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I have a love-hate relationship with the police in Panamá, sans the love. And this goes beyond the general graft and incompetence which I know to expect in any Latin Americna nation.

Two years ago I had a little run-in with one on my way to my great aunt's funeral mass. Some taxi had been following me for a couple of miles insisting that I had side-swiped him, but I had not and I refused to waste my time haggling with a taxero. So, stopped at a red light, he waved a transit cop over and told him I hit him. I gave the cop my license, told him that the taxi was fabricating his story, and explained that I was not going to pull over and waste my time as I was not going to be late to my great aunt's funeral. The cop started to get all huffy, and we exchanged angry words before I simply took off, when the light turned green. I didn't care that he still had my license; I only cared that I wasn't going to be late for the funeral because some taxero wanted to make some money off of the gringo.

I had another run-in this morning on my way back from Mass, yet not so pitched. Every once in a while, the transit cops set up road blocks -- para joder[1], we say -- where they check licenses, etc. On my way to Mass, I went through two of them. At the first one, the cop saw a gringo and decided I wasn't worth the effort, so he waved me through. At the second one I had to show my (Massachusetts) license and was let through.

I only got stopped once on the way back, but this one didn't go so smoothly. I showed my license, and then the cop asked to see my passport. "No tengo pasaporte," I told him as I showed him my Panamanian cedula. Then he asked me where my Panamanian driver's license was. I explained that I don't have one, since I live in the U.S. So, he asked again for my passport, and again I explained that I don't carry one. He made me pull over. Shortly he came up to the car and we repeated the exact same lines. Then he asked how long I had been in the country. I told him. He asked how he was supposed to know my entry date without a passport. I didn't have an answer for that. Then he told me the license plate on the piece-of-shit[2] car I was driving was expired. How was I supposed to know that! I've only been here a week and have only driven the car twice, once last Sunday to go to Shula's to watch the Chargers and once this morning to go to Mass.

Fortunately, I had no funeral or other pressing matter to get to, so I did not lose my patience as I sat there for over 10 minutes. Finally one of the cops (for at least 2 or 3 grilled me during that time) gave me back my license and cedula, told me I needed to get a Panamanian driving permit, and let me go. I asked where I could get such a permit, so as to give the impression that I would indeed waste my time on such an endeavor[3], and then took off.

<sigh> With all the legitimate problems with transit in Panamá, you'd think the cops would have something more constructive to do than set up roadblocks.

[1] Literally, this means "to fuck with you," but it sounds far less crass in Spanish.
[2] My opinion. If the cop agreed with me, he didn't say so, but the car probably wouldn't pass a safety inspection, something I realized as I drove to Mass this morning.
[3] I won't.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 28th, 2003 06:40 pm (UTC)
How totally infuriating.
Dec. 28th, 2003 10:44 pm (UTC)
um, you're driving a car with an expired license plate, and they just randomly let you go?

I'd consider that lucky, myself.
Dec. 29th, 2003 05:23 am (UTC)
That's not the point. The plate actually hadn't expired; my aunt had simply neglected to put the new sticker on. But the cop never would have noticed if he hadn't insisted on making a big deal about the lack of a passport, after which he pulled me over and started inspecting the car...or if there hadn't been one of those stupid roadblocks either, which my aunt, a lawyer, insists are not legal and which the transit cops are simply doing para joder.
Dec. 29th, 2003 05:39 am (UTC)
Besides which, there isn't really anything they could have done to me in this country besides hold me there for a while and piss me off. I suppose I could have slipped him my Andrew Jackson and be done with it, but then I'd be out $20 and would have risked getting the one honest cop in town.
Dec. 29th, 2003 12:55 am (UTC)
I would have thought that the moment you opened your mouth to speak, it would be clear that you are not really a gringo, but I guess not. Besides, once they have decided to fuck with you, it probably doesn't matter, anyway.

Dec. 29th, 2003 05:27 am (UTC)
You may not notice it, but I do have a bit of an accent -- mostly, my r's aren't so great and I trip over some words due to lack of practice. But, you're right, once the guy decided to pull me over, he was just searching for ways para joder.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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