Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Crime in Ecuador

A hot topic is crime in Latin America, for us in Ecuador and specifically, Cuenca. We've all seen the grisly headlines about drug cartels and homicides. We've read about date rape drugs and other used in robberies.

But what is the reality of living here in Cuenca? We have met over 100 expats and are online friends with many more. Have any of them experienced crime personally? The truth and sad fact is, yes, some of them have.

Most of these have been crimes of opportunity - pockets picked, cell phones left sitting on the edge of a table, backpacks not secured on a packed bus. There are a few stories of face-to-face robberies, many of them at night with the victim a bit inebriated or unaware of their surroundings.

Cuenca is not a small town even though it may feel that way at times. We have learned to not carry a lot of cash, use the ATMs inside the banks or the bigger malls, keep our wallets where we can feel them, never carry original copies of our passports (not needed now that we have our cedulas of which we carry laminated copies), NEVER flash a lot of money or wear expensive watches or jewelry. It's all pretty much common sense. Expensive cameras, laptops, tablets and cell phones are primary targets but we have heard of women having their earrings snatched.

Are we targeted as gringos? At times, partially because we are known to have more money than the locals. But we have also talked to many locals who have been victims as well. Home invasions to happen, especially to those not adequately prepared. One victim's wife opened the gate to someone who was looking for his chicken he claimed had flown over their fence. She opened the gate and she was rushed by three men. They have since installed a video camera, this would have prevented the crime. Another was robbed at gunpoint and wrote about it here. He accepts some of the blame but it did destroy their feeling of security for some time.

Homes are built in enclaves of one or more, behind locked gates with the tops wired with electricity or walls with broken bottles embedded. No enclave, then you will see barred windows and heavily padlocked doors. Dogs are guards and alarms here, not so much pets.

Here in Cuenca we don't have a problem with "gypsy" cabs or cab kidnappings as Guayaquil and Quito do (in those cities always have the hotel call a cab for you and learn the markings of a licensed, registered cab). In Cuenca the majority of the cabs have webcams AND had a little red button that calls ECU-911. Yes, there is a 911 service here, in fact the husband of the gal that runs my favorite beauty salon, works for ECU-911. We have never felt unsafe in a Cuenca taxi or on the bus but we are very aware of our belongings when on the bus.

Do we worry incessantly about this? Absolutely not! But we are aware. If we go out at night, we use a taxi. We avoid the buses when they are very crowded. If we plan to attend an event with a lot of people, we carry as little as possible with us and even have an old cell phone we can use as a throwaway. We try to keep extra money hidden, just have a couple of ones and maybe a ten or twenty to hand over. We avoid unpopulated areas when walking, especially at dawn or dusk. We have never felt threatened but we also are constantly aware of our surroundings.

July 14, 2014 ARTICLE: Former criminologist discusses crime in Cuenca

 Poverty is the mother of crime.
Marcus Aurelius

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