Travel SafetyA couple of months ago I was walking down the street in broad daylight and narrowly avoided getting accosted and robbed.

It was during the Semana Santa (the week before Easter that is the Catholic celebration to commemorate the last seven days of the earthly life of Jesus Christ), and there was little private transit on the road. Public transportation was scarce as well, so after waiting more than 30 minutes without seeing any buses or public cars, I decided to hoof it the few blocks that remained for me to reach my apartment. About three meters later, I heard something and turned around to see if it was perhaps that bus finally coming. But, it wasn’t. It was a pasola (a type of motor scooter popular in the area) with two guys on it who were checking me out as they went on by.

Normally this would be a passing event that was not worth noting, and would hardly be considered disturbing.  However, after being robbed several months back, I’d started being more observant of my surroundings, and noticed these guys were doing more than checking me out. In actual fact, it seemed more like they were taking an inventory of what I had on me.

At the end of the block, they stopped, and acted like they were fixing something on their bike, as they stole glances to check my progress. A heartbeat after that I had considered my options, and decided that I could make it back to a little house (where a Dominican family had been sitting outside) and safely wait there. Which, I did. They watched me for a second, probably judging their options, and then quickly jumped on their bike and sped off.

The Reasons Why

This is just one of several stories like it. When I came to the island, more than 14 years ago, there was little noteworthy crime. However, the last few years has seen a marked and dramatic increase in crime, especially against tourists and foreigners.

An Associated Press investigation done recently noted that U.S. deportation laws that have recently been passed and enforced have shipped foreign-born criminals back to their homelands, resulting in a dramatic rise in crime in those countries. Eighty-percent of these are sent to Caribbean and South American countries.  The Dominican Today reported that by June of this year 792 deportees had been sent to the Dominican Republic.

The decline of the economy and an increase in Colombian drug trafficking have also been reported to have contributed, to a lesser degree, to the crime wave.

Safety and Other Basic Precautions

The U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs cautions visitors and foreign residents to be aware of the current tide of robberies, pick pocketing, and other types of street and petty crimes, that are targeting foreigners and sites several examples of such.

The International Travel section of the U.S. Department of State’s official website recommends the following to assist travelers in avoiding robbery attempts:

  • Not wearing or displaying anything that looks valuable.
  • Limiting cash and credit cards carried on their person.
  • Take particular care leaving airports, or at times that criminals can take advantage of (like during power outages).
  • Avoid traveling alone.

Crime can happen anywhere, but since surroundings are unfamiliar more care should be taken when traveling to foreign counties. Also, in closing, I would add that I don’t recommend travel during the Semana Santa, and that it would be a good idea to be wary on isolated roads…