The CAFTA Report
The security situation in Costa Rica
Security is a major consideration
For the CAFTA Report
Security is highly variable in the Latin nations that subscribed to the free trade treaty with the United States.
Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are plagued by international gangs or maras, as they are called in Spanish. The gangs seem to be making inroads into Nicaragua and Costa Rica, too.
In Costa Rica the expectations of personal and corporate security are diminishing.
What was once a country with few violent crimes has become more violent, but still considered the safest Central American nation.
The Costa Rican-American Chamber of Commerce has set up a security task force and has designated security as a top priority. The committee gives these reasons for the decline in personal safety:
• Under resourced law enforcement Institutions;
• An under resourced judicial system that favors the perpetrators;
• Lack of deterrence from weak crime laws;
• A weak Immigration Institution that allows criminals free movement in and
out of the country;
• Weakening social cohesiveness;
• Regional political forces intent on undermining the rule of law in Costa Rica.
Recognizing the problem, the Óscar Arias Sánchez government has proposed a package of laws to fight organized crime, protect witnesses and victims and to tighten penalties.
Some of the laws have passed, but many observers have said the changes are trivial and cosmetic. For example, the security minister said that her agency does not have the budget to provide protection for witnesses..
Car robberies and home invasions are among those acts that most concern the business community. They appear to be random. A driver at a stop light has little defense against a robber sticking a gun in the ear. Home bandits usually make their presence know when an occupant has opened the gates to park a car or to leave. They usually tie up those they find inside, sack the house and leave quickly, although rapes and murders are not unknown.
So-called express kidnappings have not risen to the level found in other countries. So far they seem to be confined to an extreme way to collect a legitimate debt.
Security considerations must be a No. 1 concern of all business executives and family members. Bodyguards can be a necessity. Budgeting must include expenditures for security.
Property security is another matter. Costa Rica has a tradition of stealing property with the stroke of a pen. Because notary publics are required for a real estate deal, one crooked notary can prepare the many papers to transfer real estate unbeknown to the real owners.
The country relies on a philosophy of favoring innocent third parties. So if someone purchased a stolen property from a real estate crook, he or she usually ends up keeping the property at the expense of the legitimate owner. The Registo Nacional, where property ownership records are kept, has had problems with corruption.
Companies also face rounds of bribe requests from customs inspectors, health inspectors, employees from the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social and the local police.
Those who give bribes find out that they have initiated a continual process.
U.S. citizens or permanent residents who give bribes also face prosecution there under the foreign corrupt practices statutes, as an Alcatel executive found out in a Miami court in 2008.