Voters in Costa Rica just chose their next president, but the incoming head of state doesn't seem to have a coherent plan for tackling record levels of violence in the country related to its growing role in the regional drug trade.
Carlos Alvarado Quesada of the center-left Citizens’ Action Party (Partido Acción Ciudadana - PAC) was elected as Costa Rica's next president on April 1, beating out conservative candidate Fabricio Alvarado Muñoz with just over 60 percent of the vote.
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Despite the fact that Costa Rica saw its most homicidal year on record in 2017, rising insecurity took a back seat to other issues during the campaign. Candidates focused more on social and economic matters, including the rights of LGBT people, the country's national debt and a wide-ranging corruption case involving Costa Rica's cement sector.
InSight Crime Analysis
Despite clear signs of rising insecurity in Costa Rica related to the country’s growing role in the international drug trade, President-elect Alvarado has failed to put forth a clear plan for turning back the tide of increasing violence and criminality.
Officials in Costa Rica are well aware that organized crime-related violence is on the rise. According to a September 2017 government report, organized crime is “driving the rise” in homicides in the country. An estimated 25 percent of homicides in 2017 were linked to the drug trade, according to authorities.
But despite this recognition, President-elect Alvarado’s rhetoric on security policy thus far has been vague and inconsistent.
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Indeed, Alvarado has proposed enhancing the infrastructure and training of the national police and strengthening citizen security programs as part of preventative efforts designed to combat crime. Improved police training is essential in light of a questionable move by the government last year to reduce training requirements in order to rapidly put more cops on the street. But Alvarado's proposal lacks any specifics regarding what these improvements might look like and how they will address some of the root causes driving violence in Costa Rica.
Alvarado's proposals for attacking organized crime also lack clarity. The president-elect has addressed one root cause of rising violence -- access to firearms -- by calling for stricter gun control and establishing a gun registry to better trace weapons. But Latin America is awash with illegal guns used by criminal groups, and it's unlikely that a registry alone can get them out of the hands of criminals.
Alvarado has also proposed an asset forfeiture law in Costa Rica, a controversial tool used by authorities throughout the region to go after the finances of criminal groups. However, little evidence suggests that such a policy would do much to roll back deepening insecurity, particularly in the short term.
Moreover, Alvarado's Citizens’ Action Party doesn't even have specific sections on crime and security outlined in their platform. It remains to be seen whether the new government will outline more concrete policy proposals regarding insecurity in Costa Rica, which has already set a new record for homicides throughout the first three months of 2018.