Paying Bribes in the Third World-or, how not to spend your day in Santo Domingo

I am sitting in my rental car on an obscure side street in Santo Domingo while a member of the Dominican Republic’s finest fleeces me for $60.  This is way more than I’m used to having to pay for a bribe in the Third World, so I’m a little pissed.

I got here because I am white, and, while that in itself is not against the law here, it does mean that I probably have money, and thus am a big, fat, rich, Gringo target for any dirtbag cop who wants to supplant his meager wages, which, I’m told later, fall somewhere between a welfare check and a cashier at Wal Mart.  But I am also foolish enough to find myself stuck in rush hour traffic in downtown Santo Domingo, and thus have no means of escape.  So my crime is that I’m a sitting target and I’m caucasian.

My mistake.  I should have known that I would need to be constantly wary of dirty cops who might tap on my window and ask to see my license, which two of them do.  My second mistake is that, upon demand, I actually produce said license, which one of the pigs immediately pockets while motioning for me to follow him, muttering something about writing me a ticket.

The two cops are in full battle regalia, including helmets, combat boots, and black uniforms with flak vests that have the “National Police” logo prominently stenciled across the back.  They are both on the same motorcycle (also marked with the NP logo), and they are weaving in and out of traffic for some time (while one of them keeps an eye on me to make sure I don’t make a break for it) while I follow them, and as we make turn after turn down ever smaller roads, I’m getting a little nervous. 

At this point the idea is going through my head that maybe I should just forget about the license, which I can replace, and slip away while the cop is 5 cars ahead of me, which he often is.  The traffic is heavy enough that I might actually get away with it.

But then the thought occurs to me that maybe I actually did break some law I was unaware of.  I’m in a foreign country, after all, and I don’t know the rules of the road or the language very well.  If that is the case, they would have good cause to arrest me if I ran, whereupon I would wind up in a jail in Santiago surrounded by a few of my newest amigos, all of whom would love to carve their names on my back while they took advantage of my anglo virginity.

So I decide instead to do as I’m told, and that is how I wind up down a side street in the capital of the Dominican Republic with a swine peering through my window telling me that he has communicated with his “supervisor”, who has determined that I should pay $146 as a fine for my lack of pigmentation and surplus of dinero

Now, what kind of number is $146, anyway?  I mean, besides the fact that it’s way too high for a bribe, where the hell does this sleaze ball come up with that kind of a figure?  Is that what he needs to pay for his crack habit?  And, am I supposed to have exact change? 

So I’m fishing for what money I have, which I tell him is $60, and, after handing it over, show him my empty wallet as proof, even though I have a secret stash.  He isn’t pleased, because I guess he really needed that precise amount, and after all he had to split it with his buddy, so I was really only offering him hooker money.  I can see that in his face, but he does hand me back my driver’s license, and then he asks me if I have credit cards.

I show him my cards but don’t let him have them.  He and I are both a little pissed now.  He tells me to follow him to an ATM where I can get some more cash for him.

I do, but at this point I’m planning my escape, since I’m now pretty sure I won’t be arrested and I have my driver’s license back.  That’s why I’m relieved when, after driving a few blocks, the piggies motion me in front of them, and, when I comply, they disappear down another side street, and are gone.  I guess they thought they’d milked me for all they could.

Later, I relate this story to my lawyer, and she is not surprised.  She tells me that she witnessed a robbery in broad daylight in the middle of traffic wherein an armed gunman stole a wallet and a watch from a helpless motorist while he was stopped in heavy traffic.  I do not know if he was a tourist like me or not.  What a country!

She also told me in the future never to hand over my license, never go down a side street even if ordered to, and to call her as soon as possible.  She could have added, never come to this dung heap of a country as well.  Oh, and the National Police can’t even issue tickets…only the guys and gals with the green uniforms can do that.  

Silly me.  Next time I’ll make sure I bribe the right people.  I don’t actually mind paying them as long as it’s a reasonable price and I get good value for services rendered.  Thus, the fact that I once had to surrender my passport and $300 to a man named Igor through a hole in a thick metal door in order to secure my Russian visa does not bother me in the least, because Igor actually provided me with a product that I needed and, by Slavic standards at least, he did so relatively quickly and efficiently…What irritates me is when I get nothing in return for my money, not even my immediate freedom.

But she gave me good advice.  If you find yourself in this situation,

  • Ask for their ID.  They may not want to proceed at that point, knowing you can finger them later.  Of course, that may not be a good thing, since “dead men tell no tales” and all, but I’m guessing a cop won’t murder you for $60.  Now, some street punk, on the other hand…
  • Don’t go down a side street with them.  Some people never come back.  Stay in a very public location.
  • If he only wants $20, pay it.  I mean, in the scheme of things, it’s better to do this in my opinion.  It could get messy otherwise.  I did this in Panama, when I was stopped by a cop (when I actually was speeding), and I was on my way in just a few minutes after forking over the money.  It was a  straightforward transaction, and I’m not even angry about it.  In the USA, I’d have paid ten times that amount and would have to endure a lecture from a morbidly obese, quasi-literate fascist with a Napoleon complex about traffic safety blah, blah, blah-plus, my insurance would go up.  I don’t really care who gets the money.  I just consider it a cost of doing business, so to speak.  A small bribe is way cheaper and more efficient than a big ticket.  What torqued me about the DR piggy was that he was a greedy little beggar and he cost me a lot of time.
  • As a precaution, only have a few 20’s in your wallet as I did, with a hidden stash elsewhere.  A cop won’t want to search your car and person too thoroughly.  Like any common criminal, time is his enemy.  He’ll usually just let you go if you give him a little something.
  • Go ahead and report it.  I didn’t because I never got his ID, and, suspiciously, there was no plate on his bike.  Go figure.

Or, next time, take a taxi-but then, that’s fraught with unknowns as well:  cab drivers fall somewhere between politicians and economists on the trustworthiness scale.  Maybe best to just stay home.

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10 Responses to Paying Bribes in the Third World-or, how not to spend your day in Santo Domingo

  1. Well, I can’t say I’m falling all over myself now to get over to the DR.

  2. Jonathan says:

    You’re OK, so long as you stick with a previously arranged airport transfer directly to an all-inclusive resort. But I guess that isn’t saying much. (:

  3. Becky says:

    Yikes! What an adventure! And yes, I recall the first point made by the attorney….ask to see their ID’s first! Glad to know your backside isn’t carved up like some Thanksgiving Turkey!

    I’m headed back to ol’ Mexico next month, but I can deal with them after all these years!!!

  4. Jonathan says:

    Well, Becky, maybe so-but I’m still thinking a taxi might be your best choice.

    Anyway, adios, have fun, and don’t drink too much tequila!

  5. Bill Wallace says:

    Finally have a little time to catch up on a few things… Finally a little time to poke around with nothing pressing!

    Enjoyed reading about your encounter with some of the DR’s finest. Our family had a similar experience in Costa Rica, only with professionals that pray on visitors.

    Will tell more over a cold beer, hopefully sometime soon.


    Bill Wallace

  6. Jonathan says:

    Bill-I’m living for the time being down in Cape Canaveral and would welcome a visit. I’ll leave the light on for ya’. 🙂

  7. Bill Wallace says:

    For you professional wordsmiths out there, I meant prey not pray.

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