Authorities had predicted a lower murder rate in Costa Rica for the year 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Costa Rica is honoring stay-at-home orders by the government, vehicular restrictions, many businesses closed or with limited shop hours, diminished public transportation, fewer people in the streets, compliance with social distancing, and a robust police presence in public areas. Yet between April 20th and May 6th, there has been an average of two murders a day in Costa Rica — 32 murders in 16 days — and it is feared that this rate will continue to grow.
Director of the Organismo de Investigacion Judicial (OIJ), Walter Espinoza, speaking to the press about the first four months of 2020 and its increase in homicides said, “I’m surprised, because in theory, given the social distancing and the high police presence in the streets, there are a high number of cases that cause concern. There is an increase despite the emergency decree. We expected a drop given that the bars and clubs are closed, with less personal contact, yet there is a striking increase (in murders). We are going to analyze this.”
Costa Rica has now reached 159 homicides in 2020, only four more than this time in 2019, but the sudden increase in the last two weeks has law enforcement worried. Several of these homicides were particularly gruesome, including a couple apparently burned to death in Atenas, various cases of femicide (murder of a woman usually by her partner) in the Southern Zone, and two men who were brutally executed in front of the son of one of the victims.
“The level of violence in the country is important, it is striking. It reflects that more preventive work must be done, more firearms removed,” stated Espinoza.
2017 was the year with the highest murder rate in Costa Rica: 603 homicides, or 12.1 murders for every 100,000 inhabitants. That rate is considered quite high by organizations who track murder rates internationally. Police are trying very hard to keep 2020’s murder rate under control, but are concerned that the reduction in employment opportunities due to Costa Rica closing its borders to tourists, will be the stressor that causes an uptick in both armed robbery and domestic violence.
Insight Crime Newsletter writes that Costa Rica murders are often clustered in areas known for national and transnational crime, very often associated with drug gangs and narco-trafficking. These areas include Limon, San Jose, Garabito, Orotina, Tibas, Pococi, Matina and Corredores. Matina was the location of the double murder in front of the child earlier this year. These also tend to be regions of high unemployment and rates of poverty. They are allegedly epicenters of drug traffic and drug transport layovers for smugglers en route to the USA.
Coronavirus has increased the stress levels for everyone in Costa Rica. Many businesses have been forced to close, school children are at home and bored, spouses are having to spend more time together than usual, and many people are suffering financial hardships in 2020. These issues can lead to domestic violence. Lack of work and paychecks can lead to increases in theft. It is a challenging time for everyone.
We can only hope that this tiny, peaceful country will manage to fight two battles at once: the battle against COVID-19 that Costa Rica seems to be winning, and the battle against a rising murder rate that Costa Rica must win in order to lure back the tourist industry, and protect its citizens.
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