For as long as I can remember local expats have groused about being harassed by unscrupulous traffic cops who coerce them into shelling out on-the-spot payoffs to avoid paying official fines, or worse, threats of having their vehicles towed off for impoundment.
Well, the time has come to make a stand against the engrained practice of graft, commonly known as la mordida (the bite).
There’s a new man in charge at Chapala’s municipal transit department. His name is Gerardo Bautista and he is working closely with expat community liaison Héctor España to root out corruption among notorious state traffic officers assigned to the lakeside area. The two local officials have put out appeals through social networks encouraging motorists to report incidents when they are hit up for mordidas.
It’s discouraging to learn that a number of victims tell them they won’t file formal complaints for fear of reprisals. The attitude is unfounded and absolutely counter-productive. Hear me folks. This is a golden opportunity, so put up or shut up!
Sure, foreigners are easy targets. Many don’t speak enough Spanish to talk their way out of nasty encounters with figures of authority. Many seem to be ignorant of traffic laws and automobile regulations, generally not all that different from those of their homelands.
My first bit of advice is to brush up on the rules of the road. Local attorney Spencer McMullen explains the nuts and bolts in his updated guide to driving and traffics laws. Log on to www.chapala.com and search out the document in the articles section. As one of my high school teachers used to say, “Read, mark and inwardly digest.”
Then, when you get out on there on the road, avoid the traps that set you up for trouble. Have your car and personal papers in order per Spencer’s guidelines. Don’t make left turns at the Libramiento bypass unless the green turn arrow is showing on the traffic light. Use the round-about to turn off the highway at the signals in La Floresta. Buckle up your seat belt. Don’t ride around with your pet pooch in your lap or while gabbing on your mobile phone.
If pulled over by a traffic patrol, it will likely be by one of the state guys. The municipal traffic police still don’t have authority to enforce the law. Threatened with towing or the mordida “option” to escape a ticket, remain calm and polite while making note of pertinent information required to lodge a complaint.
The officer should be wearing an official badge from which you can get his name. Reporting “El Gordo” doesn’t cut it. If that’s too scary, then at least jot down the clearly visible number of the patrol vehicle. And remember the date, time and place your face-off with the man occurs. You can print out a copy of the complaint form in Spencer’s guide to be sure you record the necessary information. España can help fill in the blanks.
The Gringos Ajijic Facebook group is also promoting a windshield sticker available to people jumping on the anti-corruption bandwagon. If you don’t have the courage to fight the bite, just zip it.