The Surreal Killer

The Surreal Killer
Machu Picchu. Peru

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Iranian Connection

The Uruguayan economy, as was the Argentine, was mainly based on beef, leather, and dairy products for almost two centuries.  Before commercial scale freezing and shipping of beef and beef by-products after World War II created competition from Australia and New Zealand, corned beef, canned beef, dried beef, and leather goods from Uruguay were shipped to Europe, and exported beef products were the source of enough wealth that the Uruguayans had one of the highest per capita incomes in the entire world.   They used this money to build a functional economy that featured free universal health care, free education through college and post-graduate (law, medicine, etc.) professional training for all who wanted it, and a more than adequate system of Social Security for the elderly.

Post-World War II Europe needed meat it couldn't produce in war-ravaged countries, and imported it in large amounts from the USA and South America.  But with competition from many other countries that had cheap land for ranching and with European farm recovery, the bottom fell out of the beef export market for Uruguay, and they became a poor country within a single generation.  They suddenly had a very high cost of living due to large Social Security (for the elderly and disabled) and free universal healthcare systems for an aging population.  Only now are they beginning to recover economically from their former total dependence on the beef industry, and they still are dependent on high quality free range-grown beef as an export item. 

When I lived in Montevideo for my first time in 1982, among other things I learned was that almost all of the beef that wasn’t made into leather, steaks, chops, sausages, or organs for eating in the parrillada compleada, or exported to Brazil and Chile as premium beef, was ground into a “beef flour”, which was freeze-dried and shipped off in 55-gallon drums as a high protein supplement for use as an additive in processed foods.  The largest trading partner for the dried beef byproducts was Iran, who paid for the huge quantities of beef flour with crude oil, shipped by tanker to Montevideo where it was refined into gasoline and diesel fuel to fill most of Uruguay’s needs.

While I was working out the plot for my newest novella, “The Body in the Bed”, I envisioned the key scene where Roger and Suzanne find the body in the bed from the very beginning of the thought process.  Somebody actually had suggested renaming Suzanne "Jinx", in honor of all of the bodies she has found in Chapter 1 of these books.  Early on I had to decide on which of the characters from my previous novels that I had assembled in Montevideo for the murder was going to be most involved with Roger and Suzanne in solving the mystery.  In large measure, that required figuring out who was going to be the central character of the plot in the novel and why that particular individual was involved.  One of my options was to find a motive that involved a conspiracy with political implications.  I remembered beef flour and the Iranian connection and wondered if that could be something to use as a key plot element.

I decided to do some research on what had happened to the Uruguay-Iran trade partnership during the intervening 30 years since my first visit there, especially in light of the U.S.-backed sanctions against trade with Iran.  What I found in my research, only slightly augmented by my imagination, serves as the basis for the plot in this new novella.  A surprising amount of what Roger, Suzanne, and their friends uncover while they try to solve the murder that gives rise to the book’s title is taken from contemporary news media rather than from my imagination.  I hope the mixture of fact and fiction in "The Body in the Bed" gives value added to the readers of this novella. 

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