By Linda McFarlin
Gary—I decided to release my chair on our Cotacachi rooftop overlooking th e cathedral to Linda today to comment on crime in Ecuador. It is a question that is frequently asked, so here is our perspective.
An email from a man in Panama lit a fire under me. He was considering a move to Ecuador but after reading some contributions on www.expatexchange.com forum from someone living in a town near Cotacachi and talking to her in person, he changed his mind. He said that her candid tale of break-ins, robberies, cattle thefts and police who don’t show up convinced him that Cotacachi is not the place for him.
We have heard of more thefts in Cotacachi in the last few months, so Gary and I have decided to do some detective work of our own. We will talk to the mayor, long-time expats and locals to get a wide-range view of crime in Cotacachi.
We’ve personally had a few petty thefts of personal property—Gary’s cell phone was lifted from the case on his belt by a gang of kids working the Quito local bus we were on about three years ago. A bed frame and several items left on our porch were taken when the deck was painted and things have gone missing from our laundry room because I left the door open while hotel workers were around.
I’ve learned to lock up things and watch personal belongings much more carefully when traveling around. That’s simply good advice for anyone, anywhere.
There is a saying in Ecuador regarding things left unattended: “I may as well take it because if I don’t, the next person will. “ It is a part of the culture that is uncomfortable for many Americans, and often we learn the hard way.
People often comment on the fact that many houses have high walls around them, some with glass shards embedded in the top of the wall. This is common in all Latin American countries we have visited, and Ecuador is no exception.
But I wanted to know—Is serious crime increasing in Cotacachi? I already know that petty theft has gone up.
When we first arrived four years ago, I heard about incidents that occurred in the past—a mestizo woman living in the country was robbed and attacked with a machete and her arm had to be amputated because she didn’t get the hospital care she needed in time to save it.
There were stories of robberies and the occasional attack. A gringo at a party was hit over the head and robbed in the wee morning hours. By his own admission, he was somewhat inebriated.
An indigenous family’s house was invaded by several men who beat up the husband when no money was found. Not to make light or excuse any kind of crime, but frankly, these seemed mild to me in comparison to tales of drug wars and battles between drug lords and police in Mexico, gangs moving into the southern border states of the U. S. and murders in Phoenix, L.A. and Chicago.
A recent article said that 34,000 people in Mexico have died in drug wars in the last 4 years. For comparison, in the U.S., during the twelve years in Viet Nam, more than 50,000 of our soldiers died.
Now the stories of theft and attack are increasing in places in Ecuador such as Vilcabamba, Manta and the coast of Ecuador, and Quito. I called an expat friend who’s lived in Cotacachi for almost fourteen years, longer than any other gringo I know. She is a professional who lives alone outside of Cotacachi.
Her property is walled and guarded, plus she has large dogs that are let loose at night. About 2 1/2 years ago, her car was stolen in Quito when her driver left it on the street. Around this same time, her house was broken into and many items stolen while she was away.
Here’s what she had to say about robberies, “Yes, crime is increasing in Cotacachi, but it’s increasing around the world. It’s certainly safer here than in New York City, Denver or Chicago, or most any big city in the U.S.
“I just read about a head being cut off in Miami and body parts turning up in Florida canals. There are increased shootings, one just happened in which 2-3 people were shot to death in a Washington state Wal-Mart. I feel much safer in Cotacachi.”
“Crime here is mostly petty. Recently several televisions, cell phones and computers have been taken from gringo residences, one in town and another in Colonia El Batan.”
In the four years Gary and I have lived here in Cotacachi, we have never heard of a gringo being mugged on the street, day or night. Street crime is almost unknown.
In my next blog, this experienced expat gives her opinions as to why crime is on the increase and several very good suggestions for handling the situation in your own life. And later we’ll report our findings from the current mayor and others who are in a position to know the answer to the crime question in Cotacachi.
The mayor of Cotacachi asked Gary to set up a meeting with all expats for Feb. 18 at 5:30 p.m. The location hasn’t been set yet. We don’t know what the meeting is about, but we can be certain that someone will ask the question about the crime increase in Cotacachi and what the city government is doing about it.
We will report on that meeting in this column. Watch for it!
And that’s today’s View from the Roof!