Strange Man in a Strange Land

Mauricio Pavez came from Chile to Florida as a tourist. One mugging and eight months later, he refuses to leave.

At the hospital, Pavez and the officers were soon joined by Greta Snitkin, the "tourist victim advocate" for the Orange County Sheriff's Office. Pavez remembers Snitkin "calling all around for help" but finally telling him there was nothing more she could do for him. What about relatives or friends? Couldn't he have gotten at least a little money from someone to keep him going, or to get home? "That possibility didn't exist," he says now. Penniless, his only alternative was to check into Orlando's giant downtown homeless shelter.

The "baseball game," as Pavez would later describe his experiences, had begun, with him as la pelota. "The next day I was on the street," he says. The police officers had given him their business cards and told him to call if he had any problems or questions about his case, so he called. "First [the person who answered] told me to explain my situation, then they said there was nothing they could do. Then I went to the courthouse, and they told me it would take ten days to process the papers and another month to see if the case was continued, and blah, blah, blah, and a tourist can't spend that much time there."

Meanwhile, when he was living at the Salvation Army, someone told him the Red Cross could compensate him. They couldn't. Instead they sent Pavez to a hospital that they said had a "tourist program." It didn't. The search for compensation dragged on. "I went to more than fifteen places," he says. "I went to a lawyer, but she said she only had divorce cases. I went to a civil rights office, but they said they handled other types of discrimination. I was sent from place to place. I went to the press to speak to a reporter."

What was all the fuss? Well, Pavez had become increasingly convinced the City of Orlando or the State of Florida, or both, owed him bigtime. "People told me the place where I was assaulted is a high-crime area. This is something the tourists don't know. No one tells them. Tourists arrive here thinking nothing's going to happen to them. They see the advertising showing families having a great time. But the question is, what is it that puts food in the mouths of the citizens of Orlando? Tourism. So where are the rights of tourists? Who's going to protect them?"

Pavez claims he is living proof that tourism represents some sort of criminal lure. He himself had been lured to California and Florida, he asserts, by irresistible come-ons that included special-package bus fares. "When I was in Mexico, I read a Greyhound promotional flyer that, among other things, said, 'Travel three days in the U.S. for only $87.' I'm like many young tourists and North American students who want to see foreign lands but don't have much money."

In the grip of that wanderlust, Pavez left Chile and bounced from Mexico City to Cancœn to Laredo, Texas, to Los Angeles, along the way acquiring a U.S. tourist visa that allowed him to stay in the country for one year after its issue date of April 1996. By early November he found himself in Orlando, but then came the man with the dreadlocks. Around the first of December a pastor at a downtown Orlando church put him on a bus to Miami, he says, "so I could seek help from the Chilean consulate."

In the early days of Pavez's stay here, he slept at a small homeless encampment near the Venetian Causeway on the western shores of Biscayne Bay. "Then some of the street people told me I should go to the [Miami] Rescue Mission, so I went there," he recalls. "They kept me for two weeks." He checked into the 350-bed Homeless Assistance Center (HAC) on North Miami Avenue in Overtown in mid-December. And again he began to wade through the red tape, visiting the Chilean consulate, the Metro-Dade victims assistance program, the State Attorney's Office, even the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. He got his injured ear checked for free at Jackson Memorial Hospital. The eardrum was healing nicely. But his experiences at the other places were less rewarding. "The consulate told me they could help me get back to Chile, but I didn't want to burden my family," Pavez recounts. "And since I wasn't assaulted in Dade County, the victims' office and the State Attorney's Office couldn't get involved. No one could understand why Orlando hadn't done anything for me."

The HAC normally has a 60-day stay limit, but it's common to bend the rules for special cases, and Pavez was deemed a special case. During the six months he was there, Pavez joined other "residents" in vocational classes at the Miami Skill Center, training to enter (or re-enter) the job market. He wound up with a certificate qualifying him to be a tile setter but found he couldn't work using a tourist visa. Pavez says he explained his plight to a lawyer from the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center. "He told me since I wasn't Cuban or Haitian, there was nothing he could do," Pavez claims. (Center officials say that is nonsense, that his nationality wasn't the reason they couldn't help him.)

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