Pubdate: Tue, 25 Mar 2003
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2003 The New York Times Company
Author: Associated Press
Note: Relevant portion at tail of article.
Bookmark: (Corruption)


CANCUN, Mexico (AP) -- Even as war raged in Iraq, spring break life took 
its alcohol-fueled course in Cancun, where the party trail sometimes 
stretches from all-night discos to jail cells.

Most college students were on the beach or at the bar instead of glued to 
hotel TVs to watch the war's early developments. While some here expressed 
concern, U.S. bombs falling on Baghdad didn't prompt the cancellation of 
any wet T-shirt contests or force all-you-can drink night clubs to close 
their doors.

"I really am worried about the war but that doesn't mean I can't have a 
good time with my friends,'' said University of Louisville sophomore Becca 
Vierling, who was floating in the Caribbean with an empty, red-plastic 
glass in her hand. "People are still going to go on spring break and things 
are still going to be crazy.''

Many students said war made them think twice about traveling abroad, but 
that they couldn't afford to throw away the hundreds of dollars they had 
already spent on travel packages.

Others said the fighting could mean their flights back to the United States 
might be canceled.

"Getting home might be a problem,'' said Houston Community College freshman 
John Lease, who was sipping a Corona with three friends at a pool-side 
hotel restaurant. ``But that would mean more time here. I can think of 
worse things.''

Because the war has done little to sober Cancun's mood, spring break is 
again causing headaches for U.S. officials whose job it is to come to 
visitors' aid when they get in trouble.

"We're holding our breath through this whole period, hoping the students 
come out of it OK and that we come out of it OK,'' said Glen Keiser, head 
of the U.S. Consulate in the nearby city of Merida.

Between eight and 20 college students are arrested for misdemeanors every 
night during spring break in Cancun. Common crimes are urinating in public, 
yelling obscenities at police, fighting or indecent exposure.

In the last few years the city jail became so overcrowded during the eight 
weeks leading up to Easter -- when universities take their spring holidays 
- -- that Cancun built a special lockup in the resort's hotel zone.

In 2002, 360 American spring breakers were thrown in the new jail, where a 
judge is available round-the-clock to accept the up to $150 fine that 
small-time offenders must pay.

"When we go to the jails, the one thing the kids we find usually don't want 
is for us to call their mom,'' said Scott Riedmann, a U.S. vice consul who 
was stationed in Cancun this year for the busiest spring break week.

While they can't help jailed Americans pay their fines, Riedmann and other 
consular officials visit the jail to pass out granola bars and water.

Some cases are tragic. In the past, students have fallen from hotel 
balconies or been seriously injured in accidents on rented mo-peds.

In one case that lives in the memories of consulate officials, a student 
stripped naked and threw himself into the lagoon flanking Cancun while 
running from police. A pack of crocodiles forced him to swim for his life 
back to shore and give himself up.

Frantic moms and dads also keep American authorities busy. Last year, the 
consulate fielded 504 calls from parents who were worried because their 
children hadn't called home.

Consulate officials also have to deal with police corruption.

During their first day in Cancun, four soccer players from Albertus Magnus 
College in New Haven, Conn., were stopped and searched by police. The 
students said two officers planted cocaine and marijuana on them, then 
followed the group to an ATM machine and collected $500 in bribes.

After they reported the incident to the consulate, a police commander gave 
the students their money back and promised to fire the two officers.

"For spring break this year, I thought I'd go all out and come to Cancun,'' 
said one of the students, Paulo Moreira. "After this, I'm sticking to trips 
to Florida.''
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens