Thursday, March 14, 2019

Driving in Mexico 2019

Mexico Customs (la Aduana) considers your vehicle contraband if you leave the border zone without first getting a Temporary Import Permit (Importación Temporal) from Banjercito (Make sure you understand how your security deposit will be returned to you) in addition to your personal visa and your Mexico insurance (I got mine from GNP).  Here's my sad story:

As I begin writing this, I sit in a hotel I never planned to get in a city where I never planned to stay overnight. It is late afternoon. I have been here 12 days since Mar 2. I have been to la Policía Vial several times, Comercios del Exterior and Fiscalización in their downtown offices at the Héroes de la Reforma building a couple of times, SAT at Cosmos y Pino, SAT Aduana (Customs) de Chihuahua at Homero cerca de Industrias a couple of times, ProDeCon taxpayer ombudsman office twice, Cuidad Juárez four hours away twice, and a kind State Senator's office a 5-minute walk from my Hotel Santa María multiple times finally this week.
Map of northern Chihuahua
Northern Chihuahua
(4 hr drive from Juarez to Chih.)

In preparation for my first extended interior Mexico trip since my Mormon mission in 1985, I searched the web for "Mexico driver's license" etc. and bought a year's worth of insurance from GNP for $192. I also went to Nogales to get a visa (which nobody has shown the least interest in examining). While I was in front of the customs rep, I asked if I needed anything else to drive in Mexico ("¿Hay algo más que necesito para manejar en México?") But she pretty much ignored me. Afterward I searched the web a bit more, but since I didn't find anything that looked correct or official, I entered Mexico on Mar 1 with a passport, visa, and insurance. At the Ciudad Juarez Ysidro Zaragoza port I stopped in a diagonal pull-through bay where they looked at my 1999 Chevy Metro, asked me where I was going, and let me through. Further south at the inspection station leaving the border zone they waved me through, and I continued south, sleeping Friday night in a Pemex gas station parking lot in Villa Ahumada.

On that Saturday morning I rolled through Chihuahua, Chihuahua with nary a stop on the Juventud Loop Expressway (Periférico de la Juventud). I stopped in south Chihuahua to work at a Ciber Cafe and got a dialect consultation with a young Communications graduate. Leaving Chihuahua southwest to park in Parral for the night, I was waved through a Highway Patrol checkpoint just south of El Fresno (28.5157056,-106.1822343 WGS84) at 4:30, then chased and pulled over after leaving the checkpoint. I started a Facebook Live video while pulling over.

Map of Chihuahua, Chihuahua
Chihuahua, Chihuahua
I was missing a windshield sticker. I needed a Temporary Import Permit for my vehicle. I needed to go to Customs, present my passport, registration, license, and insurance, and get the permit.

"Can it be done here in Chihuahua, or I need to go back to Juarez?"

"You can't do it anymore.

"And the judge, the vehicle is going to be impounded, you can't get the vehicle back. The vehicle is lost. And as for you, the judge will decide how long you stay arrested. ... You aren't going to be able to get it back anymore. ... I am going to drive it in to the station. ... You are going to be handcuffed. You knew you needed the permit. Tell the people on the video. Yes, you knew. Yes, you knew."

They read me my rights, showed me handcuffs, took my keys and license, and asked me to sit in their truck. But eventually they returned everything and escorted me driving back to Chihuahua where they impounded my car at the Highway Patrol headquarters (28.6128733,-106.105889 WGS84)--with me under the impression I'd be spending the night at the station waiting to see a judge--and sent me out on the street at 7:00 p.m. with the scant equipment I had gathered from my car, an understanding I needed to get an Assurance of Return, and instructions to return Monday morning at 9:00 to find out from Lic. Eva Orozco how to get my car back.

From there everything is a long comedy of errors and angels until Mar 14 at 10:00 when I brought from Juarez to Orozco's office the coveted approved Assurance of Return and she said, "This isn't it."

Map of my world in downtown Chihuahua, Chihuahua
My world in downtown Chihuahua, Chihuahua
(10-min walk from Hotel Santa Maria to Soriana or Heroes De La Reforma)
By that time I had been around the city and to Juarez a couple of times, and I was no longer working alone. I had been to the Taxpayer Ombudsman office ProDeCon where they helped me draft a letter requesting the Assurance of Return, and I had refused to sign a version that would require me to swear falsely. I had been to the LDS Church Chihuahua Ward on Mar 3 and Mar 10. On Mar 10 I met a brother who put me in contact with a State Senator. The Senator's assistant Alex had worked with me to get the Assurance from Juarez and was in contact with me to resolve the matter.

By that time I also had been to customs offices etc multiple times where I learned that:
1. Customs knows nothing about the car and has no jurisdiction until the Highway Patrol transfers it to Customs.
2. Once it is transferred to Customs, it is imported to Mexico and I am liable for the full taxes and import fees if I want to get it back eventually. My only practical hope is to get it back while still in Highway Patrol custody.

By that time I also knew that:
1. All talk of handcuffs, judge, and arrest on the highway had been empty threats, possibly extorting a bribe.
2. Lic. Eva Orozco Torres had no intention of releasing the car to me via legal channels. She persistently had given me incomplete guidance and no cooperation. Most other people I dealt with the entire time appeared to be decent people. But she appeared adamant I would not get the car.
3. My only hope for improving the situation lay in exposing the corruption to the people helping me including the Senator's assistant.

Week 3

I finally got my car back from the State Department, Sub-Department of Revenue, Office of Audits, Foreign Commerce Coordination on the second floor of the Heroes of the Reform Building on Mar 21 at 2:30 p.m. I was back in the USA that night.


Elizabeth T said...

What an adventure! I want to hear how it turns out!

Thomas Gail Haws said...

I added maps and a quick conclusion. I hope to add more later. :-)

Julie said...

Glad your back.

Unknown said...

Good to hear the you are both back safely.

kdhaws said...

You are a brave and patient man. This needs to be made available for the Senator's office to read.