Thirty sixth-grade students at the California School, in Alajuela, graduated from the program on December 2nd. The initiative is part of a strategy aimed “to prevent drug trafficking,” ICD General Director Guillermo Araya Camacho said in an interview with Diálogo . “The goal of this program is for schools to have a tool to help them promote the development of skills in minors so they know the existing risk factors and psycho-social [development] that lead to involvement in risky conduct linked to drug trafficking, keeping in mind the importance of comprehensively broaching and preventing the crime of drug trafficking.”
Teaching the consequences of violence
The “Know how to choose, know how to win” program includes lessons about the problems caused by drug use, the consequences of violence, and the best ways to make decisions and resolve conflicts. During the program, in which lessons were taught once a week for seven weeks, Air Surveillance Service (SVA, for its Spanish acronym) personnel also showed students how to deal with social pressures to use drugs; tactics they can use to control their emotions; and how to avoid criminal activities tied to drug trafficking. California School teachers and the parents of some students also attended the classes.
“SVA authorities are convinced that prevention is vital, and therefore they decided to join efforts and work together with the ICD to provide initial cooperation in schools in the area surrounding SVA’s headquarters in Alajuela, and later spread [the program] to other schools,” Araya explained. “A large part of the population has demonstrated the benefits of the prevention and promotional program.”
The ICD designed the program in response to the prevention strategies established in Costa Rica’s National Drug Plan, which raised “concerns about the alarming drug phenomenon and how this problem is affecting children, teens, and young adults in our society,” Araya stated.
The ICD has provided training to all of the country’s regional Boards of Education under the Ministry of Public Education, so a core group of instructors are available in each region to teach the program.
Developing and providing anti-drug educational programs is a cooperative effort for Costa Rican authorities. In addition to working with the SVA staff and the police force, the government has agreements with the Organization of American States and the United Nations to bolster the country’s drug-prevention programs.
Those programs are crucial because in Costa Rica, those who use drugs typically begin when they are about 16 years old, according to the report “Drug Trafficking and the Threat of Organized Crime in Costa Rica,” released by the Judicial Investigation Department. Drug gangs also recruit young people to participate in their criminal enterprises.
“Criminal organizations, such as those involved in drug trafficking, use children and adolescents to distribute and sell drugs, turning them into victims of the criminal structures and leading them into regrettable situations,” according to an analysis from the “Know how to choose, know how to win” program.
Drug gangs typically recruit young people between the ages of 15 and 24. About 10 organized gangs are battling for control of the drug market in the southern part of the country’s capital of San José, the website Costa Rica Hoy reported in October.
Costa Rica also conducts other programs to discourage young people from joining gangs and the drug trade. For example, the “D.A.R.E.” (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program – an international program founded in Los Angeles in 1983 – encourages children and teenagers to stay away from drugs and illegal activities. The “Stay Safe” program teaches boys and girls how to protect themselves and avoid being victims of robbery, abuse, assault, accidents, and kidnapping.
In addition to educating young people about the dangers of drugs, Costa Rican security forces are battling the narcotics trade daily. From January to September of last year, for example, security forces, including the Coast Guard, the police, and the SVA, seized more than 15,580 kilograms of cocaine and arrested 1,126 drug-trafficking suspects.