San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Violent Deaths Surge 18% in '08

Deaths from accidents and violence surged to 544 in the first six months of the year, 18 percent more than during the same period in 2007, the Red Cross reported this week. Homicides shot up 49 percent.

The numbers, which do not include deaths in the hospital or deaths at scenes to which the Red Cross ambulance service was not called, are troubling to lawmaker Jorge Méndez.

“Those figures are consistent with evidence of rising crime in Costa Rica – especially robberies,” said Méndez, a member of the ruling National Liberation Party (PLN).

“These crimes are increasingly being committed with weapons.” Drownings increased 22 percent, while suffocations increased 9 percent, the Red Cross reported.

On a positive note, traffic deaths dropped 5 percent in the first six months of 2008. Deaths from alcohol intoxication dropped to four – one-third the number reported in the first half of 2007.

Red Cross President Miguel Carmona warned parents to be extra vigilant now that schools and universities are on vacation and are playing in water or partying with alcohol.

“Combining liquor with the accelerator or liquor with water…is fatal,” he said. “We are killing ourselves …Something must be done.”

The Red Cross, a private non-profit agency with 480 ambulances, responds to most incidents reported though 911, said spokesman Freddy Román.

The Red Cross’ figures differ from numbers the government provides. While the Red Cross registered an average of 24 murder victims a month this year, the average monthly tally by the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) is 29. The Red Cross counted 197 traffic deaths in the first half of 2008, while the Public Works and Transport Ministry (MOPT) counted 172.

The total number of violent deaths from January to June was 544, the Red Cross reported.

Lawmakers are now debating proposals to reduce violent crime and traffic accidents.

One bill would prohibit individuals from owning more than one firearm. The bill also proposes to make it much harder to get a license to carry a gun on the streets.

Fabio Masís, a legislative aid for the Libertarian Movement Party, said these clauses are controversial and thus could be removed from the bill because they interfere with citizens’ ability to defend themselves.

“Disarming people now, when assault is so frequent, is like telling criminals to have a party,” said Masís, an adviser to lawmaker Luis Antonio Barrantes, who heads the committee debating the bill.

The outlook is even more dismal for a bill intended to reduce roadway accidents.

Presented in 2006, the bill is now slated 96th on a list of proposals awaiting debate on the assembly floor.


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