They say that no one learns in someone else’s shoes, well, as a country, we must write our history, especially in terms of security, but learning from the experiences of other nations without neglecting the former Costa Rican formula for fighting crime.
The accelerated increase in homicides is the greatest sign of the increase in insecurity that we are experiencing. Faced with this panorama, quite instinctively one thinks of Criminal Law and yes, murderers must be punished and imprisoned, impunity should not be a reality, but that is only one side of the coin and, as a half solution , does not solve the problem. Something else is missing, the other side of the coin is missing.
Central America has a particular violence, even in several nations the crime of gangs has been the rule, such has been the case of El Salvador, where the strange mixture of criminal importation and an impoverished country was fertile for an unprecedented criminal expansion.
The origins of the Mara Salvatrucha have been located in the 1980s in Los Angeles, where there were often youth gangs, a time when an ultra-sanctioning criminology prevailed in the United States, characterized by punishing the poorest people, popularizing the doctrine of “broken window”who considered that “…whoever steals an egg, steals a cow…” (Waqcuant, L.), which, in practical terms, led to the harassment of the simplest people, the most disadvantaged, in public spaces. In such a context there was, of course, a huge wall to upward social mobility, the migration of that group of young people to be repressed was the strongest option and that’s how it happened. These groups migrated to several countries, among them El Salvador, where, for that same decade, there was a widespread armed conflict and a deep economic weakening, thus, despite the fact that the Constitution obligated the State to ensure its inhabitants the enjoyment of their freedom, health, access to opportunities and social justice, in reality «…(and)Between the constitutional letter and social policies, which were subordinated to the economic model, (was) a long way…” (Miranda Baires, D.). We already know the result: proliferation of criminal organizations that progressively became the organized crime we know as gangs.
And what was happening in Costa Rica while the gangs were establishing themselves in the rest of Central America? There was a strong investment in what would be the access to opportunities for the population in an already demilitarized culture. Even the gross domestic product showed an increase of, on average, 5% per year, the unemployment rate was also reduced to 3.4%. In short, there was a context of upward social and economic mobility, so it is not surprising that in 1986 the homicide rate was 3.8 per 100,000 inhabitants (Zaffaroni, E.), while in 2022 it increased to 12.6 per 100,000 people, a figure that continues to grow. That was the Costa Rican formula for fighting crime: not neglecting access to opportunities for the population, because when people are not hungry and there is hope for a good future, crime no longer appears as an option. This is the other side of the coin, the most strategic.
Criminals must be punished with the full weight of the law, yes, but this does not imply abandoning the rest of the population to their fate, access to opportunities must be protected, fight against abandonment. The battle against crime then involves strengthening the institutions that prosecute criminal activity —police forces, the judiciary, etc.—, but that only makes sense in a system that offers comprehensive solutions to a comprehensive problem, in a society that allows its inhabitants, especially the most disadvantaged people, to think of a different future, a better one.