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Costa Rica Headed Towards Higher Murder Rates

From file archives

Q COSTA RICA – “Costa Rica is like never before, I am not the one to say it, the numbers do: Costa Rica has the highest homicide rates in its history.”

That opinion is from Michael Soto, acting deputy director of the Organismo de Investigación Judicial (OIJ).

The judicial police force predicts that this year the country will have the highest number of homicides.

Up to June 30 or the first 181 days of the year, the country recorded 278 murders, eight more than the same date last year.

By the end of the year, taking into October and November, months traditionally racking a higher number of homicides, the number of murders is expected to be 600, that translates to a crime rate of 12 per 100,000 inhabitants.

In 2015, the crime rate was 11.5 per 100,000 inhabitants, in 2016 it rose to 11.8.

For the next decade, the OIJ paints an even worse picture. For 2021, the judicial police body projects 706 muders (a rate of 13.7), increasing to 854 by 2016 (a rate of 15.8), taking into account increases in the population.

Infography by La Nacion based on data by the OIJ

The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies a rate above 10 as an epidemic.

According to Soto the are two reasons why homicides increase, year to year. The first is multiple murders and the second ‘criminal explosion’.

The interim deputy director notes cases such as the February 2016 murder of five family members in Matapalo, in Santa Cruz, Guanacaste and the October the shoot-out in broad daylight in the Cieneguita, Limon beach. Or the massacre of five university students in a Liberia apartment this past January.

The criminal explosion that affects the increase in homicides is due to conflicts between rival gangs related to drug trafficking, fighting for turf. Though this type of violence is mainly centered in the cantones on the south side of San Jose and Limon center, they are occurring in other parts of the country as well.

Soto explains that despite jailing the leaders, the gangs continue to proliferate society. One example is the criminal group lef by Marco Antono Zamora Solorzano, known as “Indio”, sentenced to 70 years in prison for drug trafficking and homicide.

The OIJ officials explained that while “Indio” was in detention, he had people still working for him. In 2013, there was a rebellion among the various groups of the gang, to gain leadership, as the gang began to fragment, breaking up into smaller groups.

For the OIJ, the war between rival gangs has triggered an increase in homicides in the last three years due to a ‘settling of scores’, as jailed leaders are replaced by new leaders who wage wars to control the “narcomemudeo” (low priced drug trafficking) business.

In Tibas last Thursday night, police block off an area as they investigate the murder of a man, shot inside his house. On that night, there were four homicides in four hours.

According to Soto, the narcomenudeo business is very lucrative, bringing in between ¢1 million and ¢2 million colones daily for a trafficker selling crack or cocaine. “These are boys who want to have status on the street and profit, which causes conflicts that are resolved with a gun,” said Soto.

For the OIJ official the solution to stopping and/or reversing the increase in homicides is not just more police in the streets, but in a change of policies and education. Soto explained that they (authorities) can manage to control the drug use that leads to kilings, thefts, rapes and other crimes, something no one has been able to success, the country could have lower rates.