Authorities have implemented a comprehensive plan to ‘save’ the Chola Cuencana area in the Azuayan capital.
The ‘Chole Cuencana’ sector—extending out from the traffic roundabout at Avenues España, Gaspar Sangurima, Huayna Cápac and Hurtado de Mendoza— has been plagued by various issues, including fights, robberies, clandestine prostitution, and drug trafficking. The authorities have come to describe the Chola Cuencana as “the mole of Cuenca,” meaning a dark spot on the city.
To address these problems and improve security, the Municipality of Cuenca has taken several measures as part of a security plan.
Central points of plan
One of the key components of the plan is the installation of a 24/7 video surveillance system, which was installed on June 11, 2023. Twelve large screens in the monitoring room of the Cuenca Citizen Security Council display live footage from cameras placed in the Chola Cuencana area. This allows authorities to closely monitor the activities taking place, such as citizens with firearms, suspicious vehicles, drug exchanges, and frequent visitors to certain establishments.
In addition to the Security Council’s monitoring, the video surveillance system is accessible to the public through the institution’s website. This transparency aims to involve citizens in the process of improving security and reclaiming the area. Alongside the surveillance cameras, there is an increased presence of law enforcement, including police, municipal guards, and military personnel. They conduct daily operations to maintain order and address any irregularities promptly.
The security plan also includes stricter control of businesses that engage in unauthorized activities and improved management of public spaces. By cracking down on illicit practices and improving the overall appearance of the area through urban interventions, the authorities hope to minimize the risk factors that contribute to the issues in Chola Cuencana.
Prostitution and micro-trafficking are particularly prevalent in the area. To tackle these problems, the authorities are addressing the underlying issues associated with sex work, such as human trafficking. Some hotels in the area have been providing temporary residences for illegal activities, and the Municipality is notifying the owners to comply with the regulations. The presence of sex workers and their associated problems contributes to the negative perception of the area and affects businesses and tourism.
Business owner’s and resident’s complaints
“It is the gateway to the historic center,” says Iván Pesántez, a former inhabitant of the sector. Pesántez, who runs a home goods shop, has witnessed a decline in customers due to the perceived insecurity.
He says that the Chola Cuencana area used to attract tourists because of its proximity to the bus terminal and airport; it is only 500 meters from the bus terminal and 1.5 kilometers from the airport. However, Pesántez says that the area’s reputation now dissuades tourists and even locals from visiting, impacting the livelihoods of business owners. He is not the only business owner who feels this way.
“La Chola was never a red zone. Our children grew up here, it is our neighborhood,” says Carmen, who owns a nearby hotel.
She says that years ago, she excitedly anticipated the vacation season because so many tourists arrived in Cuenca. Being so close to the bus station and the airport, Chola Cuencana was a good area to stay in.
“But now, everyone sees us as a dangerous area and that affects us,” she added.
Carmen says that few tourists dare to walk down the street where her hotel is located.
“Even Cuencanos won’t come here, because there is a feeling of insecurity.”
Her neighbor Martha lives a similar reality. “We all know where the problems occur, the authorities know, the Police know. Now, we expect them to act,“ she says.
Officials hopes to reclaim the area
To counteract this negative perception and restore the vibrancy of the neighborhood, the Municipality aims to reclaim public space and make it a safe and enjoyable area for both residents and visitors. The security plan includes frequent security operations involving various law enforcement agencies, as well as messages broadcast through loudspeakers, encouraging citizens to make good use of public spaces.
The Incident Command of the Citizen Security Council has also established a mobile unit, which acts as a visible symbol of authority and control. The ongoing monitoring and surveillance efforts will continue until the security indicators demonstrate significant improvement in the Chola Cuencana area. The authorities are aware that if the space is successfully reclaimed, the problems might shift to other locations. Therefore, they plan to replicate this security plan in other sectors as well.
The comprehensive plan implemented by the authorities in Cuenca reflects their commitment to restoring safety and improving the overall quality of life in the Chola Cuencana area. Through increased surveillance, enhanced law enforcement presence, and efforts to reclaim public spaces, they aim to address the various issues that have plagued the sector.
By involving citizens in the process and promoting transparency, the authorities hope to instill confidence and revive the neighborhood’s reputation as a safe and vibrant part of the Azuayan capital.