San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Jams Leading to Highway Robberies

Groups of thieves are taking advantage of cars waiting in construction traffic in and around the

Próspero Fernández Highway

to Santa Ana, southwest of San José, in a recent spate of car robberies.

Lisbeth, a local real estate agent, was stuck in traffic earlier this month on the highway toward Santa Ana, about 200 meters before the Guachipelín exit when thieves broke the front passenger window and snatched her purse. She declined to give her last name because she is still working with police to identify the assailants, who have not been captured.

Manuel Carrillo, of the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ), said the thieves have been picking out areas in and around the highway in sectors west of San José where vantage points, such as bridges and trees, allow them to be able to see into the cars of oncoming traffic to select their victim. They have specifically been targeting women driving alone during rush hour traffic. He said the thieves are mostly minors who approach the car, shatter the window with a battering device, reach into the car, grab the valuables and take off. The thieves are not assaulting the victims, police said.

One OIJ official told Lisbeth to carry a type of decoy purse filled with unused cosmetics and such, but another said it’s best to not have any purse in sight so as not to invite an attack in the first place. Carrillo said all electronics, too, should be hidden and he advised motorists to avoid any individuals approaching their car, including vendors.

Lisbeth has put security window film on her car’s windows, which not only tints the windows but also makes them thicker and, therefore, harder to break.

Nichole Kobere, a project manager for security supply store Armor Tec in Guadalupe, on the northeast side of San José, said their sales for the window film have gone up from about five clients per week to around a dozen. Most have broken windows and are electing the window film, which cost ¢90,000 to 150,000 (about $164 to 273) per vehicle.

The reaction among women in the area has varied, as well. Some are dressing as men, Lisbeth said, to reduce the likelihood of an attack. Others drive alone in their car only to and from work, if at all. She said she’s more alert in the wake of her attack – she doesn’t talk on her cell phone in the car anymore – but isn’t going to restrict herself. “I’m very careful, but I’m a person who wants to live freely.”

Carillo said OIJ is working in tandem with the National Police to address the situation, but stresses that the situation will persist as long as people fail to file reports so authorities can make arrests. “The fact is that if nobody files claims, the insecurity will continue.”


Traffic Slowdown Zones

• Near Guachipelín tunnel

• Near El Lagar hardware store on the Santa Ana-San Antonio de Belén road.

• Trejos Montealegre exit coming into Escazú, passing by Hipermás.


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