Safety in Colombia – Retire in Colombia, Part 5

Tourist Police in Colombia
Around tourist attractions in large cities, there is a strong police presence. Photo © Policía Nacional de los Colombianos (Flickr), via Wikimedia Commons

By RetirePedia’s Roving Reporter Jim Veinot

Your safety in Colombia is your responsibility; I’m not going to sugar-coat this… you need to be aware at all times of your surroundings and the time of day.

That doesn’t mean act timid or brash but do keep your eyes open. Now, having said that, I would advise the same kind of attitude in the poorer areas of most American cities.

Never forget that people who are poor see themselves as deprived, and it makes them kind of angry.

Their reaction is to blame their poverty on those who they see as not poor, and they become hostile.

In order to balance the inequity from their perspective, they take what you have. They will resort to violence to do that, which also serves to shore up their sense of self-worth.

This may sound like sermonizing, but there’s a reason for that. Some level of understanding will help you maintain perspective and not respond to an incident with your own bravado. To do so can escalate the situation to a life-threatening level. Chances are it will be your life, not theirs.

For many years violence was the norm in Colombia. Criminal elements were constantly at war with each other, vying for position in the drug trade. Tales of Pablo Escobar have been the subject of movies and viewers can seemingly never get enough of the violence inherent in this lifestyle.

There are also revolutionary armies such as FARC prowling the countryside, together with local bandits. The south of the country is a no-go area for tourists or visitors, as it is owned by the criminals. Crime in Colombia is an occupation, not a pastime.

As a result of decades of conflicts between left-wing guerrillas, the military and right-wing paramilitaries, Colombia ranks 207 out of 218 countries in terms of homicide rate.

In 2014, 27.9 murders per 100,000 inhabitants were reported (to compare: the United States ranks 107 with a homicide rate of 3.8).

Together with Belize, Colombia is the country with the highest murder rate among the countries we write about here at RetirePedia.

Safety in Colombia: The Good News

According to the Passports and Immigration Branch of the State Department of the government of the United States of America, things are getting better.

There has been a decrease in overall criminal activity throughout the country, particularly in Bogotá, which is trying to attract tourists.  To achieve this, the city has hired a lot more police and cleaned up a large portion of the city.

To read the full article and find the phone number for daily updates, follow this link.

A variety of articles on the Internet, together with police statistics, point to a reduction in major crime. One article stated that murders were at their lowest level since 1984, over three decades ago.

Coincidentally, this was when Escobar was at the height of his power and kept peace through fear. We all know how that ended.

Safety in Colombia: Dos and Don’ts

I’m going to preface this by saying hey, folks, most of this is common sense. Most of these practices should become routine anywhere you go. The goal is to prevent becoming a victim of street crimes.

  • Travel in packs, or at least with one other person. This is particularly true for females, as they are at risk of sexual predators along with other types of criminals.
  • Ask at the desk of your hotel (or your landlord) whether or not it is safe to go where you intend to go. Ask if there are hotel-certified guides to take you there.
  • Make sure, if you’re out at night, you are in well-lit streets, with a lot of pedestrian traffic. In the daytime, stick to areas that are popular and populated.
  • Do not wear flashy jewelry. This is an invitation to someone to take it from you.
  • Pickpockets are everywhere that tourists are. If you carry a bag, keep it close to you. If your pockets have zippers, keep them zipped up. If they don’t then get some.
  • Only use registered taxis. Have the desk call for them and record the time and company. Alternatively, if you are renting a place, ask other expats to recommend a trustworthy taxi driver. Otherwise you might find yourself on a tour around the city with a couple of bandits who will help you empty your account at an ATM or make charges to your credit card. This is known as the “sucuestro express” or the “quick kidnapping”.
  • It’s a good idea to have two credit cards and/or debit cards, one set with minimum amounts which you carry and the main set which you’ve cleverly deposited in the hotel safe (not the room safe).
  • Finally, if you are mugged, just give them what they want. Resistance is futile, to quote the Borg. Sure, carry pepper spray, but don’t use it unless danger is imminent.

To summarize, safety in Colombia is on the upswing and crime on the downswing, but it’s still necessary to be very careful. This is of course good advice wherever you travel.

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