Aprovechadores vs. Those in Need

My first hate comment, from “Mike de Arequipa”:

You really seem to care about those in need. I like how you handled the situation in the run down hostal in Cusco. It seemed to me that they were in need of a little cash but you were unwilling to forfeit a 150$ train ticket Aguas Calientes. You managed to frighten them, do more damage then the damage you had already done, and then flee the scene to blog about it in a jokingly manner. Bien Hecho! Do you have a name for this type of helping the poor. You are making a mess from city to city in your redneck fashion. Thanks for helping the generalizations about dumb Americans, you represent well! Can’t wait to hear more about your generosity.

Mike’s referring to The Cusco Incident. At the time of the Incident, I translated an abbreviated version of that post and emailed it to 30+ Spanish-speaking friends and got one (1) similar response. She called me a ‘criminal’ with a ‘lack of class’. I later learned I wasn’t clear in my Spanish that I was LOCKED in my ROOM. Regardless, here’s my reply translated to English:

The only lack of class is how that taxi driver manages his business. If I were locked inside a room in an American hotel, the manager would apologize, give me a free night, and upgrade me.

I was LOCKED INSIDE MY ROOM. What should I have done when nobody downstairs heard me? Wait until the next day when they came to charge me for another day? And how would they open the door? Would their key work from outside when the same broken lock didn’t unlock for my key?

I didn’t explain a few details in the first email:

  1. I came back to the hostel several times the first day to ask about the lock. Every time I asked: nothing.
  2. I had paid for a second night. I was obviously going to come back. They didn’t need to DETAIN me.
  3. When the travel agency women called the hostel they were told nobody by my name was at the hostel.

That ratero was trying to take advantage of a gringo, and he chose the wrong one.

Obviously Peru isn’t the most advanced country in respect to human rights, but I imagine it’s illegal even here to detain someone against their will. In English, it’s called KIDNAPPING.

Mike says I don’t care about “those in need.” I applaud Lenin the Taxi Driver for being an entrepreneur driving a taxi and managing a hostel, and I’m not some bleeding heart to condemn him for putting adolescents to work. But he crosses the line when trying to hustle tourists.

Taking advantage of gringos is common in Latin America. In fact, I got more positive replies to my Spanish email:

A la shit ¡¡¡¡ it’s a shame that happened, sorry colin, unfortunately in Peru (and especially cuzco) there are people who try to take advantage of tourists as they please (I know because they haven’t treated me well either), I can only tell you that not everybody is like that and I hope things change someday.


I got a few replies from people joking that the police came for me at the office. Another gave me props for getting out of town through Sicuani.

If he called the police, Lenin the Taxi Driver would’ve had to fabricate quite a bit because the true story would get laughed at by Cusco police, which has a special department for protecting tourists. He would’ve had to get the youngsters to lie too.

“Mike de Arequipa” mentioned “those in need”.

Colombia’s Displaced

There are needy in Bogota due to poverty and displacements. Colombia suffers from the world’s longest-running civil war against the FARC. In the 90s FARC controlled 40% of the country. While president Alvaro Uribe made great gains against them, FARC is still 10,000 strong and controls much of Colombia.

Displacements are perpetrated by the FARC or paramilitaries: right-wing, illegal militaries formed and financed by vulnerable pueblos and big corporations that want nothing to do with socialism. Paramilitaries exist because the government can’t protect these regions. The paramilitaries aren’t bound by government oversight or any rules to aggressively engage the FARC. They’ve been responsible for human rights abuses and war crimes just as ugly as those of the FARC.

Normal citizens are displaced when FARC or paramilitaries enter a pueblo and tell the villagers:  “This is our territory so you have to support us. We want all the young men here to join our ranks, plus a monthly protection fee.” Or worse, “This is our enemy’s territory, so you must be supporting them. You have 24 hours to evacuate or you’ll all be executed.”

Faced with this decision, most abandon their homes for Bogota and other cities. They show up with NOTHING. There’s a tent-city in Parque Tercer Milenio of displaced families with nowhere to go.


I don’t do much to help “those in need.” It’s interests me, but the truth is I don’t spend much time helping anybody but myself. How would I help? I owe thousands of dollars. Deep in the red, I’m worth less than them in absolute terms.

Maybe being “in need” means having little earning power. In that case, giving money doesn’t help at all. Education is what they need, an idea captured in the adage: “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.”

But Bogota beggars don’t ask for that. They want crack, booze, marijuana, or even glue.

Interesting quote on philanthropy:

Philanthropy can appeal to people who want to be loved more than they want to make a difference. – Jacqueline Novogratz

People get a warm, fuzzy feeling from giving panhandlers change. Mike de Arequipa may get that feeling. For those people, giving isn’t a service but a purchase. They’re purchasing the warm, fuzzy feeling. The panhandler provided them with value. That’s capitalism.

I don’t get that warm, fuzzy feeling. I feel the opposite. I feel like a sucker intimidated by a dirty disgusting bum. Usually after giving a little to them, panhandlers ask for more, a clear indicator it’s his profession. Asking for more is part of the script to use at that sales process to maximize revenues. I never give them shit.

For professional panhandlers your “help” is actually a crutch. You’re enabling their panhandling and providing incentive not to get a job. Being an enabler, you’re keeping them in their situation. My friend Damien visited Choco, the historic black town in southern Colombia. He said there were no panhandlers. Because nobody gives money, they find something else to do.

The quote above, from an established philanthropist, captures the phoniness at the heart of many people’s “need to help.”

Links on Colombia’s displaced:

Thousands Flee Colombia’s Conflict (Amnesty International)
Colombia’s displaced rises 25% (BBC News)
Colombia’s Displaced and Discarded (Human Rights Watch)

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  1. “It’s common knowledge that taking advantage of gringos is a sport in Latin America.” — This is definitely true, based on stories I’ve heard from people close to me.

    I have a Brazilian friend who was visiting Cartagena about a month ago for a wedding. She complained to me that the hotel she stayed at jacked the prices up for everyone in the wedding party, knowing that they weren’t locals.

    I told my mother (a native Colombian) this wedding story about a week later, and she confirmed that Colombians would not only take advantage of outsiders, but do just about anything to get as much extra cash out of them as possible.

    I’m not going to get into a social commentary because I don’t really have the knowledge or first-hand experience, but it sounds like your observation is dead on.


  2. @ natsukashii – what the hell’s a nutter?

    @ Dennis – absolutely, and good on ya for pointing out that getting taken advantage of isn’t limited to gringos. In Cusco, they take advantage of the limeños and arequipeños, and in Cartagena, I assume they take advantage of Bogotanos, and so on and so on.


  3. I actually agree with your hate poster…I mean, if you are so drunk and high all the time, how the hell is anyone supposed to believe what you write? It seems that you are living in a constant state of being drunk and high…neither of which lend to believable accounts…


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