In Quito, the word mama elicits an image of a loving woman who affectionately calls you mija or mijo, wants you to put on a sweater, and is coming around the table with a second serving of hornado. The name Mama Lucha, on the other hand, struck fear across the city for years. Mama Lucha, or Luz María Endara, had what El Telegrafo called “Quito’s biggest crime gang.”
Endara was born in 1934 to a policeman father and lawyer mother, and she evidently used her knowledge of both the power and limitation of the law to her advantage. By the 1980’s she had gained influence and wealth across the city by demanding payments from vendors in markets, organizing the robbing and selling of household goods, and, some people say, sending call girls to politicians. She lived on the Panecillo surrounded by her family and her extended gang family. This network prevented anyone outside of the gang from walking up the hill to visit Quito’s towering virgin on top. Her reputation was as wide as the statue's expansive wing span, and her authority extended well beyond the Panecillo.
Mama Lucha would stroll into the San Roques market flanked by ten trusted companions, greet the vendors coolly, and demand a “tax.” The choice was clear for a vendors: either continue paying Mama Lucha for protection or risk their food stand and livelihood. Once, on one of these collection walks through Old Town, Mama Lucha was attacked and stabbed. She lived, but the father of her assumed attacker was found brutally killed not long after. While Mama Lucha was charged with crimes throughout the years, she was never convicted. Somehow, the judges always dismissed her cases. In 2006 she passed away. In the wake of her death her family’s influence has dwindled.
For years, markets like San Roques and the Panecillo were plagued with fear of Mama Lucha, which interfered with the daily life of Quiteños and the promotion of a tourist attraction. Now, the Panecillo is a main stop for visitors in Old Town and is a safe place to catch a magnificent view of the city…But you will still want to take a taxi to the top!
Sources and extra reading:
"Ciudad, seguridad y racismo" by Eduardo Kingman Garcés in San Roque: Indígenas urbanos, seguridad y patrimonio