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Social Development Roadblock in Mexico

Social Development Road Block in Mexico The bus ground to a halt while moving on a highway on the lee side of a Mexican border town. A group of men moved towards the minibuses’ passenger door with a book of tickets in their hands. They opened the door themselves with a touch of authority, revealing [...]

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Social Development Road Block in Mexico

The bus ground to a halt while moving on a highway on the lee side of a Mexican border town. A group of men moved towards the minibuses’ passenger door with a book of tickets in their hands. They opened the door themselves with a touch of authority, revealing a group of nine foreigners within.

“15 pesos each,” was the demand.

This was the toll: all foreign looking people were required to pay 15 Mexican pesos to pass on the highway through this town.

“It is for our social development,” they told us.

No way, I was about to respond. But I did not have to, the other tourists did this for me. They said, no way.

“The agency said that all expenses were included.”

“This is just another way for them to get money out of tourists.”

The calls went around.

I sat silently, wondering what would become of this show down.

The men with the tickets sat to the right of me, peering through the door and into the bus at us. I just looked away out a window — nobody can make me reach into my pocket to withdraw money, even if it is for some village’s “social development.” I highly doubted that the driver had the balls to physically extract me from his van.

The other tourists showed the same stone face. They seemed to have grown bored of arguing with the guys at the toll, they tired of fighting with the bus driver. They either showed the stone face or looked out the window. We waited.

“The fee is obligatory,” the men continued. They told us that we could not pass through their community without paying. A Swiss girl piped up from the back of the bus and told the men in decent Spanish that if they wanted money to get it from the bus company, that we paid for our ticket and would not pay anything more.

The amount that was being demanded was slight — just over one USD per passenger — but it was the principle that counted.

I imagined what travel would be like if all poor communities in the world decided to set up road blocks like this one to extract obligatory donations from foreigners. One dollar to pass through this community, one dollar to pass through that one. All these communities would have to do is pick up a stack of tickets and get a group of men to flag down each vehicle that attempts to pass with a White Face within. If this village could set up a toll on the highway why couldn’t others?

This was truly medieval shit. Pay the toll or duel at the bridge for the right to cross.

“Its for our social development, the fee is obligatory,” the men continued explaining, “you can’t go until all of you pay.”

I sat back and watched. Not one tourist reached into their pockets. Each sat with their own culture’s version of the stone face on. I looked on amused, I knew that all it would take was one tourists to crack and hand over the 15 pesos and our dam would spring a leak and burst — the toll collectors would taste blood and everybody would have to pay.

But this did not happen.

Eventually, the men gave up on their toll, and they closed the door of the bus. We drove on. The bus driver explained how our refusal to pay the mandatory donation would create problems for him. We truly did not care.

There was something corrupt in this deal, I would not be surprised if this was something the bus driver set up with his buddies. There was something odd about how he pulled off of the road and drove right up to the little broken down building so the men there could try to extort a mandatory donation us.

Welcome to Mexico, Gringo.

Social development roadblock in Mexico

Filed under: Bus Travel, Central America, Danger, Mexico

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3705 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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6 comments… add one

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  • craig | travelvice.com September 3, 2010, 8:42 pm

    Amazing — haven’t heard of anything like this before and it’s utter nonsense. How interesting that none of the group being pressured cracked.

    If my Latina wife was there she’d would’ve started throwing things at them.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com September 4, 2010, 12:16 pm

      This was the truly amazing thing — nobody gave in, and these were like regular tourists and not cockroach backpackers. It was impressive.

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  • Paulo Martins September 4, 2010, 5:22 am

    That’s just so out of order.

    I would just pull my cell out and pretend I was calling la Policia Federal just to see their reaction.

    So what’s your plan buddy? Chiapas or Mexico City? Next week they have a huge celebration in D.F.

    Ciao 4 now

    ~ Paulo ~

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com September 4, 2010, 12:12 pm

      It was really unbelievable. This was the first time I have experienced this in my travels.

      Thinking of staying in San Cristobal for a month more, then moving north, staying places for a month at a time until we reach Mexico City. Would be great to be in D.F. for the bicentennial celebration, but I fear that we can’t move that fast — it is a long way to Mexico City. You should go though, and report back on how it was haha.

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  • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com September 8, 2010, 10:06 am

    I just received a report that these “social development roadblocks” are not rare in southern Mexico. As of late, they have been endemic, even shutting down some transportation routes. It seems as if whenever the people of a community feel as though they cannot acquire the money that they need to run their schools or other social services from the Mexican government, they take to the streets and set up these road blocks — demanding, more or less, 50 pesos per vehicle to pass.

    I met with a friend named Derek the other day in San Cristobal, and he told me that he went through two of these road blocks on his way from Palenque to San Cris. One was right outside of Palenque and the other was just before Ocosingo. He told me that they were demanding 50 pesos per vehicle to cross, and that he even say people being violently dragged away who, apparently, refused to pay. He added that a guy on his bus took a photo of the rough play, and he became the target of a group of men who forced him to delete the pictures.

    It seems as if the same thing is going on for the route to the border crossing with Guatemala at La Mesilla as Derek said that he tried to book a shuttle to take him there but the company said that they were not running because of the road blocks.

    Where is the Mexican government?

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