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Mexico should take the border money and run


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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Dan Cassino

By Dan Cassino
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
December 6, 1999
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On Friday, the fees to travel past Mexico's border region returned to their original level, between $10 and $15. This move comes after the fees were increased to between $400 and $800 earlier this week. Mexico City has flip-flopped three times on this issue, and, at this point, there is no reason for Mexico not to charge the fees. Mexico should just go through with their initial decision and reinstate the higher entrance fees.

A few months ago, the Mexican government resolved that it would make travelers coming in by car leave a deposit of $400 to $800 at the border. Then the government decided to reverse itself. Then the deposit was reinstated. It took effect, but was suspended the next day. Now, Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo has decided that the fees will be suspended indefinitely.

Damage from the fees has already been done. Even on Friday, after the Mexican government had rescinded the fees, the number of permits issued was far below normal levels for this time of the year. People are unsure about going into Mexico. Certainly, they don't want to pay $400 just to pop across the border and pick up some prescriptions, or smoke a cigar. Of course, the border fees don't apply to trips like that. Or do they? This is the problem. The whole situation was muddled to begin with, and the waffling of the Mexican government on the issue has only muddled the issue further.

People are already uncomfortable about going into Mexico. There is a reason that tourists planning to drive into Mexico generally take out special insurance. There is a reason that normal insurance doesn't cover ventures south of the border. Tales abound of foreigners being kidnapped at gunpoint to be held for a supposedly lucrative ransom. Many travelers believe, correctly or not, that "morditas," bribes, are necessary to stay out of trouble with the law.

As if anyone giving the money really believed that they would get it back. Officially, a traveler could get her money back if she exited through the same portal she came in at, while the office that handled the deposits happened to be open, and the officials could find the records. For some reason, many travelers weren't confident that they would be able to get their "deposit" back.

At the very least, going through with the fees will gain the Mexican government some much needed income. Despite any other reasons that Mexico City might give, the idea for the fees originated not with the departments of foreign relations or the interior, both primarily concerned with tourists, but rather with the department of commerce.

Of course, this issue has ramifications outside of making Americans less likely to enter Mexico. President Zedillo is wary of alienating voters dependent on the tourist trade. His already struggling party can't afford to have anyone jump off of the bandwagon. Also, he was already receiving political pressure to remove the fees from the United States - where the American Association of Retired Persons is the most influential lobby group in Washington.

Apparently, the Mexican government didn't figure that anyone would really mind. After all, Americans have lots of money when they go on vacation, and the whole thing was more like a rebate that the average consumer gets on a computer than a real fee. They didn't think about all of the Mexicans living in the United States who want to drive home to see their families over Christmas. They didn't count on the objections of elderly tourists on limited budgets who get very upset very quickly. In fact, one source said that the Mexican government hadn't anticipated any objection to the plan at all.

Even though the Mexican government has decided that it will not be charging the crossing fees, it has already taken all of the heat for doing so. By flip-flopping on the issue now, they have insured that will take the hit for the crossing fees, but will not receive the revenue that they would have received from the fees. As they can do very little to change their public image, the only thing they can do to salvage their situation is charge the fees. Or, as Woody Allen said: take the money and run.

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