A New Kind of Blog

There is a world of information about Ecuador. It is one of the most popular countries for people who want to retire to a place where the dollar goes much farther than in the US, a place for adventuresome families who want to experience a new language and exciting culture. However, much of what you read or hear does not touch on the practical, the problematic, or the local information necessary to make things work. There are many blogs which are basically daily diary’s from people who live here. But this blog will be different. We know how hard it is to get accurate and timely information. We have been through it. All of us who live here have learned step by step and we question whether it is necessary to have every newcomer reinvent the wheel. We hope this blog will help shorten the learning curve. There are many hurdles but all are surmountable. What is required is patience, an understanding of local ways, and a realization that you are going to live in a country which is not the same as the US, Canada, or Britain. Our choice was to live in the wonderful city of Cuenca in the Southern Sierra but this may not be your decision and you will therefore have to look further to find the answers you need for different areas like the coast or the Amazon. Please realize that all the suggestions and ideas are based on our experiences. Ecuadorian regulations change rapidly and must be checked before you make any investments or major decisions. Please email us at Sailorburr@gmail.com and let us know if you have any questions or comments.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Is it safe? Yes, but…

It is only fair that, with all the glowing written accounts naming Cuenca as the best city in the world to retire to, that people should be aware that there are problems as well. There has been a definite upsurge in crime in Cuenca over the last year. A day rarely goes by that we don’t hear another story about a crime from one of our friends and it has become one of our deeper concerns. Cuenca has always had a fairly low crime rate compared with the other two big cities in Ecuador, Quito and Guayaquil and possibly that may be one of the reasons why bad elements have looked at Cuenca and seen a passive, tempting target. Another possible reason is that there is a law that says any crime under $600 will not be prosecuted which gives license to a criminal to conduct petty crime without the threat of jail or fine. A third possibility is that Cuenca has a large population of very poor people who see gringos as all being rich and we probably are rich compared to their standards of living. We have also heard that crime has had a huge increase in Costa Rica, Mexico and Panama though we have no statistics to go by and we are sure the worldwide recession has caused great social upheaval throughout the world that has led to increased crime in most countries. A very disquieting observation here is that the police are quite ineffectual. There is a poor police presence, they are paid quite low wages, and almost never follow up even on reported crimes.  The criminal element must be aware that they will not be caught and if they are, nothing will come of it. What is so disturbing is the fact that Cuenca has been quite a safe place to live. In the last year we have become aware of an upsurge of many small crimes like purse snatching and items being stolen from empty parked cars and empty houses being broken into. More alarming are direct confrontations with injuries by masked men at gunpoint. These have included a serious home invasion, several car jackings, a bank robbery and a restaurant robbery where all the diners were held at gunpoint and robbed.  We have heard that there is some improvement coming and we are keeping our fingers crossed. The new mayor was elected on a platform of addressing the upsurge in crime. Already, new laws have been passed limiting the hours of sale of alcohol to 10 pm weekdays and 2 pm weekends and none to be sold on Sunday but this may only address a more minor element of crime. We can only hope the $600 limit for prosecution will be removed as this law almost gives license to steal. Probably the most important change for the better would be an increase in police presence on the streets especially at night, punishment for taking bribes and confiscated goods, better salaries, and most of all, immediate follow up and prosecution when a crime has been committed. Cuenca is a beautiful city loved by almost everyone who lives here.  So, how do we address this issue of safety? We are all being more cautious than ever and trying to become less conspicuous. We have become even more cautious of our surroundings. We cross the street or enter a retail establishment when we see a group of young men approaching. We limit what we carry that is exposed to sight. We limit the amount of cash and credit cards that we carry in our wallets and purse to the amount we need on that excursion. We take only the credit card we need for an ATM machine visit. We take only the amount of cash needed for purchases at the markets. Otherwise, we leave cash or credit cards at home. We do not hail street taxis cruising past. There are many taxi companies to phone who will send a taxi to you within a few minutes that are considered much safer than roaming cabs. In many ways, these, and other precautions, are a good policy anywhere. We don’t want to frighten people away, we only want visitors and prospective new residents to be aware that there is a problem that needs to be addressed, one that we sincerely hope will be quickly solved. 

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