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Border Car Deposit Program Begins

December 2, 1999

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) _ A crowd gathered as Eduardo Zuniga loudly complained about Mexico’s new policy requiring drivers crossing the border to leave hundreds of dollars behind as a deposit.

The unpopular program, which began Wednesday, is aimed at preventing the illegal importation of cars registered in the United States.

Zuniga, a Chicago resident who visits relatives in Tampico, Mexico, several times each year, usually takes several hundred dollars to spend. He said the deposit would practically wipe him out.

``What am I going to do in Tampico with (only) $200?″ he asked outside the Mexican customs building in Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville. ``Beg for money?″

Zuniga predicted that the Mexican government will stop the program once the economic impact is apparent.

``This will last perhaps a few months,″ he said.

Frustrated motorists were given hologram stickers for their windshields that will allow them to recover their deposits if they leave Mexico within six months. For model years 1998-2000, the deposit is $800; for model years 1994 to 1997, $600; and for older cars, $400. Refunds can be collected at any border post.

The Baja California peninsula and parts of Sonora are exempt to preserve easy access to Mexico’s west coast beaches. Drivers traveling less than 15 miles into Mexico also are exempt, and the program is using existing checkpoints set up 15 miles from the border.

Since Mexico announced the plan in October, some tourists have threatened boycotts, and U.S. officials have asked the Mexican government to reconsider. A Senate transportation subcommittee led by Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, is scheduled to convene hearings on the car deposit plan beginning Monday.

The Mexican government says the deposit is meant to prevent the illegal importation of U.S.-registered cars into Mexico and protect the domestic car industry.

At the Mexican consulate in Chicago, about 70 people protested the deposits. One activist, Luis Pelayo, said he was organizing a boycott of Mexican-made products.

Opponents said the plan will hurt Mexico’s tourism industry, and the problems it presented for tourists were already evident Wednesday.

Lucy Prendergast and Mark Dearden’s road trip to Panama came to a halt in Matamoros.

The couple, visiting from Hong Kong, ran into problems because Dearden’s credit card expired. Since Ms. Prendergast’s name was not on the car’s title, she could not use her credit card, so they were going to try and change the title in Brownsville. Complicating matters, their visas were about to expire.

``So the clock is ticking and I’m getting more and more nervous every day,″ Ms. Prendergast said.