Mounting crime rates are beginning to become an unsurmountable development barrier in Central America in the so-called Northern Triangle Countries- El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras—crime rates are among the top five in Latin America. In Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama exhibit lower violence and crime rates but these have been consistently mounting for the last decade. To fully understand how serious crime and violence are as development hazards two figures will suffice. Central America roughly has the same population As Spain. Spain’s registered homicides for 2019 where 332. In central America that very same year there were 14,257murders.
This rate of violence has shooed away foreign direct investment while triggering enormous migratory outflows seeking safety in the United Sates even though migrants must travel through one of the most violent countries in the world which is Mexico.
The springs of this catastrophic situation basically are:
- Drug trafficking to the US which provides criminals with enormous income streams. Cash availability allows them to access weapons; coerce through fear civic societies; buy government officials out and control swaths of land to use a base.
- Availability of firearms. Decades of civil war and transportation conduits for drugs to the US have made firearms available to an inordinate number of people. By 2007 a study conducted by SIPRI (Stockholm Peace research Institute) pointed to the presence of over 6M firearms in Central America.
- Weak institutions that are easily penetrated through corruption. As a result, most crimes are not punished and those that are have as perpetrators individuals that lack contacts to ruling elites whose members act with impunity.
The fight against this scourge can be costly in terms of investment in institutional strengthening but it is an urgent task for the countries in the hemisphere along this second decade of the 21st century. The work should begin by setting standards for institutional development and ceasing of corruption along the lines of Costa Rica which is the least violent and most development-oriented country in the region. Costa Rica has been able to effectively fight crime because through over seventy years it has worked stubbornly to impose rule of low and battle corruption. This has created a civic culture that is crime averse and that is alert to events and developments that adversely affects rule of law. Indeed, like the Swiss, the Costa Ricans cooperate with law enforcement by early reporting any activity that might reveal a criminal behavior. This facilitates crime prevention. The country has also invested heavily in establishing separation of powers and guaranteeing the independence of the judiciary. This has brought impunity to an end. The end of impunity has reduced the likelihood of domestic cooperation with transnational organized crime.
Two events stress tested Costa Rica’s institutions. The first was that of Ofelia Taitelbaum, the country’s Ombudsman from 2009 through 2014. Ms Taitelbaum defrauded the internal revenue service of Costa Rica; illegally appropriated herself of the identity data of a seamstress to make income tax statements for her companies. When the seamstress petitioned for a retirement pension the benefit was denied on the grounds of her income. She then thought herself as victim of and identity theft and filed a complaint with the Costa Rican police. And investigation ensued and found that her identity had been used to lower taxation of Ms. Taitelbaum’ s companies. Ms Taitelbaum then tried to whitewash her crime. The supreme court of Goicochea brought her to justice and sentenced her to 9 years in prison in spite of Ms. Taitelbaum’ s relations to the business community and the governing political party. In short justice was done punishing a very conspicuous member of Cost Rica’s elite.
- Another case that was to test Costa Rica’s law enforcement abilities was the abduction and murder of William Sean Creighton. on Sept. 24, 2018. At around 10 p.m. Creighton a well-known entrepreneur who had built thanks to his math abilities a very successful digital sportsbook left work in his car to drive home. While driving through the neighborhood of Granadilla de Curridabat, he was halted by two traffic policemen. As he stopped a grey pickup truck showed up and four men jumped out to seize Creighton. His car was placed inside the van. Mr Creighton ‘s abductors requested a ransom which was partially paid by the family. But Mr Creighton never returned home. His corpse was retrieved from a cemetery by the police in a vicinity 100 miles away from the place of abduction. In January 2019 authorities arrested 12 people believed to have been involved in Creighton’s abduction in different degrees. A man by the name Jordan Morales was described as the mastermind of the operation. He together with his mother and girl friend operated an abduction ring link to international organized crime. The subject had left Costa Rica, nested in Cuba, and moved to Spin where he was arrested and extradited to Costa Rica. Creighton’s case helped Costa Rica’s authorities to dismantle a corruption gang inside the police while providing a treasure of information about national and international safe havens.
In the battle against crime Costa Rica has thus set the standard by means of building institutions that support rule of law and bring impunity to an end. This standard could be extended to the countries in the Northern Triangle. Of Central America with the support of international bodies and technical cooperation among other from US law enforcement agencies. But the work should begin soon.