San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Grassroots Anticrime Group Not at Peace

Recuperemos La Paz, the civic movement that began recently to combat crime, appears to be fracturing.

One faction, led by founder and ad agency entrepreneur Arnoldo Garnier, favors engagement with the government and softening the group’s message in return for access.

The other position, advocated by former Public Security Minister Juan Diego Castro, favors maintaining an aggressive campaign using a referendum to keep the government’s feet to the fire.

Movement members agree the Legislative Assembly needs to pass an effective omnibus crime bill within six months. But they don’t necessarily agree on what the bill should contain.

Castro says a draft submitted by Vice President Laura Chinchilla to the assembly before Easter should be thrown out.

“This law is insufficient in terms of protecting the victim,” Castro said. “None of our proposals are in her document. We believe that politicians don’t want to resolve the problem, and a trap has been laid by Chinchilla to promote what she wants.”

Garnier says the bill needs a lot of modifications but offered few specifics aside from the need for more prisons.

Castro and Chinchilla have a history. She was vice minister under him in 1994 and eventually took his post during the presidency of José Figueres.

On April 11, the same day Recuperemos representatives Garnier and Alajuela bishop Angel San Casimiro signed a symbolic agreement with representatives of the executive, judicial and legislative branches, Castro was at the Supreme Elections Tribunal with an entourage of crime victims filing formal papers to begin a referendum process.

“There are two schools of thought here and Castro is of the more hard-line school,” Garnier said. “He doesn’t believe the three powers will comply. He’s a little extreme in his actions and he’s using a risky strategy – it might work and it might not.”

The three-page agreement Garnier helped to edit contains few specifics – only a six-month deadline for passage of a crime law. President Oscar Arias, Legislative Assembly President Francisco Pacheco, Supreme Court Chief Justice Luis Paulino Mora and San Casimiro signed it.

Before the signing, Garnier said a referendum isn’t necessary if the government shows good faith in negotiating the passage of a strong crime bill within six months. He also said the agreement couldn’t be specific or the judicial branch wouldn’t have been able to sign it.

“The government’s already changed its attitude,” he said. “I think they’ll come through because the public pressure on them is tremendous. But if they don’t, we’ll go to a referendum.”

The movement’s founder said he agreed to soften the campaign’s message – including removing Castro’s crime proposals from the Recuperemos La Paz Web site at Chinchilla’s request – in return for access to government officials and being a part of the legislative process.

Castro said Recuperemos La Paz, which means “We Will Restore Peace,’’ needs to be careful the movement isn’t co-opted by the government, pointing to the removal of his proposals as evidence that co-opting is already well underway.

“This is a movement of thousands of people,” he said. “There are thousands and thousands of victims. We’re going to collect signatures to show just how many we are.

And we don’t want to be candidates for the presidency like Doña Laura (Chinchilla).”

The ex-minister said the powers-that-be can’t be trusted to keep their word, especially considering many of them are the same people responsible for allowing, even encouraging, the current public security crisis.

He specifically named Chinchilla, Criminal Court Chief Justice José Arroyo and Mora as those responsible for a major 1998 penal code reform that eviscerated the country’s law-enforcement agencies. Those reforms included taking investigations away from the Judicial Investigation Police and putting them into the hands of the Chief Prosecutor’s office and decreasing the statute of limitations on murder from 15 to 10 years.

“(The reforms) were a total failure,” he said. “And they reflect the great irresponsibility of … Chinchilla, Mora and Arroyo.

They only reflected the rights of the criminal and included impossible restrictions on the police, such as they’re not allowed to interrogate alleged criminals.”

Chinchilla, through a spokeswoman, declined to respond to Castro’s claims. As of press time, court spokesmen for Mora and Arroyo did not respond.

Castro also said he supports strengthening penalties against criminal lawyers and notaries, such as those who perpetrate registry fraud and fake marriages for members of organized crime so they can avoid deportation or extradition. Registry fraud is stealing a person’s property by using a forged power-of-attorney.

“There are notaries so corrupt here,” he said. “I recommend disbarring them for 25 years and sending them to prison.”

For years, bills, including recent legislation proposed by independent lawmaker Evita Arguedas and supported by Immigration Director Mario Zamora, to criminalize corrupt notary behavior have sat in the assembly undebated and unratified.

Notary Administration Director Alicia Bogarín said it’s no surprise notary laws never get passed because most legislators are lawyers themselves.


Last week, The Tico Times reported that Recuperemos La Paz is a nonprofit organization. Garnier said it’s not a legally constituted organization. It is an informal movement of citizens, which means no one has control over membership or the range of opinions expressed.


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