The title makes this sound way more dramatic than it really is. Calm down, Mom. I went with some members of my rugby team to a tournament in Santa Marta this weekend. We had a great time rugbying and team building, and then we hopped back in our puerta a puerta buseta (door-to-door oversized van) to head home. As we were rolling down the highway, we passed through a police stop…and were actually stopped. See, the police (and I must admit here that I am not sure if this was local or national police, but I would think national) here set up stops where they stand at the side of the road and signal people to stop or just wave people through. Most people get to drive through them without any issue, including me in every other trip I’ve taken. But this time our van was signaled to stop.
Immediately the other 7 people in the car started yelling, but our intrepid driver just grabbed his papers, hopped out of the car, and met the police. Here’s another way that police stops are different here – there’s no real reason for being stopped, and you can get out of the car. The driver came back with three officers. One of them opened the side door and peered in, but never asked anyone for identification, which is apparently standard.
As you can see in the photo above, though, he definitely made eye contact with me…and saw me taking pictures. After they shut the door, the officers and the bus driver chatted behind us for a second. I could tell I was a topic of conversation, because I had turned on my camera on my phone to take a selfie with them and they were pointing at me. Then the officer gave the camera this thumbs up (the crazy face is because I was mid-laugh and trying to get the lighting to show the dude), and when I turned around, we waved at each other.
When I asked my friends what they were looking for, assuming it was for drugs or undocumented immigrants (there’s a major surge from Venezuela right now and they are starting to deport people), I was shocked to learn that it was basically nothing. They’re trying to get money. In the States, police are known for issuing more traffic stops when money is tight (right?). Here they don’t seem to care at all about what traffic laws you do or don’t obey, but can pull you over for nothing and just hope that you don’t have your papers in order so they can take your money.
I am almost always glad that I am not allowed to drive here.