Mexican visitor warns of what could happen in Costa Rica

A.M. Costa Rica/Andrew Rulseh Kasper José Antonio Ortega

If the government of Costa Rica doesn’t want to see the country become little Mexico, officials better get serious about prosecuting criminals and protecting its citizens. That was the message of a visiting criminal lawyer and author from Mexico. He warned his audience against letting national security measures fall by the wayside.

He is José Antonio Ortega. He told horror stories about his homeland and how he watched it change into a cartel-run bloodbath with a corrupt judicial system and some of the scariest homicide rates in the world.

He recounted some of the gorier incidents: 46 bodies dumped on a busy street in Veracruz; 52 murdered in a casino in Monterrey; 72 immigrants found bound and assassinated; and more than 100 bodies found in mass graves near the U. S. border. And all that in a four-year period beginning in 2007, a time in which more than 40,000 people were killed in Mexico.

In light of Costa Rica’s own rising crime and homicide rate, which increased during the period 2007 to 2010 by roughly 50 percent over the three year period preceding that, Ortega shared some words of urgency with the crowd gathered to hear him speak.

“I hope that the next time I return to visit to my Costa Rican brothers, you all have found the correct route to leave from this violence before it begins to drown you,” Ortega said. “Rescue your country, rescue your liberty, your lives, your heritage, your children.”

Costa Rica’s homicide rate is less than half of that of Mexico’s, which stands at 26 per 100,000 in 2010 according to Ortega. But he said that the early warning signs are apparent on a smaller scale in Costa Rica: a tolerance of violence, unpunished government corruption and high instances of impunity.

Ortega added that it was a fallacy to think that social and economic injustice, one of the main issues discussed by the lawmakers when Ortega appeared before them to speak on a different occasion, was a leading cause of crime.

“It is not certain that violence is synonymous with poverty,” he said.

He said instead it’s important to look at prosecution. The percentage of criminals punished for homicides in Mexico was 17 percent in 2010 while many European countries had punishment rates of 85 percent for homicides, he said.

A recent study of homicides in Costa Rica conducted by a legal firm showed of more than 4,200 homicides committed over the last 13 years, 61 percent of them went unpunished.

And more than a third of the homicides in 2010 could be attributed to narcotrafficking, a sharp increase from the 1990s, according to the state of the nation report for 2010.

Ortega is the author of México: ¿Rumbo al Estado Fallido?, which translates to “Mexico: Route to a Failed State.”

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