The Unintended Consequences of Meddling

On May 22, Ukranian President Oleksander Turchynov announced that 13 Ukranian soldiers were killed during an attack on a Russian sympathizers base in Slovyansk and nearby Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine in the latest spat of violence in the region. Prior to that, 40 people died in the city of Odessa, most of them caught in a building set on fire by what appeared to be Ukrainian government supporters during running battles in the city.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the US hopes Russia will play a “constructive” role in the upcoming May 25 Ukrainian presidential election, followed by warnings that if Russia or its backers in Ukraine disrupt the voting “the US and the EU will impose heavier economic sanctions” aimed at the vulnerabilities in Russia’s business, banking, mining, energy, defense and other sectors. Ignoring the warnings, pro-Russia militants held a referendum in 2 eastern Ukraine regions and based on the results declared both regions “independent” on May 10; of course, Kiev dismissed the referendum as a “sham”.

The underlying message conveyed to Moscow by both the the US and the EU is one of “not meddling” in Ukrainian affairs; unfortunately, it has the hollow sound of a counterfeit coin, considering the heavy handed western meddling that took place and that actually served to trigger the unrest plaguing the region. The EU encouraged the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych, the elected Ukrainian president, because he declined to advance the European Union’s interests when he turned down an assistance package that included drastic economic austerity programs, which would have resulted in higher natural gas prices, a move sure to be highly unpopular; added to that, legislative reforms that infringed upon Ukraine’s sovereignty. Little wonder that when Putin stepped in with a slightly better assistance package, one that did not include the EU’s conditions, Yanukovych accepted. The riots and unrest that ensued, centered in Kiev and the western Ukraine, drove Yanukovych from power, something that could have been accomplished in the May 25 Presidential elections and would have resulted in an orderly transfer of governments; instead, the transfer came about as a result of a coup.

The US had a very visible part in the coup. In December 2013, US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland visited Independence Square in Kiev, talked to the demonstrators assembled there and even helped distribute food to the protesters, which included Ukrainian ultra nationalists, neo-Nazis and virulent anti Semites.

The result of all this meddling has been to deepen the existing divide between Western and Eastern Ukraine and lead to serious confrontations between the newly elected pro western government and the pro Russian Eastern Ukraine and between the Ukrainian and Russian armed forces; such confrontations can easily get out of hand and lead to a Russian-Ukrainian war, one which Ukraine has no chance of winning. Neither the EU or NATO are in position to aid Ukraine, not when confronted by a nuclear armed Russia.

Vladimir Putin has managed to drive a wedge between the US and its EU allies over sanctions to Russia. Germany and France have stayed away from sanctions, which is not surprising, considering Western Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas. Putin maintains amicable relations with Chancellor Merkel and France announced that she is going ahead with a $1.2 billion contract to sell warships to Russia.

In a recent letter to European leaders, Vladimir Putin stated that since Ukraine’s debt to Russia for natural gas supplies has reached $3.5 billion and because of the former’s refusal to pay Moscow, Russia will switch to pre paid gas deliveries starting June 1. Europe is Russia’s largest trading partner and it does have sway over the Russian economy, but on the other hand European nations are very reluctant to stymie their economies by endangering their Russian energy supplies.

This impasse came to an end on May 21, 2014, when Russia and China signed a $400 billion 30 year deal for Russia to deliver some 1.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas to China, which could replace her primitive, highly polluting coal energy generators. The deal is in its first stages and might present difficulties of its own, but one eventual result could be the blunting of Western Europe’s economic influence in Russia. The deal could also include gas deliveries to South Korea and to energy deficient Japan. It can also result in the economic marginalization of the US, who continues to erect obstacles to the exploitation of its native energy sources, oil, gas and coal. The most ominous part of the deal is that payments will be made in currencies other than dollars.

Policies have consequences. We have meddled in regions in which we have no business meddling, implementing decisions instigated by incompetent individuals, short on knowledge and long in arrogance, who have succeeded only in putting us in untenable positions. Should there be a Russo-Ukrainian war -and it’s a possibility if things get out of control- are we going to intervene? Really? Against a nuclear Russia, in a region in which we have no strategic interests? The Ukrainian army is no match for the Russian army and a Ukrainian defeat would mean the absorption of most of Eastern Ukraine into Russia, the way it was way before the Bolsheviks. And then, what are we going to do? We would emerge weaker, with a damaged economy. Do not forget that Russia holds billions of dollars; what would happen if those dollars are released into the market?

Again, Putin has out maneuvered us. The price of short term policies that ignore the long term consequences have come full term to bite us in the rear end. Again, this is the difference between a former KGB operative and a community organizer.

Legends and Tales of Lost Treasures, Part 1

Few things fire the imagination more than the words “buried treasure” do; men have spent lifetimes and fortunes in the pursuit of what saner individuals call quixotic endeavors; yet, those same sane individuals, when their minds wander into the unguarded twilight zone between fantasy and reality, also drift into dreams of riches, adventure and danger -for there is danger and more than one would-be treasure hunter has met an untimely death.

Whether we admit it or not, there is a part of us that craves the thrill of the unknown and the lure of adventure, partly because for hundreds of thousand of years we were hunters, in constant search of prey; some few thousand years ago, we became sedentary creatures and for the last 100 years or so, our lives have become as predictable as the calendar -and as boring.

The following are stories and legends of buried treasures. From time to time, I will post additional entries as they are brought to my attention by my research staff, which unfortunately consists of only the trinitarian me, myself and I.

Are There 17 Tons of Gold Buried in New Mexico? Leon Trabuco’s Gold

On April 15, 1933 or 1934, a meeting was held in the resort city of Cuernavaca, Mexico, to discuss a plan authored by Professor Guzman Morada, economics counsel of the University of Mexico. Present at the meeting were Leon Trabuco, rancher and large scale miner from Chihuahua, Mexico; Ricardo Artega, wealthy rancher from Torreon, Mexico; Carlos Sepulveda, rancher from Chihuahua and last, but not least, Rafael Borega, international banker for Spain and Mexico. It was he who had called the meeting.

Professor Morada’s plan was simple. Because of his connections in the United States, he was sure that the U.S. was getting ready to set the price of gold at least $10.00 above the then current price of $20.67 per ounce; if the group gathered enough gold in Mexico, transported it across the border and waited until the price rose, they stood to make a handsome profit indeed. He had forecast a price as high as $40 per ounce.

The only hitch was that Mexican laws forbade the exportation of gold and likewise, US laws frowned heavily on gold smuggling, but Professor Morada had designed plans to deal with these difficulties.

Leon Trabuco contributed an estimated 12 tons, some 350,000 troy ounces, combined with Ricardo Artega’s gold. In addition, Artega and Carlos Sepulveda provided millions of pesos, in dollar form, to Rafael Borega to purchase more gold from small Mexican private miners who sold gold for cash and in this manner, they accumulated 5 more tons. The group melted the gold and recast it in ingots.

Trabuco, who had become the leader of the enterprise, and his associates, chose the area near Farmington, New Mexico, in the Four Corners region as far enough from prying eyes and set to work locating a secluded ranch and a landing strip. He contacted a crop dusting pilot from Utah named William C Elliot (in other versions of the story the pilot’s name is given as Red Moiser) Elliot had a Stearman crop duster equipped with a 440 hp engine and extra fuel tanks for long runs. He met Trabuco at a small landing strip near Kirtland, half way between Shiprock City and Farmington and agreed to fly the gold. He could only carry 1,500 lbs at a time and he is said to have made 10 flights, landing on a small airstrip a few miles northwest of the town of Shiprock. The strip was adjacent to the mesa where Trabuco had decided the gold was to be buried. The gold was transfered from the plane onto a pick up truck; according to Elliot, he saw the truck going up a narrow dirt road toward the top of the mesa. In one instance, after takeoff and while circling to gain altitude, he made a pass close to the mesa and saw where the gold was being buried.

Six months after the final flight, the Gold Reserve Act of 1934 became law; the price of gold soared but the group decided to wait hoping it would go higher; instead, FDR’s Executive Order 6102 made the ownership of gold illegal. The group owned 17 tons of dead weight.

One by one the partners died of different causes; Borega died in his Mexico office in 1939, Carlos Sepulveda was killed in a car crash outside of Monterrey in 1940 and Bill Elliot, who had enlisted in the Air Force when the war started, was killed in action over Germany in 1944. At the end, only Trabuco was left.

Up to now, the story contains all the classic elements of lost treasure stories: secretive burials, death of all involved, except one lone survivor and no treasure map; however, this one has unexpected twists. Trabuco tried to sell the gold to private buyers but they were all weary of the Gold Act and would have nothing to do with it. In 1946, the Treasury Department opened an investigation. Trabuco hired an attorney to represent him; the Treasury Dept called in the Justice Dept which made a determination that Trabuco and his partners had violated the Gold Act plus US smuggling laws; however, if he came forward and revealed the hiding place and allowed the US Government to recover the gold, he could then sue for rightful ownership and take his chances in Federal Court. Trabuco, being no fool, declined and did not cross the US border. In 1952, the Justice Department turned the case over to the Federal Grand Jury in Los Angeles.

Trabuco sold his mines and ranches in Chihuahua and departed to Spain. In 1962 he visited Mexico City, called his lawyer in Los Angeles and returned to Spain. Inquiries were made in 1974 by his attorneys in Los Angeles to the US Treasury and Justice Departments; the outcomes were not made public and no more has been heard of him. In 1974 he might have been 86 years old. As far as anyone can tell, the gold is still buried on top of a mesa in New Mexico.

Ed Foster, of Farmington, has spent 35 years of his life searching for Trabuco’s gold in the desert around Farmington. He thinks he has found the landing strip on a plateau called Conger Mesa. He interviewed a Ute lady who, as a child, had seen planes landing many times and another who remembered seeing several Mexican men living in the reservation when she was six years old.

20 miles west of the mesa stands a Mexican style house, with windows, a front door and a back door. Ed also found a stone outcropping with some words etched on it, reading “1933 16 ton”. He calls it Shrine Rock and is sure that the gold is buried somewhere within the triangle formed by Conger Mesa, Shrine Rock and the Mexican style house. The problem is that 16 or 17 tons of gold (the amount varies) do not take up much space. In ingot form, 17 tons only occupy some 29 cubic feet.

The only statement that anyone can remember Trabuco making was “The gold is only a few miles from a major New Mexico land mark”

References:

W. C. Jameson “The Silver Madonna and other Tales of America’s Greatest Treasures” Taylor Trade Publishing, Copyright 2003 by W.C. Jameson

W.C. Jameson “New Mexico Treasure Tales” Caxton Press, Coldwell, Idaho, 2003

Ken Hudnall “Spirits of the Border: The History and Mystery of New Mexico” Omega Press, 2005

The Four Corners Story” History and Research

If nothing else, the above mentioned sources make great reading.