January 22, 2008

Imprisoned by Home Security
Lima, Peru

Lima, Peru in 1750

The populous of Lima is afraid. And they aren't alone; most towns and cities in Latin America seem to be full of folks just like them. They build fortifications around their homes to keep the evil of the world at bay, but in the process, imprison themselves.

I recently came across an interesting 18th-century map illustrating Lima's layout, and former colonial fortifications. Built by the viceroy of Lima (a Spanish politician) in the 1680s to protect Lima against attacks from pirates and privateers, it paints an articulate image of a defensive Old World mindset.

Lima's city walls have long since been demolished, but the fortification mentality remains. Every home and structure in sight looks like a U.S. embassy compound. The people build tall walls with shards of glass bottles in the concrete, bar their windows, enclose their property in steel cages with spikes and razor wire, keep their dogs vicious, hire guards to stand out front, and place electrified fencing along the perimeter.

There are few open front yards in this city, even in the calmest of suburban neighborhoods.

What really perplexes me is the artificial bubble of security that the occupants of these homes think they've made for themselves.

I understand the practice of deterring theft. I practice it with my backpack by habitually locking the zippers and chaining it to a bed or exposed pipe. But this only fights against opportunistic theft—a traveler or staff member with sticky fingers. It does nothing against a premeditated act by an individual carrying a blade, willing to slash open my pack (or me) to get at the contents.

What type of crime are all these personal home fortifications preventing in Lima?

My backpack is a less desirable target because it requires more effort to steal than the others in its vicinity do, because they aren't secured. But now that all the homes in Lima are walled and caged, has the crime stopped—or do aggressors now prey on the weakest of the security setups?

Living in a cage

Did the crime ever really exist in the first place, or was all just a response to one neighbor after the other trying to keep from being the easiest target? All I see is an ugly circle of defensive fear, where homeowners are constantly trying to keep from being left at the bottom of the security deterrent scale.

Where does it stop?

I think these setups foster fear where there should be little to none. Yes, there is crime in these places, but I have a feeling that much of it takes place within the home, and not by people seeking to ransom family members, or steal their car and television.

This is a global phenomenon. Is there any hope?

Comments:

Donald Lee

January 23rd, 2008

In every middle class to upscale barrio in every large Latin American City, the Spanish taught them to live behind walls, there is violent crime on the streets, but usually occuring late at night or in very poor marginal areas where thieves are able to hide, I reside in San Salvador, have no problems, however since I sold my vehicle, I never walk alone late night, especially on dark side streets, just common sense, Security guards working with private firms now outnumber national and city police forces. If there are guards where you are staying, or on your walk home, stop and greet them, introduce yourself, make friends, one day one of them may come to your aid. Never know. I am a street smart ex New Yorker ex pat who blends in. One question? Do you always wear a "backpack" when navigating around Lima/Callao, I wouldn't…carry a few things in a plastic supermarket shopping bag and a local newspaper if taking public transport..I did a series of cartoons..satire and sarcasm…"Benny Backpacker goes to….etc." Shown only to my fellow ex pats and natives, we roared with laughter. I could never carry one of those monsters on my back!!! Sorry.

Saludos http://www.tropicooltours.com El Salvador.

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