Friday 8 December 2023

Costa Rica’s “Pura Vida” reputation tarnished by violence and homicides from drug trafficking

International media aimed at potential tourists warn that our country is no longer so peaceful

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QCOSTARICA — Drug trafficking-related violence and homicides pose a serious risk to Costa Rica’s reputation as a paradise and its slogan of “Pura Vida”.

A policeman frisks a pedestrian at a checkpoint in a club district in San José, Costa Rica. (AP)

Most likely today, Wednesday, September 20, the number of murders will have reached a new historical high, as a result of the conflict between drug gangs that involves both professional assassins (sicarios) and youth involved in the drug trade. The violence has spread throughout the whole country.

The situation has not gone unnoticed outside of Costa Rica. The international media have dedicated part of their effort to reporting what is happening in paradise. And example is the LA Times article which pointed out some of the complications that the country is experiencing.

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“For a long time, Costa Rica was an island (sic) of peace in one of the most turbulent regions of the world; however, that has already changed. The rise in violent crime comes amid a backdrop of rising inequality, high unemployment and an erosion of investment in education, a major shift in a country that prided itself on its strong middle class and on producing students rather than soldiers,” indicated the Los Angeles Times.

Similar articles have been published in recent months by The Washington Post, New York Post, and CBS News, as well as El País in Spain in its international edition.

These are media aimed at the target audience in terms of attracting tourism and it is expected that in the coming weeks there will be more publications of this type when Costa Rica exceeds the maximum number of murders of 656 in 2022.

On Monday, the most current report from the Ministerio de Seguridad Publica (MSP) – Ministry of Security – the country had accumulated 648 cases of homicides.

If the trend continues, as is expected, 2023 will close the year with the highest number of murders in the country’s history, with more than 900 incidents.

“Individual acts of hitmen (sicarios) are no longer striking news in Costa Rica and the word shooting is increasingly frequent in the headlines of the media,” indicated Spain’s El País.

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Mario Zamora, the current Minister of Security, has noted that Costa Rica is facing a crucial period and is severely affected by the cancer of insecurity.

Police and Red Cross at the scene of a crime

“We are facing cancer. We are at the exact moment when we can stop this cancer with chemotherapy, but it is also true that it can metastasize and affect the entire society. Decisions must be made now because we are precisely at the moment when we cannot lose control. Precisely, this is the moment of greatest operational integration between our police internally and with the DEA of the United States,” said Zamora.

The current state of violence does not appear to be impacting the number of visitors, as the Juan Santamaria International (San José) Airport recorded the highest amount of passengers since 2006 with 2.9 million people.

Patrolling the club district of San Jose

However, the authorities cannot lose sight of the bad image that is being created.

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“What is happening worries us a lot. We have asked to investigate this issue to determine the impact that this problem is having on tourism. We cannot close our eyes, this issue has not affected visitation, but this is not sustainable over time. If people don’t feel safe in Costa Rica, they simply won’t come and will look for another destination. We must hold accountable for what is happening,” said Alejandra Larios, legislator for the Partido Liberacion Nacional (PLN) and member of the Congressional Commission on Tourism.

Larios emphasized that preventive measures should be taken in order to stop more young people from engaging in drug trafficking.

What is being about Costa Rica in the world?

Globally, Costa Rica’s rise in homicides has gained attention, with major international media outlets reporting that the country known for its “Pura Vida” lifestyle is in danger. This is what they say:

Los Angeles Times

Costa Rica, the once-peaceful land of ‘pura vida,’ battles violence as cocaine trade grows. The rise in violent crime comes amid a backdrop of growing inequality, high unemployment and erosion of investment in education, an important change in a country that prided itself on its strong middle class and on producing students and not soldiers

The Washington Post

Costa Rica, the laid-back  land of “pura vida,” succumbing to drug trafficking violence. Although Costa Rica has been a model of progressive democracy for many years in Latin America, it is now grappling with a jump in violence, driven by a little-discussed phenomenon that is afflicting several Latin American countries. Now, this former haven of tranquility is grappling with a jump in violence. They were once simple way stations for illegal drugs headed to the United States or Europe, and they are suffering from their own abuse problems.

New York Post

Drug killings soar in Costa Rica as nation becomes major cocaine exporter. Costa Rica, known for its rich ecosystems and easygoing slogan of the “pure life,” is now besieged by drug killings thanks to its increasing role in the warehousing and shipping of cocaine.

CBS News

Drug trafficking blamed as homicides soar in Costa Rica. In this colorful Caribbean port, where cruise ship passengers are whisked to jungle adventures in Costa Rica’s interior, locals try to be home by dark and police patrol with high-caliber guns in the face of soaring drug violence.

El Pais (English edition)

Costa Rica’s peace is disturbed: Homicides have increased by 66% in the past decade. In the Central American country, crime is breaking records. There are more shootings in the streets and more collateral victims. Meanwhile, the Minister of Public Security has been criticized for asking the population to confront drug traffickers

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