La Retirada, Part Three

Rocío Gómez + family

 

With Carlos’ enemies enraged, the Gómez family is forced into hiding with the Witness Security Program, or WITSEC. But making a clean break from the past is a lot harder than they expected.

Playlist
(in order of appearance)
Bremen – Static Interferences – Second Launch
Kreidler – Deadwringer – Den
Artist Unknown – Omnisphere – Album Unknown
Cluster – Lerandis – Qua
Loscil – Sea Island Murders – Sea Island
The Breathing Effect – Twenty Years Altogether – Mars is a Very Bad Place for Love
Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel – Thread (feat. Andrew Weathers) – Collaborations
Michele Mercure – Dream Clock – Eye Chant
Sylvain Chauveau – Nijushichi
Banabila – Rain Painting (Original) – Travelog
1 Mile North – New Clock – Glass Wars
Popol Vuh – Why Do I Still Sleep – Agape-Agape
Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel – Thread (feat. Andrew Weathers) – Collaborations
Hauschka – Girls – Salon des Amateurs
Savath & Savalas – Rolls And Waves Of Acknowledgement – Rolls & Waves EP
Raime – Told And Collapsed – Hennail
MGR – V – Album Unknown
Aphex Twin – Gwarek2 – Drukqs
Félicia Atkinson – The Book Is The Territory – A Readymade Ceremony
Bremen – Hollow Wave – Second Launch
Lumberton – Rafael Anton Irisarri – Daydreaming
Joshua Abrams – Chaz’s Theme – Music For Life Itself & The Interrupters
Pye Corner Audio – Morning – Prowler
Banabila – Disndag (Original) – Travelog
Transcript
La Retirada, Part Two
Rocío Gómez + family
Producers: Brendan Baker, Nick van der Kolk, Everything is Stories, Steven Jackson

Xenia: One day I come home from school… I was in the sixth grade, I was 12 years old…
Jeff: It was towards the end of third grade for me… I can kind of remember my mom telling us right when she picked us up from school.
Xenia: …and I’m just sitting at the table. We started talking, and my mom said, “So we’ll probably gonna have to move soon.”
Jeff: “Hey, we’re moving, and tomorrow’s your last day of school.”
Xenia: …and I said, “Okay…”
Jeff: I told my friends, real casual: “I’m leaving… I’m moving.” “Where are you going?” “I don’t know where I’m going, but this is my last day at school.”
Xenia: I remember just sitting there… I didn’t know what to say, and she sort of instructed me “This is what you have to tell people, this is what it’s gonna be like. We don’t know where we’re gonna move yet; we’re gonna have to change our last name, and we’re gonna need to do it in the next few days.”
Jeff: I didn’t understand the full scope of what was going on at all. I understood that we were leaving, I didn’t understand not coming back. It didn’t hit me.
Xenia: My mom explained to me that they were working for the government; she was working with the FBI.
Rocío Gómez: The FBI were like a family to us. They knew my kids, they grew up with my kids, my kids grew up around them. It was like an uncle.
Xenia: There was bad people after us, and we had to go into hiding for a while.
Jeff: People call it witness protection, but it’s not really known as witness protection officially… It’s known as WitSec (witness security).
Carlos: The FBI called WitSec. They came, they were two or three of them. They explain things to you, your options, how it works, how it’s done…
Rocío Gómez: We had to pick a different name, we were gonna be a new person. As long as we were as a family, the kids and us, it didn’t matter where we wanted to go.
Carlos: If I’m going away, we’re all going away… Not this thing where one stays behind. We’re all going. That was always my philosophy – all of us.
Rocío Gómez: …to start all over, to start new. We said, “Well, if we’re gonna start all over, why not? At least we have them to guide us.” The only thing that I didn’t like about it was thinking that it will be for the rest of our life.
Jeff: So yeah… I mean, I’m still in it to this day.
***
Jeff: When you join WitSec, it’s a rule – you don’t talk to any family, at all. You’re dead to them. It’s very much like, one day I’m here, the next day you don’t know where I am. You just disappear.
Rocío Gómez: The only people that I guess I told were my brother (my youngest one) – that we were gonna disappear for a little bit.
Jeff: At that point I was eight years old, so I don’t think I knew how to pack a bag. I’m sure my mom packed my stuff for me.
Xenia: We left all of our furniture. I packed a suitcase, put some stuffed animals in there, my diary, and the next morning we were on a plane.
Jeff: All of a sudden we were taken out of Miami…
Xenia: I remember getting to Washington DC. Some marshals came and met us at the gate.
Rocío Gómez: Maybe 4, 5, 6 marshals… They gave us tickets.
Jeff: These tickets just have these fake names on them. I just remember being like “This isn’t my name”, and then I just thought, “Oh, cool… We’re doing something silly.”
Xenia: Some marshals took us. We were all stuck in the back of the van, and it was hot; I remember it was summer and it was hot. My mom, she had to throw up…
Jeff: They had to pull over, and they opened the door and my mom threw up. I remember them opening the door and I could see the Washington Monument. We got back in the van and we were driven to basically like a parking garage with no lights, and going into something that felt like a hotel.
Xenia: A completely windowless apartment.
Jeff: We were locked inside of this room. The handle didn’t do anything when you pulled it from the inside.
Xenia: …and I remember thinking, “Holy shit, this is serious. This is way serious!”
Jeff: There was a camera, where two walls meet… It was one of those round ones where you can’t really see the camera inside of it, but you know that there’s a camera in there. The fridge and the freezer was just filled with microwavable food, microwavable hamburgers. There was nothing you could prepare; it’s probably because if you use a stove, you could cause a fire, and you couldn’t get out of that room.

Xenia: The reason why we were there was because they had to process us. We had to bring with us every last piece of information with our name on it… All of my report cards, my birth certificate, my passport, ballet awards, my parent’s credit history. Anything where our name would pop up in a system, they had to get rid of. So I guess that takes time. Then it takes time to get them to give us new identities. This was the most exciting part of the whole stay – getting to choose our new identity.
Jeff: The marshals had the conversation with us about “Hey, you’re gonna get new names.”
Xenia: Since my mom was married to my stepdad, they would have the same last name. My brother and I got to pick our names, and since I was the older one, I got to pick our last name. I was reading this book… The last name of this author for this young adult novel was *long beep* and I was like, “Oh, that’ pretty.” I just told my mom, she wrote it down, and handed that paper to the marshals. A few weeks later they came with a new passport for me and my brother, a new birth certificate, all of this other stuff with our new last names. I remember practicing my signature, thinking “Oh my gosh, if they catch me writing my original last name, I’m gonna blow it for my entire family. I’ve gotta be on point, realize memorize it. This is a new me.”
The month or months spent in this weird apartment – for me it was that my whole life was gonna be tucked away, that nobody was ever gonna find me again, that I could never see any of my family members again. The time went by so slowly, and as soon as they said that we were gonna leave, I was excited not to move to a new place, but to get out.
Jeff: I don’t think they want you to stay in something like that for too long, because that might be a little too much for someone to handle.
Xenia: My mom came and she told me that we were leaving the next day, and I was just so happy to be out of that stupor that we were in. Just day in, day out I felt like it really was a prison. As soon as she told me, I was inwardly rejoicing and just so happy to get out of this place and to start living again, and to eat real food, and to have new clothes, and even a walk outside. So they had to pick another place to go, and that’s when they picked *beep*.
Jeff: Even at that age, I knew that *beep* was just gonna be a like a very culture shock.
Xenia: It’s a very segregated town.
Jeff: They ask you, “Do you speak Mexican?”
Xenia: They have homecoming dance there, and proms, but they have a black homecoming court and a white homecoming court. My name got put in for black homecoming court, because I was one of the new non-white people there; they didn’t know what to categorize me as. We were allowed to say that we came from Florida. That wasn’t off the books. The only thing that had to stay consistent was our last name. I remember telling them that my stepdad was still in the imports/exports business, and that my mom was still a stay-at-home mom. I told them I was Hispanic… Everything was true. Nothing about my parents working for the government. That part of the family history I couldn’t share.
Jeff: You get used to it. You wouldn’t believe how easy it is to start saying a new name. I’ve only had it slip once. We were at a Residence Inn, because the U.S. marshals love putting you up in a Residence Inn. You can rent equipment to play tennis from the front desk, you borrow it and you have to tell them your room number. I’m nine at this point, and we’re going to this desk and we’re asking to rent tennis equipment.  The lady asked me what’s my name, and I just say my real name, the original name. Right then and there I have to stop and I say, “No, I mean…”, and I fix it. But that’s only happened once in 22 years of having to remember to do this. After a while you get used to it.
Carlos: The issue was the lies. Everyone wanted to know where we came from. “What do you do? Why do you dress like that? Why do you eat potatoes? Why don’t you eat fries? Why don’t you eat arepas? Why don’t you drink coffee? Who is your family?” Everyone is curious. The circumstances were such that I’d say it wasn’t so much lying as it was surviving.
Rocío Gómez: We became friends with this Puerto Rican guy. He passed by my house and he sees one of the marshals; they used to come and see us every month in the house. Then he saw the car and he says, “Hey, what’s he doing there?” and he was in the witness protection, too. [laughs] We didn’t know… There was the same marshal for him and the same marshal for us.
Meanwhile, what’s happening with Rodrigo at this point?
Rocío Gómez: He was in jail.
Still?
Rocío Gómez: Yes, he was in jail. The kids could make phone calls, the average phone calls, to talk to their father while he was in jail.
Jeff: Back then I didn’t fully understand what it was that he did. They were like, “He got caught trying to bring drugs into the United States.”
They told you that much?
Jeff: Yeah, but nothing more specific than that.
Xenia: So my mother and my stepdad started working for the government in the ’80s. That’s how they knew, through their friends in the FBI, that they were tracking my father. He was trying to make us sell in New York, and the FBI knew about it. My mother warned my dad not to go to New York, and he went anyways.

I thought part of the reason for going into Witsec was that your father was upset that your stepfather may have ratted him out, and there were some dangerous possibilities there.
Jeff: He does believe that my mom and my stepdad had something to do with it, but I don’t think anyone was ever worried about my dad doing something. It was like, “Who does my dad know that could do something?”
Xenia: Knowing some of the people that my stepfather — some of the names that pop up that helped put in jail are pretty big guys, with large networks, but we never ever felt. It was almost like we knew bad guys were after us, but it wasn’t ever like we’re running and they’re right behind us. We had to live in fear all the time, we never felt that way. It was more of a huge inconvenience.
Jeff: They would have killed us.
Xenia: I know, but I don’t feel like that.
Jeff: We felt safe, but given the chance, these people would have killed us all. I have no doubt about it. If they found out where we were, they would have killed anybody.
Xenia: When my father was in prison, I was able to write him letters, but the letters had to go through the marshals first, and they would open them and read them, and then send it to him. Then he had to send the letters to the marshals, they would read them and then send it to us. Then I remember thinking, “Did I write anything that could have given it away?” I really don’t ever know… I really don’t know what exactly happened to force us to move away exactly, but we had to do it again.
Rocío Gómez: Our identity was compromised, and I don’t wanna go into details… We just needed to move. Again, we packed a few belongings, we waited for the marshals to come in and take us. Then we did it all over again. The second time it was harder. It was another blow for the kids.
Jeff: We started getting an idea of where we were gonna end up, and then it turned out that it was gonna be *beep*.
Rocío Gómez: They were crying like babies. My daughter locked up in a room, being pissed, because she was gonna leave behind a lot of good friends.
Xenia: …so I just really didn’t even tell any of my friends that I was leaving.
Jeff: Like, fuckin’ for real, why?

Xenia: I remember flying in, and it was the end of summer. Everything looked brown and ugly. I remember just thinking “This is so weird.” I felt very claustrophobic. You get to *beep* and there’s mountains surrounding you, and I felt very closed in. This time I was so jaded and pissed off that I was like “Fuck it, I’m just gonna give a payphone number…”, the payphone right by the grocery store by our house; I called my friends, I was like, “Here’s a number you can reach me. Call me. Every Saturday night I’ll be standing by the phone at 7 PM my time.” I definitely broke the rules that time around, because I was like “This is bullshit!” We were a month late going into school, so having to be the new girl who comes late to class, and everybody looked at me funny because I had a Southern accent and really didn’t fit in… That was one of the hardest transitions for me.
Carlos: WitSec pays a monthly wage, $2,100 dollars. Pay rent, food, transportation, electricity bills… I’m talking about living off of $2,100 dollars in 1993. How can you live?
Rocío Gómez: You’re not gonna live from their money. From there you gotta start doing your own thing.
Carlos: WitSec sent me to an employment office, and with their connections I would talk to someone… I never got a call back. I would say I want to work; I wanted to be anyone, I didn’t have to be the big guy in this office, or anything like that. I just want to work. I’m not talking about going out there and living in the best house, or anything like that. All I wanted was a start, I didn’t care what I had to do. Nothing was beneath me. Once upon a time I was something, but right now I have to take care of my family.
I was afraid to do something illegal, because if they took me out of the program, what was I going to do?
Rocío Gómez: My husband was really depressed. No experience really, only in flying. He felt useless and felt used.
Xenia: I think it really hurt him not being able to be a pilot in the United States, not being able to do what his passion was, which was flying.
Rocío Gómez: It was a disaster. He started going downhill, downhill, downhill…
Carlos: But like the saying goes, the delinquent always comes home. WitSec gave me recommendations to call this number. That was when I made a contact again with the FBI. First off, the FBI asked “What do you have to offer?” I’d say, “Okay, I have contacts in the island through which we can do business.” The FBI put in a request for me at their headquarters.
Jeff: My stepfather started doing his informant stuff for the FBI again, which is what originally he was doing.
Xenia: They felt like there wasn’t a lot of risk in having him come back and work for them, and he was really good at what he did. He was really good at bullshitting with people, befriending them, getting them to trust him, and there had been enough time that all the people that he helped put away either died or were still in jail.
Carlos: Finally, the FBI called me back again and opened an office for me. They opened an import/export business. I was alone for a year in Miami – that’s where my office was. It was my job; I had a secretary, sales managers, the whole nine yards. I began to call and call and call, and make contacts.
Rocío Gómez: I stayed behind with the kids, for a whole year or so. He would come back, and go back and forth, and we decided to go back to Florida.
Xenia: Right after I went to college, that’s when my mother and my stepdad and my younger brother went back to Florida.
Jeff: My stepdad’s apartment was literally across the street from the old neighborhood that we used to live in in Miami…
Xenia: …and I thought it was really weird, because that’s going directly back into a part of our life that we left behind and we had closed the door. Why were they opening it again?

Carlos: I came back to this type of work because I felt proud, I felt like I was doing something productive for our society and for my kids. In fact, I went to Colombia three times in a period. When I went back to Colombia, I used my real name because I didn’t have papers. But even if the same narcos were no longer involved – some had disappeared, others in jail etc. – even if I was no longer recognized, it was still a risk. The officers were in charge of protecting me every time I went out for a meeting, they would always be around me. I always had to check in and tell the people what I was doing, what I wasn’t doing. Aside from that, they were able to pinpoint where I was with the cell phone that I used.
Jeff: In 2001 he was involved in something major. It was something big, it was in the newspaper. At one point he got really close to disappearing… And I know that it affects him, because he can’t even talk about it to this day.
Carlos: Like, when they kidnapped me, my whole life flashed before my eyes.
Jeff: He’s never really talked about it. I’ve heard it as like a story that’s kind of like on the peripheral type of thing; it’s never been something that he’s just talked about openly. I’ve asked my mom in the past, and she’s just mentioned/talked to me about it once.
Rocío Gómez: My husband went to Colombia with a big drug dealer, and they were gonna bring a big load here to the United States. It was arranged how much cocaine they were gonna bring, who was gonna pay for it – everything was settled. He was just waiting for Carlos to give him the product.
Jeff: There’s so much fuckin’ detail to go into, dude… He was doing his informant thing, but he was in the car with somebody.
Rocío Gómez: There was a delay with the FBI; they’re not coming out with the stuff.
Jeff: The guy starts getting iffy, nervous, and shit just starts falling apart.
Rocío Gómez: All of a sudden, a guy came through the back and put the gun in his ribs. He put him into the back of a van and a gun pointed at him.
Jeff: One of the guys says “Mátalo”, which just means “Kill him.” Basically he was seconds away from it, and that’s when hell broke loose, because the feds were listening in on it. The lights started coming on, and they got surrounded. The agents swarmed the vehicle, they arrest my stepdad (they have to do the whole thing).
Carlos: All I could think about was my family… “What am I doing here? Who in the world told me to come here?”
Rocío Gómez: That was the last deal that my husband was involved in with the government.
Jeff: Yeah, and it ended up in the newspaper.
Rocío Gómez: The thing that hurt him the most was the article, when it came out. They guys at the newspaper wrote that he was a snitch. When I explained to him what a snitch was, Carlos felt really offended.
Jeff: It’s one of those points of pride with him… Whatever the term is – it might be the street term, or whoever it is, but… I mean, that’s what he does. He’s like a narc, he’s a snitch.
Xenia: I think he still suffers from post-traumatic stress about it, and it really changed him as a person. I think that coupled with the 9/11 stuff happening, all of the money rerouted from the war on drugs, which was really big in the ’80s and early ’90s to terrorism and homeland security stuff… There wasn’t anything left for my stepfather to really contribute to, so they didn’t need him anymore.
Jeff: The guy that my stepfather worked with, he’s like the closest thing that my stepdad will ever have to a best friend. I’ve known him since I was like a little kid, he used to give me a dollar for every A that I got on the report card. He’d come over and just be hanging out, he’d come to parties, and stuff like that. But if he doesn’t need my dad – and he hasn’t needed him for like 13 years – I don’t think they talk to each other, and it’s kind of sad. It’s work for him, you know?
Carlos: No, I’m fine with everyone… I just don’t feel properly compensated. I wasn’t paid what I should have earned. But at the end of the day it’s material, and material is material. What’s important are the values that we’ve acquired, and you value what you have.
Xenia: I never liked to think too much about my dad and my mom and my stepdad doing the grittier things that are involved in narco-trafficking. To think of my mother having to do something that I didn’t think she was capable of doing really hurt me, and I really didn’t like thinking — I still don’t like thinking of her in a position like that.
Rocío Gómez: I don’t share this with anybody… Only maybe really close family. Besides that, friends and stuff like that, no.
Xenia: I bet it was more difficult for her more than anybody, having been in a situation where she fears for the life of her children and herself. She’s so optimistic… She’s the most optimistic woman I’ve ever met. “Everything’s good, everything in life is good.” She works like a dog, she’s the hardest-working person I’ve ever known. “Everything’s good, everything’s gonna be okay, baby…”, that’s what she says.
Jeff: It wasn’t like an easy means to an end for her. It just so happened that she fell in love with two guys that have ended up fucking around with cocaine. And she met my stepdad through my dad, and my dad was into it, so you can assume that my Colombian stepdad would be into it, too.
When you’re Dominican and you marry one guy that’s Colombian, I don’t see it being that hard to get caught up in that type of stuff.
This just happens to be like two roads that are both crazy, of like FBI informant and like a drug kingpin. That’s like my birthright.
Xenia: Initially I didn’t wanna talk about this because it has nothing to do with my life in the witness protection program, but I figured I would get everything out…
Jeff: My biological father, he’s in jail in South America.
Xenia: Yeah, I talk with my father… He calls me every day from jail, and he has the last three years or three and a half years that he’s been in.
Jeff: Human trafficking, drug trafficking, murder… A couple different things.
Xenia: Is this true? Please tell me if it’s true… I will stick by you no matter what, but I need to know.
Jeff: The murder part of it is not something that he’s accused of doing himself, but it’s more like he might have hired somebody or might have been involved in something.
Xenia: Of course he assured me that he didn’t do it, and I choose to believe that. I choose to believe that he’s not capable.
Jeff: I don’t know the truth behind it, but if you do a Google search on him, his name comes up and it’s tied up with some crazy shit.
Xenia: We really don’t talk about it. It’s really hurtful, and I don’t wanna fight with my brother.
Jeff: To be honest with you, I just don’t think I have the capacity in me to really want to know too much about it. It’s just not interesting to me.
Why?
Jeff: Because maybe I don’t wanna know the answers to it… Because I don’t do drugs; I’ve never done drugs. You guys have beers here, I don’t drink either. I don’t drink coffee.I just have this thing about vices. I really am nervous about getting into anything that will be a habit for me.
Xenia: As a family, it’s not something that we sit down and talk about. To us, it’s our life. When we talk about it in a big picture, it’s crazy. Having lived through it, there’s nothing much to talk about between us.
Rocío Gómez: If I could change it, I would have married nobody… But things are what they are. At that time, when I was doing that, I felt that I was doing right, helping stop the war on drugs. Up to this day, I do feel good about that.
Carlos: I think there are many people like me, many people, who don’t have someone to go to for help or guidance, that can teach them the values or what they have done. Everyone would be so nice with one word, love.
Rocío Gómez: I will not regret doing what I did. Those drugs would have come in no matter what. If I contributed to anything or my husband did, it’s fine; if not, well, what can you do? Listen, the past is the past. There’s a story to tell, you know?

Published on: March 24, 2017

From: Episodes, Season 5

Producers: , , ,

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