By Cristina Bazan
Guayaquil, Ecuador Jul 19 (EFE).- Streets closed off with gates. Security cameras. Alarms. Private guards.
Neighborhoods of Ecuador’s largest metropolis are increasingly becoming fortresses, as residents seek to protect themselves from the widespread violent crime plaguing city streets.
Those security measures come amid a context in which an average of seven people were killed per day in the Guayaquil metro area in the first quarter of 2023, nearly double the rate registered in the same period of last year, according to police figures.
Incidents of extortion and kidnapping also have been growing at an alarming clip.
The current unprecedented level of violent crime in Ecuador exploded in the wake of the pandemic and is attributed by police to a war among drug gangs.
“It’s regrettable we have to close ourselves off and the criminals are outside, but there was no other way for us to feel safe,” Johana Torres, president of the Samanes 1 neighborhood on Guauayquil’s north side, told Efe.
Six gates were installed in December around that neighborhood, home to more than 300 families, to prevent non-residents from entering between 7 pm and 6 am.
Local residents say that security measure has boosted their quality of life and are seeking permission to close off the neighborhood 24 hours a day.
Torres said the gates were needed after an average of 12 crimes were reported daily last year.
Residents initially had sought to protect themselves by putting bars on their windows, yet they still did not feel safe.
“If they didn’t break into your house, they robbed someone, beat someone up. Cars got stolen. All kinds of stuff happened,” she said.
ROBBERIES, MUGGINGS, SHOOTINGS AND EXTORTION
Residents of Guayaquil’s Nueva Kennedy neighborhood also felt at the mercy of criminals and in June started installing gates on nearby streets.
The goal now is to have the entire neighborhood sealed off in the coming months.
“Since the start of last year, we’ve unsuccessfully approached the police (about the crime problems). The cases rose and rose until we were left defenseless,” neighborhood leader Francisco Torres told Efe.
“We got the idea to protect ourselves with a comprehensive enclosure that didn’t affect residents and allows us to walk freely on the streets once again.”
Armed robberies, shootings and the extortion of stores led the neighborhood’s 600 residents to install 17 gates around its perimeter.
According to prosecutors, 1,603 cases of extortion were reported in Guayaquil between January and June of this year, compared to 1,265 cases in all of 2022 and 425 in all of 2021.
Robberies of homes and retail outlets also soared to 2,069 in the first half of 2023, compared to 1,486 for all of 2022.