The Wheels of Justice

By Brooke Gazer

Crime occurs everywhere, but the wheels of justice spin differently from country to country. Here is an experience we had years ago in Canada, contrasted with how something similar is handled in Mexico.  

Since we were dissatisfied with the job a done by a contractor, we held back four percent of the payment, requesting he attend to a few small details. After two months, we purchased a bag of cement and did it ourselves. Later this man reappeared, threatening to take a sledge hammer to our front steps unless we handed over the remaining $200.00.  My better half calmly explained the law before closing the front door. 

Crash! Bang! Boom! Several chunks of cement toppled into the flower bed. I called the police, a court date was set, the offender pled guilty, and was fined five hundred dollars. The judge said we could file a small claims suit, but as the offender had no assets registered in his name, we were unlikely to collect for the damages. After repairing the cement work at our own expense, we purchased two large planters to cover the damage. 

Under this system, the government profited while the victim received no compensation. For similar crimes, the wheels of justice spin differently in Mexico.

When a Canadian friend’s home was broken into, she discovered the culprit lived in her neighborhood and filed a complaint.  The young man was summoned to meet with her at the Agencia del Ministerio Público (basically the local police station), he pled guilty, and paid her the value of the damages. Had the offender been unable or unwilling to compensate the victim, he would likely have served time, but his father ponied up the cash. Justice was served with no profit to the government.  

This was not an isolated case involving a young offender.  I had a similar experience when my dog was attacked. The dog’s owner was summoned and paid our vet bill.

Mexico has a system of mediation and conciliation for minor crimes which seems more pragmatic than the traditional criminal justice system. Of course, if personal injury is involved a case becomes more complex and is handled at a higher level.   

How to Report a Crime

Crime is comparatively low in Huatulco, but every barrel has a few bad apples. So, should you become a victim of an assault, a robbery or vandalism … what should you do?  

I spoke with Hugo García González, the municipal attorney assigned to the local office of the Fiscalía General Estado Oaxaca, Agencia Estatal de Investigaciones, or the Oaxacan State Prosecutor’s Office of Investigations.  

Each Ministerio Público is supported by one of these investigative prosecutors.  In La Crucecita, it is located on the corner of Calle Jazmin and Calle Plumbago (near the Casa Pepe hardware store). 

This was the advice of Sr. García González.  If you become the victim of a robbery or assault you should immediately call the emergency number 911. There should be someone who speaks English, but this is not always the case.  Although the situation is obviously traumatic, try to be patient. 

It would help if you could say, “Please help me, I have been robbed (or) assaulted. Please, in English.”

Ayudame han robado (or) agredido.  Por favor, Inglés. 

Eye-you-da-may ahn row-bah-doe (or) ah-grey-dee-doe.  

Pour fah-bore, Inn-gless.

Mexico is a polite society; including “please” could be useful in developing a positive relationship between you and the dispatcher.

Mexicans also try to be helpful and considerate, so it is likely that someone will offer assistance. Try to get any witness to stay until the police arrive. They may assist you in explaining what occurred and possibly describe the culprit in more detail than you can. 

In case of a burglary you would follow the same procedure but do not enter the premises unless you are certain the offender has left. 

The police are obliged to investigate any complaint, so wait at the scene after you have made the call. You may want to call a neighbor to assist you in speaking to the authorities, since the officers may not speak English. 

The 911 number is relatively new in Mexico; it should work and this should always be your first option.  If for any reason there is no answer, two alternatives would be the Policía Municipal: 01 (958) 581 0675, or Protección Civil: 01 (958) 587 1212.

If the crime is a simple robbery, it will be handled through mediation at the Ministerio Público.  If a weapon was used, or any violence or physical injury occurred, the wheels of justice will roll the case along to a higher court where criminal charges would be laid. Fraud and extortion also fall under the criminal code, but the wheels are set into motion at the same office. 

In all likelihood, you will never need these numbers, but it wouldn’t hurt to file them carefully or program them into your phone. The Scouts’ motto “Be Prepared” is a good one to live by. 

Brooke Gazer operates Agua Azul la Villa, an oceanview B&B in Huatulco