San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Crime Beat

Costa Rica's Public Security Minister calls for new organized crime unit after spike in killings

Any doubts about the presence of sophisticated organized criminal organizations in Costa Rica were dashed Wednesday morning. The Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) raided several properties across Costa Rica and arrested seven people in an international joint operation between Costa Rican, Italian and U.S. authorities to take down a cocaine trafficking ring linked to the ‘ndrangheta mafia.

In an unrelated incident on Oct. 9, a suspected hitman was gunned down in broad daylight after being picked up by a taxi at a relative’s house in San Francisco de Dos Ríos, southeast of San José. Four men armed with AK-47s blocked the cab with a black SUV and fired up to 100 rounds. Images of the bullet-ridden taxi spread like wildfire over social media.

Examples like these, along with a steadily climbing homicide rate, have left Costa Rican authorities struggling to express a strategy to combat increasingly violent and well-organized criminal elements, both international and local. Between the start of the year and August, 370 homicides were committed, 202 of them related to organized crime, according to a statement from the Public Security Ministry.

Costa Rica enjoyed a downward trend in homicides between 2010 and 2012 before seeing a spike in 2014, including a rash of killings in Desamparados, south of the capital. Those high numbers so far have continued in 2015, making for an ugly reversal. In 2010, 527 homicides were committed, but that number dropped to 407 in 2012. The number crept up in 2013 to 411, but 2014 saw a spike in killings. By the end of 2014, 471 homicides were reported, up 14.6 percent from 2013, according to statistics from OIJ published in February. According to the Public Security Ministry, a total (not just organized crime-related) of 426 homicides were committed between January and Oct. 9 in 2015.

On Tuesday morning, Public Security Minister Gustavo Mata held a news conference calling on the OIJ — which is in the judicial branch, not the executive — to create a specialized unit dedicated exclusively to investigating organized crime. Mata said the fact that 55 percent of the year’s homicides were tied to organized crime was “reason for why a unit focused exclusively on organized crime was necessary.”

“The shape that organized crime has taken in our country and its direct relationship with the increase in homicides during the last year merits a more holistic response that institutions involved in its prevention and repression have given,” Mata said in a statement.

Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís, right, hands the National Police banner to Public Security Minister Gustavo Mata on Feb. 5, 2015.

(Courtesy Casa Presidencial)

Mata said he has been pushing for an inter-institutional unit housed in OIJ that would coordinate responses to organized crime between agencies in the judicial branch, including prosecutors, judges and OIJ investigators, and the police force.

Chief Prosecutor Jorge Chavarría pointed to examples such as the ‘Ndrangheta raids as examples of successful coordination across institutions and countries, but agreed that a change is needed in how Costa Rica tackles organized crime.

“The level of violence that we’re seeing, the kinds of crimes, demand that we re-think how we investigate. In this sense, we’re in agreement with Mr. Gustavo [Mata],” Chavarría said.

Despite calls for greater coordination, however, both sides continue to speak past one another.

“What we need to do is prevention – prevention of consumption, prevention of trafficking, prevention of money laundering,” said Chavarría, speaking of an area typically under the purview of the Public Security Ministry.

Mata’s words, meanwhile, spoke about improving investigations, which are the responsibility of OIJ and the Prosecutor’s Office.

Chavarría left little to the imagination if the current trend continues: “I think that there’s no going back on the level of violence that has started in this country. We’re a country with organized crime. The number of homicides indicates the presence of organized crime.”

“The example is the Northern Triangle,” he said, referring to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the most violent countries in Latin America. And “the path we’re on is toward the Northern Triangle if we don’t take action today.”

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The solution is so simple, its maddening: DECRIMINALIZE DRUGS!

Its the damn laws against drugs that create the criminal chains. Its the LAWS that create CRIMINALS. Who cares if people ruin their lives with drug abuse? What right does a government have to declare its not ok for a person to use or abuse any substance?

Eliminate the drug laws and you eliminate the profitability of them… eliminate the profitability of drugs and your criminals will need a day job.

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SOURCE; WHO Publish Date: May 2014;

SINGAPORE: POPULATION 4,8 MILLION 29 people were killed in violence per year
COSTA RICA: POPULATION 4,6 MILLION 569 people were killed in violence per year

Singapore has death penalty for drug trafficking and perform 20 times better than Costa Rica by hanging a very few who just don’t get it .

Why not save 300 lifes per year and reestablish civil order and safety by adopting the Singaporan model?

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Seen this all before. Nothing going to change. Government, judges have been infiltrated with the criminal element here.. No space in Prison .. Seems like just another fairy tale.

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OIJ will probably end up with a few new toys. Otherwise, expect much of the same. This is the routine. Law enforcement has more capabilities today than they did just a few years back This is simply another power grab over the rights of individuals. Nothing will change, unless there is a drastic change in leadership of many of these institutions. The President must push for that.

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Just look at the photo of the SERT Tactical squad above. This government has everything they need to combat this crime wave. Everything, but the conviction and integrity to clean up internal politics. The College of Abogados is an organized crime syndicate in itself. They are the body in charge of all these worthless lawyers- who end up becoming politicians, prosecutors and judges. Institutional corruption festers in most all government entities. And we thought President Solis was going to clean that up…not with Jorge Chavarria as the chief prosecutor. Letting him stay on was mistake #1. He has too many friends in the PLN to ever act responsibly. Political corruption has gone unfettered in Costa Rica. Everything eventually comes to an end. And when the shit hits the fan, you can bet that end is near.

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Ken Morris

I liked all your points, but this one stands out to me especially.

The trend, both internally and as pressured by the US, seems to be for the cops to be equipped with ever more sophisticated weapons while increasingly trained in military tactics. I’m cool with the cops having whatever weapons and training they require, but fear a trend in which too much faith is put in these. The end result of this is just more warfare.

Again, I don’t have your specific information, but it only stands to reason that organized crime requires collaborators inside the government too. I would therefore think that internal house-cleaning is a key part of the solution, and fear that the public is being sold a pig in a poke with this emphasis on weaponry and the like.

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Root Analysis: Corruption

Talk all you want Mr. Prosecutor. You and the OIJ Chief are unwilling to combat corruption within your own ranks. Your leadership is the problem. You have all the tools necessary to combat this corruption. You simply do not want to. Your career record is very indicative of that Jorge Chavarria. Pure cronyism…the best thing that could happen to Costa Rica, would be for an international commission to take charge. Just as we saw in Guatemala with the taking down of their corrupt President and VP. We also are seeing it in Honduras with the arrest of the elitist Rosenthal Family. Corrupt government employees must be brought to justice. The trend is happening all over Central America. Soon enough it will happen in Costa Rica too. No one wants to live under the help of an institutionally corrupt government.

Corruption in the region will never be halted under current policy. Criminalizing drugs is the wrong strategy. Colombia, Mexico and any inner city in the USA clearly indicate empowering the police will only provide more blood and internal corruption. The drug war is lost. That is why Costa Rica is turning into El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Each of those countries are very militarized and their internal strategies have been plagued by blood and corruption.

Governments know that this war has been lost. They are now complicit in the many lives and families that have been ruined. If Mata and Chavarria were serious about fixing this, then they would first take strong actions against cleaning up their own ranks. Instead they find every excuse not to do this. This government is obviously very corrupt, but day after day no one is ever held accountable.

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