Monthly Archives: June 2016

Tourist Killed in Taxi Robbery

On the evening of Friday, Sept. 25, American tourist John Mariani left his hotel in Medellin, Colombia, and jumped into a taxi. The 65-year-old New Yorker was staying at one of the many high-class hotels in Medellin’s upscale El Poblado neighborhood. But shortly after leaving the hotel, the taxi picked up a tail and was followed by a car and a motorcycle. The drivers of the trailing vehicles reportedly forced the taxi to stop and confronted the driver and Mariani at gunpoint, demanding their wallets and personal belongings. When Mariani refused the gunmen’s demands to relinquish his belongings, he was shot dead.  [editors note: per local newspaper, he got out of the taxi to confront the gunman on the motorcycle and was shot]  Lesson: give up your wallet not worth your life!

Mariani’s tragic death provides a number of security lessons for other travelers.

Understanding the Threat

Colombia has come a long way from the wild days of the late 1980s and early 1990s, as has Medellin, which was once the dangerous headquarters of Pablo Escobar’s powerful and brutal Medellin Cartel. Colombia and Medellin are far safer for foreigners to visit now, but crime remains a problem. Indeed, even though the government is making progress in its efforts to negotiate a peace settlement to end its decades-long communist insurgencies, “peace” in Colombia will not automatically result in security. Many of the current rank-and-file members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and National Liberation Army will likely join criminal bands known as Bacrim once they are demobilized. Understanding such dynamics — and how local criminals operate — is one of the most important steps in planning a safe trip abroad.

One place to find this kind of information is publications from the U.S. and foreign governments. For example, the U.S. Department of State’s Consular Information Sheet for Colombia states the following in the crime section:

Violent and petty crime remains a significant concern in Colombia. Robbery and other violent crimes, as well as scams against unsuspecting tourists, are common in urban areas. Generally speaking, if you are the victim of a robbery, you should not resist. Firearms are prevalent in Colombia and altercations may turn violent.

This is exactly what happened in the Mariani case: His resistance to the criminals’ demands led to a rapid escalation of violence and his death. Normally in Colombia, if you surrender your valuables, you will not be harmed; this is why the U.S. Embassy advises American citizens not to resist. Of course, the type of crimes common in a location will dictate how a traveler should respond to a given threat, so it is important to understand the threat.

Avoiding the Threat

In all circumstances, it is better to see a threat developing and take actions to avoid it than it is to be caught off guard by armed criminals. Because of this we recommend that people practice a proper level of situational awareness, especially when and where the security threat is elevated — for example, going out on the street after dark in Colombia.

It is also important to understand that street crimes, even those that appear to be random, are not. They follow a discernable planning cycle. Although this cycle will vary in duration depending on the type of crime — a purse snatching will likely require a much shorter cycle than a kidnapping for ransom — there are points during that planning cycle when the criminals planning the crime are vulnerable to detection. This is especially true while the criminals are “casing” or conducting surveillance on the potential victim during the target selection and planning phases of the cycle, and as they deploy for the attack. It is by detecting the preparatory activities of the criminal planning cycle that a victim practicing good situational awareness can spot a crime developing and take action to prevent the criminals from consummating their crime — such as dialing the police or turning and walking the other way to avoid the attack zone.

However, once a person has been caught off guard — especially by armed criminals — it is generally advisable to comply with the criminals’ demands rather than resist. Armed criminals in many parts of the world will not hesitate to use brutal violence if they are challenged. The advice to comply is particularly applicable when the criminal’s demands do not involve something life-threatening. Even in the case of a crime that may result in a significant financial loss, such as an express or traditional kidnapping, it is still better to be a live victim than a dead body. One of the rules of thumb I use in travel security briefings is that no possession is worth your life. But even then, it is better to simply not take important sentimental items with you when traveling to a crime-prone area, because such items could tempt you to hesitate to surrender them. In many parts of the world, a criminal will cut your engagement ring off your dead finger if you refuse or even hesitate to give it up.

Of course the equation is dramatically different in a situation where the criminal encounter is likely to be life-threatening, such as a kidnapping by criminals who could sell you to the Islamic State. In such instances, it is better to attempt to run, hide or fight than to comply.

 The Trouble With Taxis

At this point we do not know if Mariani took a registered taxi or an unofficial, “black” taxi. However, by their very nature, taxis are a problem for travelers all around the world. Taxi drivers pose a number of threats, some of which are relatively benign, such as overcharging for a ride. Crimes like this can even occur in areas of the world considered safe. However, in some parts of the world, taxi drivers can pose a more dangerous threat, such as actively helping a criminal gang rob or kidnap — whether express or traditional — a traveler.

Taxi drivers, by nature, are in a position of power because they know where they are going and how much the ride should cost. One way to mitigate the driver’s power is through preparation prior to the ride. This can be done by researching travel blogs, using a map, contacting a hotel or asking business associates and contacts in country. A traveler should also use only sanctioned taxis. Many cities will have designated taxi stands where a person can go to hail a taxi. A traveler can often get an estimated fare from this stand. Hotel and restaurant doormen will also usually be willing to hail a reliable taxi for customers. It is generally advisable to never hail a taxi from the street by yourself, especially in a high crime threat location such as Colombia.

Use the  phone APP Easy Taxi or Urber in Medellin as then you have a recorded taxi number, the drivers photo and cell phone too, you know whom to expect to pick you up.  My advise.

In the end, Mariani’s death is a tragic event but one that probably could have been avoided. Hopefully, this tragedy can serve as a lesson for other travelers.

Homicides in Medellin up 80% as turf wars threaten fragile peace

Homicides in Colombia’s second biggest city Medellin shot up 80% in May after tensions between local crime lords ended years of relative peace between the city’s gangs.

editors note: The tourist area are safe, being downtown late at night or certain hillside barrios is not a place for a tourist at any time of day!  Ask the locals. 

For years Medellin has boasted dropping homicide rates. However, this reduction in violent crime has been delicate, primarily because it was never the result of an effective security policy, but due to a pact between capos of local crime syndicate Oficina de Envigado and neo-paramilitary group Los Urabeños.

However, for months there have been renewed tensions between the different leaders of the Oficina, particularly in the downtown area where decades-old gangs called Convivir rule the streets.

Additional tensions and spikes in homicides were reported in the east and northeast of the city.

The troubles began in January, immediately after Mayor Federico Gutierrez, a long-time critic of the security policies of his predecessor Anibal Gaviria, took office.

Under Gaviria, the city’s crime lords upheld a truce, allegedly bartered by businessmen and politicians with ties to the city’s underworld.

 


US Embassy Colombia Travel Warning

Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens safely visit Colombia each year for tourism, business, university studies, and volunteer work.  Security in Colombia has improved significantly in recent years, including in tourist and business travel destinations such as Bogota, Cartagena, Barranquilla, Medellin, and Cali.  However, violence linked to narco-trafficking continues to affect some rural and urban areas. Despite significant decreases in overall crime in Colombia, continued vigilance is warranted due to an increase in recent months of violent crime, including crime resulting in the deaths of American citizens.  This Travel Warning replaces the previous travel warning released on June 5, 2015.

There have been no reports of U.S. citizens targeted specifically for their nationality. While the U.S. Embassy has no information regarding specific and credible threats against U.S. citizens in Colombia, both the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN) terrorist groups continue to condemn any U.S. influence in Colombia.  The Department of State strongly encourages U.S. citizens to exercise caution and remain vigilant as terrorist and criminal activities remain a threat throughout the country. Explosions occur throughout Colombia on a regular basis, including in Bogota. Small towns and rural areas of Colombia can be extremely dangerous due to the presence of terrorists and  criminal elements, including armed gangs (referred to as “BACRIM” in Spanish), that are active throughout much of the country. Violence associated with the BACRIM has spilled over into many of Colombia’s major cities. These groups are heavily involved in the drug trade, extortion, kidnapping, and robbery.

Violence associated with crime is a threat throughout Colombia.  During the period November 2014 to January 2016, there were several homicides of U.S. citizens in connection with robberies, including armed robbery on streets and in taxi cabs, public transport, home invasions, and muggings.  The victims represented a mix of tourists, long-term residents and persons with dual U.S.-Colombian citizenship.

The incidence of kidnapping in Colombia has diminished significantly from its peak in 2000.  However, kidnapping remains a threat. Terrorist groups and other criminal organizations continue to kidnap and hold civilians, including foreigners, for ransom.  No one is immune from kidnapping on the basis of occupation, nationality, or other factors.

U.S. government officials in Colombia regularly travel to the major cities of Colombia such as Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla, and Cartagena without incident. U.S. government officials and their families in Colombia normally are permitted to travel to major cities only by air. They may not use inter- or intra-city bus transportation, or travel by road outside urban areas at night. U.S. government officials in Colombia and their families are restricted to traveling within certain areas. This includes using the main highways to travel between Bogota and Bucaramanga, and between Bogota and Ibague. Personnel are allowed to drive between Manizales, Pereira, and Armenia and within the “coffee country” departments of Caldas, Risaralda, and Quindío. On the Caribbean coast, personnel are restricted to driving along Highway 90 from Cartagena, through Barranquilla to Santa Marta.  Travel to all other areas of Colombia is off limits unless specific authorization is granted.  All U.S. citizens in Colombia are urged to follow these precautions and exercise extra caution outside of the aforementioned areas.

For more detailed information on staying safe in Colombia, please see the State Department’s Country Specific Information for Colombia. For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ internet web site, where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts can be found. Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well.

Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 001-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). U.S. citizens living or traveling in Colombia are encouraged to enroll with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to obtain updated information on travel and security within Colombia. For any emergencies involving U.S. citizens in Colombia, please contact the U.S. Embassy or the closest U.S. Consulate as listed below.

Robbed on Medellin TAXI, it happen to me

 

Hello to everyone, this is hard to say, but after six years plus many years coming to Medellin and other cities in Colombia, I was robbed.  YEA, it happen to me.

Grabbing a taxi at the METRO station in the rain, so getting into the taxi in a bit of a rush.  I opened the front door of the waiting taxi, put my day-backpack on the front seat,  when the driver reached over, CLOSED THE DOOR, and in one moment at high speed drove off, ran the red light in front of him turned the corner.  Mind you there were four police standing 15 meters from me all this time too,, at the Metro station.

LESSON LEARNED:   The Police told me this has happening a lot around the tourist area, as backpackers, people leaving the hotels open up the doors, put baggage or cases inside, the drivers in a very fast motion drive off.

PREVENTION:  I now take a photo of the taxi door only takes a second snap with iPhone the plate number before getting inside OR use the APP Uber is slow and for faster service Tappsi & Easy Taxi I like as they show a photo of the driver & cell phone of driver too, plus a record of whom picked you up.

MY LOSS: Apple MacBook Pro, iPad, personal items and my daypack,,, really miss my Oakley prescription sunglasses hard to replace here.  Apple was great for fast delivery FedEx of new MacBook & iPad.  The one Apple feature I liked was that night I could remote lock my lost Apple items and erase the hard drive too all remote. Apple sent me a message later that night, both had logged into the internet someplace and were now locked and made into a boat anchor, useless.

POLICE: This was a hard item, all day “five trips” different days to see different people, to get the video feed from the Metro camera system, and file the reports takes a lot of time, to see a lot of different offices and people,, now after 3 months, nothing has happened, I still can not get the video feed to see. SHIT< this is so far down the priority scale, seeing the video will never happen.  The street gangs now in the city and other cities are learning how to rip off the tourist and us Expats, easy targets.  Be aware of this Taxi Gang methods, take a photo first, before getting inside.

Travel safe,,  my note for today  Rusty

ZIKA Virus Malaria or Yellow Fever await you in South America

The truth is all of these are here in South America, Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Panama are all the same, close to the rainforest where these insect live.

BRING SEVERAL BOTTLES OF DEET.  50% will last 4 hours, 25% two hours, 100% unto 6 hours. Read the label.

How To Avoid Bug Bites 

  • Cover exposed skin. Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and hats,, plus a cotton neck scarf 
  • Use an approved insect repellent. 100% DEET is only one that actually works. Spray on back of neck, arms, hands, ankles plus spray on your hands apply easy to face. 
  • Use permethrin-treated clothing and gear. These items remain protected after several washings. Check the product information. If treating items yourself, follow the instructions carefully, and do not use permethrin directly on skin.  Hats, shirts, pants, scarf, socks this was made for our military and actually works too, google it, sold on Amazon. 
  • Sleep in air-conditioned or screened rooms. 
  • Use a bed net if the sleeping area is exposed to the outdoors. 
  • If bitten, avoid scratching the area. Apply hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion and reduce the itching.

Prior to their journey, health professionals in your own country will advise travelers about necessary vaccines. The U.S. recommends the vaccine for travelers visiting regions lower than 2,300 m in elevation, in provinces east of the Andes Mountains.  Yellow Fever shots are a good precaution.

ZIKA you only need to Google this virus to understand the danger.

The bite of the female Anopheles mosquito transmits malaria to humans.

internet transformed expat life living at coffee cafe’s

Black coffee & computer now the norm at most all Expat Coffee Cafe’s

Editors note:   This past week I wanted to meet a friend at a coffee cafe in Poblado, only to find my two favorite “internet cafe” FULL !!   Now in the last year they have expanded to double the size added more tables took over the shop next door too, all the way when we arrived EVERY TABLE FULL.

The place was full of EXPATS on a computer mixed with the normal Nomad travelers with their notebook computers, iPads and cell phones all typing away.  No place sit and enjoy a cup of joe.

A few years ago this would not be the case, as taking a smaller notebook for work to a coffee cafe was unheard of, let alone now the norm.

My task over the next few weeks was to talk with these travelers and expats, to find out 99% of them were working, WORKING!  Travelers still connected to the office, no one knew they were traveling, and then the others whom this is the new life style.  Working a few hours from remote locations around the globe.

We welcome all internet entrepreneur’s whom share my favorite table street side at a coffee cafe, now move over, that is my table !!  

CLOSE UP YOUR COMPUTER & TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONE AND TALK WITH PEOPLE, YEA PEOPLE, FRIENDS MEET SOMEONE NEW, REAL LIVE PEOPLE ARE ALL AROUND YOU, CLOSE THAT DAM COMPUTER.

my best to all Rusty

Tools required:  Small notebook computer, smartphone, VOP service, headphones, ear buds, virtual assistant, freight forwarder mail service, social media.   My toys are Apple MacBook Pro, iPhone, iPad, SKYPE, FaceTime, Facebook Messenger phone, MagicJack, Sony headphones, Plantronic mic headphones, HP ear buds, Philippines for VA, Caribbean Freight Forwarders [Amazon delivery service to my door], of course keeping in touch via Facebook, instragram, YouTuber personal video messages,  sorry I’m not a twitter fan plus several personal family blogs I keep posting to, also. 

Below is a news article on this subject:

In less than a generation, the Internet has transformed expat life: Is it a danger or a vehicle for international integration

By Cliodna O’Flynn

I am wondering if trying to control the amount of time I spend on the Internet in direct or indirect contact with home, with EU, has become necessary. I am worried that as it gets easier to connect with back home I am both mentally and physically spending less time where I live. Is the internet a danger to integration?

chl internet changeI am no newbie expat, nor am I here to escape the financial crisis or anything else. In fact, my life abroad has coincided with the growth of the internet, social networking, and cheaper and easier connections of all sorts. When I moved out here, initially for a year, it was for personal reasons; some real, some imagined. I stayed, probably for the wrong reasons at the time. Back then, in 1999, the world of computers was only coming into its own as a user-friendly sphere, and the number of people who owned a portal at home for fun was small. Computers at home were pretty much work related.

When I moved here at the age of 37, I still wrote and received letters, and loved them (still have them). Of course I also made phone calls, although this was still at the tail end of the era when calls to a foreign country were considered a luxury and a once-a-week kind of event. So home was abroad, away, far away. I spent fifteen minutes a week talking to parents and sisters and sometimes to friends. I wrote letters.

But most of my time was spent building a life here, learning Spanish, and getting to know people, supermarkets, places, customs, and habits. In other words: integrating, fitting in. I moved here alone, so I was happy to have to go out and make friends. At the first few jobs I landed I insisted that people spoke to me in Spanish, and gradually I learnt the language. Connections of all sorts, not just Internet ones, were slow. When a very close family member was dying I had to endure 4 a.m. connections to make it to the hospital; direct flights only became a reality eight years ago.

I was a journalist before I left home, and very soon the call of the profession was too strong. Within five months I was working full time for a local English paper, but here too we were antediluvian in our internet connections – there were two computers that could go online, and the use was monitored. It would take years before we were all able to log on first thing in the morning. But it meant that I was reading (and gradually understanding) two or three local Spanish papers a day, and interviewing local politicians became a bit easier. However, modernity caught up with us bit by bit.

Just a few years ago there were only a handful of people in our village with online connections – the hotels and the upwardly mobile bright young things – but almost overnight, that changed. Fast forward, and now if you’re not online, hooked up, tweeting out the messages and posting photographs on Facebook faster than you can say “where can I buy a stamp”, you’re not living. In fact, my daughter’s primary school recently organised a trip to the local post office as an excursion, and the kids were taught to post a letter. What a novelty and something very few of them see their parents doing these days.

So, how has the Internet changed my life as an expat? Hugely, and not completely for the best I think, though I am no Luddite. As a result of a recent birthday I am now the owner of an iPad, I am online at home, own a Smartphone, can make cheap calls to anywhere in the world, and am instantly contactable, which is a drag a lot of the time.

The advantages are numerous, I admit. I have watched a cousin get married courtesy of the webcam, and was able to watch, with great sadness, the funeral of another contact live online. I follow politics from home with huge interest and contribute to Facebook chats on Irish issues, despite the fact I haven’t lived in Ireland for years and do not have a vote. I have rediscovered old friends, people who I had cared for but hadn’t written to in years. With the magic of social networking I now know more about them than ever. And interestingly enough some are, I feel, closer to me as friends today than when I left home 14 years ago. Maybe in the intervening years, before we rediscovered each other, we all grew up a little, stopped trying to impress each other, and are truer representations of who we really are – at least online anyway!

Nowadays I listen to Morning Ireland on RTE (Irish national radio) as I am getting breakfast, check the Irish Times online the minute I get to the office, and listen to the News at One on my headphones in work. Keeping in touch is great, but there is a cost involved. The time I once spent watching Spanish news, finding out more about what was going in on my adopted country, is now given over to catching up on the minutiae of life in a place I may never live in again. In many ways, I have become more of an expat than before in recent years. I spend more time talking about and thinking about Ireland because I know more about what is going on, and that of course maintains the notion that some day soon I might go back.

I hope it’s a phase and that I will be able to find a balance. I love both living in a different country and Ireland, and if I am to be truly content with my life here I think I need to wake up a little, sign off, and go out and smell the local flowers. The Internet should be a communications tool rather than an escape mechanism. Real life is outside the front door, not through the square window!