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San Andrés: Insecurity and violence in paradise

Security is an important issue in Latin America for most governments. In this regard, for decades Colombia holds one of the first places for its high crime rates due to high levels of organized crime.

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Since 2007, as a consequence of several factors –including the participation of guerilla groups in drug trafficking and self-defense groups submittal–, there has been a face-off between the new leaders over the control of regions and routes for the transportation and marketing of drugs involving several port regions of the Colombian Pacific, the Continental Caribbean area, and the Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia, and Santa Catalina.

This situation led to an important change in regards to the security of the island, turning into a scenario for conflicts between different criminal bands and local actors involved in dealing with drugs. This situation led to selective assassinations, contract killings, the appearance of new criminal bands and the reorganization of new groups linked to narcotrafficking.

As a manner to help understand this insecurity phenomenon, The Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNal) Great Caribbean Think Tank [1], carried out an analysis over the safety awareness of the inhabitants of the islands in May of 2018.

Fear of increasing insecurity

The method used was making a survey termed “Security perception among the inhabitants of San Andrés Islas” –made up of 36 questions divided into three categories– a sample of 394 households, distributes among 17 neighborhoods, presuming a 95% trust level and an error margin of 4.95%. 45.18% of the surveyed were young adults (between 18 and 34 years of age) and 40.1 % adults (between 35 and 64 years of age.)

Listen: Fishing women, without acknowledgment in San Andrés, Providencia, & Santa Catalina (in Spanish.)

The results showed that 80.96% of the people think the island is unsafe and their sense of insecurity is high (46.08 %); which is higher than that reported by National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE, for its Spanish acronym) in its 2017 Cohabitation and Citizen Safety Survey which result was 31.5 %.

Furthermore, although safety awareness is more linked to events linked to narcotrafficking–considered by society as those triggering violence and crime–, common burglary (19.8 %), muggings (16.3 %), home invasion (11.5 %) and vehicle theft (10.7 %) are also prevalent.

[1] The results of this research project are included in the book “Security and narcotrafficking in the Caribbean, toward a public policy in the Archipelago of San Andres, Providencia, and Santa Catalina,” published by the UNal publishing house.

According to the San Andres, Providencia, and Santa Catalina Chamber of Commerce theft is considered an important crime that impacts the inhabitants of the islands and which also influences tourists, who do not care for making the official claim due to the extensive time it takes.

Regarding economic crimes, the most frequent is identity theft, such as requesting money through telephone calls d (10.4 %) or receiving threats (9.14 %), which although is not a very representative figure, it does imply the need to take measures to avoid its growth.

Vandalism is also not so representative in the islands, but when it does occur it produces impacts on vehicles (8.2 %), or households (6.4 %). In regards to cybercrime, they are far less frequent and are mostly linked to pestering and harassment (4.8 %), identity theft in social media (4.6 %), internet fraud (4.6 %) or threat through the Internet (4.1 %).

The results linked to crime, vandalism, and cyber-crimes, among others, contribute to the sense of insecurity on the island in general as in their neighborhoods. 68.78% of the people surveyed say crime has increased on the islands; although they do not consider their neighborhood as having the same level of crime (35.79%).

The feeling of insecurity has also had a bearing on their perception of the future, as 40.1% of the inhabitants think they will be a victim of a crime in the next 12 months, a sense which is greater among the inhabitants of Sarie Bay (80%), San Luis (66.7 %) and Campo Hermoso (65 %).

This increase in insecurity in San Andres has led to more than 58% of the surveyed to say they distrust government entities; being the most negative to the judges (44.2 %), followed by the office of the Governor (35%) and the Office of the General Attorney (33.2 %).


The increase in insecurity in San Andres has led to more than 58% of the surveyed to say they distrust government entities; being the most negative to the judges (44.2 %), followed by the office of the Governor (35%) and the Office of the Attorney General (33.2 %).

Mistrust in government entities

Read more: Shark finning opens the door to shark fishing (in Spanish.)

Regarding the effectiveness of the institutions, the results are also unfavorable towards judges and therefore toward the judicial system (38.6 %), the Office of the Attorney General (30.5 %) and the Office of the Governor (30.2 %), as almost a third of the population is in disagreement with its effectiveness. Also, 60.91% of the population feels the Police do not protect them, while 62.05% say they feel low or no protection from the Armed Forces.

Uncertainness and fear

In face of the events linked to crime in the last years, there is not much optimism for the future, as 34% consider crime will rise in the coming months, while 38.1% think it will remain the same. There is also a significant link between the perception of future conditions and the neighborhoods where the respondents live. In this sense, the most pessimists are the inhabitants of Orange Hill, Simpson Well, Tom Hooker, La Loma, and La Rocosa, where more than 53% of the people consider that the situation will get worse in the coming 12 months.

The analysis of the perceptions over security supports the effects that violence and criminal events are causing over the emotional health of the inhabitants. Fear and sometimes panic is turning into recurrent feelings which worsen the living conditions and could impact the external perception outsiders have of San Andres as a whole, to the detriment of its tourist activity.

The newly elected governor in office needs to reconsider the current safety measures of the Province toward others that will consider having preventive actions and more police manpower to achieve greater effectiveness and efficiency to offset organized crime and warrant trust and tranquility of the islanders.




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