Apr 22, 2013

Bribes in Mexico – Not a Chance Right? No April’s Fool

A suntan is earned, not bought.

On the cruisers’ morning radio net one day, we were informed by a reliable source (i.e.: the harbor master of Paradise Village Marina who had met face to face with customs and immigration) that things were changing in Mexico. 

If you followed the rules and had the appropriate paperwork when you entered or re-entered this country with "jewelry" for your boat (or other high ticket items) you would not encounter any surprises with unforeseen fees since everything would have been made clear right up front prior to your departure from Mexico.  New well educated teams of Customs Officers were now in place at various airports to handle your needs speedily, in English if necessary, and without bribes…  Wow – we are impressed, Mexico is finally coming into the 21st century.

We followed the rules; we have all the paperwork we need, two times we come back from the US with many items and things run really smoothly.  We are starting to believe that things are indeed changing for the better.

On the third trip, with only Mike going ‘home’ to the US and back to retrieve our repaired and under warranty radar and display screen things don’t work quite as well.  He has all paperwork in hand proving that Déjàlà had a radar and display screen when we entered the country in November 2011.  These items are clearly shown on our TIP (Temporary Import Permit).  We have proof that this is a warranty issue.  The radar unit is less than 2 years old and no longer works.  We have to return the unit to the manufacturer to be tested and fixed.  We also have all the RMA paperwork (Return Merchandise Authorization), our original invoice, and pictures of the unit installed on the boat. 
Mike goes through customs at Nogales without a hitch.  A few miles down the road, there is a second check point.  It is near 9pm.  It is dark.  There is hardly anybody around except for two checkpoint officers.  Mike is asked for $375 to bring in the radar unit.  He shows them the paperwork to prove there is no need to pay for these fees.  They completely disregard the paperwork.  Automatic weapons are plainly visible.  Mike is asked to leave the money in the bathroom or go back to the US.  He finally bargains them down to $200 US since that is all he has in pocket.  It’s obvious this is a shakedown.  Not knowing if waiting around for more help in the morning was feasible, paying seemed the best option.  Going back to the US would’ve also meant paying for another bus fare and starting all over again. Many asked if he got a receipt for money handed to them.  Are you kidding!

All this to say that Mexico hasn’t quite changed completely yet.  Bribes are still a probability when in this country.  The new problem faced by visitors is figuring out which official is from the ‘new school’, and which officer operates in the time tested fashion.  Age, uniform, or location helps, but isn’t foolproof.  For us Norte Americanos, better to be prepared for either option. 

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