San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

New Group Forms To Take Bite Out of Crime

An odd coalition of ad executives, journalists, clergy and ex-government officials unleashed a sophisticated public relations campaign against crime.

Called Recuperemos La Paz ( We Will Restore Peace ), the nonprofit organization launched an aggressive ad campaign two weeks ago to put pressure on the government specifically the executive and legislative branches to strengthen the country s laws and police.

We formed a civic initiative to try to get the government to be aware of the problem  and respond within six months by passing new laws, said coordinator Arnaldo Garnier of the Garnier Group ad agency.

With donated space in La Nación, Al Día, El Financiero and La Teja, and free airtime with TV channels 6 and 7, the campaign has inundated the country with slick and disturbing images, including crime reenactments.

Using the slogan We live in a criminal underworld, the campaign publicized rules Ticos should follow to avoid being victimized, such as not using cell phones in public and carrying as little cash as possible.

The first stage is to show the crude reality under which we are living, and to show the disgust and indignation that the victims are feeling, Garnier said.

The campaign coordinator said the next step might be a movement to force a referendum on public security. But the government has been favorable to his group thus far, so that step might not be needed.

He said Vice President Laura Chinchilla and all the leaders of the country s political parties have entered into direct negotiations with his group for what the new omnibus crime bill should contain and how soon it should be passed. Chinchilla introduced a draft of the bill to the assembly s Security Commission before Easter.

At a Wednesday press conference, Chinchilla announced the government would sign an agreement Friday with campaign representatives. But she did not answer reporters questions about what the agreement would contain or what it would oblige the government to do.

Citizen Action Party (PAC) boss Elizabeth Fonseca said Enrique Nieto and Oscar Cabada, of the Costa Rican Chamber of Commerce and of Recuperemos La Paz, approached her. She said she doesn t approve of the campaign but she still signed a promise that she would try to help pass a crime bill within six months.

Neither I nor my party like the campaign, she said. It s just increasing the fear and the lack of confidence in government institutions. But I still signed the promise.

Libertarian Movement Party (ML) boss Luis Barrantes, also the chair of the assembly s Security Commission, said campaign representatives haven t approached him yet. But he said he supported their message.

It s good what they re doing, he said. The timid hand of the state needs a reorientation and it s good they are making the government aware of the high incidence of crime in the country.

The campaign has been a hit with Ticos so far, judging by the roughly 500,000 hits logged by its Web site,, over a two-week period.

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The cast of characters supporting the campaign ranges from Ciudad Quesada Bishop Angel San Casimiro, a Spaniard, to Juan Diego Castro, the controversial public security minister from 1994 to 1996.

Mincing few words, Castro, in his 2007 report called The Pyramid of Injustice, called out the country s courts and, specifically, Chief Prosecutor Francisco Dall Anese, for failing the country on an epic scale.

The impunity in this country is incredible, he said in 2007. It has already reached 92.7%. This is a lack of seriousness on the part of politicians the government and the judicial branch are doing nothing, they are sitting around as if nothing was happening.

Saying Dall Anese, gives criminals a license to rob, Castro cited statistics in his study to show only 2% of suspects charged are convicted.

He also argues the security deterioration in the country began after a 1998 legal reform, the result of a political movement to decriminalize, put criminal investigations in the hands of the prosecutor s office, instead of where they had been historically with the Judicial Investigation Police.

The idea behind Recuperemos La Paz reportedly began during informal conversations between Nación Group Vice President Daniel Robert and Garnier during monthly meetings of the Readership and Ratings Chamber, an advisory body within the National Advertising Institute.

Nación Group owns all of the newspapers that are donating free ad space to the campaign. Garnier and institute President Gustavo Halsband said it was launched after Robert asked what the news media could do to attack the nation s crime problem.

Robert declined to comment for this story but a spokesman said he supports the campaign.

Recuperemos La Paz has scheduled an April 26 demonstration in front of the Supreme Court in San José at 10 a.m.

A Shift to the Right?

With crime continuing to rise virtually unchecked, the attitudes of everyday Ticos appear to be shifting to the right.

Results of surveys published by La Nación last weekend show 54% of Costa Rican residents support the death penalty, while 51% favor the use of vigilante justice against criminals.

Those numbers have jumped 7 and 11 percentage points, respectively, over the last five years, compared to a 2004 study conducted by the United Nations Development Programme.

In 1877, Costa Rica was one of the first countries in the world to abolish the death penalty.

La Nación’s survey, conducted by the polling firm Unimer, also shows Tico attitudes have become more favorable to the use of torture by police to get information.

About 38% now favor such tactics, compared to about 28% in 2004.

Asked about executing repeat offenders, 35% said they would favor it, compared to 19% four years ago.


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