While anecdotes are ample, statistics are now showing that national and municipal authorities are failing to counter the rising crime wave in the Aburrá Valley of Colombia, home to Medellín and its suburbs of Envigado, Bello, Itaguí, Sabaneta and Copacabana.
Police records show there have been 5,399 cases of theft reported in metro Medellín during the first 9 weeks of 2022 compared to 4,538 cases the year before: an increase of 16%. Medellín proper is showing a rise in property crime of 20%, while Envigado has managed to remain stable with only a 1% increase.
Thefts in Medellín are becoming more brazen and violent, and often victims are attacked as part of the theft even when not resisting. In 2021, 19 foreigners died violent deaths in Medellín. Just last month, Australian Nat Ware was shot in the tourist neighborhood of El Poblado in a robbery, even after giving up his valuables. Ware was in Medellín to launch a program training low income Colombians in technology, preparing them for professional employment.
The same month, expatriate contact center executive Manuel Morales was gunned down after leaving the El Tesoro shopping mall in the exclusive Las Palmas area of the city. Also in February, the diners at the luxury Click Clack hotel in Medellín were robbed when a thief dressed in black and wearing a bulletproof vest brazenly walked in and held a stickup, robbing jewels, smartphones and wallets.
Hurto masivo Anoche en el hotel Click clack en el poblado.
Sujeto ingresa con arma de fuego y
Se robo varias joyas de alto valor , celulares, billeteras. Estaba en la puerta del restaurante @PoliciaMedellin @region6policia @seguridadmed @sebaslopezv @QuinteroCalle pic.twitter.com/t4kPphRg9n
— Denuncias Antioquia (@DenunciasAntio2) February 26, 2022
While homicides are near historic lows, and a tiny fraction of the high of 6,809 in 1991 during the drug wars, they are rising significantly. In 2021 there were 9.2% more homicides than the year before, a historic low of 369, even lower than the crime rates in the 1970s. The tourist mecca of Poblado has seen a 400% increase in homicides going from 2 to 10, and the quieter, but still popular Laureles neighborhood has seen homicides rise 78% from 9 to 16.
Lower income neighborhoods are also seeing an increase. On the city’s north side, away from exclusive hotels and fancy restaurants, Manrique has seen a 54% increase in homicides, and Aranjuez a 36% rise.
Where is the mayor?
They mayor of Medellin since 2020, Daniel Quintero has a public relations slogan: “Medellín va bien,” or “Medellín is going well.” Last October, he tweeted “In Medellín, committing crimes is getting more and more difficult. When the civic group “Medellín Como Vamos” conducted polling on public sentiment that showed growing discontent with his administration, he dismissed the group as being funded by local businesspeople and presenting selective data. Though in his same tweet touting how tough it was for criminals, he showed a graphic that cherry picked data showing a homicide reduction for the month of September and for youth homicide.
En Medellín cometer crímenes es cada vez más difícil: En septiembre tuvimos una reducción del 15 % en homicidios, comparado con el mismo mes del año pasado. Además presentamos una reducción del 75 % en los homicidios a menores de edad. Toda vida es sagrada. pic.twitter.com/tkkdTExCPY
— Daniel Quintero Calle (@QuinteroCalle) October 1, 2021
Four weeks after the mayor’s “tough on crime” tweet, a spectacular gold heist, like something out of a Hollywood movie, took place on the busy Las Vegas Avenue, again in the higher income, international-friendly Poblado district. At least 11 criminals made off with over 3 kilograms of gold.
July of last year, 15 heavily armed thieves dressed as police and SIJIN (Colombia’s police task force responsible for working with Interpol) stole 400 million pesos in cash and 12 kilograms of gold from the Forum office building in Medellín’s wealthy “Milla de Oro” (Golden Mile) business district, just steps from the Santa Fe shopping mall.
Safety for visitors
Last week, two Chilean visitors to Medellín were robbed at gunpoint of their Rolex watches in Las Palmas near a major thoroughfare. Fortunately for them, the police reacted quickly and were able to recover the timepieces and make arrests.
#Medellin | una hora después de estos hechos, en una rápida acción Policial y la articulación de las cámaras de la ciudad, se logra recuperar los elementos hurtados a esas dos personas e inmovilizar los vehículos dónde se movilizaba los delincuentes >>> pic.twitter.com/WGbHXD8hPN
— Guardianes Antioquia Oficial (@Guardianes_Ant) March 19, 2022
While no one deserves to be a victim of crime, there are several common sense measures that foreigners and citizens alike can take while visiting Colombia, especially large urban areas, or Caribbean vacation spots. Remember, everything starts with situational awareness. Know your surroundings and be alert at all times.
- Don’t wear expensive watches or gold necklaces. Colombians don’t, and neither should you. You will not see Colombians walking around with expensive jewelry on the street because of the risk of theft. A pedestrian wearing these expensive items will not look wealthy, he will look clueless.
- Don’t use your high-end smartphone on a busy street. If you must make or take a call, best to duck into a corner store or coffee shop, buy a soft drink and conduct your business there. If you wish to take a photo, that’s fine but just look around and be sure you aren’t the object of anyone’s attention.
- Don’t carry lots of cash. The vast majority of retail establishments and commercial restaurants in Colombia accept bank cards like Visa and Mastercard. Leave your stash in your hotel safe, or a secure area of your apartment, and don’t walk around with more cash than you expect to spend that same day. ATMs, or automated cash machines are widespread in Colombian urban areas, and generally work fine with foreign cards enabled for international transactions. When withdrawing cash or purchasing items with a bank card in Colombia, you may be presented with the option of accepting a conversion from pesos to dollars. Generally you want to decline this, as they are almost certainly offering you an unfavorable rate compared to your own bank or financial services provider. Of course, rural areas and small artisan vendors or “mom & pop” restaurants may not always accept charge cards. Large shopping malls often have options for licensed money exchangers. Be sure to count your money and store it in your wallet or purse before leaving their service counter.
- Be careful partying with strangers. In the US and Europe, we hear about “date rape drugs.” Similar substances are used in Colombia to rob tourists—and Colombians of their belongings. Even when the police investigate, few tourists have the means in time or money to stick around for the prosecution to make its way through the courts, so with no witness, the criminals eventually go unpunished. Some criminals have a modus operandi targeting foreign visitors, using for example, attractive young women or friendly “bros” who know “where the party’s at” as bait.You may notice that when liquor is ordered at most clubs and bars in Colombia (but not in international hotels), the bottle is opened at your table in your presence. This is to show you that the drink is not adulterated, and the bar staff is not “slipping anything into your drink.” When drinking with people you do not know, do not leave your drinks unattended. Drinking a beer and headed to the restroom? Take your beer with you.
- Be prudent about transportation. Taxis in Medellín are generally straightforward, and the price in pesos is whatever is shown on the taxi meter. The official white cars to and from the airport operate at a fixed rate, which you should confirm before leaving. In Bogotá, the taxis have a notoriously bad reputation, and even many Colombians avoid them, using either Über, or InDriver ride hailing apps. InDriver has the advantage of allowing the passenger to “make your own offer” of how much you wish to pay. It also takes a much smaller cut of the fare, so the drivers prefer it. In Cartagena, there are no taxi meters so be sure to agree on a price before entering the taxi. Most business hotels also can arrange transportation with providers they know and trust.. You can rent a car in Colombia but understand that there is no legal limit for blood alcohol. Driving with any detectable alcohol in your system whatsoever is an arrestable crime.
- Don’t abuse drugs! Not only is it illegal in Colombia, and Colombian prisons are not pleasant, illegal narcotics are often a means of delivery of the disabling hallucinogens like Rohypnol or the more common Scopolamine, made from a flowering tree found in Colombia distantly related to the Tomato. Crime victims are often reluctant to report the crime because their drug use will show up in the resultant medical attention. The situation is worse when the victims are not fluent in Spanish, or don’t have resources to pay for medical care. Along abusing drugs, public drunkenness is not only ugly, it puts you at risk for victimization by criminals.
Con apoyo de la tecnología de cámaras de video vigilancia de la ciudad recuperamos los elementos hurtados a 2 ciudadanos extranjeros en el sector Las Palmas.
— BG. Javier Josué Martín Gámez (@PoliciaMedellin) March 19, 2022