Costa Rica President Gets Tougher on Security as Crime Soars

Costa Rica's President Rodrigo Chaves speaks during the Leaders' Second Plenary Session during the Ninth Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, California, U.S., June 10, 2022. REUTERS/Lauren Justice/File Photo
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SAN JOSE, April 19 (Reuters) – Costa Rica’s president on Wednesday presented a set of security measures in response to surging crime rates in the Central American country, which is currently on track this year to beat 2022’s record murder rate.

“I want people to be able to walk down the street in peace,” President Rodrigo Chaves said as he introduced the measures, including more police, tougher juvenile criminal laws, permitting the extradition of nationals in overseas drug trafficking cases and stricter rules on ammunition sales.

Costa Rica ended 2022 with a record 12.6 homicides per 100,000 residents, according to the judicial research agency OIJ. The agency calculates that homicides are up 41% in the first 100 days of 2023 versus the same period last year.

This represents one murder every 10 hours in a country of some 5.2 million, which has for years been hailed for its peaceful environment, which has helped make it a top destination for tourists and pensioners alike.

Daniel Calderon, the director of the country’s police and border control operations, said nearly two-thirds of the country’s murders are due to the “settling of scores between criminal organizations.”

The plan will now need to be approved by an opposition-controlled parliament.

“We are going to mend the course we lost a long time ago,” said Chaves, a week after criticizing those who condemned the security crisis.

Government officials have blamed decades of deteriorating social conditions, pressure from international drug trafficking groups, limited police resources and judicial inefficiency for the soaring crime rates.

The country’s main business chamber on Friday called for a state of “national emergency,” fearing a hit to foreign investment and tourism.

As Chaves nears the end of his first year in power with favorable opinion ratings, polls nonetheless point to insecurity among the main challenges in the country, which abolished its army in 1948.

Reporting by Alvaro Murillo; Writing by Sarah Morland; Editing by Isabel Woodford and Jonathan Oatis
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