What To Expect From The Police & Military
Throughout Central America and Mexico the military presence is a fact of life. North Americans are not accustomed to seeing military men on a crowded downtown street with a machine gun, but this is a common sight in Central America.
The reasons for the periodic military stops range from looking for stolen vehicles to inspecting for contraband, such as arms or drugs. The police that will give you the most problems are the small time city police. These police are poorly educated, minimally trained and mostly corrupt. They think that as a tourist you owe them compensation for transiting through their minuscule town.
Often when stopped, the police or military will ask where are you coming from—de donde viene?
Just tell them the last tourist town.
In most Central American countries the police are part of the military, except Costa Rica and Panama. In the larger cities of Honduras traffic police are a common site. In Honduras they wear a gray uniform with a black strip along the side of their legs.
In most Central American countries the likelihood of being stopped periodically for inspections is a common occurrence. The officials will ask you for your license and vehicle registration card. Often they will ask for your passport as well. Once they realize you are a tourist they will wave you on through. The current administration in most Central American countries and in Mexico is trying to put on a good face for tourists, rarely would you expect to have any hassles.
There are a variety of reasons for the periodic inspections. The main reason is to remind people that the military is in control, even in these “democratic” countries. An effort is being made to control the amount of arms in civilian hands, this is one of the major efforts now being made.
If you get pulled over, be polite and respectful and most of the time they’ll let you go without too much hassle.