Trucker protest snarls Tijuana commercial crossing

| 10/20/2003

Truckers blockaded the northbound commercial crossing at Otay Mesa in Tijuana, Mexico, Oct. 14, to protest long waits they say they face getting shipments processed through the U.S.-Mexico border, The San Diego Union reported.

The entrance to the U.S. Customs inspection facility was blocked while a group of drivers urged quicker, more efficient inspections and greater cooperation between U.S. and Mexican customs officials.

The truckers presented a two-page list of demands to U.S. and Mexican border officials, saying they are being subjected to "mistreatment, discrimination and tortuguismo – tortoise-like behavior."

"The truckers had just had enough," said Carolyn Goding, transportation chair of the San Diego Brokers Association and president of Lax Freight Services and International Automated Brokers.

As maquiladora manufacturers stepped up shipments in the past four weeks for the upcoming holiday season, waits to enter the U.S. Customs facility reportedly have grown from a couple of hours to four to six hours, causing backups that extend at least three miles along the U.S.-Mexico border fence in Tijuana.

Most cargo is carried by Mexican short-distance haulers, known as mules, who drop containers in San Ysidro and return to Mexico to pick up new shipments as many times as they can in one day.

The truckers say Mexico's facility fails to open on time and that processing is inefficient, requiring drivers to run back and forth between inspection stations.

Federico Ramos, 46, who was hauling 2,300 pounds of aluminum parts destined for Long Beach to be recycled, had been waiting in line nearly four hours and still was in the back.

"I was about to fall asleep," he said as he dusted off his truck's shiny red exterior.

Driver Jose Escalante, who was carrying 13 tons of tomatoes from Baja California's San Quintin Valley to U.S. grocery stores, stayed cool in the exhaust-heavy heat by eating an ice cream cone.

He had been fielding nervous calls all morning, he said, from a company worried that its vegetables would have to be returned, even though the truck was refrigerated. Many buyers of Mexican produce require that the items be kept in the trucks a limited amount of time to ensure freshness.

"They were asking me, 'Why is there so much disorder there?'" he said.