Roger writing the LAWmag

Law and Order in Mexico - A Blast From the Past

(Mexico) What would a tourist in Canada say about our legal system?

Would the gay lovers strolling hand in hand down Robson Street in Vancouver raise eyebrows?

Would the crazy taxi drivers in Montreal bring rebuke?

Would our excellent education and health system be the cause for envy?

Would they feel an undercurrent of "difference" engendered by those that relish, in Canada, wearing their religion on their sleeves?

When discriminate tourists speak, we should listen. They see our country without the sunglasses of patriotism.

And so it was with these eyes in Mexico where each vehicle of the public bus system is owned and run independently. There must not be a Spanish word for "late" or "not on time".

No recycling program means that we throw the innumerable empty plastic water and soft drink bottles right into the trash bin. In my resort, that’s 10 plastic bottles a day for my family, times 500 rooms or 5,000 empty plastic bottles in the trash per day at the Marival Resort alone.

There are no non-smoking regulations so smokers go wild, leaving the rest of us to gasp through cigar and cigarette smoke at every restaurant, lounge or other public area. For the Mexicans must believe they are immune to second-hand smoke.

From Health Canada:

"(S)econd-hand smoke in the air … are 4,000 chemicals in the smoke. More than 50 of these chemicals are carcinogens. This means they cause cancer. The chemicals also contribute directly to other diseases, such as asthma, heart disease and emphysema.

"When someone smokes in your home, second-hand smoke spreads from one room to another, even if the door to the smoking area is closed. In addition, potentially toxic chemicals in second-hand smoke can cling to rugs, curtains, clothes, food and other materials, and can usually remain in a room or car long after someone has smoked there. Studies have shown there is no level of ventilation that will eliminate the harmful effects of second-hand smoke."

Police – at least in Puerto Vallarta - are rare and I’m told that they are easily bribed. Being pulled over for a traffic violation never seems to occur – except for profit - and as can be expected by that, speeding, tailgating and veering in and out of traffic or on the emergency shoulder-  is rampant.

Canadian professor and researcher Bernard Wasow wrote of his experience:

"Four hours after departing lovely Morelia, a town in the Mexican highlands, we were in the middle of rush hour traffic in Mexico City, trying to reach the airport….. My wife, a true wiz at map reading, had got us nearly there when one of the many traffic policemen near the airport ordered us to the curb. There he told us that we had violated two laws — one of them the speed limit, which would have been physically impossible to violate in that bumper-to-bumper traffic — and that he would confiscate my driver's license. In case we doubted him, he produced a stack of confiscated driver's licenses for my consideration. With our poor Spanish, we were no match for him, and after several minutes of futile efforts, we gave him five $20 bills, which he pocketed while walking away, waving us on."

Mexico sidewalkA young fellow at a Nuevo Vallarta bus stop joked of the unfitness of police officers and that all Mexican drivers keeping a small roll of bills to use if they ever are pulled over as it is useful in getting the police officer to walk away or issue a simple warning. This stunt shouldn’t be attempted anywhere else in North America.

So too are other - though less significant - still major contributors to the generalized contempt or defiance the driving population shows towards traffic law.

"Alto" signs (stop) are taken as yield signals – if not priority turn signals!

Lanes do not open up for screaming ambulances.

Pick-up trucks jam-packed with construction workers fill the streets at 6 PM like clockwork. A taxi drivers explains that the drivers are "banditos" and that they don’t get pulled over because they’ve given money to the police to ignore them; a bribe.

Other pick-up trucks race around with children loosely sitting in the back. Only tourists search for seat-belts and most of them are sealed under seat covers.

The sidewalks in Puerto Vallarta are so narrow but especially dotted with pedestrian man-traps such as gaping holes far larger than the average foot, metal bars protruding, uneven concrete slabs. Defective sidewalks - like the one pictured - are everywhere.

And this is the two foot wide sidewalk next to the roads where cars zip by at breathtaking speed.

I can personally vouch for the WHO’s recent assessment:

"Risk factors for motor vehicle collisions in Mexico are multifaceted but include speed, drinking and driving, lack of seat-belt wearing by adults, not strapping children in child restraints, poor infrastructure for pedestrians…."

Mexico must be a hellhole of personal injury as there seems to be a gross absence of common sense. The merchants make no effort to warn pedestrians of obstacles by, for example, the use of a small orange plastic cone. All so avoidable by simple courtesy – never mind being good for business – Mexicans just seem to take risk in stride. With the brutal pre-Spanish rituals for the young, such as passing horned straw through their tongues, one wonders if a catastrophic injury is the modern day Mayan rite of passage. Or whether a historic acceptance of pain and suffering still persists.

According to the World Health Organization, the leading cause of death for Mexicans aged 0-19 is accidents generally and motor vehicle accidents specifically. In 2005, 17,000 Mexicans died in traffic accidents.

Business Monitor International reports that in Mexico, circa 2007, insurance "premium growth is relatively high."

In spite of a public health care system and housing for all, there can’t be any liability insurance coverage as the insurers would be insolvent on their first day. Or if there is liability insurance, there must be significant loopholes in the law or the justice system; or a complete absence of occupiers or nuisance or liability.

For all the statements of the Mexican government about their justice system, the proof is in the pudding. If inner-Puerto Vallarta is a microcosm of Mexico, the Mexican Courts must be winking at liability claims. Only this would explain the laissez faire and careless attitude of the population towards the safety of their neighbour.

Why; how does this happen? Do Mexicans have an innate sense of death and injury such that rather than promote an environment that prevents it, there is an acceptance of it?

Mexico bullfightingCruelty and associated insensitivities, is taught young in Mexico. There is no age limit at the toro ring, where a piece of skin is ripped from the tail of young male bull to incense him. While the bull can be heard bellowing under the stands, a man comes out into the ring and holds up a sign showing which restaurant is sponsoring the "fight". The crazed bull is then released into an oval surrounded by cheering Mexicans (and, it must be said, Canadian and American tourists).

Colourfully dressed "matadors" swing a red cape at the bull. While he is so distracted, a heavily-padded and blind-folded horse enters the ring with a rider holding a long lance.

The enraged bull charges the horse and attempts to lift it up while the driver surgically skewers the bull’s back with the lance so as to cause blood to stream down both shoulders, after which the horse and mystery rider exits the ring.

Then the matadors puncture the bull’s back further with four to six brightly coloured two-foot long hooked skewers, which then hang down and cause more blood flow.

The matador then teases the tiring bull with the cape for about 10 minutes while the crowd roars its approval. Such courage(!) - the matador is scored on this part.

If it’s not courage, it must be sheer stupidity. Two of the four matadors I saw - including one young woman ("Hilda"), were caught, thrown and trampled by the bull, one carried out and away by ambulance. This drew the greatest cry from the crowd.

Eventually, when the bull shows enough exhaustion, the matador attempts to pierce the young bull’s back through the shoulder blade and to the heart. I saw one matador miss slightly and the tip of the sword blade came out the bull’s rib cage.

When the bull is finally down, another support matador comes over and with a 6-inch knife and dramatic flourish for the crowd, stabs the bull in the back of the neck, severing its spinal cord.

The trophy – an ear - is cut off and paraded around the ring by the matador and if the fight has been especially good, the main judge may authorize the removal of the tail as well.

In comes the horse again, this time without the padding or blindfold but with rope behind it which is wrapped around the dead bull, and the carcass dragged out and away, all to the delight of the crowd. Overhead and around the ring are beef restaurant ads. Arena staff hawk souvenirs such as authentic bull skewers, with the pointed arrow tip shielded in an upside down plastic beer glass. One young Caucasian boy, who looked all of 8, sat proudly with his pink and yellow skewer as his dad beamed with pride.

A steady line of visitors leave right away during and after the first bull "fight", one mother raising her voice for all to hear about the abject cruelty. I cry out "SPCA! SPCA!" which elicits a ring of laughter but a look of horror from my brother-in-law.

The "sport" is a high profile symptom of the relative lawlessness of Mexico.

Back in the USA or Canada, we watch Mexico slowly come of age, 100-million people, themselves brutally ripped from the culture by the Spaniards only 450 years ago (see Puerto Vallarta Law). But to visit is like entering a time machine of law and order and setting the clock for the Far West.


Posted in International Law, Personal Injury and Tort Law