Cuenca’s murder rate drops dramatically while most other crime categories also show reductions

Dec 27, 2023 | 0 comments

Cuenca is the case that proves the point, says parttime expat and retired criminology professor Martin Simmons, referring to a recent article in the Washington Post that called the crime situation in Ecuador a “tale of two countries.”

Murders in Cuenca dropped from 33 in 2022 to 20 in 2023. Crime also dropped in most other categories.

“The story quoted a United Nations drug office official about the murder rate and he mentioned that while it’s spiraling out of control in Ecuador’s port cities, it has changed relatively little in places like Cuenca and Loja, in the Andes,” Simmons says. “The numbers just put out by the National Police tell the story.”

In statistics released last week by the National Police Command, the number of murders in the Cuenca canton dropped from 33 in 2022 to 20 in 2023. For Azuay Province, the total was 50, with half of the homicides occurring in Camilo Ponce Enríquez, a community of 25,000 which is a center of illegal gold mining on the Guayas Province border.

In addition to murders, of the nine crime categories tracked by the police command, rates declined in seven in both Cuenca and Azuay Province.

One of the two categories that showed an increase was theft of persons committed by motorcycle thieves. In Cuenca, there were 230 thefts by motorcycle reported in 2023 compared to 211 in 2020.

“These robberies always include an operator and a passenger, with the passenger getting off the motorcycle to commit the crime,” says Manuel Cabrera, a former National Police commander, now a private security consultant. “If the municipality of Cuenca follows through with its plan to ban young male passengers on motorcycles and the ban is enforced, this will eliminate most of these robberies.”

Among crimes categories that showed reductions in 2023 from 2022, were home burglaries, dropping from 387 to 266, and robberies of persons (not including motorcycle robberies) dropping from 679 to 520.

According to Simmons, the difference in murder rate between coastal cities, such as Guayaquil and Manta, and Cuenca, Ambato and Loja, is stunning. “Guayaquil could end the year with almost 50 murders per 100,000 population, while Cuenca will have a rate of 3.5 per 100,000 and Ambato will be at 4.8,” he says. “The 1000% differential is explained by the fact that the violence is concentrated in the areas where illegal drugs are shipped to the U.S. and Europe. Although much of the other crime, such as extortion and kidnapping, is not directly related to the drug trade, it feeds off of it and the money it generates.”

“For the purpose of comparison, Cuenca’s murder rate is lower than that of most U.S. cities of comparable size,” Simmons says. He adds: “There has been a fear among some Cuencanos and expats that the violence would migrate from the coast to Cuenca and other cities of the sierra, but this is not happening. It is a fact that criminals prefer to remain in their territory, among the people and places they are familiar with.”

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