San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Crime Issues Will Continue to Vex Pura Vida

Rising crime and insecurity have weighed heavily on Ticos’ minds for years. Besides more robberies, drug trafficking and arrests, here’s a look at what to expect in 2009:

On Monday, the Legislative Assembly will begin tackling a host of bills aimed at combating organized crime. They are led by two Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) lawmakers who have presented more than 100 motions that will allow, among other things, for interrogators to collect better information, create a muchneeded witness-protection program and restrict settlements in criminal cases.

The organized crime bill was removed from the omnibus penal law reform bill, also before the assembly (see story this page). While that move was initially criticized, separating the two bills has allowed both to be tailored to the specific needs of each, which, in theory, should make them more bureaucratically agile and pass more quickly through the assembly.

The new traffic law, which went into effect Dec. 23, will continue to draw criticism and challenges from people who warned that the steep fines – the maximum traffic violation will now cost a an average Tico his or her entire month’s salary – would encourage bribes.

One man has already appealed the drunken driving penalty, which is up to three years in prison. Although the man’s argument – that alcoholism is a disease that requires medical treatment and not penal measures – is weak in this particular case, more legitimate challenges to the law are likely to be filed, especially by parents who now technically have to transport their 11-year-old preteens in booster seats.

There are several new, innovative government projects, and it is anyone’s guess as to what degree each succeeds in the coming year. Among them: the expansion of a fasttrack court to other districts outside San José, $3 million in neighborhood development programs for downtown Limón as part of a regional pilot project funded by the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals initiative; and the opening of a new National Police Academy.

One of the big questions will whether if Public Security Minister Janina del Vecchio keeps her job. Eight months after she took the post, citizens aren’t letting her forget her early statements minimizing crime.

While the president and even her former vice ministers attest to the former math professor’s intelligence, criticisms from public figures and citizens as to her ability to lead the country’s law enforcement forces have not abated. Morale is notably down among police forces, too, who one former policeman said now feel “orphaned.”

In the end, the only thing safe this year will be to say that when the government claims security is improving, Ticos will believe it only when they see and feel it.


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