A Santa Fe Paradox

Santa Fe, New Mexico
Saturday, August 5, 2017



A Santa Fe Paradox

Guilt seems a fair emotion to describe what persons interested in social justice might feel when spending a weekend in Santa Fe.

I travelled here to relax for a few days, and experience the opera, Lucia Di Lammermoor.

Walking around the central square, visitors encounter the stark contrast between the rich and poor.

On the one hand, shops selling jewelry, belts, and other southwestern inspired commodities crowd the small avenues. Art galleries abound, featuring paintings, sculptures, and tapestries. I saw a gorgeous, large painting of the head of an African woman last night — priced at $90,000.

On the other hand, poor native Americans line one side of the main square, their wares, transported in worn-out luggage, laid out on equally tattered blankets. They sell hand made jewelry, fetishes, money clips and the like. Of course, their prices are so low that you wonder how they survive.

If you like people watching, you’ll see the essentially all rich people peering at the native American items arrayed on blankets between entering and exiting the more expensive shops.

Perhaps as penance for my good fortune at enjoying a weekend here, I am reading Bill Browder’s recent book, Red Notice. 

The title refers to an international alert circulated by Interpol regarding crimes, criminals, and threats. Notices vary in color, depending on the nature of the criminal issue. A red notice seeks the arrest and extradition of a criminal fugitive.

A New York Times best seller, Browder’s book tells the thrilling story of his launching a hedge fund, Hermitage Capital, focused on investing in the privatization of Russia. Initially, he achieves incredible success. Later, he encounters unbelievable corruption and even violence as government officials, specifically Vladimir Putin, literally seize companies he legitimately purchased.

In brief, Russian oligarchs stole the companies Browder acquired and then charged him with tax evasion. He provides clear evidence of his legitimately acquiring the companies. He paid the required share of taxes in Russia. Nonetheless, his acquisitions were stolen and he was ordered to pay taxes he had already paid.

Browder dedicates Red Notice to Sergei Magnitsky, who Browder describes as the bravest man he ever knew. As Hermitage Capital fell victim to the corruption so common in Russia, Browder hired Magnitsky to represent him.

Magnitsky had a reputation as an honest, hard-working attorney who also worked as an auditor. After Browder, Hermitage Capital officials, and many other attorneys had fled the country — fearing for their lives — Magnitsky stayed behind.

Magnitsky filed charges against the government, boldly and dangerously delineating the large-scale theft sanctioned and carried out by Russian officials. After a few hearings, including one overseen by one of the government officials he had charged with corruption, Magnitsky was arrested.

In contemporary Russia, suspects can be held for up to one year without being charged. Magnitsky served 358 days in the notorious Butyrka prison in Moscow. He was tortured. He fell ill with gall stones and pancreatitis. A prison physician recommended immediate surgical intervention. Nonetheless, Magnitsky received no treatment. He died in prison.

In a January 2013 article, The Financial Times wrote:

the Magnitsky case is egregious, well documented and encapsulates the darker side of Putinism.

Magnitsky could have obtained his release if he recanted his charges.

He would not.

He could not.

He was a prisoner of conscience.

He died retaining his integrity.

He honored the truth.

Over Trump’s objections, the US Congress this week extended sanctions against Russia. It added power to the Magnitsky bill, passed during 2012, which barred Russian officials involved in the lawyer’s death from entering the US or using its banking system.

While enjoying the peacefulness of this beautiful enclave, I hold a special appreciation for my freedom as well as my luck.

And, I remember, with admiration, men like Magnitsky, who died for freedom, and countries like Russia, where tyranny still reigns.


Browder, B. (2017). Red notice. New York: Simon and Schuster.

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