Thursday, May 10, 2007

Travel Notes from the Police Blotter

Above: Sheriff's Department, Reno, Nevada. Or an approximation of it, from the TV comedy "Reno 911."

It's "that" time of the year.

Thinking about travel plans? Time to think about Crime Prevention.

Well, here are two places to avoid if you can -- if the alarming tourist information published in the U.S. State Department's regularly updated Consular Information bulletins is any guide. We'll return to these fascinating bulletins in the future, and I won't just pick on Brazil and Saudi Arabia.

But first things first:

Brazil! (Of course). It's not prime leisure-travel season in the southern hemisphere, but business travel is still a big factor.

From the State Department:

"Crime throughout Brazil has reached very high levels. The Brazilian police and the Brazilian press report that the rate of crime continues to rise, especially in the major urban centers – though it is also spreading in rural areas. Brazil’s murder rate is several times higher than that of the U.S. Rates for other crimes are similarly high. The majority of crimes are not solved. There were several reported rapes against American citizens in 2006.

"Street crime remains a problem for visitors and local residents alike, especially in the evenings and late at night. ... Robbery and “quicknapping” outside of banks and ATM machines are common. In a “quicknapping,” criminals abduct victims for a short time in order to receive a quick payoff from the family, business or the victim’s ATM card. Some victims have been beaten and/or raped.

"The incidence of crime against tourists is greater in areas surrounding beaches, hotels, discotheques, bars, nightclubs, and other similar establishments that cater to visitors. This type of crime is especially prevalent during Carnaval (Brazilian Mardi Gras), but takes place throughout the year. ... Incidents of theft on city buses are frequent and visitors should avoid such transportation. ...

"At airports, hotel lobbies, bus stations and other public places, incidents of pick pocketing, theft of hand-carried luggage, and laptop computers are common. ... If a tourist looks lost or seems to be having trouble communicating, a seemingly innocent bystander offering help may victimize them. Care should be taken at and around banks and internationally connected automatic teller machines that take U.S. credit or debit cards. ... Travelers using personal ATMs or credit cards sometimes receive billing statements with non-authorized charges after returning from a visit to Brazil. ...

"RIO DE JANEIRO: ... Tourists are particularly vulnerable to street thefts and robberies on and in areas adjacent to major tourist attractions and the main beaches in the city. Walking on the beaches is very dangerous at night. During the day, travelers are advised not to take possessions of value to the beach. Incidents affecting tourists in 2006 included the robbery of cars and a tourist bus going into the city from the airport and the murder of a Portuguese tourist at 8:30 a.m. on Copacabana beach. Drug gangs are often responsible for destruction of property and other violence. ... In Rio de Janeiro City, motorists are allowed to treat stoplights as stop signs between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. to protect against holdups at intersections. While most police officials are honest, in 2006, there were several cases of corrupt police officials extorting money from American tourists. ...

"SAO PAULO: ... All areas of Sao Paulo have a high rate of armed robbery of pedestrians at stoplights. There is a particularly high incidence of robberies and pick pocketing in the Praca da Se section of Sao Paulo and in the eastern part of the city. As is true of "red light districts" in other cities, the areas of Sao Paulo on Rua Augusta north of Avenida Paulista and the Estacao de Luz metro area are especially dangerous. There are regular reports of young women slipping knockout drops in men's drinks and robbing them of all their belongings while they are unconscious. Armed holdups of pedestrians and motorists by young men on motorcycles (“motoboys”) are an increasingly common occurrence in some parts of Sao Paulo. Victims who resist risk being shot. The number-one item of choice by robbers in Sao Paulo, especially with regards to business travelers, is laptop computers. ... "

{My note: Well, there is something to be said for being safe and cozy in military and police custody in Brazil, as I was last year for 36 hours. Even then, though, at Federal Police regional headquarters during an all-night interrogation following the Sept. 29 mid-air collision, we Americans were warned to stay off an open air-balcony because of the danger of "random shootings."}

And how about sunny Saudi Arabia? What a fun place, especially for female visitors. (Jews, or those with passports showing they've visited Israel, need not even apply, by the way). And remember, this is where a good portion of the money you spend at the gas station goes.

From the State Department:

"The norms for public behavior in Saudi Arabia are extremely conservative, and religious police, known as Mutawwa, are charged with enforcing these standards. ... To ensure that conservative standards of conduct are observed, the Saudi religious police have accosted or arrested foreigners, including U.S. citizens, for improper dress or other alleged infractions, such as consumption of alcohol or association by a female with a male to whom she is not related. ... The Saudi Embassy in Washington advises women traveling to Saudi Arabia to dress in a conservative fashion, wearing ankle-length dresses with long sleeves, and not to wear trousers in public. In many areas of Saudi Arabia, particularly Riyadh and the central part of the Kingdom, Mutawwa pressure women to wear a full-length black covering known as an Abaya, and to cover their heads. Most women in these areas therefore wear an Abaya and carry a headscarf to avoid being accosted.

"...Some Mutawwa try to enforce the rule that men and women who are beyond childhood years may not mingle in public, unless they are family or close relatives. Mutawwa may ask to see proof that a couple is married or related. Women who are arrested for socializing with a man who is not a relative may be charged with prostitution. Some restaurants, particularly fast-food outlets, have refused to serve women who are not accompanied by a close male relative. In addition, many restaurants no longer have a "family section" in which women are permitted to eat. These restrictions are not always posted, and in some cases women violating this policy have been arrested. This is more common in Riyadh and the more conservative central Nejd region.

In public, dancing, playing music and showing movies are forbidden." And of course, the vigilance toward female behavior isn't restricted to tourists and business travelers. They treat their own females even worse.


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