August 3, 2007

Show me your stinking badges

stinkin' badgesWe don't need no stinkin' badges

My hands are shaking as I type this!

A man just rang the doorbell. When I went to the front door (not the gate), he shouted "Who owns this property?" I said "Who are you?" because, after all, this is Honduras, where most people in a colonia like ours won't even answer their door, much less give personal information, for fear of kidnappers or robbers or murderers. There have been several recent cases of "false" police, dressed in police uniforms committing robberies and murders, as well as real police committing kidnappings.

He said he was from the municipalidad (municipality). Since they have come around in other years, I figured they were looking for people who haven't paid their taxes, so I told him the name, let's just use Fernández for example. He again said, "What is the last name?" Again, I said Fernández. He apparently couldn't find it on his papers, and called another guy over, who also demanded, "What is the name of the owner?!" I said, "Fernández!" He also couldn't find the name on his papers.

By then I was getting worried that maybe our property wasn't registered, maybe we were cheated by the seller or attorney, maybe we have built a house on someone else's property and have been paying the taxes for them all these years! Well, that may be crazy thinking, but crazier things happen in Honduras.

I went out to the gate and asked for identification, not that anyone couldn't easily have a fake ID. One of them showed me a well worn ID card. I said the municipalidad should have our records and they shouldn't need to ask our name.

They called a third guy over, who again demanded to know the name of the property owner. They started explaining something which I didn't understand completely but I thought I heard something about that they would have to come in to inspect the property. "Over my dead body!", I thought to myself.

I told them that we pay our taxes but they would find many others in this colonia who don't, a fact that we discovered when we were trying to do a favor for several neighbors (another story). The older guy, who seemed to be in charge, asked if I had my receipt, so I went inside to get it. He tried to take it from me and I wouldn't let him! Receipts and documentos are everything in Honduras! Lose them and forget it! You are screwed.

Finally they looked up the official number from the receipt on their list and our number wasn't there. It seems that their list doesn't include all the property owners, only the ones who did not pay. That is a stupid way to go about things since there are no addresses, no way to identify which property is which, and they have no idea who they are talking to unless they find the name on the delinquent list.

Anyway, the guy in charge told the others, sounding a little disappointed, "that means they paid their taxes." The other two looked at me incredulously, wondering how I had pulled off this scam.

This shows you a little about the mentality here in Honduras. Guilty until proven innocent. Instead of immediately thinking that since our name wasn't on the list that meant that we HAD paid our taxes, "thank you and goodbye," they automatically assumed that I was lying about the name or something because everyone SHOULD be on the list! It is so damn insulting.

Then, having decided that I was a trustworthy person, the boss started asking me about other gringo names on the list, whether I knew which property was theirs. I didn't recognize the names and reminded him that most of the properties are vacant lots and that I don't know who owns them. I was really curious to see the whole list, but in a way I didn't want to know which of my neighbors are deadbeats or corruptos.

Then he said, "Okay, goodbye," and turned to go.

I said, "You could say 'thank you for paying your taxes'."

He turned around, surprised, smiled, and said, "You're right. Thank you for paying your taxes."

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