Ibiza News: Why? Pick Pockets & Illegal Street Sellers, Editorial & News Round Up
- Pick pocket gangs continue to plunder young and vulnerable tourists
- Illegal street sellers use aggression to extract money through intimidation
The question as to why these crimes are allowed to continue with what feels to many as little to no intervention is perhaps Ibiza’s greatest mystery.
Many of the ‘only in Ibiza’ peculiarities and what sometimes feels like unintelligible government administrative systems can be shrugged off with a smile – and who are we to complain, it is a very small price to pay for paradise.
But in these most anti-social, but sadly all too common place practices, it is a much more serious issue, one that we cannot just ‘live with’.
The actions of these criminals result in fear, pain, suffering and loss to both our tourists and to some extent residents.
In so far as the effect on tourists is concerned, these criminal acts will at best ruin a holiday—something that is for many the highlight of their year. At worst they are at risk of not only suffering financial loss, or the inconvenience of losing documents, but also the risk of mental anguish and physical harm.
Beyond the human issue, it also has to be damaging to our reputation as a tourist destination.
We residents do not have the additional problems of being a stranger in a foreign land, but we surely have every right to expect the protection of the law both through the policies implemented by government, and the delivery of those policies by the police.
These problems exist to some extent throughout Ibiza though recently San Antonio has become a focus of attention.
Whether this is due to the problem being that much worse in San Antonio or is a result of civil action and protest drawing attention to the area, we cannot be certain. However as unpalatable as the fact may be for some people, we cannot hide from the fact that San Antonio and particularly its West End, has historically attracted the lowest forms of criminal looking to feed on its largely young tourist clientele and their propensity to leave themselves vulnerable to exploitation through over indulgence.
To put it simply, too many fat frogs and you become a sitting duck.
In this article we report on two particular problems:-
- The most aggressive of the illegal street sellers and the campaign to force the San Antonio government into taking action against them
- The pick pocket gangs working with what local workers and residents describe as apparent impunity in the streets of the West End.
Only last week we have seen an example of Ibizan ‘people power’ in local residents taking action to secure their rights to coastline access at the Russian mansion in Cala Comte.
Not only did this gain an immediate response from the Ibiza Consell, but Vice President Sans also went to the effort of thanking the local people and media for acting to bring the matter to the wider public attention.
This happened only one week ago and yet it is being presented to the full Balearic government this Monday.
And so the question remains. Why?
Why do the citizens of Ibiza provoke immediate action over one issue, and seem to be totally ignored in these?
Though the current actions we report on here are relatively recent, we all know the problem has existed for a long, long, time.
Finally in this article we look to give some possible answers to the question of why.
Why it has been allowed to continue and what reasons there could be from preventing law and order being maintained when there is an overwhelming public support that it should be so.
Aggressive Street Sellers
First it is important to make a point of clarification as to the intention and target of the initiative led by San Antonio resident and businessman Martin Makepeace along with photo-campaigner Martin ‘Ibiza’ (we only know his FB name) and others.
As recently reported, Martin has launched a petition through Change.org calling on the San Antonio town hall to take steps to stop the problem of aggressive street sellers.
For people in other areas of Ibiza it is important to clarify the difference between the people targeted under this initiative, and what most people refer to (it is not a constructive or helpful term, but it is the term that people use) ‘looky looky’ sellers.
We receive a good deal of negative comments about these ‘regular’ illegal street sellers. But the problem is limited to that of a pest.
Many tourists do not like being constantly troubled by people selling sunglasses, handbags, penis-hats and all manner of nonsense. It is annoying, but it won’t kill you.
But the particular problem that exists in one area of San Antonio, the Arenal beach promenade, is that of a far more aggressive and intimidating approach.
The typical practice is that one where the seller will place a bracelet on the unwitting target and at the same time take hold of them and then start demanding payment.
Though unhelpful in terms of perpetuating the problem, it is quite understandable that many tourists will simply pay up to avoid confrontation and interruption to their holiday.
Those who do protest or refuse are likely to be on the receiving end of considerable abuse and threats, with the street sellers relying upon their associates around them for support and additional intimidation if necessary.
There have also been many reports of the transaction for the bracelet developing into a distraction technique for theft from their person.
This is obviously way beyond that of the ‘pest’ who routinely asks if you want to buy some sunglasses while eating your dinner.
I talked to Martin Makepeace today and he confirmed it was exactly that dozen or so individuals they were looking to target in removing at least the worst of the problem. Martin told us “Aggressive and illegal street selling is a big problem that blights our town. It intimidates tourists and scares people away. It’s the same suspects causing the same problems on a daily basis and many residents and people from the business community have simply had enough. Our petition has shown the depth of feelings and the sheer frustration that many have with our local government who don’t seem able or willing to tackle this issue. By applying political pressure we hope to push forward the urgent need to stop these illegal activities”
The petition currently stands at 2041 supporters and the second phase of the campaign to gather written complaints (denuncias) is well under way with many already completed.
You can sign the petition here (link is live in online edition)
Westenders Fight Back
Several business people with interests in the West End have talked to the Noudiari regarding actions they have taken in light of the extreme problem of pickpocketing that continues to proliferate in the busy streets of San Antonio’s party central.
British Ibizan resident Julian Cobby sees the very worst of this from his frontline position at Soul City which is at the start of San Antonio’s busiest West End Street. Julian relayed the content of the interview with the Noudiari and went on to highlight the human cost of the problem. “It is no secret that many people feel the West End is San Antonio’s poor relation as far as the town hall is concerned. Some people go even further and feel there is some greater will, whether political, commercial, or both, that actually has an interest and desire for the West End to kill itself, to implode”
Julian’s point is not a new one to us. There is a school of thought that some people may stand to gain considerable financial advantage if the West End could be in effect cleared for complete redevelopment without the problem or obligation of existing business interests.
For Julian that leaves a greater injustice than that of the current business owners being forced into decline. “It is genuinely distressing to see, and we see it every night without fail. The number of young kids having a good time who fall prey to these pickpocket gangs. Their technique is to form what amounts to a wall, exactly the same as a players make a wall in football. As people have to force their way through, the pickpockets have got the contact they want, andy do their worst.
“They are clever enough to know who is a good target. When those of us that work here approach you will find them parting like the sea before Moses, but for the youngsters, it is another story.
“It is so sad and so unfair to think that if there are greater powers at work, these visitors to Ibiza are left as casualties in that game.”
The interview given to the Noudiari is summarised at the foot of this article…
- Editorial, Nick Gibbs
Extent of the Problem.
These two campaigns highlight the worst of the current problems. There are more. Prostitution and theft via prostitution has been an ongoing issue, as has the sale of drugs. Different people will have different ideas as to where the line should be drawn in what is considered a problem. If we are to include ‘regular’ illegal street sellers, how can we not include, for example beach fruit and drink sellers, hair braiders etc?
There is also the question of whether the ‘regular’ illegal street sellers do restrict themselves to dodgy sunglasses etc. Many people consider that the products on their arms are just a front for the sale of drugs. I cannot say what proportion of them are involved in Drug sales, but I can say I have witnessed exchanges of small packages for cash more than once with my own eyes – so in my opinion it definitely happens to some extent.
We have also received witness observations, one only today, that they are involved in the ‘fencing’ of the stolen goods obtained by the pickpockets.
Though it may not have huge public sympathy, there is no doubt that the owners of the trademark brands being used on their counterfeit products would not agree that they should be allowed to ply their trade under the category of ‘acceptable pest’.
We must also think whether it is fair to differentiate between illegal sellers and the PR’s employed by many of Ibiza’s clubs and bars all of whom are, under new regulations, illegal in San Antonio. Similar issues, working illegally and considered by many to be pests. Surely it would not be just to exclude them just because they live in our own community?
These are relevant points, but they are details.
For most of us, I think it is fair to say the problem that we cannot understand, where it just becomes mind boggling, is when it is allowed to continue to beyond that of pest to that of predator.
Put it this way, if you removed the pickpocket and aggressive sellers issue, and all that was remaining was people selling dodgy products, braiding hair and overpriced fruit cups on beaches, I doubt we have have anything like the level of angst or action.
Pest or Predator? Perhaps a good way to think of a ‘dividing line’ across the whole spectrum, is a very simple question of choice. The right to say ‘no’, and that being enough.
The petition organised is a great initiative and a very good way of mobilising people’s interest and participation. However I personally feel that it is not enough in this situation to simply demand that our power masters ‘do something about it’.
This is where the greatest mystery aspect comes in. We all know they should be doing something about it. They know they should be doing something about it, and they know that we know that they know they should be doing something about it – if you see what I mean?
There is a reason, there has to be a reason.
I have spent a lot of time thinking about it, not because I have some obsessive interest, but more that it is by far the most common subject of news/current issue in my inbox and in social conversations.
Here are my list of possibilities and thoughts.
The purpose here is not to provide a definitive answer – I do not think that is possible – it is to try to highlight that things may not be anything like as straightforward as we think.
Is that our problem? It is our problem if we want to fix these issues. At the moment, nobody can say with any certainty why these obvious and known problems are not dealt with.
The most effective way of changing the situation has to be finding out what is stopping the authorities from acting and in whatever way is then necessary, which could be working with them or working against them, to remove those barriers.
We talk of overwhelming public support and interest, and certainly that is reflected in my communications, but we must ask ourselves whether it is reflected in the Spanish community? Politicians are most interested in votes. Is this a vote winner? For example, though in no way scientific, I looked at the comments on the petition very quickly. Of the 60 I scanned, only two appeared to be from Spanish people.
I was also mindful of the ‘reclaim San Antonio platform’ political party that now shares power in the town hall. I have seen numerous posts of theirs regarding the problem of over indulgent tourists harming San Antonio’s reputation, but in scanning their facebook timeline dating back to June I didn’t find any mention of street crime, pickpockets etc.
Remember that these crimes are committed mainly to tourists. Do the Spanish see it as such a big issue as us?
- Collective will for San Antonio’s implosion
This is mentioned in my conversation with Julian Cobby as mentioned earlier in this article. The thought is, and I have heard it put forward by several people, that their are some powerful people lurking in the shadows who would stand to benefit if San Antonio/The West End effectively killed itself, imploded as a result of ever worsening problems. They would then be in a position to capitalise on its redevelopment without the encumbrance of sitting tenants or rowdy tourists.
You could argue that it fits in terms of the specific problems of the West End, but it would not explain why the aggressive street sellers on the promenade are not tackled.
- Lack of policing
This is a real problem, and one I have come to understand much more since taking over my current job.
It is extremely difficult to recruit Guardia Civil to Ibiza. Why would they want to come? Taking into account that they are not allowed to work in the area they originate from, they would have to be moving here without any family resources and accommodation etc to rely upon. They hence face hugely inflated living costs compared to that in most other areas of Spain. They would also be taking on what most would surely consider the least attractive areas to work in the people you are dealing with, and in a self-fulfilling problem they would be working in an area with inadequate numbers to do the job.
Policing in Ibiza is the equivalent of teaching in a deprived inner city, nobody wants to do it.
Despite this understanding I do not personally feel this is the reason. In other areas of crime the police have a demonstrable track record of reacting when things get too much with a period of intense focus. A good recent example of this is when Ibiza suffered a spate of rural burglaries. A huge amount of attention was focused on the problem to placate the local people. Even if the police numbers are insufficient for ongoing control of the situation I feel sure we would have had a few brief stings to keep the press and public at bay.
I cannot make any comment as to the current politicians in power at San Antonio town hall however in relating this as a possibility I can make mention of a meeting with the immediate past mayor and her civilian head of police.
I was frankly amazed at the lack of comprehension of the problems on the streets. I got a genuine feel that they were frankly clueless and had no idea of the problem, or how to handle it. I hope that is not the case now.
- Shady dealings
Possibly the most frequent reaction I receive is where people are saying that somebody is on the take and being paid to turn a blind eye.
Do I think that is the case now? In reality no. From first hand testimony of people here long before I arrived, I could well accept it may have been the case in the past, but although Spain has some way to go in shaking off the corruption that has blighted it for decades, my gut feeling says this is not a case of euros stuffed into briefcases being shared amongst dark and embellished suits.
- Status quo
Another way of saying this one is blackmail. It is frankly one of my more extreme and unlikely scenarios but if nothing else it will show you I have tried to think of anything, however crazy it may seem, such is the complete mystery as to why nothing is done.
Imagine a scenario where a power master in government or uniform has a communication channel with a leader of whatever criminal gangs are operating. There is a status quo agreed whereby in return for turning something of a blind eye, they agree to keep their level of operation at its current level. Again I accept this is a bit off the wall, but how would it be if the leader of that gang threatened that if they were not left alone, they would turn prostitution into an aids epidemic and low quality cocaine into heroin? Just a thought.
- Powers bigger than the powers above us
Having thought through all of these options and trying to consider them in terms of their political, practical etc pros and cons, this is my best bet.
I have absolutely no evidence to go on. It is simply the one that I cannot put a hole in. As Sherlock Holmes said ,‘When you have ruled out all other possibilities, the one remaining, however unlikely, is the truth’.
What are they going to do with them?
It is all very well demanding they are dealt with, but what do you do with them?
They are rounded up, taken off the streets, but to where? We are talking about a lot of people many of whom will not have any immigration status here and the outcome will be minimally very expensive and require extensive periods of internment for it to be in any way effective.
In a politician’s mind however, an even greater consideration than the cost would be the political controversy of such a move. What are we looking at? Deportations? Prison? Or simply to put them through the system and let them back on the streets, in which case what have we achieved?
One of my reasons for thinking that there is a greater power at work, a power above that of our local town hall/local chief of police, is a lack of shifting the problem on. One of the easiest things to do would be to hassle them into going somewhere else. But they don’t.
I am not saying it is right, it is far, far, from being right, but I think we need to understand that this is one of those issues politicians fear the most as it is absolutely loose loose. If they go in hard, detain and deport, they have the ‘left’ complaining of the lack of humanity. If they police the problem without tough punishment, they will have the ‘right’ outraged that they are being let off. In both scenarios they will have the entire population complaining at the cost of it all.
Though I do not agree with it I think that, at a political level, ignoring the problem is the best of the available evils.
I am not saying this is right, it is just my best guess. You can make your own mind up or may have other ideas, in which case we would be very interested to hear them.
What could be done?
Of course that depends on why nothing is being done, which we simply do not know. For what it is worth here are a couple of ideas I have had. I don’t know how well they will stand up to examination but better to offer at least something of a potential solution.
In so far as the specific issue of counterfeit goods is concerned, I would put the issue over to the association that protects the rights of the companies affected. Do they want to pay to police the situation? I think almost certainly they would not, and with that ends any moral problem I personally have with the counterfeiting.
- The option to go legal
I think we make a huge mistake if we judge all the individual human beings involved in these practices as being the same. Certainly it is not my experience. However many bad apples exist, I am sure there are some good ones who would prefer not to be in the same barrel.
A problem exists however in that they are prevented through issues of nationality by working legally even if they want to.
A moratorium would be required. Those who can show they have been here x period of time can be allowed at least some access to the means to live and work legally as productive members of the community.
At the most simple level this would mean that an illegal street seller, who currently has no other means to sell his products, could choose to take a market stall on the fountains, an option not currently available as they do not have an nie number required as part of the application process. A few hair braiders could choose to open a salon together. More seriously a girl forced into prostitution would have some prospect of surviving if she could escape.
It would need a huge amount of thought, and even then who is to say how many would take it up, but at least it would give them the option and you might even say the most deserving would be enabled to join the community.
After a period of time those still choosing to blight our island would face the full wrath of the law, tough sentences and/or deportation for those found guilty of serious crime.
In essence we would offer help to join us for those who want to be a productive part of our community, and we would remove those who do not. Humanity for the left, plus toughness for the right.
It would have many problems, but biggest of them all is that I just cannot see any political party, certainly in Spain’s current state of political flux and with still serious unemployment problems, having the bravery to put forward a policy of naturalising illegal immigrants. You may as well say you’d put up taxes, political suicide.
What Should Not Be Done.
In closing I would make one final comment as a personal viewpoint word of caution/warning.
Probably the most frequent suggestion of a solution I hear put forward in so far as the illegal street sellers is concerned is to ‘simply seize all their stuff’.
That approach may work with the likes of Del Boy down the Old Kent Road, and having had their dodgy gear confiscated enough times they might decide to go get a job, or move away.
But these people do not have a job, nor anywhere to go. All seizing their merchandise will achieve is the creation of ever more desperate people willing to do ever more desperate things to survive.
I am a little worried that this will be the response of the authorities to the current public outcry. It is the easiest knee jerk reaction they can make, and also – particularly worrying – the most media friendly photo opportunity.
The illegal sellers can live with the amount of confiscations they have at present. Take it to a level they cannot withstand, but leaving them at liberty with the need to survive, will just create crime far worse than we experience now.
There isn’t one. It is a right old pickle.
But I hope this article will have served its purpose of highlighting things are not quite as straightforward as they may seem.
One thing is for sure, until we know why nothing is being done, we have no hope of expecting anything to be done.
Summary of NouDiari interview – Businesses Fight Back in West End
- West End Businesses Face Gangs who rob tourists due to lack of police presence
- Translation Rhian Gibbs
Businessmen in the West End have decided this summer to confront the gangs of thieves themselves, with the help of their own security staff where the gangs congregate at the exit of the West End in Calle Santa Agnès, near the taxi rank.
As explained by four of the bars owners, the lack of members of the local police, but especially the lack of Guardia Civil, allow some 30 or 40 people, mostly Romanian and Moroccan in origin, acting at the exit of the West End stealing wallets and the phones of tourists, who then decide not to go into the area for entertainment due to the lack of security.
Bar keepers of Soul City, Julian Cobby; Faces, David Martin; Koppas, Jose Torres, and Bar Stereo, Juan Torres, have come together to make this public denunciation, after going “40 times” to the San Antonio Town Hall and get the same response to no effect, and that in the area as reported, the Guardia Civil never appear.
According to David Martin, the integrity of tourists is “in danger” by the actions of these gangs picking “certain age couples who have more money, they have watches and have wallets/purses”. “One holds up the woman, another, the man, they corner them, rob them and beat them,” added Martin, who said that “the Senegalese prostitutes do the same job”.
Julian Cobby explained that many of the thieves “are professionals” who extract money from tourists bags, and then pretend to have found it on the floor. The Soul City Manager estimates that “at least 50 mobiles and 50 wallets/bags are stolen every night” at the exit of the West End.
- Backed by street vendors
Two weeks ago, the business men themselves decided to confront the gangs with the help of their security staff and Senegalese street vendors, who claim to feel supported.
“Look how it is, that the Senegalese have to defend us. We have to unite with ‘looky lookys’ because we are powerless. They give us no problems, do not steal, they sell glasses and other things, but that’s your problem. We will often quarrel with Romanians and then come 20/25 Senegalese to support us. We feel safe with them, look at what the situation has become; to have to get together with ‘illegal’ people’” added David Martin.
“One week we were down every night to try to take down the gangs of thieves. One of the nights, they called the police on us and within five minutes two cars came, the Guardia Civil and local police came to talk to us. And when we call the police, they don’t come “, criticized Julian Cobby.
They denounce lack of security around San Antonio however, according to the manager of Stereo, Juan Torres, the problem of the lack of security affects all of San Antonio and not just the West End. “It is no longer a problem in the West End, but in San Antonio in general. At four o’clock you see around and look in every corner of the town, a Romanian, a Moroccan or a prostitute. And all notify each other, they see a drunk and already there are the prostitutes and Romanians who come to steal, because they do not act alone, “he explained.
Moreover, it should be noted that inside the West End “it is safer” because both businessman and Senegalese vendors are responsible in trying to take down the gangs of thieves from the streets of the area. “Even the Senegalese around here catch the thieves. In fact, now the West End is safer than another area, because sellers know that if the Guardia Civil come they will not be able to work, and as they do not want people to be robbed, they catch their necks and tell them, ‘get out of this area, that they are watching’,” said Torres.
According to the manager, “the situation is hopeless” because the hotels recommend to its clients not go to the West End because of theft, but not only the area itself, but all the people “are dangerous” and they have never seen it.
Businesses recognise that the problem of the lack of security is not new, but they explained that there may have been “three or four” thieves and now that has increased up to “30 or 40”.
“We had a few private security officers, had nurses and now we don’t have anything. We are left in the hand of God. We have less police and Guardia Civil than any other year” criticized, David Martin who also noted that he has been working nights here for 25 years.
According to Julian Cobby, “the tourists are suffering because of a problem between the Town Hall, the Businesses and owners of the West End”.