San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Police Arrest Teachers Convicted of Sex Crimes

THE Public Education Ministry plans to peek into the histories of the nation’s teachers after two arrests last week called its hiring policies into question. When police arrested two men – one working as a teacher, the other a former teacher, both sentenced for sexual abuse against minors – the ministry promised to review the files and update the criminal histories of the rest of its more than 60,000 teachers. The undertaking will last months, according to Rocío Solís, director of the ministry’s Office of Childhood and Adolescence, and its cost has not been calculated.The uproar began last week when police arrested Víctor Hugo Vargas, 53, a high-school industrial arts teacher in Alajuela, northwest of San José. He had been sentenced to 16 years in jail for the rape of a minor and was sentenced in March 2004 for the crime, which occurred at a school in 1996.He then escaped authorities, becoming one of the 20 most wanted sex offenders in the country, the Public Security Ministry said in a statement.THE Specialized Investigation Bureau (DIE) of the Public Security Ministry caught up with Vargas Sept. 14 and arrested him at school in the afternoon following the school’s Independence Day ceremony. He offered no resistance; he only seemed surprised that he had been found, the ministry reported.“We’re starting a police shakedown to find the 20 most wanted fugitives from justice for sexual crimes,” and Vargas was the first, DIE director Paúl Chávez said.Two days later, police arrested William Barrantes, 36, wanted for escaping an eight-year sentence for sexual abuse against minors. He had worked as a religion teacher in public high schools until his arrest in 2001. He was sentenced, then appealed the sentence and went on the run, having retired from teaching and taken a job as a pirate taxi driver.Vargas’ case was unique, Solís said. He was hired with a clean criminal history and sentenced for his crimes while still working, but the Prosecutor’s Office never alerted the Education Ministry to his sentence.THE Education Ministry will try to forge a closer link with the justice system to prevent such a mistake in the future, Solís said.Also, “we want to encourage people to report teachers when they see something strange,” she said. “This will not be a witch hunt, but when they are seen, these cases are not reported in time.”This week’s arrests raised the arrest count to 24 sentenced and suspected sex offenders this year, 18 of whom are Costa Rican.

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