For several nights in a row, residents of the Zavala neighborhood walked the streets with their heads covered and sticks in hand. Once a criminal was caught and the youngest of the group beat him up. The next day the police came and asked about them. “It didn’t work, the agents were looking for us,” says Margot Sierra, 54, still gaping, at the door of her clothing store in this modest neighborhood in north Quito. Since the night patrols were of no use, they hung placards in the corners that will make anyone who reads them hair stand on end, but have the same effect as one that reads, “Organized Neighborhood.” The caught thief is burned. ‘ In 30 years at this location, Sierra had never seen anything like it. The rampant increase in violence across the country is beginning to creep into the homes of Ecuadorians, who are looking for a way to organize amid mounting insecurity.
When a vaccinator (extortionist) first tried to intimidate the merchants of Atucucho, a neighborhood of the capital at an altitude of 3,100 meters, he faced Marta Sánchez. She and other merchants in this steep neighborhood with 30,000 souls and 10 murders in the month of July alone, where it’s not easy to meet a cop, set up interconnected alarm systems a few months ago. When you press the button, everyone on the street starts to sound. Two months ago, Sánchez pushed the button in the dark Internet café where the boys spend the afternoon on the Internet. In a matter of seconds, all traders reduced the extortionist who wanted to charge them a forced monthly payment for a supposed security no one would give them.
The detainee was handed over to the police, who released him without evidence the same day. But the retailers’ euphoria remains. “Let the smart people see that we are not alone, a united people is strength,” says Leonardo Vega, owner of the stationery shop. Days later, 3,000 residents marched through the dirt streets topped with a tangle of cables, demanding that the government increase police presence in the neighborhood. The vaccinates, says Manuel Titani, were not seen there again. First of all to the police officers.
In the Barrio Zavala, north of Quito, there is a key neighborhood crime-fighting organization and pressure to get police support for day and night patrols. Ana Maria Buitron
Insecurity is not just a problem in the poorest neighborhoods, community action is taking place across the city. Conversations between neighbors have multiplied, spreading announcements like this one from the El Belén neighborhood: “The week before, they caught two mussels in the neighborhood. Two cars were stolen. Today they are in the parking lot while the police are cleaning up because they slept there. We must unite for the safety of ourselves and our families (sic)”. There is also a growing number of police tents that provide a “safe spot” for deterrence, although there are often no agents underneath. Alerts to thieves come in a variety of flavors and can be found in many areas. They all start with “thief caught” but the consequence ranges from burning to lynching to handing over to the authorities. Citizens have gotten used to living in fear, and by sunset the streets are empty and there are fewer and fewer people in the restaurants. Nobody feels safe anymore, especially after this last campaign.
Voting in the first round of the presidential elections this Sunday, Ecuadorians were still shocked by the shooting of candidate Fernando Villavicencio just ten days earlier. Correísta Luisa González and multimillionaire businessman Daniel Noboa have managed to advance to the second round and will meet on October 15 to preside over a country that calls for an end to violence and which so far feels like an oasis of peace amidst it a scarred region felt by uncertainty. Both González and Noboa talk about stopping the violence, but neither has explained in detail how they will do it. The recipe isn’t easy, though the source of the problem is an old familiar in the region: drug cartels fighting over territory.
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The situation has escalated to such an extent that Sunday’s election broadcast anchors congratulated themselves on the fact that there had been no casualty to be mourned and wondered why this couldn’t be the case every day. So far this year there have been 4,574 violent deaths and if Ecuador continues at this rate it will become one of the most violent countries in the world. Speaking to a broadcaster, the interior minister explained that 100,000 agents were deployed on election day and that the country was in a state of emergency. Regarding the idea of repeating the same thing every day, he said honestly: “There are shifts that you have to give breaks to, that’s not possible.”
She says the Margot Sierra police in Zavala promised 15 motorized vehicles would arrive in the neighborhood on Wednesday to patrol the area, so she’s counting the hours to see. She is not happy today. On Sunday he voted for Jan Topic and was eliminated from the second round. The face of the candidate who promised a strong hand against crime adorns the street walls next to his shop. And not for nothing. About 15 days ago, employees posing as members of the Topic campaign visited Margot and other traders and set up free internet cameras for them. She proudly points to it, and the picture goes straight to her cell phone from the shop entrance. “The vote is secret, but I’m voting for Topic because it gave us surveillance cameras,” she explained, full of reasoning. Because they just put them on without asking anything in return, just like when the Correísmo distributed sacks of rice in the same neighborhoods days before the election, so that nobody was short of a pot that day.
A stationery in the Atucucho neighborhood.Ana Maria Buitron
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