Tales of police corruption are not uncommon in Latin America. From fishing for minor bribes to full scale occurrences of looking-the-other-way, we have heard many stories during our travels. And up until now we had managed to avoid any tangles with the law.
Well, up until last Tuesday, that is, as Pete was on his way to find me in West End. Thankfully it was only a minor skirmish, which ended up being more entertaining then anything….
So, after a hellish day that included an unsuccessful baseball game and a false alarm scare at the house we’re taking care of, I was ready to relax and have a few drinks while kickin’ it beachside. Dalene was already a few hours ahead of me on that, so I made my way to West End to find her with our friends.
I crawled my way through a couple of traffic jams and as I got closer to the West End entrance, I saw why. Traffic police were set up to check vehicles and somewhat control the flow of traffic (i.e. make it worse) at that particularly busy corner. Finally it was my turn to approach the officers. They immediately asked if I spoke Spanish, to which I replied “more or less”; I told them where I was going and they allowed me to proceed forward.
Then all of a sudden…CRUNCH…under my front left tire. A couple of officers began banging on my vehicle, telling me to stop.
Oh shit! What did I hit?
One officer told me to turn off the vehicle and get out. He pointed immediately at my victim – a traffic cone wedged under the bumper. He motioned for me to pick it up and put it back in the middle of the road, which I did.
“Licencia, por favor,” was his next request. I retrieved my International License from the glove box and handed it to him. He looked at it mockingly, handed it back and stated that this was not a licencia. I pointed to the big, bold writing at the top that states clearly “International License”, and showed him my photo inside. He was still not satisfied, so I handed him my Canadian license. He grabbed it, told me to get back in the vehicle and pull it over to the side of the road. Yes, I had been holding up traffic that whole time.
I waited in my vehicle for the officer to return to talk to me. He stood with his buddies, my license in hand, watching other vehicles drive by, in no apparent rush to do anything about our situation. It was then that I called Dalene and asked her to bring our friend Diana who could speak Spanish far better than either of us.
While I waited for them to show up, the officer returned to my vehicle and asked again if I spoke Spanish. Well, officer…no better than I did ten minutes ago. He proceeded to outline that I had two options (from what I understood) – he could either write me a ticket, or I could backtrack to the nearest gas station to buy some gasolina for one of their bikes.
Say what? I asked him how much gas I would need to buy, to which he responded that the amount was voluntary. I asked him again to tell me how much to pay, and he instead abandoned me in my vehicle and returned to the other officers. A compulsion to yell “corrupto!” was beginning to overcome me, but I thought better of it, wanting to avoid any time in a Honduran jail. And thankfully, Dalene and Diana arrived.
After filling them in on the story, they decided to go and talk to the officer holding my license. I got out of the truck to go with them, but was immediately yelled at by the officer to return. And thus my fate now lay in Dalene and Diana’s ability to smooth talk…
We crossed the street to the clump of police officers standing on the corner, one of which held Pete’s license. Diana proceeded to launch into several questions about why they were holding his license and pointing out the fact that it was, indeed, just a plastic cone that was hit. A cone that, unblemished, had returned to it’s full line of duty. No harm done.
The officer was apparently not impressed with this new, Spanish-word-wielding foe, and waved her off before walking away entirely. “She is complicating things,” he continued to say, all in a huff. He passed on Pete’s papers to another officer, who casually walked over to where I was standing.
I, not knowing enough Spanish, pleaded in the only words I knew to use: “Señor, por favor. Somos voluntarios aqui, todo bien.” (Sir, please. We are volunteers here, it’s all good). I told him I was Pete’s wife and asked him to please explain what the problem was.
He led us back to the truck . On the way, he briefly stood next to the cone, motioning and explaining (as far as I could tell), that yes, it was just a cone he hit, but it easily could have been one of them. He scolded Pete on needing to have more respect for the traffic police, and proceeded again to tell us that this all could be cleared up if we would just buy them some gas at the nearest station. “Yes, no problem,” we all said, anxious to just get this over with.
Diana and I climbed into the vehicle with Pete and we drove away. We discussed the issue of buying them gas, how were we supposed to buy it for them? If we just left now, what could they actually do about it?
And so, we left.
Did that really happen? Pete was still enraged…
“I’m sure he threw that cone under my tire when I wasn’t looking,” I said. “And besides, it’s just a damn cone!”