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We used to think that we knew Mexico very well. We speak the language, have many relatives and friends in that country of 125 million people, and normally would be in the country two or three times a year, for business and pleasure. We have been collecting debt in Mexico for 40 years.

How things have changed! It is positively dangerous for a gringo to leave the Mexico City airport in anything other than a private car or a hotel transport. Taking a taxi sets you up to be robbed, or worse. Our relatives send their children to school with armed guards. We are still very active, legally, in collecting debt, despite a very difficult environment.

To begin with, the courts are still mired in the medieval concepts of the civil law, which derives from Roman law. Testimony orally under oath has almost no value; proof must be by documents executed in form and manner as required by the civil law foreign creditors almost never have the right papers – even negotiations prior to suit can be very dangerous. Though the court process in Mexico is not as complex as some other countries like India or China, it does contain different rules and regulations that make it quite unique when collecting in the Mexico courts. In short: know before you ship.

Three years ago we had a claim against a company in Tampico; our closest attorney partner was based in Monterey; he drove the 250+ miles to Tampico with a set appointment with the debtor; checked into the hotel the night before; during breakfast the next morning he was visited by two young men who firmly told him that their boss was not going to meet with him, and that they strongly recommended that he depart the hotel immediately and get himself back to Monterey and never speak of the subject again.

Our attorney said “yes”, went back to his room, called us, and we concurred: go back to Monterey immediately. So we did some additional investigation. The claim (around $100,000 for truck parts and equipment) was against a business that had a contract to haul oil for Petromex. The additional investigation turned up the fact that it was not only oil but it was also drugs being hauled in those tanker trucks servicing gas stations along the US-Mexico border. The criminality in Mexico has gotten steadily worse. Whole sections of the country are ruled by drug gangs. The murder rates are sky high, and the police and many municipal officers are infected either by fear or by greed.

To say the least, we recommend extreme caution in investing in or doing business with Mexican companies, even though it seems to be the trend for American companies. Once the investment is in the ground; the entire enterprise is a sitting duck for murders and extortion. On the subject of a real border fence, some of the current proposals look good to us.