This article is from the May 1996 The Mexico File
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About Those Federales
Chances are, in your neighborhood, you aren't routinely stopped at gunpoint by a group of rifle-weilding young men wearing blank expressions, a facial countenance more commonly seen at US Senate brainstorming sessions. Well, maybe if you live in Montana. In Mexico these checkpoints are fairly common, but need not be frightening.
I was a little surprised and concerned about the frequency with which Gordon was stopped on his drive down the Baja peninsula and back, so I contacted others who have made the trip in recent months. My past experience has always been to see no more than two or three stops by the federales each way, and that was corroborated by the people I contacted.
The popular theory is that when Mexico needs to show its seriousness concerning drug interdiction, the stops become more frequent. And indeed, they have been under pressure from the US to stem the drug flow in recent months in order to maintain their status as a country that qualifies for foreign aid. Gordon's trip happened at the same time as the capture of drug lord Juan Garcia Albrego (see The Mexico File, February 1996) and the country's status regarding foreign aid had become a political issue.
The purpose of the checkpoints is to intercept drugs and weapons. Having been stopped numerous times over many years, nothing bad has ever happened to me. Just keep a friendly smile on your face, show respect without showing fear, and don't get angry. Don't offer a bribe, and if anything is taken from you, report the incident and complain to the Mexican Consulate and Department of Tourism.