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Paul Coates -- Confidential File, February 5, 1959

February 5, 2009 |  2:00 pm


Soiled Politics in Rosarito Raid

Paul_coates I'm back from the sleepy little border village of Tijuana after a quick visit to its dirty little jail.

And glad to be back.

Feeling much better now, thank you.

Had a hot bath to wash away the itchy feeling that I trust was all in my imagination. And I've had a few hours sleep to wipe clear the initial shock of what I saw.

Jails at their architectural best were not designed to rival Hilton hotels. But the Tijuana clink is one of the most evil-smelling, dirtiest-looking zoos I've ever seen.

And the sight of cells packed with Americans who were held for the reason that they got caught in the middle of a foreign political battle was one I won't forget in a hurry.

1959_0205_mirror_cover The fact that they were arrested in a gambling raid on a casino they were clearly led to believe was legally open is bad enough.

But the harsh, unreasonable terms of the bail set by a federal judge to keep them locked up were incredible.

What purpose this bizarre bit of Pan American diplomacy serves I cannot fathom. If you take the situation to its highest level, the raid was obviously pulled on orders of Mexico's new president Adolfo LopezMateos. 

The rumor has been racing around Tijuana since before Lopez Mateo's inauguration two months ago that el presidente nuevo had a yen to "get" Baja California's Gov. Braulio Maldonado.

Under Adolfo Ruiz Cortines, who went out of office Dec. 1, Maldonado had free reign in his state. Reportedly an old Veracruz buddy of Cortines, the governor was even being considered as presidential material.

However, Maldonado's general obstreperousness ired the new federal regime. His fingers were allegedly in too many jam jars, including the casino gambling activities at Rosarito Beach. 

Although the rattling of the casino's dice could be heard around the world, the governor reportedly answered in the negative every time an inquiry was made from the federal district as to whether nasty games of chance were being conducted in Baja California. 

Thus came the plan to embarrass Maldonado but good. Initial strategy was to catch the governor himself in the act of rolling snake-eyes, but that got goofed-up.

Instead of Maldonado, the feds settled for a few tanks full of American tourists, leaving Braulio to suffer a less direct type of embarrassment.

Bad in Any Language

This, in my opinion, is a real dirty way to play. Even for Latin American politics, it's dirty.

1959_0204_jail To help prevent another occurrence of this or any other subtle or flagrant tortures of Americans visiting Mexico, I have a suggestion for the State Department.

I'd like to see them run off little pamphlets to be handed to every American tourist who steps off U.S. soil into Mexico.

The pamphlets should point out that Mexican law isn't the same as American law.

They should warn us that if we pitch pennies or look over someone's shoulder and see a pair of dice, we could conceivably spend two or three years in federal prison.

Also, they should point out that we're committing a crime if we permit a drunk to ram into the rear end of our cars.

I think it's only intelligent for us to protect our citizens by informing them, before they step across the border, that they're proceeding at their own risk.

And the risk can be extremely great.