Saturday, October 4, 2014

Corruption in paradise, eventually leads to a paradise lost. A tale of caution for camera toting globe trotters.

I had some great times in a pleasant tropical island location, that being said upon entry I was threatened with a "fine" for bringing photographic goods into the country with legitimate purposes of just photographing stuff as a tourist not as a job. I was not there to sell anything, the only mistakes I made was claiming anything at all and having the nerve to actually visit a foreign country with the intent of spending tourists dollars (Jamaica I'm talking about YOU). Also having the hopes of having photos to remember my trip by so I could show them off to my relatives.

I would happily plaster the names and faces of the individuals who were pushing very diligently for me to pay them, all over the Internet with the words corrupt Jamaican officials in bold letters. They wisely prohibit photographing the customs area, saving themselves the embarrassment.

I did object politely but very loudly, I was clearly angry at that point and didn't bother hiding it, reminding them about my status as a retiree and a tourist. Their colleagues whom they started conferring with said some stuff most of which I couldn't really make out but I did get the general impression they were talking about me being a "rich tourist" and probably debating the wisdom of trying to get a payday out of me. Once you get past the power hungry ass-hats who probably get paid less than entry level American TSA workers do, you'll encounter the tourist towns where most Jamaicans are wonderful and very pleasant to interact with. After my blood stopped boiling from the interactions with customs, I went out of my way to be nice to them and had a great time.

I've already heard plenty about others who did get "fined" and where that money went, it did not go towards the betterment of the population of the country that these guys were visiting. It most likely went into the pockets of the senior official on duty at the time. I have not heard as to whether they got their gear back but I know for a fact they never got their money back nor does anyone else who gets asked for bribe money although they damn sure don't call it bribe money.

When the official who challenged them and demanded payment, was sought out for questioning they could not be found. Their supervisor(s) conveniently, could not be found either when the head of customs for that country issued a statement after a formal complaint was lodged saying that these individuals did not have the authority to issue fines and had improperly seized the gear. Technically nobody except the head of the country actually has any real authority at all far as I know, so unless you've got deep pockets the saying 'Show me the money or I'll blame some other guy for my incompetence' does apply.

(not my camera) A very smug and corrupt Indonesian customs agent sticking
 his tongue out at a tourist while he's busy confiscating their camera and assigning a "fine".
Uneducated simpletons with a badge who know f---- all about anything other than getting paid, are making decisions about what constitutes professional gear and working statuses of just straight up  every day tourists who have nice cameras. This kind of behavior negatively impacts the overall perception of resort destinations who's overall population sometimes lives in standards that even the homeless here in America often have better standards of living when compared against them. Extorting tourists would cause most sensible tourists to not coming back or think twice before coming back, leaving the population even more cash starved than they were before. The resulting lack of jobs, declining quality of life would even further deepen the issue of drugs, corruption and violence. So expect this in just about every country who's quality of life and GDP does not qualify them as first world country, sad as this pathetic behavior may be.

Possession, consumption and importation of controlled substances:
Word of warning, drugs are all over Jamaica, if you get arrested don't expect to come back from that. Small amounts of pot is legal, don't bother importing it, you can find it anywhere in Jamaica.
I personally don't support the use or sale of illicit drugs regardless of what country I may be in but it's not my place to say so I just walk away whenever I see it.

If your going to Indonesia, all drugs are banned! Solicitation, possession or  importation results in an indefinite stay in prison or DEATH. 

Important things to remember:

Do keep an eye on your bags at all times particularly while the foreign customs are inspecting them, there has been suspicions (some justified) that corrupt customs officials have slipped drugs into the bags of foreign tourists in order to frame them for smuggling. Keep lists w/serial numbers of everything in your bags, if possible include the total weight of each bag in your list at the time it is weighed by US officials. Make sure that copies of these documents are with you in each bag, one trust worthy relative keeps a copy of it and if necessary make sure a lawyer is given the other copy in case sh-- really hits the fan. Having an approximate value of the overall contents on that list may be helpful. Keep the number of bags down to a minimum. Don't stand out. When visiting some these locations, a "VIP pickup" may help alleviate your customs woes since they have already paid the sin tax but not always.

Cops in foreign countries or just idiots dressed as cops may set up road blocks to loot or extort tourists of their goods or cash, the driver may be in on it as well. As an article below points out, even the UK is not safe from those shenanigans.
      - Bad cops and robbers in the U.K.
      - Forum posts about diving expeditions getting "taxed" for their gear

Bottom line as this naive camera toting blogger can tell you, corruption and quid-quo-pro are the overwhelming themes of foreign travel destinations especially for Americans.