San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Arenal Report

Once again it’s time for a RED ALERT! During the last five weeks, a wave of criminal activity has swept over the Arenal Area.

For starters, four cars and a pick-up truck have been stolen from the streets and driveways near the German Bakery. In a gated community with a coded entry, three unoccupied homes were broken into. Appliances such as dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers, T.V. sets, computers, and in one case, a refrigerator, were removed. Those burglaries occurred on one night. Obviously it was an “inside job” as the thieves knew the gate code (which is changed often). They also knew which houses were unoccupied brought a truck big enough to haul away a number of large appliances. A few nights later, another home, also unoccupied, had a clothes dryer and flat-screen TV removed after the thieves entered the property by cutting through a barbed wire fence out of sight behind the house. The home next door had its garage broken into and a radio/CD player stolen from the car that same night.

Another popular and lucrative theft perpetrated on five other homes has been the removal of the copper electrical cable that runs from the street to the house. After cutting the cable at the ICE meter box near the street, thieves secure the cable to a car bumper and drive off, ripping the copper cable line out of the ground. At $1,000 per hundred meters, the copper wire is a real favorite, and stealing it is neither dangerous nor difficult. Word on the street is that a gang of thieves operating out of La Fortuna may be responsible, but no one has been caught, and the thefts remain unsolved.

All of this raises a question: At what point does stealing become a crime worthy of serious investigation by the Judicial Investigative Police (OIJ)? After four years of observation and questioning police officers working in different areas of authority in Costa Rica’s criminal justice system, the answer, based on performance, is this: With the woefully inadequate numbers of officers available for crime prevention and prosecution, crimes against property are not important enough to commit manpower to them. The thieves are well aware of this reality and depend on it for their success.

Stealing, of course, is not a problem confined to Costa Rica; however, other countries seem to regard property rights more seriously and treat thieves very harshly. Not so in Costa Rica. An expat resident of many years explained the philosophic basis for the apparent lax attitude of the Public Ministry: “If you have something, and I want it and can get it, its mine,” he said. He added that after his second $600 chopeadora had been stolen, he became enraged, blaming anything and everybody Costa Rican for everything bad in his life. He was miserable, and considered returning to the ugly existence he left for the Siren song of Costa Rica.

Then, he woke up one morning to a flash of what he called “celestial insight.” He realized that the answer to it all was this: “In Costa Rica, if you have something and you want to keep it, then it is up to you to do what it takes, bar none, to protect it.” He says that this realization relieved him of his hostility and anger, and he’s lived happily ever after. Nothing has ever been stolen from him since.

-William & Jean Priest

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