published : 2023-08-21

A Battle against Crime: Ecuador’s Fortress Communities

Under siege by crime, Guayaquil citizens fortify their communities

A vibrant panorama of the bustling city of Guayaquil, capturing the stark contrast between the thriving urban life and the looming walls of gated communities. Taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.

In Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city, the citizens are adopting a fortress mentality, with neighborhoods walling themselves off in a bid to stem the rising tide of crime in a place deemed to be one amongst the highest crime cities in the world.

Neighborhoods like Samanes 1 on the north side of Guayaquil are rapidly transforming into gated communities with curfews to defend against criminal elements.

Johana Torres, a local resident and neighborhood president, conveyed the unfortunate necessity of such safety measures, stating, 'It’s regrettable that we have to isolate ourselves while the criminals roam free, but it was the only way for us to feel safe.'

According to recent reports, the crime rate in the city has doubled compared to last year with an alarming average of seven killings occurring daily in the first quarter of 2023.

Deterioration of peace was traced back to the aftermath of the pandemic and intensifying gang wars.

Samanes 1, home to over 300 families, recently installed six security gates to protect its residents, effectively sealing the area against outsiders between the hours of 7 p.m. and 6 a.m.

An unyielding metal security gate guarding the entrance to the Samanes 1 Neighborhood, symbolizing the residents' determination to protect their homes against the rampant crime. Taken with a Fujifilm X-T4.

Torres reported that crime rates have significantly dropped in her neighborhood since the installation of these gates.

She recalls the past disorder with chilling accuracy: 'If they didn’t break into your house, they robbed someone, beat someone up. Cars got stolen. All kinds of stuff happened.'

The city's transformation echoes movements in other nearby cities grappling with high crime rates.

Public safety expert and urban planner, Fernando Carrion, described this strategy as 'bunkerization,' a process in which neighbourhoods become akin to bunkers, shielded from external criminal penetration.

This stringent security approach, Carrion noted, includes identification requirements, authorization for entry, and even body checks - all indicative of a city in dire circumstances, resorting to creating borders within itself in response to rampant lawlessness.

However, Carrion also cautions that these measures merely reflect 'a natural reaction amid government inefficiency.'

A close-up shot of Fernando Carrion, the public safety expert and urban planner studying a blueprint of Guayaquil, his furrowed brows reflecting the weight of the escalating crime situation. Taken with a Nikon D850.

Indeed, official data indicating a surge in extortion cases from just 425 in 2021 to 1,603 in the first half of 2023 seems to paint a daunting picture.

Likewise, robberies, both residential and commercial, are also steadily increasing, surpassing the 2022 numbers already.

In a similar vein, last month saw the installation of 17 new gates in the Nueva Kennedy neighborhood to protect its 600-strong resident population.

The preventive action results from a sense of abandon by the police force, expressed by local leader Francisco Torres who remarked, 'Since the start of last year, we’ve unsuccessfully approached the police [about the crime problems]. The cases rose and rose until we were left defenseless.'

Ultimately, the residents of Guayaquil are left with the harrowing realization that their last resort for safety is to encase their own homesteads, highlighting an urgent call for effective crime prevention strategies and robust law enforcement in the city.