How Safe is Costa Rica?

 Interview with Harry Bodaan, Part III

 According to the New Economics Foundation (NEF), which produces the Happy Planet Index – a study of 151 countries that measures happiness, life expectancy and environmental sustainability – Costa Rica ranks no. 1 again as the happiest country in the world according to the current report released in June 2012. 

Many visitors are surprised to learn that Costa Rica is one of 21 nations worldwide that operates without an  army.  The military in Costa Rica was dissolved following the brutal 44-day civil war in 1948 that resulted in great casualties for a young nation.   A victorious junta followed, led by Jose Figueres who became the first president creating a new constitution that guaranteed free elections with universal suffrage and the abolition of the army.

 

Today, in a country that has no military, Costa Rica thrives as a peaceful, progressive nation.  Costa Rica’s economy is the strongest among its neighbors in Central America, with a GDP that is growing steadily (43.106 Billion US in 2012). In 2010 the rate of crimes against property was 1,825 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to 2,941 cases per 100,000 in the United States reported that same year.

On the environmental front, Costa Rica is aggressive in the international drive to save the planet, implementing countless laws favoring conservation and setting new standards of  ‘Green’ that other countries should admire if not emulate. 

Yet despite encouraging stats relative to the economy and  crime rate, national security and public safety in Costa Rica remain key issues affecting both residents – including more than 130,000 ex-patriots from the United States – and more than 1.5 million tourists who visit the tropical paradise annually. 

In an exclusive interview, Harry Bodaan, President of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism of Aguirre, discusses the politics of public safety and the ongoing drug wars in Central America:

What do you believe is the greatest threat affecting the citizens of Costa Rica specific to the economic development of the nation? 

For me the most troublesome issue that could bring down this whole country is what is happening in Mexico and some other countries like Bolivia, Guatemala, El Salvador and Beliz.  And that concerns the transnational drug trade.  Today Beliz has the sixth highest homicide rate in the world, thanks to the drug cartels. I think the U.S. Government (especially the DEA), should be much more willing to help the Central American basis with sufficient aid and not a band-aid I know it’s not easy because of the economic situation in the US but any funds such as the CARSI funds (the remnants of the old MERIDA Plan), should be viewed as an investment.

 What exactly is the Carsi Fund?

CARSI stands for Central American Regional Support Initiative and is used to combat the drug trade in Central America and Mexico. As you might know the US is the largest consumer of cocaine, marijuana, Mexican heroin and the major consumer of Mexican methamphetamine, ecstasy and other drugs.

No, I did not know that the United States is the largest consumer of drugs worldwide.  I would have thought the global consumption of drugs would surpass the US consumption. That’s not the case?

No, the US is the largest consumer. Cocaine production starts in Colombia or Bolivia at zero dollar value. When it gets to Costa Rica a kilo of cocaine is worth about $3K.  By the time it makes the shores of the US that same kilo is worth approximately $30K depending on the purity.

When that kilo is chopped up into crack cocaine that kilo will fetch about $170K. In Costa Rica we do not confiscate by the kilo but by the tons. In the last two years alone more than 30 tons of cocaine was interdicted which probably represents only 2-3% of what comes through here.

Are telling me that 30 tons of cocaine was confiscated from the waters of Costa Rica in the past few months?

 That’s right, and one ton has a street value of about 25 to 30 million dollars. So multiply by 30 – that’s close to a billion dollars. And according to the DEA at the US Embassy, that only represents one or two percent of what goes through this country.

Those figures are unfathomable; it’s hard to comprehend.

Unfortunately these are the facts.. You can Google them yourself; this type of information is readily available. Then consider that a police officer’s salary is no more than approximately $400.00 – $700.00 per month. This means the officers are prime candidates for corruption, a major problem in these parts of the world.

What you are saying is that the low salaries leave the officers open to pay-offs?

Yes, and to complicate things more not only did Costa Rica eliminate its military in 1948, it also did away with its national police which I personally think was a dumb move because it has left law enforcement very ineffective and not at all ready to deal with the proliferation of the transnational crime syndicates which are much better equipped and much better funded than the various Costa Rican law enforcement organizations.

Why was dispelling the military a bad decision in your opinion?

When any type of disaster strikes in Costa Rica, the country is over reliable on external aid. The country should have at least a National Guard that is trained in dealing with national disasters. As is, Costa Rica relies too heavily on US Aid such as assistance from SouthCom or training programs provided by CARSI and CALEE funding, and now on assistance programs from other Central American nations.

It is easy to eliminate a military but the reality is that every time help is needed Costa Rica depends on other countries and needs to go begging. China just donated $25 million for a new police academy, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

 How many officers are working in the Canton of Aguirre?

At this moment we have no more than five traffic officers working the entire canton. This means there are never more than two officers working at the same time in this 340 sq. mile county unless there is a Special Operation. This is great for speeders but terrible if you are in a traffic accident.

Only traffic officers can stop cars. Regular police, i.e. Fuerza Publica, are represented with about 70 officers divided into three shifts. They only have four patrol cars and two working motorcycles and most areas are not accessible in our canton because of mountainous terrain which again, is great for the drug dealers.  

How does this lack of funding for police affect public safety, and how do the people respond? 

The fact is that Costa Rica is fighting the drug trade with its hand tied behind its back, either by design or coincidence but [officers] are terribly underfunded.  In a country where bank managers and other heads of governmental institutions make as much as $35K – $40K a month (more than the president of Costa Rica), and congressmen make $6K per month, this is an absolutely outcry. The top 20% of Costa Ricans make as much as $45K per year close to the US per capita income of $48K while the bottom 20% makes less than $400.00 per month. This is a recipe rife for civil unrest.

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For more information on Harry Bodaan and La Mansion Inn visit:

La Mansion Inn  and  sallyricefotos.wordpress.com ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________                                              Police Forces in Costa Rica

 There are several police forces in Costa Rica, all of which have specific duties and responsibilities. Communication between these various groups is lacking, and a source of much discussion among critics of the system.

 The largest police contingency is the Fuerza Publica, under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Public Security (Ministerio de Seguridad Publica). Dressed in blue, these officers are responsible for crime prevention and response.

 Other police departments include: The Immigration Police (Policia de Migracion), Border Police (Policia de Fronteras), Drug Enforcement Police (Polcia de Control de Drogas), Tourism Police (Policia Turistica), and the Transit Police (Policia de Transito).

If you are a victim of a crime, you would contact the Judicial Investigative Bureau (Organizmo de Investigacion Judicial), known as the O.I.J.

                                                 

                                                         Did You Know?

Costa Rica is roughly the size of New Hampshire and Vermont combined. It has a population of approximately 4.6 million inhabitants with more than 2.1 million living in the areas surrounding the capital city of San Jose.

 

 

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CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY THROUGH VISUAL JOURNALISM
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