What contrasts the fantastically joyful spirit of the great majority of the approximately 45 million Colombians is the awful violence among the poorest spheres of the society. With violence, I will here only refer to unorganized everyday crime.
Living with and around the lower to upper middle classes, and following certain safety routines, it’s easy to forget that the city of Cali has among the highest homicide rates in the country, and thus, among the highest in the world. In my well over four years of moving around in the city, I’ve “only” been victim of four different non-violent incidents. The first incident occurred after having refused to give some coins to a random man, who opened the taxi-door for me, as I stopped by the grocery store in the middle of the day. This provoked him to tell me he was going to wait for me outside until I returned. A few coins seemed to keep that threat away. A little more serious was the second incident, when a smiling man started talking to me as he came towards me along a main street around nightfall (6:30pm) suddenly indicating he had a gun in his pocket and “politely asked” me to give him some money. Taking out the bills I luckily had in my pocket, in total 15.000 pesos (8.4 dollars) was fortunately enough to stay out of trouble that time.
At a later occasion, I was mildly robbed by a quite desperate guy who had spotted me after getting out of the same bus that he had been begging for money at. Following me at a distance while crossing the street, he suddenly appeared right behind me and had his hands in my pocket and grabbed my iPod that I stupidly enough had connected to my ears. Luckily, as he only concentrated on the device connected to my earphones, he left my wallet, my cell-phone and my laptop in peace. The last time, luck was with me again as a motorcyclist suddenly appeared from the wrong side of the street and, luckily enough, just ordered me to hand over my cell-phone, indicating that he had a gun in his bag. Having heard more than one story about motorcycle robbers ambitously stealing cars lately, besides their normal robbery activities, I didn’t hesitate at handing over my old, cheap cell-phone, which he incredibly enough accepted before hurrying away. He probably did not imagine that I, again, was also carrying my much more valuable MacBook in my Mickey Mouse folder.
Amazingly enough, when my iPod was robbed, Colombian police efficiency had the guy and his armed companion caught before I had finished a pleasant conversation with the nice lady who had seen and reported the incident. She had immediately called the police and helped me indicate to a police motorcyclist that appeared from nowhere in which direction the robbers were running. Despite this fantastic efficiency of the police work, the following 9(!!!) hours at the police station and the fiscal department (including a detour trying to catch another thief, who appeared on the way) did everything but give me a good impression of the administrative part of Colombian law enforcement. Adding that I, a foreigner, had to correct the police officer taking my report on his Spanish writing did not help much to reward my intentions of helping the police teach the robbers a lesson. My five-minute story took more than two working hours to get on paper, after three hours of pure waiting for the staff at the fiscal department to get available, after three preceding hours of waiting for something else at the police station.
Sadly, with administrative routines like these, it’s easy to understand the attitude of many to take the law in their own hands and try to revenge, no matter how dangerous, instead of letting the police and especially the fiscal departments do their job. In many’s opinion, too many resources are spent on the actual catching of the bad guys instead of preventing the guys from becoming bad. (In 2009, for the first time in Colombia’s history, investment in security and defense exceeded investment in education). No use is done “trying” to teach the criminals a lesson if the procedures to actually teach them a lesson don’t work. A focus is screamingly necessary on more effective fiscal work and even more on providing employment focused education and training, as well as on other constructive opportunities for the desperate and/or lazy youth.
The last time I was robbed, of my cell-phone, I just went straight ahead to recover my phone number at the operator’s main office, where I also bought a new phone. With a one-hour delay, I just continued my day as planned, without reporting anything to any authority, feeling both angry with and sorry for the people making a living robbing others. Sad.
Statistics indicate that 58% of Cali’s inhabitants think everyday crime is the city’s major problem. In 2010, 53% of the caleños considered the city to be equally as safe as the previous year and 17% felt that the city had become safer. The remaining 28% considered that the safety had worsened since the previous year, despite all, a huge improvement since 2006, when a tremendous 40% considered that the safety had worsened since the previous year. An increased presence of the police force is a result of this perception, as 37% of the citizens consider the police to be the main reason for the safety. In other words, the presence of the police force has a positive image in Cali, more positive than that in the country on average.
The perception of security and actual security are of course two different things, however, but in 2008, the indicators of homicides were the lowest in the last 15 years in Cali (66 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants). Of the people interviewed, 26% affirmed having been victims of some kind of crime in the city. Of these, 79% had been victims of robbery on the street (national average being 72%), 15% robbed in their homes, 9% victims of fraud or deception and 7% had been victims of physical aggression. (Source: http://www.occidente.com).
A chat at the police station with three former police officers, about everything from basketball to how to avoid getting an iPhone robbed, although somewhat entertaining, did not paint a very optimistic picture of the rough areas of the city. Besides their stories, the fact that all three officers were now wheel-chaired as a consequence of having been shot in duty only confirmed that the crime statistics of the city should be respected.
On Colombian development and opportunities,