On July 23, 2007, the Afro-Ecuadorian Hólger Morales, nicknamed El Pisuleño, was killed by a crowd of more than a hundred people. The crime took place in Atucucho, a slum in the north of Quito built against the steep slopes of the Pichincha volcano. Shortly before, neighborhood residents caught El Pisuleño breaking into a house. El Pisuleño, accused of multiple thefts and robberies in the neighborhood, was kicked and hit by the angry mob. Two police officers on scene failed to stop the crowd. Under the eyes of the officers, El Pisuleño was tied up, doused with gasoline and set alight. He died of his injuries on the spot.
The lynching El Pisuleño was not an isolated incident in Atucucho. Founded in 1988 by means of a so-called ‘invasion’, Atucucho dealt with the typical growing pains of a neighborhood built out of nothing, largely out of sight of the municipality’s controlling institutions. It was within the context of rapid and chaotic expansion, fighting between residents over turf and power, and especially, high levels of crime and insecurity, that Atucucho residents gained a reputation for taking matters into their own hands. Three people were lynched in the period 2000-2010, including El Pisuleño, as I found out studying the neighborhood in 2010.
“You never know when it’s coming”, said our friend Irena. She herself lost one of her best friends in what appears to have been a homicide and once saw a hired assassin shoot a guy in the head right in front of her. It is these kinds of experiences and stories that contribute to the fact that many people in Quito live their lives with a heightened sense of insecurity. In fact, crime is the main public concern in Ecuador and will play a leading part in our portrait of Quito, as the pervasive fear of crime not only determines the way people interact with each other daily, but also shapes the physical environment in which they move around. To reiterate the words of the Ecuadorian architect Carrión Mena: “there is a fear built in the city, but also a city built by fear”.
By using both photography and ethnography, our goal is to depict life in Quito through personal and intimate portraits of Quiteños, and through this, paint an intimate portrait of the city itself. At the same time, one would do reality short by studying a city like Quito with a microscope without having eye for all the outside factors that influence daily life in Ecuador’s capital. Although geographically isolated being situated high up in the mountains, Quito is far from cut off from the world. Globalization, described as the “progressive enmeshment of human communities with each other”, has affected the city in myriad ways.