Rising Violence in Costa Rica Is A Disturbing New Trend in a Former Safe Heaven

Costa Rica, traditionally known for its peaceful environment, is facing a record high in homicides for 2023, indicating a disturbing shift in the nation's public safety landscape.

A man walks in front of an illuminated building in San José, Costa Rica

12/19/2023.- A man walks in front of an illuminated building in San José, Costa Rica. EFE/ Jeffrey Arguedas

The Latin American Post Staff

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Leer en español: Violencia en Costa Rica: Nueva y preocupante tendencia en paraíso seguro

Unprecedented Surge in Violence

In a startling departure from its long-standing image of tranquility, Costa Rica is grappling with an unprecedented surge in violence. Renowned for its peacefulness, the nation is now confronting a worrisome increase in criminal activities, particularly homicides, which have reached an all-time high in 2023.

As of mid-December, the country has recorded 881 homicides, a significant jump from the 619 cases reported during the same period in 2022. This alarming rise in violent deaths reflects a 42% increase, shattering the nation's previous records and raising concerns about public safety and law enforcement effectiveness.

Investigations have revealed that a substantial number of these homicides are linked to drug trafficking, with territorial disputes among criminal groups being a major contributing factor. Approximately two-thirds of these killings are attributed to conflicts within the drug trade, highlighting the expanding influence of organized crime in the region.

Violence Concentrated in Key Regions

The spike in violence has been most pronounced in San José, Limón, and Puntarenas. San José, in particular, has seen a significant increase, with 215 homicides reported from January to mid-December, surpassing the previous year's count by 103 cases. Limón and Puntarenas have also experienced notable rises in homicide rates, reporting 211 and 145 cases, respectively.

A concerning trend is the demographic profile of both the victims and perpetrators of these crimes. The majority are young people aged between 18 and 29, indicating a disturbing pattern of youth involvement in violent criminal activities. This age group accounted for 356 of the homicides up to mid-December, a substantial increase from the 235 cases reported for the same age range in 2022.

Public concern over safety has heightened, as reflected in a recent survey conducted by a prominent research center and a university political science school. The survey, which involved over a thousand interviews conducted via mobile phone, revealed that insecurity and crime are now the primary concerns for the population, with an increase of 13.5% in these worries compared to a previous survey in September. The findings underscore a growing sense of unease among residents, who are increasingly cautious in their daily activities.

Experts Warn of Shifting Safety Landscape

Experts, including researchers from the Nation's State Program, have noted that Costa Rica, traditionally a beacon of peace, has seen a shift in its safety landscape over the last decade, with 2023 marking a significant intensification in violence. They attribute the rise in homicides to younger individuals increasingly involved in organized crime and power struggles within the underworld.

The expansion of criminal activity is no longer confined to the capital city but has spread to coastal provinces like Limón and Puntarenas. Researchers emphasize the need for a multifaceted approach to address this surge in violence. They advocate for preventive measures, including more educational and employment opportunities for youth and recreational spaces to divert them from crime.

In response to the crisis, the Ministry of Public Security has launched a national plan, Sembremos Seguridad, to identify and address the root causes of criminality. This plan involves collaborative efforts among various state institutions to tackle the social issues fueling violence, coupled with reactive measures coordinated with police forces.

Technology, Intelligence, and Increased Personnel

As part of its strategy to combat crime, the government plans to bolster its efforts in 2024, focusing on technological development and intelligence-led policing. The issue of drug consumption and distribution is no longer limited to urban areas but has permeated the entire country, necessitating a comprehensive and nationwide approach.

The Public Force of Costa Rica, currently comprising 12,500 agents, is set to receive a significant boost in numbers. An additional 750 agents are completing their training, with another 300 set to begin their training soon, along with the acquisition of 150 new vehicles.

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Legislative representatives, acknowledging the loss of peace in the country, have formed a working group to expedite the processing of legislative projects addressing security and drug trafficking. Following a holiday recess, the group is scheduled to resume its activities in early 2024 to restore peace and order in the nation.

Costa Rica's surge in homicides marks a critical juncture in the country's history. Once celebrated for its peacefulness, the nation is now facing a harsh reality of escalating violence and public insecurity. The government's multifaceted approach, involving law enforcement, social intervention, and legislative action, reflects a concerted effort to curb this worrying trend and reclaim Costa Rica's legacy of peace.

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