Tag Archives: Bribery

Just another weekend adventure

It's a good idea to keep one of these in your wallet when driving in Mexico.

It’s a good idea to keep one of these in your wallet when driving in Mexico.

Saturday started out rainy, which never bodes well. The amount of rain that falls is proportionately related to the number of classes I have.(See Failing at your own business–Saturday classes) Sure enough, I had only half my classes show. Well, I put my time to good use on other projects for the school until the rain let up and my son and I raced home on the moto before the next storm hit.

My husband arrived shortly thereafter for lunch. As it was clouding up again, he thought it best to take one of the vehicles back for his afternoon shift at the viniteria (liquor store) instead of his moto. Butch, the truck, had a slow leak in the back tire. He loaded the tire into Myrtle (See Placando Myrtle) to have it repaired in town before his shift. Then Myrtle, the VW bug, wouldn’t start. So he and I pushed her out of the garage, only to discover the back tire was flat. There was nothing to be done but put some air into the tire with the bicycle pump. That finished, Myrtle still wouldn’t start. We gave her a running push down the hill and nothing. My husband opted to take the battery out of Butch and connect it up, hoping that Myrtle’s battery would charge with the drive. We think maybe there’s a loose wire someplace but didn’t have time to run a full diagnostic during lunch break.

Joey posing for the camera!

Joey posing for the camera!

The rest of the afternoon passed quietly enough, except for an incident with Joey. (See Joey) Joey, as the biggest male in our animal kingdom, fully believes he is the head mucky-muck around here. Joey’s dad lives across the way in my brother-in-law’s B partially finished house but is seldom out and about. Joey’s dad is a full-fledged, ornery stallion. His bad-tempered self happened to be tied out near our house for an afternoon grazing session. Not thinking much about it, my son took out Shadow and Joey for their dinner grazing. B hollered over and told my son to take them back in until he got his horse back in his stall. Shadow obediently trotted back inside. Joey didn’t. He sniffed the air, snorted and was off, rearing and neighing. Of course, Joey’s dad didn’t take kindly to the upstart challenger. There was a lot of horse screaming, bucking and running about for the next 10 minutes or so. Joey’s dad was tied, so Joey felt brave enough to get right up next to him and throw some shadow kicks. My son and B had the lasso out and were trying to catch Joey before Joey’s dad broke his rope and caused some real damage. Throughout it all, Shadow was carrying on in the stall, eyes rolling in her head. All of a sudden, Joey gave up the fight. He ran right through the neighbor’s corn field and back to his stall. Joey’s dad snorted and huffed, then went back to his dinner. Of course, we waited until the coast was clear before taking our two horses out again.

While my son was out with the goats and horses, I cooked dinner. I wasn’t expecting my husband until about 11 pm but I didn’t want to be cooking at that hour, so I made his favorite cacapapa (fried potatoes, garlic, onion, and tomato) so I could just heat it when he got home. Well, 11 pm came and went. Midnight came and went. By 12:30 am I was starting to get worried. I tried calling his cell phone, but he didn’t answer. I dozed a bit, woke up to find that he still wasn’t home, and called his phone again. The next morning, he still wasn’t home. I called his phone at least 30 times during the course of the day.

We checked with my father-in-law, who went to town on his bicycle to see if he could find out anything. We drove around between torrential rain showers, checking his regular route and hang out places and found no trace of him or Myrtle. By mid-afternoon, we were pretty sure he was dead in a ditch somewhere. I started worrying about how to get the truck out of the garage for the wake since the back tire was in the back seat of Myrtle. (See Mass and burial Mexican style) My son and I talked about which animals to sell to cover the funeral expenses. Joey, after his little stunt, was at the top of the list. Then I started to worry that nobody would inform us of his death. None of his documentation in his wallet has La Yacata since the community doesn’t have any street names. Neither is Myrtle registered at our home address, for the same reason. (See Getting Legal–License to Drive)

My father-in-law came by to say that none of my husband’s buddies had seen him since yesterday. He also told us that my husband’s nephew L, who had only been out of jail for a few weeks (See More thoughts on Safety and Security) had been in a serious moto accident on Saturday and was in the hospital. The passenger was in a coma. Due to the nature of the laws here in Mexico, should the passenger die, L will be charged with homicide (See And Justice for all?) Since he had been to the hospital, he was able to confirm that my husband had not been taken there. He suggested we contact the police. I told him that if he had been arrested, surely he would have been allowed to call to let us know where he was. Unfortunately, there isn’t a one phone call rule here in Mexico, but I didn’t know that at the time.

I sent messages to my sisters-in-law T and P. T hadn’t seen him. P didn’t answer. A little while later, T called to say that a muchacho (young man) had just been to see her to tell her that my husband was in the jail in Uriangato, the neighboring town. I didn’t even know Uriangato had a jail. T didn’t know where the jail was, nor had transportation to go and get him out. B, who is currently living with his sister T, knew where the jail was and had transportation but wasn’t interested in doing anything about getting his brother out of jail. My son and I went up the hill when the rain let up to see what my father-in-law had to say. He’s always full of good advice. He didn’t know where the jail was either, but his son C, who was visiting, did. I couldn’t follow his directions, but understood it was just minutes from where P had moved to recently. So I called P. From the noise in the background, it seemed like she was at the hospital. She sent her brother M and her sister L on the moto to check the jail and called me back. Yes, my husband was there (which I already knew) and that the fine was 200 pesos, which nobody was willing to pay. In any case, he could only be held 24 hours and as he had already been there more than half, he’d be released soon. I had the money to get him out, but I still had no idea where the jail was and no one was willing to take me.

About an hour later, my husband himself called me. He said that he had just been released from jail and was walking home. I told him to take a taxi home. He said he didn’t have any money. I told him that I would pay the taxi when it arrived. So 30 minutes later, he was home. The taxi ride was $70 pesos.

Here’s what happened. My husband got off work at about 11 pm. Myrtle’s tire was low again, so he started towards the gas station a few blocks away to put air in it. The car stopped. The battery was dead again. It wouldn’t start, so he tried pushing it. As he was doing that, a police car came up and asked what he was doing. They checked the car out, saw the truck battery in the back seat, arrested him and had the car towed to the police station. Apparently, someone had reported a truck battery stolen or so they said. Sounds like the time my husband was arrested when getting a load of water because someone reported a stereo stolen in Ojo de Aqua en Media (See Christmas in Mexico–La Aguinaldo)

While waiting for the judge to hear his case, he was put in the holding cell with 4 other hardened criminals. Three of the four were from Cuitzeo and had been arrested for changing their clothes. Yep, you read that right. Most of the manual labor workforce and domestic servants in Moroleon are from Cuitzeo, a small town just across the Michoacan border. They have the curious custom of changing clothes. They take the bus to Moroleon, walk to their job sites from the bus terminal, change their regular clothes to work clothes, work their shift and at the conclusion of their shift, change back into their regular clothes to take the bus back to Cuitzeo. That’s what these three men had been doing. It seems the walls of their job site weren’t finished yet, so their changing could be seen from the street. They were seen, arrested, and charged them with indecent exposure.

The fourth delinquent was the young man who runs the papeleria (stationary store). He had been arrested because his music was too loud. You know those paper store types, always causing a ruckus. Once he paid bail, he stopped by T’s house to let her know where my husband was.

Meanwhile, one of the three from Cuitzeo paid my husband’s bail of $341 pesos, a bit more than the 200 quoted to M and L. He told my husband to pay it forward. When he went for the return of his personal items, the $400 pesos formerly in my husband’s wallet was nowhere to be found. So the judge gave him 10 pesos to take the bus back to Moroleon. Unfortunately, by now, it was late Sunday afternoon and the buses weren’t running anymore. Thus the $70 pesos taxi ride.

On Monday morning, my husband took the car title and my identification, because Myrtle is registered in my name, back to the police station to get the car. In order to regain possession of the car, he had to pay the police grua (towtruck). That bill was $850 pesos. He borrowed a battery from el plomero neighbor and brought Myrtle home. Since the money was gone, there is the very real concern about his debit card. On Tuesday, he went to the bank to see what could be done since his card number has been stolen once already. That time we did not have to pay for the resulting mystery shopping spree because we had informed the bank and changed the card prior to the date the charges were made. So far, no strange charges have been credited to our account.

I have to say that I am mighty impressed with the local police force. They certainly know how to clean the riff-raff off the street and keep its citizens safe. I mean, just last month alone….the mother of three of my students was gunned down on her way to the gym at 9 am….oh wait, no one was arrested. And just after that, the father of two other students was stabbed and his taxi stolen…but no, no one was arrested in that case either. And before that, the father of another student was kidnapped, his dismembered body returned to his family even after the ransom was paid…yet again, no one was arrested. However, committing the heinous crime of having two batteries in your vehicle or changing out of your work clothes or playing your music just a bit too loud, well, the police all over that. Thank God!

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Driving Hazards–Mordidas

Bribery is called mordida (bite) as in a bite of an apple.

A bribe is often called la mordida (bite) as in a bite of an apple.

So for the past 2 months, the GTO State Police have set themselves up at the crossroads that is the main entryway, not only to La Yacata, but also La Ordeña, Las Peñas, Caricheo, and Pamaceo. These communities are very small, very poor and very targeted by the police for mordidas (bribes). The police’s constant presence prompted me to get my motorcycle driver’s license, however it isn’t an option for everyone. Many campesinos (country folk) are poor readers or illiterate so don’t even attempt to take the computerized exam. Others might not have an electric or water receipt to prove their residence because they lack these services in their homes. Furthermore, many of the IFE (voter’s registration cards) that I have seen from these little communities have nothing more than domicilio conocido (known address) listed since their home has no street name or number. So what’s a body to do?

So on to the story….

Sunday, my husband went to town for huaraches (large cheese and meat filled tortillas) as a special treat. He took my motorcycle rather than his own because I had just filled my tank and he was low on gas. Right after he left, my son and I went for a walk towards the crossroads so I could take a picture of some yellow wildflowers by the side of the road that I had spotted earlier. Just as we came out of La Yacata, my husband’s brother J passed us on his bike. He spent the day in La Yacata reportedly preparing an area to plant maize (corn) but mostly drinking.

We snapped the picture and headed back to La Yacata to wait for my husband. He was gone an unconsciously long time. We tried to call him, but he had left his phone at the house. My son got impatient and decided to head to the store on his bike for some munchies.

My husband arrived 15 minutes later with the huaraches, having been gone nearly 2 hours. Here’s what happened.

At the crossroads, the police stopped my husband on the moto and asked for his license, which he just renewed (See Getting Legal—Motorcycle license), and the tarjeta de circular (vehicle permit card) which he had taken with him, usually it’s in my purse. My moto has placas (license plate) and all the miscellaneous and sundry impuestos (taxes) paid. But that didn’t satisfy the police. They said that the card wasn’t valid, but it was. They said that the moto was stolen, which is wasn’t. They even lifted the plastic to see the VIN and check it against the card. Even though it was all good, they said that they would have to call it in. My husband wasn’t going to pay the mordida (bribe) they were fishing for, so he told them to go ahead and he’d wait. The officer got up in his face and wanted to know if my husband had a problem with him. He didn’t, but intimidation is part of this whole macho-mordida thing.

While they had him wait, he said that they stopped a car heading to Las Peñas. The car didn’t have any placas (license plates) but everything else was in order. The police told the driver that the new law is that you have 9 days to get placas (license plates) from the date of purchase or the vehicle will be impounded. Hmm, as we just purchased a new vehicle, this is good to know. (See Getting Legal—License plates) Many vehicles in the area are chocolates, which is the name for a car brought into Mexico from the United States that has overstayed its permit and not been legalized. (See Getting Legal—Legalizing a vehicle). This isn’t true in our case however.

By this time, my husband’s brother J rode past the policía on his bike. There is no law requiring license plates, nor license, nor helmet for a bike, although I believe there is a law that says you have to register your bike to prove it wasn’t stolen, but nobody does that. So J just assumed the police wouldn’t stop him. However, my detained and “uncooperative” husband waved to him as he passed. The officer turned to my husband and said that he knew that was his brother, then told my husband he was free to go.

The officers jumped into their official police vehicle and drove towards town. Since that was the direction my husband was going anyway, he followed. He arrived just in time to see them take J into custody. His crime? A suspicious backpack. Inside were 3 empty caguamas (liter size beer bottles) and 1 full one. He also carried an ax and hoe—deadly but not concealed weapons. My husband followed them to the jail and signed for custody of J, promising to deliver him safely to his house, which he did. He took him and his suspicious backpack and deadly weapons all the way to Uriangato and left him at the door with his heavily pregnant wife. Then he headed back to town and picked up the huaraches and headed home.

While my husband was retelling this story to me, my son arrived home from the store. He said he had just seen J by the store on the back of a gray moto with some heavy-set man he didn’t recognize. It seems that having 3 empty caguama bottles is a crime against nature and, therefore, he must have left his house minutes after my husband had dropped him off in search of the not-so-elusive cold one. So much for seeing him safely home.

Anyway, police presence also curtailed our driving practice that afternoon. Technically, the State Police only have jurisdiction on the main road. The road that goes to La Yacata and all the other little communities I mentioned is overseen by the transito muncipal (local traffic police) but they hardly ever come out to check on anything. We wanted to take Myrtle, our new VW bug, out for a spin on the local road, but since we didn’t have placas (license plates) yet and the State police were following bicycle riders to town, we thought better of it. So no practicing until the plates are on.

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Driving Hazards–Crossing the Border

The aduana (customs) at Matamoros, Mexico

The aduana (customs) at Matamoros, Mexico

We crossed at Brownsville/Matamoros entrance to México. We spent 6 hours at the aduana (customs office.) My part was easy. I received a visa for the maximum time a tourist can be in México (180 days) and went to the next window to register the truck and trailer for the same amount of time.

However when it came to our personal items, that was a whole different story. First, we were told to go to the aduana (customs office) who told my husband to go to the paisano (Mexican citizen) office, who told my husband to go to the aduana (customs office). And around we went. Finally, my husband told me to get out of the car and wait for him while he went with an official and our vehicle. So there I stood in Matamoros, no passport, no money and no idea what was going on. After 20 minutes I started getting worried, but my husband and my son did return on foot for me. He told me that the police could make a deal so that we wouldn’t have to pay more or unload the trailer, which would have taken all day. We would pay $7000 pesos and in return receive the permit to import personal goods, no inspection and special locks for the trailer that would need to be cut off. There really wasn’t any choice but to pay up.

We did not have the cash readily accessible, so my husband sent me with another person to the bank in Matamoros to withdraw money from an ATM machine. They kept my husband, son, vehicles and personal items safe for me while I went to make the withdrawal. How considerate.

Driving through the checkpoint at Matamoros.

Driving through the checkpoint at Matamoros.

We drove back into the US, then back into Mexico. Well, I had to drive as the truck was registered in my name. We stopped at 3 places and showed our paperwork. At the first one the helpful police officer had us wait until we were sure to get the green light (no checking) before we drove up. The second, no problem. The third verified that the sticker I had obtained at the office was the same as the paperwork I had. Again, not a problem. So basically, every official is in on this little game. And everyone gets their little slice of the mordida.(bribe)

Those locks that had to be cut off came in handy when we were stopped outside of Matamoros by another customs agent. He offered us two ways to go about this. The first was to unload everything in the back of the truck for inspection. We would not have to unload the trailer because of those special locks. The second option was a discrete $200 pesos. Since it was late in the day, we handed over the mordida (bribe) and continued on our way.

I won’t say this is the same for everyone who crosses the border into México. It may have been since we had a mixed family, since I was a US citizen and my husband and my son were Mexican citizens that targeted us for this little side adventure into Mexican bribery. As I mentioned, my part, as the US citizen was pretty easy. It was the importation of household goods that was the problem.

In comparison with the experience of my sister-in-law, my entrance into México was pan comida (a piece of cake–literally bread already eaten). She and someone else drove two trucks and two trailers from Nebraska to the Mexican border. Her driving companion bailed on her at the last minute and left one trailer sitting on the U.S. side of the border in the parking lot.

My husband and her husband had driven up with our truck and were waiting on the Mexican side of the border. They loitered around for hours until finally someone asked who they were waiting for. When they described my sister-in-law D, the official said that she had been there since the morning crying and crying on the U.S. side.

Entering México

Entering México

No bribe was offered this time around. D had to drive through customs, unload the trailer, reload the trailer, unhitch the trailer, return to the U.S. for the other trailer, unload the second trailer and reload it.

One trailer was attached to her truck and the second trailer was attached to my husband’s truck. This presented a problem a little ways down the road. They were stopped by the police (who were probably called by the customs police) and asked to show their documentation. As both trailers were registered to the truck that came from Nebraska, both must be attached to that truck, which wasn’t possible.

D, being an aggressive sort of woman, got down out of the truck while this conversation was being held. This wasn’t the appropriate thing to do and annoyed the police. (See Driving Hazards–police stops) D didn’t speak any Spanish, which further aggravated the situation. She became frustrated and even more belligerent in her attempts at explanation. Her husband didn’t help much as he kept assisting that the paperwork that they had was good. The police told M that he didn’t know how things worked in the U.S. but that they were in México now and that he’d better take control of his wife or both he and his wife would be detained. My husband took M aside and told him that he was just angering the police and to be quiet. My husband then went and negotiated a mordida (bribe).

But, apparently the police radioed ahead. Wouldn’t you know it, a second police stopped them not an hour later with the same issue. My husband negotiated a second mordida (bribe). At this point, as funds were getting low, he insisted they sell the second trailer and pile everything into the back of the truck. They parked at a gas station and asked motorists if they would be interested in buying it. Finally, someone agreed to buy it, but they would have to drive it to his house, which would risk another police stop, but as there was no other option, they did it. Then when they arrived, the buyer didn’t want to pay the price agreed upon, but again, there wasn’t much choice if they wanted to get back to Moroleón sometime in this century. Without the trailer, they were not stopped the rest of the journey. Go figure.

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Driving Hazards–Police and Military stops

Transitos are the traffic cops in México and are not armed.

Transitos are the traffic cops in México and are not armed.

Then there are police checkpoints to contend with. Arriving in Celaya, on our trip from Moroleón to San Miguel de Allende (See Getting Legal–Trip 1) we were stopped by the transito (traffic police) because our truck didn’t have a current verficación (inspection) sticker. I put my head down and pretended to be invisible while my husband negotiated the mordida (bribe). On the way back, we were stopped yet again by the same group of transitos (traffic police). Being tired and cranky, my husband made the mistake of complaining that we had already paid our dues in the morning. The transit cop had him get out of the vehicle and then gave him a dressing down for being chismoso (a tattletale) before sending us on our way with his mordida (bribe) of course.

Bribery is called mordida (bite) as in a bite of an apple.

Bribery is called mordida (bite) as in a bite of an apple.

To bribe or not to bribe, that is the question to consider.

Transitos are open to bribery. However, whether you offer a bribe or not depends on who you are. If you are female, typically no bribe is offered and no ticket is given, you may not even be stopped. Unless, of course, you are an aggressive female, then you are treated like any male in this machismo power play. (See Driving Hazards–Crossing the Border) If you are a non-Mexican male, you must understand this an alpha male thing and if the phrase “se puede reglar esto” (this can be resolved) is used by the transito (traffic police), discretely hand over $200 pesos. Transitos (traffic police) will stop you for missing inspection stickers, missing or out of state plates, for the driver not wearing a seatbelt, for anything that might be not working on your vehicle, like a tail light or just because. They will ask you for your license and tarjeta de circular (permission to use the vehicle in the country), so it pays to have both current. A transito (traffic police) can take either card or your placas (license plates) and hold them for ransom until you go and pay the fine.

Los estados are the state police in México and are always armed.

Los estados are the state police in México and are always armed.

The next level up is the random inspection typically done by the state police. These officers wear large pistols, and are sometimes masked, so are not to be confused with the transitos (traffic police), who do not wear guns and never wear masks. Los del estado (state police) may stop you for having out of state plates, for vehicle identification number (VIN) verification to see if you are driving a stolen vehicle, for a license or tarjeta de circular (permission to drive in the country) check, for driving a nice vehicle, or whatever other reason occurs to them. The mordida (bribe) is much higher and trickier to negotiate. They may take your vehicle or any other items that aren’t permanently attached as part of the “inspection.” It doesn’t to any good to go and file a complaint. (See On Safety and Security).

Los federales are national guard in México and are always armed.

Los federales are the national guard in México and are always armed.

Los federales (federal police) cruise around looking for vehicles to confiscate. High risk vehicles are newer cars and chocolates (vehicles that have U.S. plates because they were never legalized at the aduana (customs)) We had more problems when we had a newer truck, but now that we drive a Mexican national that we like to call Butch (Chevy circa 1980) they stop us less. When stopped, the feds ask for the paperwork for the vehicle issued by the aduana (customs). Know that only the registered owner or direct relative may drive a vehicle that has been imported into México. We have had to show our marriage certificate along with the other paperwork to prove that my husband is permitted to drive the truck since it was registered in my name to facilitate border crossing.

Los militares are the miltary police in México and are always armed.

Los militares are the military police in México and are always armed.

Then there are los militares (military police). This is a complete barrier stop for all vehicles. All motorists are subject to search and all vehicles are inspected, for guns or drugs. Civilians do not have the right to bear arms in México, but many have guns. It just isn’t prudent to carry them in your vehicle, even for personal safety. We carry a machete in our vehicle, which is not illegal, and can also be used to cut grass along the side of the road for our animals when the occasion presents itself.

The guns these guys tote are eye-popping big. You can determine whether it is a legitimate inspection or not by whether the police are wearing their cappuchis (masks) or not. A legitimate inspection is done by unmasked military and nothing is removed from your vehicle. Well, the other type, it’s best to just grin and bear it and not give too much information about yourself or risk being marked as a prospective kidnapping target. (See On Safety and Security).

Fortunately, only the transitos (traffic police) stopped us on that first trip. (See Getting Legal-Trip 1)

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