Vacation season is coming fast. Some of you may plan on a trip to Mexico. Here in Mexico we have a situation called “Mordida” (bite). It has been going on a long time in this country and doesn’t look to be ending any time soon. Mordida is essentially giving a ‘payoff’ to avoid a more problematic traffic ticket.
If you have actually perpetrated a traffic infraction mordida might be called expedient justice. In this instance it is efficient and usually will cost less than a comparable infraction in the United States; if nothing else it will not have an effect on your Mexican insurance and driving record.
Mordida fees generally run from 50 pesos to as much as 1500 pesos. It is mostly administered with threatening actions about how you will pay more, be delayed or possibly have your vehicle impounded etc. So that when you do give up a couple 500 pesos notes you will go away relieved, until you have time to stew on it.
Understand that the penalty fee is negotiable. The more intestinal fortitude you possess the less you will pay. This does not mean the one that shouts the loudest wins – quite the contrary. You must remain calm and polite at all times. You can be firm about your stand but this must be done in a respectable manner. In Mexico generally there will be no gain in exhibiting an upset demeanor – none.
We advise not carrying much money in your wallet with your license. DO NOT flash a lot of cash – this is their money in your possession. We usually have a 50 peso and two 100 peso notes – no more. If you don’t have pesos yet then a five and two tens.
We use a laminated copy of our actual driver’s license – not the original. It is in a cheap wallet with a few expired credit cards and a temporary membership card to AARP. A few photos are a nice touch – but if they take your wallet it won’t be missed. I have heard of a wallet being held – but have not experienced this.
On one occasion I was asked if the license I provided was an original. I explained it was a copy as I didn’t want to lose the original – nothing further was said on that. Do not lie to them.
There are a few things you can do to lessen the mordida fee or have it expunged all together. The first I have brought up several times. If we are motioned to pull over by a uniformed person standing next to or in the street, we ignore them and continue driving. Of course this takes great courage – ignoring a police officer’s attempt to detain you.
When you spot ahead one of these uniformed bandits, avoid eye contact as you approach and pass them. This will substantiate your story if need be. We have done this more than a dozen times and NEVER have we been chased down. If we do get stopped by an officer with transportation – the plan is simple – we didn’t see the person motioning to us to pull over – simple. Again, we have never been tracked down and we have driven past no less than 12 attempts to pull us over.
If you have been here a while you have heard all that. Here is some additional information: There is a public workers union office specifically charged with investigating police matters and dismissing corrupt officials. Sindicatura is the name of the outfit. That is: SEEN-DEE-KAH-TOO-RA. Regardless of the bribing officer’s ability to understand your Spanish or English, the officer will understand this word. Declaring the word is like driving a stake into Count Dracula’s heart. Actually calling in the Sindicatura group is like notifying ‘Internal Affairs’. The mere mention of Sindicatura will most likely end any further effort to relieve you of your money.
If the officer offers the option of going to the Police Station when you know you have not broken some driving law – tell the officer you do want to go to talk to Juez Califvador (WHES CAL-EEF-AH-DOR). This is a qualifying judge. This person will determine whether the fine amount and accused violation(s) is reasonable and appropriate.
Using either of these two words and methods will most often be perceived as too much trouble. You will be kindly told to move on. Others have suggested having a camera handy to capture a photo of the officer. Although I have yet to try to grab a photo – this can be a sign of disrespect and might even lead to losing your camera – no experience here on that.
We notify the officer right off – first thing - we live here in Mexico. Occasionally that alone will end the bribe attempt. Their designs are on the fearful and uneducated. They don’t need to get into a verbal joust or engage potential problems – there are plenty of others, read most that will fearfully and willingly shell out the dough.
Write these words down on paper. Put it in your glove box – a copy in all your cars. Mordida is a fact of life in Mexico. The situation is a lot less threatening than a new visitor usually perceives. We find the police pleasant and even considerate – willing to ‘forgive’ or strike a deal or respond to reason like the two words above. Stay Tuned!