfredo".

For over three months he stood in line at the door of the Police Command center in Santa Cruz until finally, on 17 February 1992 he was admitted to the institution under a reenlistment modality that allows those who have taken military training to become police officers. His first destination was the Palmasola prison. "I do my work respecting people, even if they are the worst delinquents," he explained.

In his 18-year career, the most difficult case he covered was that of the Jessika Borda murder (daughter of a former U.S. consular agent in Santa Cruz) and the capture of her assassins in 2003. He also remembers the shoot-out in which police officers and a band of gas station and bank assailants were involved, in 2004.

"What we have to do is fully comply with all procedures," he sustains, and acknowledges that his work is dangerous and he has seen several fellow officers die.

Hugo Gonzales has been married for 16 years to Verónica Mamani, who is also an orphan. They have five children. She is a vendor and sells homemade bread. They live in a house funded by the Padre Alfredo Foundation and they've fully paid it off. Hugo prayed every day and thanks God, as he was taught to do as a child. He visits Padre Alfredo as often as he can.

This is a translation: Read this Article in Spanish here.

Source: El Deber
Date: 24 October 2010

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