Costa Rican officials are treating the riot by soccer fans Sunday as a sports problem.
President Laura Chinchilla met Wednesday with presidents of the various professional soccer clubs, representatives of the Federación Costarricense de Fútbol, the national sports institute and security officials.
The rioting during a professional soccer game Sunday at the Estadio Nacional is a reflection of a criminal justice problem. These individuals are members of groups identified as sports fans or barras. In fact, they are criminal gangs that are responsible for many of the crimes in the metro area.
These gangs grew and developed because of the country’s dysfunctional court system and its permissive attitude towards youngsters. Ms. Chinchilla should have been meeting with magistrates and lawmakers to tighten up the juvenile code.
Of course, many of the members of these barras are not juveniles now, although they benefited in their youth from a court system that seldom punishes crimes by those under 18. At least we don’t think so. It’s hard to tell because all that is done in secret.
Costa Rica is harvesting what it has sown. These barras include persons in their middle ages. And most members of the group are over 18.
So far the only action against those involved in the Sunday melee is preventative detention against two young toughs who were caught in the act of committing a robbery inside the stadium. Although as many as 53 persons were detained, little real punishment is expected.
At the risk of provoking outrage one might suggest that what is needed here is a series of sound thrashings. Costa Rica, of course, considers corporal punishment to be child abuse. Officials are not too fond either of sending 12-year-olds out into the fields for harvest. Local representatives of the United Nations and a litany of non-profit child defense groups also would be outraged by these character building procedures.
Costa Rica is operating with outdated social science principles when officials insist on keeping secret the names of youthful offenders. Do they expect something magic to happen when anti-social youth reaches 18?
Day after day judicial investigators or Fuerza Pública officers detain persons under 18 for major crimes. Then nothing more is heard of the case. Many are repeat, repeat, repeat offenders.
The country needs effective and tough criminal enforcement even for the juveniles. That way they will not grow up to be the individuals who are keeping the crime rate so high.
Ms. Chinchilla has issued a decree with penalties for misbehavior at sporting events. What about on the streets?