Late Thoughts on Past Reading: The Americano, The Whiskey Priest, and Arrellano Felix’s Assassin Brothers

In Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, the protagonist — the whiskey priest — is one of two men hunted across bordering lands by authorities bent on seeking justice. He, himself, is a fallen and mocked Catholic father in a land that has outlawed the vocation immediately following an era of the Catholic Church’s exploitation. The other is an American, a gringo, who robbed and killed men, women and children. Graham Greene writes in a way that effectively mirrors their escapes and like punishments while forcing the reader to face the stark differences between their intentions and their actions. In the end, they are both Catholics who have sinned, but their sins are weighed differently depending on the judging eye and ability to confess.

And now, on the Borderland Beat blog, a man, a United States citizen, has been sentenced to prison:

A United States citizen whose brother is said to be a high-up drug cartel assassin was sentenced on attempted murder charges in San Diego, Calif. on Friday.

30-year-old Jorge Sillas received at least 21 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to attempted murder, the Associated Press reported. Law enforcement officials said that Sillas participated in a scheme to kill a mother and her son in Southern California who hadn’t yet paid a drug debt. Sillas allegedly offered $50,000 to have the duo taken out.

Sillas didn’t say much in court on Friday. He apologized for the crimes, while his attorney explained that the client had been influenced by his older brother, Juan, AP reported. Until this brush with the law, Jorge Sillas has kept a clean criminal history.

What I wonder is if this man, like the whiskey priest, should change within given the change in his conditions. Juan Silla Rocha was apprehended in 2011 and now Jorge has been found guilty of this heinous crime, which he — indeed — should do time for. Like Greene’s Americano, Juan did not make it past the border and was jailed under an imposing list of frightening crimes he committed himself. Jorge’s record was not as storied as his brother’s: he was under suspicion of a murder in North Dakota and was caught for this crime in Southern California he commissioned but did not commit directly. I would not expect that these were his only crimes, but I would expect that both he and the law itself are seen through the lens of his brother’s actions… that equating one to the other darkens Jorge’s record of criminality only further.

Now I sit and think about this moment: the dark eve of Jorge’s soul. Greene’s whiskey priest, possibly Greene himself, wonders over the nature of sins large and small: that God is known to forgive so many single large and terrible sins because they weigh on the soul more heavily in certain ways. One could be understood for wanting forgiveness from them. But what about one’s whole life, the small sins of defiance that make up a full life? Lying here, cheating there, taking haughty action and justifying that it was alright? Caring for your brother, wanting to earn his trust, wanting to mimic him? Making promises, feeling sorry, but still having committed these and so many other sins?

Juan was known to have recruited assassins to kill targets who owed the cartel money in California. Jorge, his own brother, was recruited. The gulf between the sins of Juan and Jorge Sillas may be wide or may not. But, as with the whiskey priest and his American counterpart, all sins interact until the moment of death. Now those who go on must face the implications of this justice. Fernando Sanchez Arrellano, the head of the Arrellano Felix Cartel, has been implicated as directly involved, and like the half-caste, led these two men to their imprisonment.

And now, like the whiskey priest himself, only confession at the end can absolve the brothers of their sins. Juan can surely beg forgiveness for all he has done, for his surely hates his sins within. But Jorge, if he cares for his brother, took a thin wafer of pride, possibly even love, in his job because it brought him closer to his brother.

After a life of desperation and poverty, what happens when a violent criminal organization like the cartel gives you something to finally be proud of yourself for? What happens when it gives you friends you trust and people to care about? What happens when murder brings you closer to a person you love? Could he ever fully feel sorry for what he has done? If he cannot, how can he ever be forgiven? It is as Graham Greene wrote:

“Every child was born with some kind of knowledge of love, he thought; they took it with the milk at the breast: but on parents and friends depended the kind of love they knew-the saving or the damning kind.”