Traffic Police and the Unfortunate “MORDIDA”

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G. Donohoe

It seems that it is that time once again for the Baja Citizen to warn visitors and residents alike in La Paz of the ever-present nuisance “la mordida”.
“La mordida”, or translation “the bite” is the local term used for a bribe. It is the traditional and customary way of getting things done in Mexico. The bureaucrat who does your bidding takes a bite out of the cost of completing your objective.
Mexican reformers are trying to change this situation with little success. It seems to be so institutionalized that it could take decades before the problem changes.
Unfortunately, Mexican cops are notorious for wanting bribes. In general, though, most of the police are helpful, polite and honest. Approach them as such, and never offer a bribe or raise your voice, and they will generally behave that way.
Sadly, the few bad apples out there are busy and almost every foreigner I know that spends any time here has experienced the mordida “squeeze.” Having documents to report traffic police incidents at car rental offices is a good start in La Paz. Most agencies are located on the Malecon and easy to find. They would be happy to help you fill out the form and get it to those who can deal with the problem. But this has limitations, especially because it’s after the fact and doesn’t inform tourists of how to handle a traffic stop.
The truth is, handling a traffic stop in a foreign language is baffling and scary. I suggest that you have a “cheat sheet” with two columns of the same phrase, one in English, and the other in Spanish. A police officer and a tourist/resident can use to communicate. Both parties can point to the appropriate phrase in their language, with the other party seeing the translation in the other column. I developed such a cheat sheet for family that come and visit and this has worked well.
However, if you know you broke the law and are faced with dealing with a police officer, please do us all a favor and just take the ticket and pay it. They are based on the shockingly low Mexican minimum wage, so are generally not very expensive and can be even cheaper than a bribe.
If you are taking the ticket and paying the fine, the following are common traffic violations and the corresponding fine found on the webpage  Fines are listed in pesos and are calculated based on the minimum wage for Baja California Sur.  When this was calculated, the minimum wage in BCS was 57.46 pesos daily, although this will be changing soon with the new labor reform law.  So please use below as an example. For example, the fine for speeding is based on 20 minimum wages, which equals 1149.20 pesos.

Driving through a red light   1149.20 pesos
Too many passengers in a vehicle    287.30 pesos
Making an illegal U-turn       287.30 pesos
Not reporting a change of address for your license 114.92 pesos
Parking on the sidewalk  172.38 pesos.
Not wearing a seatbelt 172.38 pesos.
Speeding 1149.20 pesos
Making a turn without signaling 114.92 pesos
Driving without a helmet on a motorcycle 114.92 pesos

It is very important to note that if fines are paid within one week, a 50% discount will be applied.  I recently paid around 89 pesos for a ticket I received for parking on the sidewalk (I was in a hurry!) and I paid the fine 5 working days after I received the ticket. Fines can be paid at the Transito offices, which are located on the corner of Colima and México.
If you however didn’t break the law, your situation is made easier by the fact that the most Mexican governments, especially here in La Paz, are seriously cracking down on cops taking bribes. You can usually get out of an undeserved ticket and bribe because the cop is afraid of getting turned in and losing his job. It could take some serious time and negotiation, but a dishonest officer will generally back down.
If you are someone you know has a “mordida” problem, it is so important that you a) take the ticket, pay the fine and do not pay the “mordida” or bribe and b) report the incident with as much detail as possible to the City of La Paz Tourism department at or call them at 121 6870. Please also feel free to e-mail me, I would be happy to pass on all the information as well.  It really bothers me, and tourism officials as well, that one incident with a “mordida” asking police officer ruins so many wonderful memory-making adventures here in La Paz.
The “mordida” experience has to stop leaving a disappointing image of the city to our guests.  Please do your part.

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