Why Mexico Is Still A Third World Country
January 3, 2014
"One of the reasons Mexico remains a Third World country is because it continues to appoint people to positions of power who don't have any idea what they are doing." This is the opinion of one of the most mild-mannered and respected marina owner/managers in Mexico, one who is also one of the most knowledgeable on Mexican maritime law.
For decades Mexico has been a prime destination for sailors in search of sun and fun. But we have to wonder if AGACE's recent actions will scare many of them away.
Photo Latitude / Andy
© 2014 Latitude 38 Publishing, LLC
He was referring specifically to Lic. Luis Lara, Administrador General de Auditoria de Comercio Exterior, which is the auditing arm of Hacienda (the Mexican IRS) that is behind the "fiasco" that for nearly a month now has seen 338 foreign boats confined to their docks in violation of international maritime law.
"Sr. Lara is so misinformed of the law that he doesn't understand the difference between merchandise — such as truckloads of appliances or electronics — brought into Mexico for resale, and boats that are cruising Mexico and will never be imported," said another member of the Mexican Marina Owners Association. This member attended last month's big meeting between Tourism, the Marina Owners Association, and Hacienda in Mexico City, hoping to get the issue resolved before Christmas. It didn't happen.
On November 29, AGACE (Hacienda) sent 100 agents, backed by marines armed with machine guns, to 12 marinas in Mexico to conduct what they called compliance checks. Auditors were looking to see that each boat had a Temporary Import Permit (TIP), as well as to get information about the type, make and model of each boat, the engine serial number(s), the hull number, the HIN (Hull Identification Number), and to see that each documented boat had the documentation number permanently attached to the boat. If nobody was on the boat at the time the agents visited, the boat was assumed — in most cases — to be out of compliance. Guilty until proven innocent.
While we fully support Mexico wanting to be sure boats comply with their laws, there were all kinds of problems with AGACE's procedures. First, although almost all boats did have a legal TIP, it didn't really matter if a few didn't. That's because Mexican law clearly states that the owner of a foreign boat has 20 days after being informed of the need to get a TIP, to obtain one. There isn't even a fine associated with not having one. Furthermore, the auditors were so ignorant of the law they didn't realize that the 20 Year Import Permits are still legal and in effect. In addition, the auditors, who clearly knew nothing about boats, confused engine brands with boat models, didn't know where to look for engine serial numbers, didn't realize that boats built before '74 and many foreign-built boats never had HIN numbers, and much more.
Having put 338 boats on "precautionary embargo," which means the boats could not leave the docks, AGACE agents returned to the marinas about a week later. Lo and behold, they discovered that almost every boat on their list was actually compliant. We're told that AGACE's problem is that having put 338 boats in embargo, they have no idea how to get them out, and may have even legally boxed themselves in so that they can't.
At least as bad, AGACE hasn't informed any boat owners that their boats are in precautionary embargo. Some, who just flew down after the holidays, told us they had no idea.
As of late last month, AGACE said they needed anywhere from 45 to 120 days to liberate the boats. It is, of course, an outrage that boats not guilty of anything can be held for so long. It's also stupid. Happy cruisers are the best advertisements for Mexico. Unhappy cruisers are terrible advertisements for Mexico. The impounded boats need to be freed immediately, both because it's the right thing to do and because if AGACE doesn't, Mexico's reputation will suffer badly.
This is not the first time something like this has happened. Back in the mid-'90s a large number of U.S. boats were put under "protective seizure," and even chained to docks, by a Hacienda pision head who didn't know what he was doing. Here is how that went down according to a person who had his boat seized:
"My documented boat was among the boats seized in 1997. Marina Palmira in La Paz had misfiled my papers and I wasn't aboard. Hacienda chained my boat to the dock. I flew down the day after hearing of this, and went to the local office of Hacienda. I told them about the legal status of U.S. documented boats, but they were unimpressed by that or my fluent Spanish. I told them I was going back to the marina, cutting the chain, calling the US Coast Guard on Ham radio, and advising of my dilemma as well as my intentions. I left as armed soldiers were marching toward the boat. I headed out toward Cerralvo Channel, and when no boats came after me for four hours, I reversed course and went to Isla Partida. I stayed there for a week, then returned to Palmira. I never heard another thing about it. I never learned why nothing happened to me, but the manager of the local Hacienda office was fired a short time later." Other boats were released after 140 days.
In a sign of apparent desperation, we're told that AGACE has tried very hard to force marinas to sign a Depositaria, which is a document that means they are responsible for all the boats in the marina until the government lifts the embargo. Indeed, some boat owners have ignored the embargo. Others have violated it not knowing their boats are embargoed. Most marinas have resisted signing a Depositaria despite heavy pressure being applied by AGACE. We're told that one marina, Opequimar in Puerto Vallarta, was promised that if they signed the document making them responsible, all the embargoed boats in their marina would be set free. Our sources tell us that AGACE reneged on the agreement as soon as Opequimar signed the document.
Since most marinas wouldn't take responsibility for the embargoed boats, AGACE has tried to dump the problem on port captains. Our understanding is that the port captains have washed their hands of the entire mess. So who is there to guarantee that embargoed boats won't leave the dock in marinas that have signed a Depositaria? Apparently nobody. In the cases where port captains are happy with check-outs and check-ins via the radio, it seems to mean cruisers are free to move about the country. The exceptions, of course, are places such as Nuevo Vallarta and La Cruz, where the port captain insists you come by and see him or you were attempting an international clearance. It's possible that AGACE has provided the port captains with the documentation numbers of boats on their embargo list, and the port captains may not permit you to leave the country.
Mexico's reputation has suffered and continues to suffer from the outrageous and illegal impounding of foreign boats. But because everyone was busy with the holidays, it hasn't been so bad. On Monday, when Mexican officials return to work, we'll be asking all of you, and everyone you know, to send copies of a sample letter to various Mexican, American and Canadian officials and representatives, demanding a swift resolution to this outrage. This needs to be done for Mexico and the people of Mexico as it needs to be done for the illegally impounded boats.
Why haven't we taken this story to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the L.A. Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as television and other general media outlets? Because we believe Mexico has already received way too much undeserved bad publicity, and the bad publicity generated by the actions of one rogue agency would do tremendous economic harm to marine businesses and marine workers in Mexico, and possibly the dreams of foreigners who want to cruise Mexico. These people don't deserve to suffer because of the stupidity of others. But if our first email campaign to political powers doesn't bear fruit quickly, we'll be asking all of you to join us in spreading the word far and wide. The headline remains: 338 Foreign Boats Worth Tens of Millions of Dollars Which Are Legally in Mexico Continue to be Held in Violation of International Maritime Law.
- latitude / richard