Your Average Corruption

The following is a dialogue, translated from Spanish to English, that occurred yesterday in Panama. It was the first time in three years of extreme driving conditions, that I have been pulled over by a cop.

For those of you who know me well, I was completely telling the truth. I promise. Nothing about what I did was exaggerated, feigned, nor overplayed for dramatic effect or just so that I could wiggle out of a ticket. Seriously. I know that sounds nothing like me, but it’s true. I was completely honest, sincere, and genuine in all of my actions.

And while you may be thinking to yourself that this couldn’t possibly be a normal “governmental” occurrence, let me just say that it has happened to every single person I know…though not quite with the same ending as mine.

Aahh, Panama. Love it or leave it.

Day: 29th of May, 2013

Time: Approximately 12:15pm

Location: Base of Cerro Ancon, Panama City

Characters (2): Male, short, sour-faced Panamanian cop who shows no emotion, with acne scars and a flimsy old ticket-book. Female (Me, Molly) freckle-faced American woman with heavy-accented Spanish and a Marriage Equality bumper sticker on her 2006 Nissan X-Trail.

Female driver coasts through a yellow light. 50 meters later she is halted to a stop by a cop, on foot. She pulls over, gathers her passport and California Driver’s License and lowers her window.

Cop: “Wow, young lady. Wow. That light you just ran was COMPLETELY red.”

Female: “What? Are you sure? I’m SURE it was not red, it was yellow. It turned yellow just as I entered the intersection.”

Cop: “No. It was RED, RED. One-hundred percent RED.”

Female: “Well….uh, I’m not sure what to say. You saw red, I saw yellow?”

Cop: As he huffs “I definitely saw RED. Because it WAS red.”

The troll-ish cop takes the woman’s identification and flips open his wilted ticket book that looks like it’s been through one too many of these shenanigans. He struts around to the passenger side of the car. Woman, rolls her eyes at his over indulgence and lowers the passenger window.

Female: “So…..”

Cop: “Have you ever been pulled over in Panama before?”

Female: “No, never. I’m a very safe driver.”

Cop: As he scans the car “Where are you headed?”

Female begins to pick up the blatant ‘hints’ and sees that the cop is obviously skirting any real issue as he awaits a bribe. Before she has a chance to answer his last question about her destination (of which he could car less), he says with a puffed chest

Cop: “Well. Welllllllllll. I’ll have to give you a ticket.”

Female: “But, I didn’t run a red light.”

Cop: “Oh no? You didn’t? Well then, what can you do about it? How can you help me out?”

Female: “Excuse me?! Oh…well…Um, I dunno, what do you want?”

A note to the reader: Please keep in mind that this scene happened in broad daylight, on an extremely busy street, and the cop was outside the passenger side of the car.

Cop: Under his breath, out of the corner of his mouth “$20”

Female: A little too loudly “$20?! $20 DOLLARS? Uuuuhhh, I might have, uh $10??”

Cop: “Ok”

Female: Disgruntled and annoyed at the entire situation but especially by the fact that the cop just caved by 100% of his original bribe suggestion “No, actually, I’m sorry. I didn’t run that light! You know it. I don’t want to give you any money.”

Cop: Shrugging and drastically throwing open his ticket-book “Alright, fine. You know…this ticket…this ticket that I am writing RIGHT now….this ticket will be around $100.”

Female knows this is completely exaggerated but begins to get worried.

Female: With a giant exhale “What about $3? I’ll give you $3.”

Cop: Laughs out loud and juts his chin toward the back of the woman’s car like an offended old aristocrat.”Pffffffddddddddffff”.

Female: “Fine. Fine! Ugggghhh. Here. Here is a ten-dollar bill!”

The woman reaches across the passenger seat and, seriously disappointed in herself for giving into this ridiculous corruption, pushes the money towards the cop who is not making eye contact but instead is looking at passing traffic. Just as the dirty money is being exchanged under the cop’s ticket-book, the woman holds it a little tighter and stares him straight in the eye…as she very sincerely begins to get upset, the corners of her mouth droop and her eyes begin to well up. The cop looks down to see what the hold up is all about.

Female: “You know, it’s not about the money. This is not JUST. It’s not FAIR. You KNOW, that I didn’t run a red light. I didn’t, and you know it. And I’m sorry, but I am a TEACHER and I work very hard too….”

Just as her big crocodile tears are about to spill over, the cop meets her gaze and with the slightest, barely noticeable tweak of his left cheek he holds eye contact, freezes up, then pushes his ticket-book back into her car, drops the money on the passenger seat, and says under his breath

Cop: “Go. Get out of here. Go on, hurry. Just leave. Just go on.”

Woman: “Uh……uh. Ok. Bye.”

The cop steps up onto the curb behind him as the woman puts it into 1st gear and pulls away, using her blinker, perhaps a little too safely. When she is about 100 meters passed the scene of the non-traffic-violation-crime and more like the governmental-corruption-crime, she cracks a smile, turns up the music, and somehow feels like a winner. Of all the Panamanian bribes she’s ever heard about, NONE of them ended with the driver getting their money back.

PHOTOS: Police Officer in Casco & Woman in Window : Presidential Guards in Casco : National Palace : Casco Graffiti “We’re Still Fighting” : Cerro Ancon Panamanian Flag :





  8 comments for “Your Average Corruption

  1. Maria
    May 31, 2013 at 12:03 am

    hahhahahahha! Hilarious. You are the cutest ever. I swear, I wouldv’e been way too nervous to pull that off. Good job Molly! Although corruption is so unfair and I am sure hard to see, I sometimes wish we could get away with that in the US. It makes life seem a little more relaxed when the law is not unquestionably above everything.

    • Molly Berry
      May 31, 2013 at 1:43 pm

      Maria! Honestly, there was nothing “brave” about what I did! It was just SO obvious that I hadn’t run a light that I could not allow him to be “right”. But, still it does still make me laugh to think that I suggested $3. Haaa.

      Although this was a harmless occasion, it is still really frustrating how bad the corruption is in Latin America in general. Although Panama is a very safe country, these ways of operation are still fundamental to the government. It’s been said though that the reason for so many more female cops on the roads in Panama these days is because they are far less likely to take a bribe. And yes, while I agree with you about some things just being “let go” I would rather creatively convince an American sheriff to let me go and he does, as opposed to easily paying off some guy who isn’t paid enough in salary and therefore takes advantage of his duties. Corruption is integral to the system here, and in that perspective I have to “roll with it” because I choose to live here. But, ultimately corruption just
      makes people so shortsighted and in for the kick-back or the quick buck.
      Thanks for your comment, I’m glad you got a laugh out of it – lord knows I did:) Love you!

  2. Lynda
    May 31, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    Si, si, la mordida….and sin verguenza!
    Similiar experience in Mexico with non functioning headlight!

    • Molly Berry
      June 1, 2013 at 11:35 am

      It’s crazy, isn’t it?! Did the cop let you go or did you have to give him a bribe?

  3. Maria
    June 1, 2013 at 11:35 pm

    I just finished reading an article that in Finland the ticket amount you pay depends on how much money you make. The CEO of Nokia was stopped for speeding on his motorcycle and his fine is $103,000. I can’t tell if that is completely awesome or totally fascist. Either way, so unlike Latin America, it’s not even believable they are on the same planet. Just wanted to share.

    • Molly Berry
      June 3, 2013 at 11:46 pm

      Maria, this is awesome and really crazy actually. Leave it to Finland to do something so stratified and logical yet insane, but it actually works?! I love that you shared this. Thanks:)

  4. Denise Montgomery
    June 3, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    I love that you turned into a script!! :-)

    • Molly Berry
      June 3, 2013 at 11:48 pm

      So happy you appreciated that little side of it, Denise…honestly, I couldn’t have imagined re-telling it any other way:) Miss you a ton and hope all is well. So much love to you & the hubby & the East Bay! xx

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