Saturday, December 12, 2009

Deadly New Years in Guadalajara

Juan woke up in the middle of the night. His stomach hurt. He had drank countless times before but this time he felt strange. "Man, I need to stop drinking" he thought as many of us have thought when a horrible hangover assaults us.He remembered the previous night's New Years party where he and friends had consumed bottle after bottle of tequila. He went back to sleep.

He awoke again almost at dawn. His stomach hurt even more. Now it burned horribly and when he got up he vomited. He couldnt see straight. He awoke his wife "Vieja, something is wrong, please take me to the clinic".

His wife rushed Juan to Guadalajara's Number 6 Clinic in the Polanco neighborhood. Upon reaching the clinic, he collapsed on the tile floor. Juan was dead.

Juan's mysterious stomachaches were not the only ones reported at Clinic Number 6 that New Years morning. 5 more people had been there before Juan, and after Juans death, 10 more people came in, complaning of burning, vomiting and horrible stomach cramps. 4 of them died.

That New Years Day morning in 1968, the city of Guadalajara's hospitals and clinics in the southern neighborhoods had dozens of people reporting the symptoms, which pointed to mass poisoning. The first cases, were of people staggering blindly into police stations or talking incoherently. They were tossed into the drunk tanks, where later they were found to be dead.

More and more people would die on January 1st and 2nd. Dozens were hospitalized the first week of January as city and state authorities scrambled to find the source of the mass poisoning.

Upon investigating they concluded that all the persons affected had one thing in common. They had all consumed cheap homemade tequila. Unbeknown to Guadalajara city authorities, more cases of poisoning were being reported throughout villages and towns in Jalisco, Michoacan and Guanajuato states. The death toll mounted. 40 persons were now dead by the end of the first week of January 1968.

Authorities soon found out most of the victims had purchased bottles of homemade hooch at the small neighborhood store Tendejon La Rosita, in the Polanco neighborhood. The owner was questioned and he told authorities that the vendor of the poison tequila was a man from the country whose name he could not remember.

City authorities quickly raced throughout the city streets using loudspeakers and bullhorns and warning residents to not drink any tequila purchased from La Rosita.

The man was found and arrested and charged with negligence and homicide and illegally brewing tequila, a major crime in Jalisco state, home of the Tequila liquor, which manufacture and distribution is heavily regulated by the Tequila Regulatory Commision.

The man, an illiterate peasant told police he had made the hooch in a still at his home using cans he had found at the city dump, which he assured, he had washed and cleaned thouroughly.

Unknown to the man, one of the discarded barrels he had used to make the moonshine, had been used in a factory to store a highly poisonous and corrosive industrial chemical, which then mixed with the booze. To make matters worse he added deadly methyl alcohol to give his brew a special "kick". The consequences were fatal.

The man, who cried and lamented the horror and death he had caused by wanting to earn a few pesos during the holidays was sentenced to several years in prison.

His fate after that is unknown. But the memories of Guadalajara's painful and deadly New Year celebrations of 1968 are still remembered by those who lived through them.

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