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Save Your Life?


Photo Celia Diaz of the Binational Emergency Medical Care Committee, Chula Vista, California.

Celia Diaz of the Binational Emergency Medical Care Committee (BEMCC) in Chula Vista works to evacuate ill or injured Americans from Baja California, Mexico.


By Gene Kira, Dec 31, 2001, as published in Western Outdoor News:

Stop right now, and copy this U.S. phone number: 619-425-5080. If you travel in Baja California, this 24-hour-per-day emergency number might literally save your life someday. It belongs to the Binational Emergency Medical Care Committee (BEMCC), which specializes in helping seriously sick or injured tourists get out of Mexico.

The BEMCC is a non-profit organization run on a volunteer basis for the past 25 years by a remarkable woman named Celia Diaz. It operates with a volunteer staff out of a cramped and crowded suite of offices in Chula Vista, and it's a beehive of activity fielding about 500 requests for help or information per week.

The minute I walked into Diaz' office, I knew I would like her. The place is so crowded with files and books, you have to wiggle your butt around in order to sit down. You can't get a word in edgewise, because the phone rings every 30 seconds or so. Sometimes, two lines go off at once.

Sitting on a table behind Diaz are four large Rolodex files, jammed to bursting with index cards containing the phone numbers of hundreds of decision-makers on both sides of the border: American and Mexican chiefs of police, heads of customs agencies, mayors and senators, the FBI, Coast Guard, Army, Navy, Immigration, hospitals, insurance companies, ambulances, air evac companies--you name it.

Why all the fuss?

The problem is that in Mexico, some medical facilities view sick or injured tourists as cash cows to be milked until they are dry. If sudden trauma happens to you in unfamiliar territory, the chances are good that you may end up at one of these questionable "clinicas." This is because they pay commissions to taxi drivers, ambulance drivers, police, anybody on the street, to bring them patients.

If you end up in this kind of clinica, you are given medical care, but you are also detained as long as possible, so that more fees can be charged.

After they've run your bill up as high as possible, they will then call an air evac company...and collect a commission on that too. You may then be detained even further, until such time as you can settle your account by paying perhaps many thousands of dollars in hard-to-obtain quick cash.

Enter Celia Diaz's BEMCC.

When you call them (collect from anywhere in Mexico) with a serious emergency, Diaz instantly mobilizes her lawyers, physicians, law enforcement officers, military commanders, politicians, and anybody else it takes to get you out of there, pronto, cash or no cash.

In the past 25 years, she has done this for more than 6,000 Americans in deep trouble. If necessary, BEMCC will apply "pressure" to get you out and whisk you back across the border. Although there are no absolute guarantees, Diaz says that over the last quarter-century BEMCC has not yet failed to get results.

To register with the non-profit BEMCC, you pay $25 per year (fully tax deductible), and provide information about your regular U.S. health and accident insurance coverage, which you should review to be sure that it covers foreign emergency treatment and evacuation. (Note that your regular health insurance probably already covers evacuation, possibly making separate air evac policies redundant.) You receive a registration card with instructions on what to do in case of emergency, including possible fatalities in which bodies must be brought back. Using your regular insurance as a guarantee, BEMCC will negotiate with the clinica to settle your account and allow you to be air evacuated, without your having to come up with large amounts of instant cash. Once you call them, BEMCC takes over and coordinates necessary arrangements to bring you back.

It could save your life. BEMCC, 642 Third Avenue, Ste. I, Chula Vista, CA 91910. Phone 619-425-5080.

(Related Baja California, Mexico, articles and reports may be found at's main Baja California information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the Baja California area in "Mexico Fishing News.")