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Paul V. Coates--Confidential File

October 22, 2007 |  6:03 pm

Oct. 22, 1957

Paul_coates A man once made the comment about Tijuana:

"Pleasures are cheap there, but pain is cheaper."

And, for a long time, I felt the statement didn't leave much to be disputed. Especially, as far as United States tourists were concerned.

In fact, 15 months ago, I checked quite thoroughly into some of the pain reported by visitors from the U.S.

Most of the reports were borne out with substantial evidence.

And nearly all centered around a discrepancy in the traffic accident laws of this country and Mexico. Plus, I should add, a common Latin American practice called the "mordida" system.

In basic English, "mordida" means bribe.

There came to light cases where U.S. tourists in serious need of medical attention were held for hours, even days, in prison--until they came across with enough American green to convince the powers at hand that their injuries were serious.

With the Tijuana police and other minor officials, it became a game to see who could have his palm crossed the most. And to hell with human suffering.

Equally shocking was the apparently unconcerned attitude of the U.S. consul in Tijuana.

1957_1022_commandments After I wrote a series of articles pointing out some amazingly inhuman treatment, I heard lots of promises.

They came from men as important and "concerned" as Braulio Maldonada, governor of Baja California.

But, without exception, they died before they were born.

That, pretty much, is how matters remained for more than a year.

This week, however, I had a talk with a man named John A. Flores. He is a public relations counselor for the Asociacion Nacional Automovilistica -- the National Automobile Club of Mexico.

"Our company has a new service," he told me. "I think it will interest you--because, actually, it was prompted very much by your articles of last year."

The service, Flores told me, is for U.S. tourists who plan to visit any place in Mexico.

Its cost is $6 a year.

For the fee, a tourist will receive routine benefits such as emergency towing and mechanical services, gasoline discounts and free airport parking privileges.

But most important, Flores stressed, is a service he called "complete representation."

"We have three attorneys in Tijuana alone," he said, "and one each in Mexicali, Tecate and Ensenada.

"If any member has an accident he can call us and we will send a legal representative to the scene. We're a big organization. And we are respected.

"In minutes," he pointed out, "we we can cut out the confusion, the double-talk, any abusive treatment and things like excessive fines."

It sounded like a very good program.

"What about the mordida system?" I asked. "The payoff."

He started to answer but stopped. It was obvious that he wanted to give me an honest reply.

"We'll--well, we'll do what we can. One thing is certain--we'll cut it down."

If he had said he could cut it out overnight, I'd suspect that he were capable of miracles.

"Everything takes time," Flores told me. "Our organization is even trying to spearhead legislation to modernize Mexico's entire traffic law system."

In Mexico, as regulations now stand, it's against the law to be involved in an accident--whether you're in the right nor not.

"You've got to remember," Flores added, "that most Mexicans aren't any happier about it than Americans."

It took a private company with a little enterprise, but at least a tourist can now have some protection and representation if he becomes entangled with Tijuana's so-called system of justice.