Local and federal officials have agreed to work with a community group to reduce crime in Cuenca but some are disputing the claim that major crime is on the rise in the city.
“Combating crime is always a worthy cause and we are happy to assist in this mission,” says Azuay Governor Xavier Martinez. “It is important, however, to use reliable statistics to assess the problem we face and not rely on hearsay.”
The Cuenca Citizen Assembly, made up of residents of city neighborhoods, has mounted a public campaign claiming that the number of murders and violent attacks on citizens is rising dramatically. They also say that Venezuelan and Colombian refugees are responsible for much of the crime wave. The Assembly staged a parade last week to publicize their complaints and are meeting with municipal and federal officials asking for more police officers.
According to Martinez, the number of murders and violent assaults have dropped in the first half of 2019 compared to the same period of 2018. “Today, Cuenca has the lowest murder rate in its history and one of the lowest in Latin America,” he says. “The rate is about three per 100,000, the same as in European countries and half that of the U.S. When we look at ways to fight crime it is important that we deal with facts.”
National Police spokesman Santiago Correa debunked the claim that foreigners, primarily those from Venezuela and Colombia, are committing more crime. “There is no evidence of this,” he says. “The numbers in 2019 and very similar to those in 2018.”
Correa added that police are targeting crime gangs in the city, arresting the members of 15 gangs so far this year, some of them foreigners. “This is a success story that has gone unrecognized in the public misinformation that has been spread in recent weeks.”
Speaking at a crime forum Friday, Azuay Province prosecutor Leonardo Amoroso said there were areas in the city where crime rates remain high and where a greater police presence is needed. “In the district of the terminal terrestre the amount of crime is unacceptable as it is at El Arenal [Feria Libre] and we are taking measures to deal with it.”
Correa said that crime has increased in two categories: robberies and vehicle theft. “Robberies are up year-over-year but much of this is the result of new police reporting methods,” he said.