Editor’s note: The following is a letter from David Derby to Mayor Marcelo Cabrera on the subject of graffiti in Cuenca. David, a visitor from the U.S, met and spoke to the mayor at a public function in January and was encouraged by Cabrera to follow up with a letter. This is the English-language version of David Derby’s letter.
Dear Mr. Mayor,
Thank you for your warm greeting and for taking the time to talk with me at the art celebration in Cuenca last week. I am the Irishman who now lives in Virginia, in the U.S., who is considering moving to Cuenca. You had asked me about my impressions of Ecuador and, in particular, Cuenca and I remember making a point about the impact that the graffiti I see around the city had on me.
Graffiti on an El Centro wall.
I came to Ecuador to spend the winter months away from the cold in the U.S. and to rest, so this is my first visit to Ecuador and to your lovely city. I have fallen in love with the architecture, climate, culture and the people of Cuenca, so much so that I and my wife Veronica, are seriously considering making our home and investing in Cuenca.
What makes me think twice about such a serious move is the graffiti that desecrates the walls and buildings of Cuenca. I ask myself: how can the people of Cuenca let such a jewel be defiled in such a manner? Isn’t the tourist industry a large part of the local economy? If the graffiti gives me pause about living here, doesn’t it also make tourists think twice about coming back for another visit, and what do they tell their friends about Cuenca and Ecuador when they go home?
Turning a blind eye to what is an insult to all of the people who live here is a slippery slope, as those who have no respect for themselves or others go about defacing both private and public property, marking their territory like dogs, and attempting to have us fall to their level of contempt for society.
In thinking about why the people of Cuenca allow the graffiti to dominate much of the cityscape, I am reminded of buying a new car. In the first few weeks of enjoying and taking pride in your new purchase, you take extra care parking it in a manner that provides the least opportunity for it to sustain damage. Then, as time goes by, it gets one little dent or scratch, then another and eventually we don’t notice all the damage that makes our new car look like an old car. Similarly, when we paint a room in our house, at first it looks fresh and clean but as time passes and it gets marked and soiled, we eventually don’t notice how shabby it has become. There is an English word, adopted from the Greek, to describe this sort blindness: it’s scotoma, meaning that the evidence is right in front of our noses but we can’t see it.
A rare scene in Cuenca: Police make graffiti artist erase his work.
It would be easy for me, as a visitor, to say nothing about the problem. I can get used to the graffiti, just like the people who live in Cuenca have. I can leave it behind when I go home and focus on the good memories of enjoying my time in here and in Ecuador. I have greatly enjoyed being with the people I have met.
On the other hand, I have come to love Cuenca too much to simply leave without making an effort to make this great city even better. This letter, then, is a call to action for you and the people of Cuenca.
Can you imagine Cuenca without graffiti? Wouldn’t people, both residents and visitors, take more enjoyment from their walks in the city without the visual pollution? Wouldn’t real estate values increase with greater pride of ownership without the desecration? A graffiti-free Cuenca would improve not only the quality of lives of those who live here and visit, but also the local economy.
A graffiti-free Cuenca is a worthy and achievable goal that most of the citizenry can buy into, I believe. And once that goal is achieved it would inspire other cities in Ecuador, and indeed in other countries, to follow the example.
Where to start? Henry Ford once said: “The man who thinks he can, can, and the man who thinks that he can’t, can’t.” It is simply a matter of attitude and I believe, Mr. Mayor, from the few moments I spent with you that you are a man that can.
I am sure that there are laws on the books that can be used to make Cuenca graffiti-free Cuenca. If necessary, it would be a simple matter to strengthen those to improve their enforceability.
For the law to be effective, the penalty must fit the crime. For example: After a perpetrator is apprehended, he or she should be arraigned and sentenced within 12 to 24 hours. Then, the sentence should be carried out within 24 to 36 hours. An appropriate sentence, I suggest, would be that an offender who damaged two square meters of property should be made to clean up four square meters. The sentence would double for repeat offenders. If offenders are minors — and I understand that the vast majority are — then the parents or guardians should be made aware of the sentence and be required to pay for the paint and and cleaning materials needed to fix the damage.
This is just suggestion. I’m sure there are many others that would also be effective.
If directed from the top with sufficient focus and resolve, I believe that Cuenca could rid itself of the graffiti plague in short order. Would the effort be worth it? I think it would.
Thank you, Mr. Mayor, and the people of Cuenca for your warm hospitality and making me feel at home.
With much love and respect …
— David P. Derby