by Tere Chaviano & Linda Wilson
A special meeting with US Ambasador Anne Slaughter Andrew, and US Consul General Paul Birdsall, was hosted by the Chamber of Commerce of Aguirre. This meeting was at the invitation of the Security Committee of the Chamber, arranged at the request of Chamber President, Harry Bodaan. The focus of this meeting was to discuss and determine how to improve security and safety of US citizens, tourists, and investors living abroad in Costa Rica, and particularly, to discuss the Central Pacific area’s concerns with rising incidents of violent crimes, and problems concerning the current justice system.
The meeting was held on January 20, 2011, at La Mansion Inn and well attended by Chamber Members, business proprietors, US citizens, and investors living in the Quepos/Matapalo, Manuel Antonio area. The Chamber has had an ongoing communication through its Security Committee with the US Embassy through its OSAC programs, and the Regional Office of the USEM through its head Wade DeWitt, with a focus on making recommendations for changes and improvements to Costa Rica’s justice system.
Ambassador Andrew reiterated that the safety of US citizens, living, travelling, and working abroad in Costa Rica is a major priority. At this time there is no travel alert discouraging travel to Costa Rica; however, the rising trend in violent crimes affecting its citizens abroad are a major concern. President Obama has tasked the Ambassador to work with President Laura Chinchilla’s administration to establish a priority focus on fighting drug and other trafficking in Costa Rica, through a two prong approach.
The first prong is training of Costa Rican law enforcement both in Costa Rica and in the United States, to assist in improving their skills, and knowledge. In 2010, 104 law enforcement officers were trained in the US, and US experts were brought to Costa Rica to provide on-site seminars for larger numbers of law enforcement personnel. The focus of these trainings is to systemically address how to make a more effective law enforcement force, including Coast Guard personnel.
Additionally, in 2010, the US introduced and offered programs for Costa Rican youth, through its “DARE” Say NO to Drugs education. Helping Costa Rican youth to find job opportunities unrelated to drugs, and providing “micro-scholarships” to 400 Costa Rican students, was a major concentration of the US in 2010.
The US can only offer assistance, training, suggestions, and provide the means to Costa Rica with its permissions and cooperation. Costa Rica is a sovereign nation, and the US cannot mandate any changes, but only to offer suggestions and our expertise to help enable improvements to Costa Rica’s systems, and agencies. The US has been focusing on offering programs to help Costa Rica improve and strengthen its systems, through the US resources for training for all their operational functions.
The Ambassador stated that it is necessary for Costa Rica to spend more money on developing strong operational systems and organizations within its government, NOT only Police, but to improve the Judicial and Prosecutorial Systems which currently are revolving doors for criminals. There are not enough jails, and more importantly, there are no automated or connected judicial records systems. There is no connection among cantons, cities or various agencies to track criminals, types of crimes, or criminal patterns within the country. It is currently impossible to track down or follow-up on criminals arrested and then released, or determine when they become repeat offenders.
The US is working with the government of Costa Rica to provide an automated records management system through Florida International University in Florida. This would be an automated “Case Management System” for centralizing records. This system and related training on the record system will be given to the Costa Rican government to assist the newly appointed Costa Rican Attorney General.
How can we protect ourselves in Costa Rica? The best way to protect ourselves is by developing “community and communication systems” within our own neighborhoods, and to extend that “community and communication” to neighboring areas. Develop close contacts with the local Police agencies, and our neighbors – and include the locals within these contacts.
Report all crimes to the Police and all emergencies through 911. All 911 calls are recorded.
Quepos and the local Police agencies need our assistance with volunteer English speakers and teachers for some English training. Thomas Farrell of GAIA volunteered to step up to the plate and offer English classes to the new class of law enforcement trainees. It should be noted that the average salary of a Policeperson is currently $100/per week.
The second concentration of the US for its Costa Rican focus is to assist in the preservation of Costa Rica’s biodiversity, and help in its economic development through whatever resources and programs we can offer.
The US Embassy has designed and improved a more friendly and comprehensive webpage for use in Costa Rica. The Ambassador and US Consul General encouraged all US citizens in Costa Rica to register on its website in its new “STEP” program. This program identifies you while in Costa Rica, and enables the US to more quickly ID and provide assistance faster, if you are in need.
To recap the meeting focus: the US Embassy’s priority is the safety of its citizens, living, investing and travelling in Costa Rica. The US cannot interfere in the government working of Costa Rica as it is a sovereign nation, and mutual respect is required. It is working closely with the newly elected President, Laura Chinchilla, and her administration to assist and strengthen its agencies, and operational functions. US Citizens in Costa Rica should focus on building a community and communication safety network among the locals, and neighbors, expanding the resources of its own neighborhood watch, to surrounding neighborhoods; involve the locals in your network – as they are also your eyes and ears in your community. Assist the local Police agencies with English translation and language assistance, as a volunteer or a local teacher to help foster a closer communication and mutual assistance.
US Embassy website information and contact links: