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We’ve written here before that you can never become too relaxed going about your daily business in Colombia. Let the guard down briefly in terms of watching your personal belongings and there’s a high chance somebody will be on hand to take advantage.
In the almost six years that Bogotá has been our base, we’ve had a few face-to-face run-ins with thieves. Most of these incidents were down to our own risk taking, at times buoyed up on Dutch courage, doing things that others might see as outright stupidity.
On only three occasions — three too many albeit — have we been robbed clandestinely: the ‘quintessential’ ‘dando papaya’, that annoying phrase here that seems to blame the victim for allowing the crime happen. Whatever about being confronted by knife-wielding thugs, letting yourself be robbed by somebody who sneakily takes something out of your pocket, bigger fool you, eh?
That aside, the lamentable thing in all of this is that it happens. That people, remorselessly so it seems, take another individual’s belongings at the slightest opportunity.
Yes, we can’t talk about this without referring to the poverty that many who do resort to theft find themselves in, as well as a myriad of other social problems that they have to contend with.
Many also point to the corruption, nepotism and ‘what have you’ of the better-off types running the show as justification for illegal acts. (Alas, it’s the hard-pressed working classes that tend to get shafted more than most, be it from politicians or underground criminals.)
Now it’s not just Colombia we’re on about here. The same can be said for a host of countries, but ones with an important connection.
That’s because if we look at global stats on robberies — difficult as it is to get a true picture for various reasons — alongside anecdotal evidence and personal experience, this temptation to steal from others appears more prevalent in countries with a strong Christian, more specifically Catholic, background. Make the sign of the cross before and after your immoral act and all will be fine. (To be extra sure you could say a prayer or two for forgiveness from the ‘Almighty’.)
Across the Middle East and Asia, where you have people in even greater poverty, especially so in Asia, than what you’ll find in Latin America never mind Europe, this thieving mentality seems to be far weaker.
From a Middle Eastern perspective, it could be said this comes down to strong, what some might consider inhumane deterrents in some countries; or at least the threat of them.
Certainly in Catholic/Christian countries many are quick to talk about human rights in this regard, yet aren’t as vociferous about human responsibilities. Punishments for petty crimes such as theft usually amount to nothing; a slap on the wrist and off you go.
Now we’re not asking for extremes such as cutting off that wrist, but how about a 21st-century version of the chain gang? Something like a fenced-off area in a rural location where convicted thieves can grow their own food and learn to become self-sufficient (and work). Just a thought; there are variants on the theme.
Effective deterrents aside, there also seems to be something else at play. In general this appears to be bad schooling, where it seems taking advantage of somebody else is seen as a better quality than helping another person.
Whatever the case, the thieving mentality isn’t going to dissipate any moment soon. For the time being, it’s a case of being on high alert at all times.
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