U.S. Embassy officials said to be concerned by Caribbean crime

Diplomats at the U.S. Embassy are aware of the crime problems in Puerto Viejo, said a spokesman Tuesday.

The embassy’s American Citizen Services is where U.S. citizens who are crime victims usually go. The spokesman said that representatives from the Citizen Services section as well as Ambassador Anne Slaughter Andrew in October 2011 visited Puerto Viejo to talk to residents.

The level of crime there was characterized as a concern.  The consular section also tries to work closely with the Judicial Investigating Organization and other agencies that respond to victims of crime to ensure that cases are treated with the appropriate level of attention, said the spokesman.

The crime situation in that section of the Caribbean coast was highlighted Monday in a guest editorial by resident Carol Meeds.

She listed several crimes that had not been reported by the news media.

Her comments generated a lot of discussion on a local Internet list. Residents find themselves between the proverbial rock and a hard place. The area depends on tourism, and discussions and reports of crime drive away tourists. But there will be no improvement in enforcement without police reports.

Ms. Meeds noted that crime victims have to travel to Bribri to make a formal report. She also was critical of the inactivity of the local Fuerza Pública.

A.M. Costa Rica is delivering copies of her article to top security officials. Several are on vacation now.

The local Internet discussion lists appear to support Ms. Meeds comments. One resident said that a volunteer working with him was a rape victim. The embassy spokesman said that officials there do not see a rape a day as Ms. Meeds said but that the level of crime does prompt concern.

The embassy on its Web site said that the American Citizen Services provided assistance to victims of sexual assault in areas as varied as Jacó, Heredia, Puerto Viejo, and Montezuma. Some of these assaults were committed by acquaintances and friends. In others, the assailants were strangers who used date-rape drugs or kidnapped the victim, it said.

However, the annual State Department report on Costa Rica only listed 11 sexual assaults in the past year in tourist areas. Comments online from Puerto Viejo suggest that rapes involving drugged alcoholic beverages are common.

Although the recent crimes listed by Ms. Meeds had not been reported by central government security officials, the Judicial Investigating Organization and the Fuerza Pública, when contacted, gave these accounts Tuesday:

• An assault at gunpoint in Playa Chiquita while a family of tourists were bike riding. According to the victims, the robbers placed a gun to the family’s young son’s head. Police were reported to be in the vicinity. The regional office in Bribri could not confirm this account. There was no report filled with the office or at the Fuerza Pública station in Puerto Viejo, said Gerardo Gutiérrez Carrillo, chief of the office.

• U.S. university students were robbed of expensive electronic items while they were sleeping in their cabina in Manzanillo. The police said that a report was filled by these students and persons were sent to investigate. The investigators found that the students did not take the “necessary security measures.” The night of the crime the students partied on the beach and when they returned, they did not tightly close the doors, the report said. The fact that the place was not thoroughly secure was determined by the fact that there were no signs of tampering, said Gutiérrez.

• Fuerza Publica officers in Cahuita and Puerto Viejo detained a gang that were robbing tourists with knifes. Jan. 11 the group robbed a German couple at 1 p.m., officers said. This act led to the detention of the members and one of the persons is being held in preventative detention. The other two were minors, Gutiérrez said.

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