Newspaper denigrates Caribbean for its crime and lawlessness

You recently published an essay titled “It took murder to generate action on Caribbean coast,” which discusses the tragic murder of a shopkeeper’s daughter, the dramatic robbery of a popular Caribe hotel, and a horrible invasion on a family in a vacation rental.

Your basic premise seems to be that there was a coordinated effort of the tourism industry to squelch any negative press and to tar and feather any heroic whistleblowers, while the bulk of the community members, law enforcement and business owners sat idly by allowing mayhem to run amuck. Then… BAM, a really bad thing happened, news escaped through the bamboo curtain and made it’s way to your desk where, “A.M. Costa Rica editors and reporters monitor such news closely.”

You state, “Not a single tourism operator sought help from reporters in getting more police into the Caribbean coast area.” Wow. Whoda thunk? I’ve read the op-eds in A.M. Costa Rica denigrating the Caribe for it’s crime, lawlessness, and grand cover-up schemes. It never occurred to me that you were waiting for me, a lowly tour boat operator, to say… “Dear A.M. CR staff, please tell the police we need help,” Can someone provide me the name of the reporter with all this power? Cause I’ve been waiting eight years for ADS and I want, heck, NEED this reporter to get some action! Or to get more street lighting, or install a speed bump in front of the school, or to increase garbage clean-up after Semana Santa. Seriously!

On the other hand, maybe A.M. Costa Rica wants to open a reasonable line of communication with the citizens, residents and business owners of the Caribe Sur. Rather than rely on op-eds from voluntary writers, why not conduct some true journalism? You say the “two crimes [Samasati and Las Delicias] were the first public notice by police agencies”. Is it typical for the police to call the paper to report crimes? I thought it was the other way around; journalists investigated the happenings of the community. In this area, an on-line forum pre-empts any national publication. Case in point, a hit-n-run incident in this week was resolved not because AM Costa Rica, El Diario, or La Nación reported it, but because participants in a Facebook forum reported and identified the culprits. Have you been here? Have you talked with community members about our concerns, our efforts, our successes? Are you aware of the progress of the local Judicial Investigating organization and Fuerza Publica at improving arrest and conviction rates? Or the dead-on response and progress they had made on gathering intel and moving toward arrests on the recent home invasions.

It’s the norm, blacklist the Caribbean because, well, it’s different than the rest of the country. But, having family in Nuevo Arenal, and having spent ample time in the Central Valley and on the Pacific, there is NO community in Costa Rica where I see as much coordinated, committed and genuine altruistic concern for protecting the residents and tourists alike.

Your un-tested claim “nothing is done” promotes your conspiracy theory but falls well short of responsible reporting. Allow me to fill in some of your gaps with a sample our collective activities over the past 18 months.

• An on-line database collects date, location, and type of crimes that are committed. This information is used to track trends, determine strategies, and evaluate effective efforts.

• Two communities (Playa Negra and Playa Chiquita) have undergone 12 weeks of courses with the Fuerza Pública to become Barrio Organizado(s).

• A community group of residents and business owners fund a beach patrol program employing guards who increase security, warn beachgoers of risks and even conduct litter clean-up.

• The business community is developing a safe lodging program that will educate and encourage hostels, hotels and rental homes to assure policies and procedures that are proven effective to reduce crime.

• A tourist advice poster was created to raise awareness and help guests pro-actively understand steps to reduce their risk of crime.

• Local businesses and vendors offer their space as victim assistance centers to help victims of crime by contacting the police, facilitating efforts to file/follow through with reports to OIJ, providing emotional and logistical support working through a complex legal system.

• Community meetings have been held to discuss preventative options, such as street cameras and private security.

• Fund-raising recently netted over $18,000 toward the purchase, installation and monitoring of surveillance cameras placed in public areas. This amount was raised in just 22 days with prescribed limitations of no more $200 per resident and $400 per business to assure that the project had broad community support.

The above efforts are why, in late February, “a police officer reported that crime had decreased in the area” because the data from OIJ indicated such. Crime has gone down by about 20 percent in the area. Little of this success is attributed to A.M. Costa Rica or the central powers in San José generously and expeditiously flooding the Caribe Sur with additional manpower, funds or resources. Quite contrary.

• Local residents funded and built a holding cell for detainees. Prior to that, police would transport the detainee to another facility 40 kilometers away, rendering the officer and the ONLY patrol car out of commission for several hours.

• Residents also improved the officer’s dormitory and remodeled the police station to allow separate offices for victims reporting crimes and criminals in custody to be interviewed.

• Local residents have donated computers, offered automotive and mechanical services and provided meals when additional officers were brought into the area.

So, we aren’t hiding under our beds, wringing our hands and hoping the boogeyman will go away. We are also not, by and large, spending our time writing scary letters to a one-sided paper intent on perpetuating a negative image of Costa Rica’s dark and dangerous side. Most days we, personally, are on the sea with the pescadores who settled this precious gem of the Caribbean, relishing in the simple life, the rich culture, and the deeply held traditions of hard work, plentiful play, and pure living. Shame on you, A.M. Costa Rica, for taking the well-worn path of blaming and shaming the Caribbean, its residents and the community leaders instead of doing a miniscule amount of work to understand the true nature of Costa Rica’s other coast.

Janet Jones & Nick Varnum
Puerto Viejo

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