Crimes of Opportunity


How Central America’s Crime Wave Has Spared Nicaragua, So Far.

  Photo of the Sandinista Revolution in Esteli

According to the article linked above the photo, Nicaragua has dodged the wave of violent organized crime sweeping Central America. They attribute the low crime rate partly to the socialist structures put in place during the Sandinista Revolution. All communities had neighborhood watch organizations, which are still prevalent today.

Our neighborhood watch organization consists of many mean dogs that alert the neighborhood of possible intruders. Violent crime does not exist on Ometepe Island. Instead, we have crimes of opportunity. Simply stated, you don’t leave anything outside your house at night, or it will be gone the next morning. It can be as small as a coffee cup or a spoon, or as large as a hammock swinging in an open rancho.

The first time we lived on Ometepe Island, someone stole our hammock. We left it swinging in the rancho. Ron also had a homemade fish trap bobbing in the lake that disappeared with the hammock. Things got lost in translation when I told Don Jose…or tried to tell him that someone stole our hammock and fish trap.

Don Jose jumped on his bicycle and peddled into town to tell our landlady. She and our friend Franchesco arrived at our house all in a tizzy. According to Don Jose’s story, someone broke into our house, threatened us with a machete and stole our four plastic chairs. There was no mention of our hammock or the fish trap.

They were very concerned with our safety because a home invasion is unheard of on the island. Once we mimed the account of the robbery, you could see relief sweep over their faces. We laughed, they shrugged their shoulders at our stupidity, and we chalked it up to our ignorance of crimes of opportunity.

When Cory and his friends visited, we were almost done with our house. I told the boys not to leave their iPods, iPhones, and other small things out in the open because the temptation is too great. I trusted our Motley crew, but I also knew to watch carefully and keep my valuables hidden.

Our head contractor, Guillermo, hired a new worker. His job was to paint under the kitchen counters. Aaron’s iPhone was charging on the kitchen counter…yes, you know where this is headed. The next morning, it was missing. In questioning all the workers, they denied taking the iPhone. Everyone helped us look for it, except the new worker. Santiago said, “Debbie, this is not only bad for you, it is bad for us, too.”

The next day, Ron was searching for his new Columbian hiking boots. They were missing in action, too. “No, we have not seen Ron’s shoes,” the workers replied. I decided to take matters into my own hands. I was pretty sure that the new worker took our missing items. I slipped a note under his hat which said, “I know who you are and I know what you did. I have a gun and I know how to use it. It would be nice if you would return the iPhone and Ron’s shoes, but I doubt that you will. Tell Guillermo that you are quitting today. You are not welcome in our house. If you return to work tomorrow, remember I have a gun and I know how to use it.”

The next day, there was no sign of the new worker. Aaron never found his iPhone, Ron never found his shoes, but I did have some satisfaction in knowing that my instincts were right. Oh, and by the way, I don’t have a gun and I don’t know how to use one.

The second theory as to why Nicaragua has a low violent organized crime rate is due to the poverty in Nicaragua. The big drug cartels need a strong economy in which they can move money around easily to purchase weapons and launder the drug money. Nicaragua’s economy represents only six percent of Central America’s GDP. Strategically, it pays to be a poor country.

The last paragraph of the article concerns me. Nicaragua is growing, the infrastructure is improving ( well…it’s all relative), and the country is catering to wealthier tourists. Therefore, I suspect it is only a matter of time before the drug cartels infiltrate Nicaragua. Living on a tropical island has it’s advantages. We are a small island community an hour’s boat ride from the mainland. Right now, we are an oasis of peace. If things change, you can be sure I’ll have a gun and know how to use it.