San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Court Shoots Down Grassroots Crime Measure

The Supreme Elections Tribunal has struck a serious blow to the citizen Recuperemos La Paz movement.

The movement, whose name means “Let’s Restore Peace,” began in the spring with an aggressive ad campaign that drew attention to the country’s crime wave and demanded that the government act (TT, April 11).

The tribunal on June 17 rejected a petition submitted by former Public Security Minister Juan Diego Castro, the movement’s legal adviser.

The petition, filed in April, asked the court to conduct a national referendum to strengthen the country’s criminal laws, bypassing what it called a dysfunctional legislature.

“We believe that politicians don’t want to solve the problem,” Castro said at the time. “This is a movement of thousands and thousands of people, and we’re going to collect signatures to show just how many we are.”

Castro now says he is disappointed but not surprised by the tribunal’s decision.

“It was a risk we took when we submitted our petition,” he said. “I think the judges’ arguments don’t fit in with the urgent needed reforms of the (criminal codes), but now there is nothing more to be done in this (tribunal). They have closed yet another door on the Costa Rican people to confront criminals.”

The tribunal based its decision primarily on the nation’s Constitution, which defines topics that are not open to a referendum.

“The referendum will not proceed if the projects relate to budgetary, tax, monetary, fiscal, credit, pension, security, loan approval or administrative contract matters,” states Article 105 of the Constitution.

Castro said the tribunal might come to regret its decision.

“In the hands of legislators, little will be accomplished while we are just about to reach 200 murders so far this year and  thousands more victims of other crimes,”he said. “History will know how to judge those who do nothing to confront this serious crisis.”

Founded by ad agency owner Arnoldo Garnier and backed by Grupo Nación Vice President Daniel Robert, Recuperemos La Paz succeeded in getting all three branches of government to sign an accord in April that promised they would pass a legislative overhaul of criminal law within six months.

However, the agreement makes no mention of specific changes needed.

In return for signing the agreement, Vice President Laura Chinchilla persuaded Garnier to soften the movement’s message (TT, April 18).

The Web site,, after initially drawing over a million hits in its first month, is now down for “reconstruction.”

Unlike in many countries, referendums here do not necessarily consist of “yes” or “no” questions. They can involve wholesale rewrites of the nation’s laws, as Castro’s petition proposed.

Castro proposed numerous reforms, including strengthening a victim’s rights to information, lengthening statutes of limitation, increasing the use and length of preventive prison, improving police officers’ ability to interview potential criminals and lengthening sentences for convictions.¦


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