The Zona Roja in San Jose
The Zona Roja in San Jose

QCOSTARICA – We often hear of the term “zona roja” (red zone) to a particular area of downtown San Jose. But, what is really the zona roja?

Indigence, drug dealing, robberies, assaults, murders and street fights to the maximum occur in the red zone, a refuge for criminals who operate non-stop regardless of where it is day or night.

The zona roja is the area between Avenidas 5 and 9 and Calles 2 and 10, an area where most of the “pensiones” or “cuarterias” (short-term hotels or rooming houses) are concentrated.

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After committing a crime, criminals have a myriad of places to hide. A place where drug dealers can find their “returning” or “frequent” customers, in an area where the buildings have a dilapidated appearance.

Homelessness is one of the main problems in the area, according to the Policia Municipal de San Jose (Municipal Police).

Marcelo Solano, head of the municipal police force says, “many of these (pensiones), without criminalizing poverty, what they do is provide shelter for the thieves who attack pedestrians, people committing property crimes and then can hide out in a box.”

Sex is offered for cheap in the zona roja, where women line the street, entertaining their clients up the flight of the stairs.
Sex is offered for cheap in the zona roja, where women line the street, entertaining their clients up the flight of the stairs.

The zona roja is also home to “los burdeles” (dens of prostitution).

It is estimated that more than 200 women engage in sex work in the area, from minors to women over 60.

On Calle 8, immediately north of the Mercado Borbon, women will stand by doorways offering up oral sex for a few thousand colones, another couple of thousand, intercourse, in a room, good chance where she also lives, up the flight of stairs.

On Calle 4 and 6, massage parlours – sex places – litter the two blocks between Avenidas 5 and 9.

It is hard to avoid the zona roja.

Driving out of downtown San Jose, on the north side, is by Avenidas 7 or 9. It can’t be avoided, unless you want to go completely our of your way.

The area of the zona roja also has many of the bus stops for areas west and north of the metropolitan area. Buses to areas like La Uruca, Leon XIII, San Rafael de Heredia, Tibas, Santo Domingo and others are all located here.

The new bus terminal, the 7-10, with buses to various parts of the Central Valley and the Pacific coast is located at the edge of the zona roja.

“People who have to take public transport in the these areas have a sustained fear,” said police chief Solano.

Since last year, the Municipal Police, in conjunction with other institutions, have been looking to recover the area. But the task is not easy.

The first step is to eradicate drug sales, act against drug dealers and businesses harbouring criminals. The next step is to give public parks and buildings a face lift, spurring owners of buildings and business to upgrade their properties.

The task faces resources, funds to combat the criminal elements and to begin a renewal project of the area.

According to Solano, “it would be unwise” to put a time limit to see results in the famous ‘zona roja’.


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