Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Shakedown

We’ve heard of it happening but we never experienced it until yesterday—the traffic police stopped us for an infraction and we got the shakedown. We were going the wrong way down a one-way street. Never mind that there was no indication at the turn that the street was one way. Sometimes the streets are marked by an arrow on the wall and sometimes by an arrow painted on the road but this one didn’t seem to have any marking. Our first clue came when we got to the end of the street there was a stop sign on the other side of the cross street but not one where we were driving. So we quickly turned off that street—but not before the traffic cops saw us.

Next thing we knew the police car was flashing its lights and honking at us so we pulled over to the curb. A uniformed man got out and came to the driver’s side window and greeted Harry, then shook his hand and began to speak in incomprehensible Spanish. He asked us if we spoke Spanish and we replied “un pocito” so he slowed down a bit. We understood that we were to get a traffic ticket but not too much else. He asked to see Harry’s licence and the registration papers and he didn’t give them back to us. It seemed like we were to go to the police office in the centre of town to pay the fine but there was a lot of talk that we didn’t really get. He took out his ticket book and showed us some printing on it but he didn’t actually write anything down.

Finally his compadre got out of the car and came to talk to us. He spoke enough English to explain that the ticket charge was $600 pesos but if we paid “ahorita” (right away) it would only be $300 pesos (about $30 Cdn.). This sounded a bit like the Canadian system where you get a discount for paying within a week. We were willing to pay it right away and indicated that we would follow them to the station and pay the fine.

So with Harry’s licence in their car they drove ahead of us slowly for about a block and a half. Then then they pulled over to the side of the road, with us following. The first guy came up to us again and asked “Where were you going?” We replied that we were going to Walmart. Then he explained very slowly that if we paid the 300 pesos right away there would be no ticket and no need to go to the police station and we could continue to Walmart.

Duh! Finally we understood. We were to pay the bribe and then we would be free to go. Fortunately we had that amount of cash with us and we gave it to the fellow, who then returned with Harry’s licence and papers, and a warning to be more careful next time. We’re guessing this was the classic shakedown—only it took us a while to figure it out. What we don’t know is whether we paid more or less than what the ticket cost would have been if we’d gone with them to the station. We know that it would have taken hours and a lot of paperwork. It might have ended up costing the same or even more—so in the interests of time and convenience (especially since Maggie was in the car with us) we think this was the best result. One thing for sure, we’ll be looking for those arrows on the side of the buildings before we head down any side streets!

Post Script: Since writing this Harry has talked to Linda, the Mexican woman who runs the Fiesta Apartments. She says that the police are not allowed to do this and are supposed to help tourists not shake them down. There are lots of ads on TV telling people not to bribe the police as it only encourages them. She says we should insist in following them to the police station to pay the fine. Often if you do this they will let you go. She says if it looks like they are insisting on being paid off you should offer the $100 pesos and tell them that's all the money you've got. Mexico is trying hard to stop the corruption of its officials--and I guess idiot tourists like us who willingly pay up aren't helping the effort much. Next time we'll know what to do.

1 comment:

Morbid said...

I laughed my bottom off when you got to the bit about *DUH* when the penny dropped.
I could just imagine the police in their vehicle after stopping a couple times saying, "Jeez - when are these Gringos gonna get the hint??"