National police have begun 24-hour surveillance of the La Merced neighborhood in the historic district. According to Azuay Province Governor Leonardo Berrezueta, the step is necessary to combat drug sales and thefts.
The area of greatest concern, police say, is along Calles President Borrero, Honorato Vasquez, Hermano Miguel and Larga. The neighborhood contains dozens of restaurants and bars, many of them popular with tourists, the weekend youth crowd as well as expats.
The operation involves 15 police officers who will operate from a mobile unit parked in the neighborhood.
Although Berrezueta says that most drug activity involves small quantities, he and area businesses worry that the presence of drug pushers and petty thieves threatens security in an area. “The neighborhood is an important part of the historic district and we will not allow it to be overrun by narcotrafficking and other criminal activity,” he said. “We want to contain the problem before it gets out of hand.”
Police say that several tourists and expats have experienced theft of cash and cell phones in recent weeks.
In an October 26 sweep, police arrested 25 people in La Merced, charging them with drug sales and a variety of other offenses. Those arrested were carrying a illegal drugs, knives, stolen cell phone and large amounts of cash. Fifty police officers participated in the operation that centered in the Plaza outside the La Merced Church, next to the Gozo restaurant.
Berrezueta said 24-hour patrols would continue indefinitely.
Photo caption: La Merced Plaza