Crime & Corruption are very extensive, and a severe problem in Ecuador. Dealing with increasing crime, and reducing corruption remain the Government's main challenge for 2011. Crimes in the past year ranged from petty theft to violent crimes, including armed robbery, home invasion, sexual assault and homicide. Low rates of apprehension and conviction of criminals – due to limited police and judicial resources – further contribute to Ecuador's high crime rate. While there has been some improvements over the last several years Ecuador ranks very low out of the 180 countries ranked in the Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index (CPI). 2010 Survey results
Denmark and Canada receive the strongest ratings. The polar opposite environments which we have experienced may explain why this has clearly being our most significant challenge/ adjustment to our life in Ecuador.
Crime is much worse in the large cities. Guayaquil is the largest city with about 2 million people and harbors the worst crime in the country ( also the poorest people - particularly on the south side) . Quito with about 1.3 million is the second largest and also has pretty high crime. Tourists, residents and club owners complain of rampant crime in La Mariscal, Quito's nightlife district where some bouncers are now Russian and many of the customers African and South Asian. The 3rd largest is Cuenca, a mountainous city of half a million that once was quite safe but is only 3 hours from Guayaquil and lately has been a weekend stopover for delinquents looking for easier, less wary prey. After over two years living here in Ecuador, and our tranquil coastal community of Bahia de Caraquez, we have first hand experience to increasing levels of crime and high levels of personal frustration with corruption.
Non-violent crimes, including pick-pocketing, purse-snatching, robbery, bag-slashing and hotel room theft, are the most common types of crimes committed against foreigners in Ecuador. They occur in all parts of Ecuador and incidents have increased in the past year. Pickpockets and other petty thieves are particularly active in airports, restaurants, public transportation, crowded streets, bus terminals and public markets and grocery stores. Backpackers are frequently targeted for robbery and "snatch and grabs;" business travelers carrying laptop computer bags are similarly targeted.
Almost everyone here ( including ourselves ) has experienced the theft of a wallet, cellphone, watch, laptop, bicycle, or chicken. Several of the boats in the Bahia harbour have experienced thefts. In fact this type of theft is so common that theft of anything less than $ 500 in value is not even considered a crime or pursued in any way. Reporting petty crime to the police is useless. As these thefts are never reported they cannot be in any crime statistics you may find on this country. Statistics are also difficult to compare as crimes are classified in different ways, and cultural differences mean some crimes are less likely to be reported in one country than another.
What is significantly more disconcerting is the increase in violent crime in broad daylight. Armed robbery is a constant hazard throughout Ecuador. Throughout coastal Ecuador, the rate of violent crime against expats continues to rise. In the last several weeks there have been 6 occurrences of home invasion robberies in our coastal area. Friends of ours experienced an armed home invasion where at gunpoint they were tied up while thieves emptied their home of all valuables in front of their eyes. There have been several rapes and several local women were robbed at gunpoint in broad daylight while walking on a downtown street, and several reports of cameras and purses being snatched. These examples are not necessarily the " complete picture " - it is the incidents in the area that we know about.
We have a growing number of " middle-class " expats from around the world arriving to experience life in Ecuador. Many seemingly have made that decision after a " brief tour " or after doing their research on the internet ! In either case they have had no life exposure to these harsh realities in Latin America. Whenever there is such a wide divergence in income levels there is a corresponding increase in crime irregardless of where you are in the world.
Most expats seek the safety and security provided by an apartment, condominium, or gated community. Those few who venture out into the community to live in a house, will find the perimeter of their property is secured with a " glass sharded topped " wall. In addition most will employ " live on the premises 24 / 7 " armed guards and have guard dogs and guns.
"Secuestro express" or "Express kidnappings" are a common crime in Ecuador and are on the increase in Quito and Guayaquil. Both wealthy Ecuadorians and foreign visitors are targets.The kidnappings involve short-term opportunistic abductions aimed at extracting cash from victims who are selected at random. They are held while criminals empty their bank accounts using the victims' bank cards. Once the money has been taken the victim is usually released in an isolated area. However, criminals have started to force victims to take them to their homes once they have withdrawn the cash, and violence is becoming more common. From latest reports, these crimes have taken place especially at night in the Mariscal District in Quito and most of them have involved illegitimate taxis and complicit taxi drivers. Travelers should be particularly aware of the dangers in Guayaquil and in Quito, as well as in the south of Ecuador, including at the Ecuador/Peru border crossings of Macará and Huaquillas.
Ecuador has become a significant transit country for cocaine originating in Colombia and Peru, with reportedly over half of the US-bound cocaine passing through Ecuadorian Pacific waters; importer of precursor chemicals used in production of illicit narcotics; attractive location for cash-placement by drug traffickers laundering money because of dollarization and weak anti-money-laundering regime; increased activity on the northern frontier by trafficking groups and Colombian insurgents. Ecuador has become particularly attractive for money launderers because of its combination of weak laws and use of the American dollar as its currency. The International Assessment and Strategy Centre, reckons that it has become a hub for Russian and Chinese crime syndicates.
Crime is not the same everywhere. Certain types of crime that are common in the northern hemisphere can be rare in Latin America. That can put travelers at a disadvantage as they enter a new country where their safety habits are no longer sufficient to protect them and their property. This is certainly true for European, Canadian, or American travelers to Ecuador.
Unfortunately culturally it is accepted here. To illustrate here is an excerpt from an Ecuadorian lady who was recently robbed " it was traumatic to have a gun shoved against my cheek and a knife up to my neck. But, all the Ecuadorians are telling me that I´m ¨weak¨ for being upset about this situation. Further, I´ve heard ¨a veces te toca¨ so many times that I just can´t take it anymore. The police told me that it was my fault for traveling with a group of gringos. Other people have told me it´s a rite of passage in Latin America and I should just accept it. " 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 here that is very uncomfortable.
This article is written to make you fully aware and enable you to properly prepare yourself to enjoy your visit, or enjoy life in this beautiful country. We have met wonderful, warm, hard working, trustworthy Ecuadorian people.
1.) Do not display your wealth by wearing gold jewelry, diamonds or other precious stones, designer handbags, expensive clothing, using your blackberry, or carrying an expensive camera in public. Simply being a " gringo " already makes you a target, blend in as best you can. Shorts are not normal here, and loud print tourist clothing will be very conspicuous.
2.) Do not carry large amounts of cash on your person at any time, carry only what you need for this outing. Billfolds or wallets should be in a front pocket. When paying for goods or services open your wallet discretely. It is a good idea to either carry a " throwaway " wallet or $ 20 in another location to provide your thief in the event of a robbery. This strategy may enable you to successful escape losing your primary billfold and identification. Count and inspect any change received to ensure it's accuracy and the bills are not counterfeit. Counterfeit bills are quite common. As a result large denomination bills are not readily accepted even at banks.
3.) Criminals often use drugs to subdue victims. Home-made versions of the drug 'scopolamine' or 'escopolamina' in Spanish, which can be administered in food or drink, cigarettes, aerosols, or powder. It will leave victims sedated, compliant, and cause amnesia, making you obey anything anyone tells you to do, further, you'll appear to be acting normal. In at least one incident the drug was administered through a chemical soaked into a leaflet handed to the victim on the street. Be wary of unsolicited approaches from strangers offering you food, drinks, leaflets, telephone cards or cigarettes, no matter how friendly or well dressed they appear.
4.) The number of reported attacks by drivers of unregistered taxis has risen. For your safety, use only authorized taxis (yellow cabs) that display their taxi registration sticker on the windscreen and doors, as well as the orange license plates.
5.) Unlike the Northern hemisphere countries, in Latin American countries you do not extend trust before knowing someone. You needn't be ashamed about it being insulting as it's a way of life here when dealing with strangers.
6.) Both Ecuadorians and foreigners are regularly robbed when leaving banks. Avoid isolated cash machines and/or ATM's in the street. Be vigilant when using ATM's . Be aware of your surroundings and make sure the machine has not been altered or tampered with.
7.) Be vigilant when traveling on buses at night throughout Latin America. Buses travel through remote areas and frequently stop for passengers enabling a thief ready access. Armed gunmen regularly hold up buses at night.
8.) If any polite young fellows on the street point out that you've got mustard on your jacket or backpack, be aware it could be the start of a trick to get you to drop whatever you're carrying. The next step is for a few accomplices to cause confusion during which one of them snatches your belongings. Yes, thieves don't just work alone here, they can work as a well organized team.
more details on these organized crimes of opportunity
9.) Scan all your important identification and credit cards for electronic storage and also make photocopies. Store each in independant secure locations.
10.) Carry your identity documents at all times. If driving, always ensure that you have your driving licence, vehicle insurance papers (SOAT) and registration card (matricula).
11.) Finally simply be aware that you often will be quoted a higher price for goods and services simply for being a rich foreigner. Prices are not posted here and bartering with vendors is common cultural practice. They know that you're used to higher prices so you may be charged the "gringo rate".
Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. This definition encompasses corrupt practices in both the public and private sectors. There is a lot of bureaucracy here and the collective experience of many here would say most laws, and regulations can and will be different dependent on who you know, and what you pay !
Corruption clearly holds Ecuador's development back. A recent survey of business managers throughout the world showed in excess of 70 % ranked corruption, and the lack of confidence in courts to uphold property rights as major constraints for business here. A major business leader here has indicated this country is currently in major turmoil.
Throughout Ecuador, the Government has recognized the pervasive corruption that permeates this society, and recently passed legislation in an attempt to make change. There are laws in place to fight official corruption, but enforcement is lacking. This past year we have seen several high profile leaders removed from their office due to corruption. Bribery and theft of public funds is common. An inefficient and nontransparent judicial system adds to the problem.
Investigations into the abuse of public funds are at times politically motivated, and oversight of autonomous agencies is lacking. In December 2008, President Correa issued a decree that created the National Secretary for Transparency, to investigate and denounce acts of corruption in the public sector. Both entities can conduct investigations into alleged acts of corruption but responsibility for prosecution remains with the Office of the Prosecutor General.
Here in Ecuador, bribes paid to bureaucrats,( customs, airports, building, health, & fire inspectors ) judges and police happen regularly. Payments to bureaucrats arguably vary in moral standing as it could be made simply to get past some plainly unreasonable paperwork requirements, expedite a task that might take longer than desired, correct an administrative mistake made by the payer, or to obtain some kind of permit that otherwise would be denied.
Payments made to police would usually be to avoid some kind of official punishment or traffic violation, such as at a traffic stop where one's license or insurance has expired, or for the return of your stolen property. It could be considered an on-the-spot fine as far as the payer is concerned, but while the money would go to the officer, the government would not receive anything.
Court decisions are not necessarily correct or just, they can depend on your network of contacts and money. Payments made to judges are not uncommon as a way of having civil matters come into ones favor. This is clearly the worst form of corruption among those mentioned as it obviously adversely impacts a specific party. After using several lawyers to expedite a legal matter we have discovered that judicial bribes have been made to both delay and sway the final decision.
epic legal battle to hold oil giant Chevron (formerly Texaco) accountable for its systematic contamination of the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Real estate salespeople misrepresent the property, inflate the asking price, collect commissions from both buyer and seller, and often utilize the language barrier to manipulate the transaction.
Businessmen must compete on an uneven playing field when the competition has been provided a significant advantage with " free utilities, free water, or some other incentive " from corrupt community leaders.
Culturally integrity and trust are very foreign concepts here. Most people here will lie to save face, escape blame, or to " please you " Believe it or not, some people will try to sell property that they don’t own and once you give them the money – they’re gone. Common folks will pay to get ahead in a bank service, electoral, or common service line. When purchasing property you must ensure that all municipal, electrical, water, and other service fees have been paid to the current date or you will inherit these extra costs. Even after extensive investigation we had unpaid bills that were in another family member's name, and one agency that's records were not up to date when questioned. In the process of buying a used vehicle you will discover the previous owner's unpaid bank loan, traffic fines, police fines, annual inspection fees, municipal charges, Soat, and matricula for all prior years transfer to the new " registered owner." It is very common to inherit many hidden charges, in addition to whatever risks you will inherit with the condition of the used vehicle. Preventative maintenance is not common in this culture.
When we purchased our property here in Bahia the owners were supposed to be returning to the United States. It represented some convenience for us as the negotiated package included all of the furniture and domestic items which they would not be able to carry in their suitcase. After the transaction was signed they announced they were constructing a small house immediately adjacent to our new home. They did so without any municipal permissions or building permit, and proceeded to build on someone else's property ! For us this was incredible, but the locals say it is pretty common. The property dispute is in front of a judge who has received paola but apparently a resolution may be years away. These unscrupulous neighbours not only stole building materials from us to build their house, but transferred the furniture and other domestic items we had purchased from them to their new home ! In addition to many unanticipated costs and repairs, due to misrepresentation and lack of maintenance, and many other problems, we now have these devious folks as neighbours !
In order to successfully live, or do business in Ecuador, an individual is simply unable to refuse and stand on their moral grounds and survive successfully here. (it is pervasive at all levels and isn't going to change overnight – if in our lifetime ) Unfortunately it is a way of life here, and while it is abhorrent, it must be recognized and accommodated.