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Bloodshed Stains Costa Rica’s Peaceful Reputation



A man is shot at the door of a hospital, another on a soccer field where several children were playing, and shooting drills are conducted at a school: Costa Rica is suffering an escalation of violence by organized crime linked to drug trafficking.

The year 2023 is already the most violent year in this Central American country since records have been kept, with 777 homicides through November, 238 more than in the same period in 2022, according to data from the Judicial Investigation Agency (OIJ, police).

It is a “cancer” that “was not detected in time,” Minister of Public Security (Interior) Mario Zamora said. “We have to prevent it from metastasizing,” he added.

According to the Center for Research and Political Studies at the University of Costa Rica, insecurity is now the main concern of Costa Ricans. “It is a novel fact,” historian Hugo Vargas said.

Two people arriving on a motorcycle, a hitman firing shots, and someone dying. The story is repeated practically every day in the news. “There are killings all the time. It’s what we see in the news every morning when we wake up,” said Mario Rodríguez, a 74-year-old retiree.

The septuagenarian misses the calm in a country that for a long time was considered an oasis in a Central America that went from decades of war and civil conflict to the violence of drug trafficking and gangs.

“It’s a little scary, mostly for the kids. Maybe they have to go to school or do group work with their classmates… they can’t even play ball in a park because there could be a shootout,” said Alexa Mujica, 37, a merchant.

Fighting between gangs

Costa Rica is, like the rest of Central America, a bridge for drugs going from South America to the United States and Europe.

Along the way, money, drugs and weapons reinforce small cartels that are increasingly organized. Two-thirds of homicides are score settling in disputes between gangs over territories for the drug market. 81% of the deaths were committed with firearms, sometimes military rifles like AK-47s or AR-15s.

“It is not a widespread general insecurity crisis,” Zamora said. The government began an anti-crime operation in May that dismantled some 10 criminal structures.

In the Caribbean city of Puerto Limón (Limón province, east), historically depressed and where the homicide rate is 35.3 per 100,000 inhabitants, scanners were installed at the port to detect drugs in cargo containers destined for the United States and Europe.

According to projections, Costa Rica will close 2023 with around 900 violent deaths and a homicide rate of 17 per 100,000 inhabitants, in a country of 5.1 million.

Last year, a record rate of 12.6 homicides per 100,000 was already reached. The world average is 8 per 100,000 people, according to the UN. Given the worsening situation, seven bills to strengthen public security await analysis in Congress.

Perfect storm

Zamora said that upon taking over the Ministry of Security in May, there were the same number of officers and resources as in his previous tenure (2011-2014).

In 2013 there were 407 homicides, so the figure has more than doubled in a decade. It is necessary to “build the foundations of a professional, trained police force” to obtain results in the medium and long term, he considered.

With 17,000 officers, the Fuerza Pública (national police) faces a criminal phenomenon that is “professionalized” and “highly violent,” according to Zamora.

“The police normally know and are familiar with the 340 gangs operating in the country,” he said.

Randall Zúñiga, director of the OIJ, agreed that to balance this “unequal fight,” resources, training and agents are lacking. An additional 1,080 officers to the current 3,500 are needed in this judicial police.

“We can’t hide from the sun with one finger,” Zúñiga emphasized, describing the situation as a “perfect storm.”

Former Security Minister Álvaro Ramos, for his part, stressed the need to invest in education, health, prevention, police presence to wage a “direct attack on the jugular” of organized crime.

“If we abandon the population (…), organized criminals will replace the state,” he warned. For Rafael Rojas, a 62-year-old painter, the solution is clear: “Invest in the poor and get them out of poverty. That’s the main weapon. It’s not buying weapons, patrol cars, or jails. It’s building schools, school cafeterias, and playgrounds,” he said.

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Costa Rican Businesses Under Siege: The Alarming Rise of Drug Gang Extortion



Costa Rican businesses find themselves in a precarious situation, facing extortion from notorious drug gangs like Los Lara and Diablo. According to a Costa Rican media outlet, these gangs have been siphoning millions from local businesses and vendors to fund their operations.

The Notorious Gangs: Los Lara and Diablo

Los Lara, a name that’s become somewhat familiar in the streets of San Jose, has been on the radar of authorities for years. Diablo, on the other hand, casts a wider net across the Caribbean and is led by Alejandro Arias Monge, a figure who has been eluding capture since 2018.

A Growing Menace in the Realm of Extortion

Jose Solano, head of the Miscellaneous Crimes Section Unit at the Judicial Investigation Organism (OIJ), pointed out that extortion cases are more rampant in the province of Limón than in the capital. These extortionists, in a stroke of sinister creativity, have been exploiting the digital age, using advertisements and social networks to obtain phone numbers of businesses and making audacious claims of cartel affiliations from Mexico to Venezuela.

A Modern Method of Payment for an Age-Old Crime

The gangs demand payments through Sinpe mobile or international money transfers, often using intermediaries to collect the cash. What’s more, they’re not shy about asking for a hefty cut, with demands often skyrocketing to over ten million colones. Failure to comply? Let’s just say their threats aren’t idle.

The Terrifying Statistics: A Glimpse Into the Underworld

As of November 2, the Judicial Police had a daunting tally of 686 complaints related to these extortions, encompassing ‘gota a gota’ loans and sextortion cases. Solano described a grim picture where defaulting on payments could lead to property damage, gate-bashing, and even gunfire.

The Vicious Cycle of ‘Gota a Gota’ Loans

In the murky world of ‘gota a gota’ loans, victims borrow amounts ranging from 50 thousand to two million colones, with repayments that can make loan sharks blush. The trigger point? Missing a payment. Come the weekend, if the money isn’t there, the psychological and financial extortion gears up.

Words of Wisdom: Avoiding the Debt Trap

Solano’s advice is straight out of a wise uncle’s playbook: steer clear of these informal loans. But if you find yourself in this quagmire, keep a record of everything – names, vehicle license plates, and distinguishing features of collectors. And most importantly, report it to the authorities at the first sign of trouble.

This alarming trend of extortion by drug gangs in Costa Rica highlights a growing challenge for local businesses and underscores the need for vigilance and cooperation with law enforcement. As these criminal activities continue to evolve, staying informed and cautious is more crucial than ever. It’s a stark reminder that in the world of crime, the old adage holds true: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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Costa Rica’s Japdeva Scores Tariff Increase: A Financial Lifeline or Just a Drop in the Ocean?



Costa Rica’s Junta de Administración Portuaria y de Desarrollo Económico de la Vertiente Atlántica (Japdeva) has finally scored a tariff increase after a whopping 11-year wait. However, the celebration might be muted, as the regulatory body Aresep granted less than half of what Japdeva had hoped for. It’s a bit like asking for a gourmet meal and getting a snack instead.

The Modest Windfall: A Balancing Act

Japdeva’s newly approved tariff adjustment is expected to bring in an annual revenue of ¢13.3 billion. While that sounds like a hefty sum, it’s a far cry from the ¢29 billion they were aiming for. In the world of financial balancing, this is equivalent to walking a tightrope while juggling your budget on one hand and your hopes on the other.

The Fine Print: Some Win, Some Lose

The tariff hike, as approved by Aresep, is a mixed bag. While about 20 tariffs saw increases ranging from 11% to 233%, nine others actually decreased by 6% to 69%, and 28 remained unchanged. This kind of variation could give anyone a headache, perhaps even the accountants.

Why the Hike and What’s It For?

The increase is intended to cover the necessary resources for the ongoing service at the Complejo Portuario Limón-Moín (CPLM). Yet, Aresep was quick to clarify that not all of Japdeva’s financial wishes were granted, leaving out financial expenses and depreciation costs, among others.

A Glimpse of Stability, But Expenses Still Loom Large

According to Aresep, Japdeva has shown signs of greater financial balance since 2021. However, it’s like celebrating that your boat is no longer sinking while forgetting you’re still stranded at sea – their expenses continue to outweigh their income. The lion’s share of these expenses goes to salaries (38%) and the consumption of goods (33%).

The Long Road to Tariff Adjustment

The last time Japdeva saw a tariff adjustment was back in March 2012. It seems they’ve been patiently waiting for a financial miracle for over a decade, only to receive a modest boost now. As part of the resolution, Japdeva is now required to submit annual financial statements and quarterly statistical information, possibly to avoid another 11-year tariff drought.

Japdeva’s Big Bet on Tariff Increase

For Japdeva, this tariff hike was a crucial part of their financial recovery playbook. Despite completing staff layoffs in October, they hadn’t quite hit their financial equilibrium. Anner García, the administrative manager, noted that achieving financial balance depends on new business materialization, investment projects, and – you guessed it – tariff increases.

A Year of Container Movement and Dredging Expenses

As of September, Japdeva had moved over 25,000 containers, generating revenues of ¢6.786 billion. But with monthly expenses of ¢488 million just for payroll, plus operational and maintenance costs, it’s like trying to fill a bucket with a hole in it. They also spent ¢750 million on dredging at the Gastón Kogan terminal, aimed at increasing depth by 1 to 2 meters.

Aftermath of the Terminal de Contenedores de Moín

Post the launch of the Terminal de Contenedores de Moín (TCM), which took over 80% of Japdeva’s load, the state company received two financial rescues totaling ¢55 billion. However, the current government has declined to throw any more lifelines, leaving Japdeva to navigate these financial waters with its newly approved, albeit modest, tariff increase.

Japdeva’s tariff increase, though less than desired, is a step towards financial stability, albeit a small one. It’s a classic tale of asking for the moon and getting a star – not quite what you wanted, but it’s something. As Japdeva continues to balance the books, this tariff adjustment serves as a reminder of the challenges faced by state-owned entities in maintaining financial health in a constantly evolving economic landscape.

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November 2023 Breaks All Records



According to the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional (IMN), November 2023 ended as the hottest November since 1940. Luis Alvarado, a climatology expert, indicated that there was an increase of more than 1.0 °C above normal.

In terms of the national average temperature, the situation, in general, has remained the same since May. That is, the entire country has experienced warmer-than-normal conditions.

“However, if we look at the records for only November, this year presented an increase that positions it as the hottest on record, at least since 1940,” Alvarado said.

In addition, according to temperatures since 2013, the trend for this month has been upward, whereas previous years had lower-than-normal temperatures. However, it is in 2023 that, for the first time, the limit of 1.0 °C is exceeded.

According to experts, this increase was mainly due to the influence of the El Niño phenomenon, climate change, and the rise in temperatures of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. The European observatory Copernicus announced on December 7 that November 2023 was the warmest November on record worldwide.

“The surface air temperature shows that the warmest November was exceeded by 0.85°C. Additionally, new records have been consistently set since June 2023, with each month being the warmest on record,” the observatory reported.

According to experts, in the next three months, temperatures will be 1 to 2 degrees higher in Costa Rica. The Central Pacific, North Pacific, and Central Valley will be the regions that will experience the greatest increase.

On the other hand, in relation to rainfall for the previous month, deficits and surpluses were recorded. “The case that drew the most attention was the surplus of 88% in the province of Guanacaste, due to the fact that this is not usual during an El Niño phenomenon,” commented Alvarado.

The phenomenon that caused the impacts of El Niño not to manifest themselves well was the extraordinary warming of the waters of the Caribbean Sea since October. The sea is 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than normal.

According to the specialist, when the Caribbean or the Atlantic warm up in this way, they usually have the opposite effect, which is less rainfall in the Pacific and more in the Caribbean.

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