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Tourists complain of shake-downs in Mexicali

September 20, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

SAN FELIPE — Some tourists visiting this resort town have accused the Mexicali inspection units at the downtown port of entry of asking for bribes and pocketing money under the pretense of tax collecting on goods the travelers thought were duty-free.

The tourists complained to San Felipe's Institute of Information and the institute is actively pursuing reports from border-crossers. Other border-crossers have complained of similar behavior from the inspectors in recent days.

Tony Colleraine, the general director of the institute, sent an e-mailed transcript of two tourist reports Tuesday.

Colleraine wrote, "Two elderly U.S. citizens who had shopped for groceries in El Centro to bring to San Felipe were told that they each had to pay $50 duty because they had exceeded the $50 duty-free limit."

According to a Web posting by the U.S. State Department and the Mexican consulate, "Mexican regulations limit the value of goods brought into Mexico by U.S. citizens arriving by air or sea to $300 per person and by land to $50 per person. Amounts exceeding the duty-free limit are subject to a 32.8 percent tax."

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However, different rules and regulations relating to the alleged incident are listed on another site.

According to the Web site SurfMexico.com, "Those arriving by land may import additional articles worth up to $50 U.S. per person, or $300 U.S. per person if the items were bought near the border and you have the receipts to prove it."

The second alleged incident detailed by Colleraine involved duty-free items.

In this case there also is conflicting information available.

Colleraine wrote: "A couple making their first trip to San Felipe stopped to purchase two bottles of liquor each plus cigarettes at a duty-free store in Calexico. Mexican customs charged them $60 duty on these purchases," Colleraine wrote.

"The impression is developing that generating money from visitors is now the prime purpose of these searches, rather than ensuring security of the general public," Colleraine added.

Mexican inspection units have been checking every vehicle passing through the Mexicali port as part of stricter border regulations in the wake of the suicide attacks on the U.S. last week.

Bertha Mora, senior sales manager at the United Export Trading Association World Duty Free store in Calexico, said her customers are allowed three bottles of liquor and two cartons of cigarettes duty-free per person, or a $150 limit, whichever is applicable.

However, Mora said the "rules" are not ironclad.

"You have to ask Mexican customs. Another day and they could change the rules," she said.

According to World Travel Guide, an Internet travel site: "The following goods may be imported into Mexico by persons over 18 years of age without incurring customs duty:

"400 cigarettes (two cartons) or 50 cigars or 250 grams of pipe tobacco; 3 liters of wine or spirits; a reasonable amount of perfume or eau de toilette; a photo, or movie or video camera for non-residents and up to 12 unexposed rolls of film or video cassettes for each camera; goods up to the value of U.S. $300 or equivalent."

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or claverie7@hotmail.com

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