Juan Diego Castro quit the Costa Rican government in 1997.
The former Public Security minister has since turned into one of the government’s most acerbic critics.
He has publicly called out Vice President Laura Chinchilla, Chief Prosecutor Francisco Dall’Anese and influential court justices José Arroyo and Luis Mora as complicit in a crime wave that has wracked the country for years.
Castro’s foul attitude toward the government’s failure to keep crime in check is influenced by the fact he works almost exclusively with crime victims. His San José-based law firm, Jurisis, adds about 70 crime victims a year to its client list and has a special department called “victimology.”
He has come to conclude that Costa Rica’s system is rigged in favor of criminals.
In March 2008, Castro became involved as a volunteer adviser with the Recuperemos La Paz (Let’s Restore the Peace) movement that began airing aggressive ads on television, radio and in print. The campaign featured the slogan, “Vivimos bajo la ley de hampa,” or “We’re living in a criminal underworld,” and pressured all three branches of government into signing an agreement in which they consented to pass an omnibus crime bill by Oct. 11 (TT, April 18). The April 11 agreement is vague but it committed the government to pass a crime bill within six months. (See related story on Page 7)
With the clock ticking down to Oct. 11 on the Recuperemos La Paz’s Web site, www.recuperemoslapaz.org, and the crime bill, which recently advanced out of a Legislative Assembly committee, Castro sat down with The Tico Times to discuss the deteriorating crime situation in the country and his role in the movement:
TT: What is the vision of Jurisis, and what do you do exactly?
JDC: We attend to victims primarily and take very few defense cases. We recently succeeded in getting a five-year prison sentence on manslaughter for a drunken driver who killed a pedestrian, but the case is under appeal.
We specialize in fraud, economic crime and property crime. We have many American clients, and we also advise people and businesses on how to avoid being defrauded. It’s easier to steal a property here than it is to steal a car.
What’s the latest on the Recuperemos La Paz movement? When’s the last time you heard from the other leaders, such as Arnoldo Garnier (of the Garnier Group ad agency) and Bishop Angel San Casimiro?
I don’t know. I haven’t heard from them in months since they took down all my proposals for improving the law from the Web site after pressure from Vice President Laura Chinchilla. The vice president directly sabotaged the campaign, and everyone, especially the Web site managers, was under terrible pressure, and the campaign sort of dismantled at that point. It bothered me when they changed the image of the campaign to a toucan with an olive branch in its beak because of Chinchilla’s influence. (Previously, the images of the campaign were blood-covered arms holding weapons such as knives and crowbars.)
The last time I talked to Garnier, he said they are waiting to see if the Legislative Assembly will comply with its promises. On April 11, the government promised many things but, so far, hasn’t complied with any of them. I hope (the crime bill) works with what they’re doing, but I don’t have faith or hope that it will. It seems to me that have created an entire structure that absolutely favors crime, which is trampling on victims and society.
How would you summarize the security situation in the country?
It’s like the Wild West. It’s madness. The country is in the hands of criminals, and this has been my theory for years. Every day, people are being killed for their cell phones. When Public Security Minister Janina del Vecchio said the problem in the country is fear, not crime, I responded by saying the problem is not fear, but a tumor (a play on temor, the Spanish word for fear), the tumor of impunity. In 1992, we had 145 robberies for 100,000 inhabitants, and in 2007, we have 870. In 1992, we had 12 percent of police reports ending in convictions and now we have only 2 percent. So, basically now we have six times more crime and six times fewer convictions.
The government has never invested in making the police effective, and a 1998reform reduced police powers, taking away their right to question suspects beyond their identity. Now, there are many prosecutors with very little experience directing police with 20 years or more of experience. If police do interrogate suspects, they can be arrested, convicted and incarcerated (Article 98 of the Criminal Procedure Code). No other country in the world has this prohibition. This is a terrible defect in the law and a horrible example of institutionalized impunity.
So, what’s the solution?
Change the laws and invest more resources. The problem of insecurity is a problem of resources and a lack of political will. Why don’t the politicians of this nation sit down one day – heck, I’d invite them over – and come up with a security agenda? Whoever wins, wins, and they get to work. But they’re not interested, and it seems an atrocity that they’ve waited so long. The time-honored tradition is to just propagandize and cheat the people every four years. Why don’t they reform the laws to seriously confront the criminals in our midst? The police know where most of the criminals are – the car thieves, house burglars, etc. In San José, there might only be 1,000 criminals, and if the police put them behind bars, you wouldn’t believe the level of tranquility you’d see.
So, why don’t they? What are the barriers? They’re lazy. And there are cultural barriers for Ticos to attack problems head on.
One of the great misfortunes of this country is we don’t speak clearly. But this is a trick, a grand plot of the politicians. We have a great illness here I call tiquitis (“tico-itis”), and the politicians have multiplied this disease a hundred-fold. What it has resulted in is a great hypocrisy –speaking behind people’s backs, talking in circles and not speaking clearly – and it is killing us.
How ridiculous can we be? Here, we call prisoners privados de libertad, (“ones deprived of their freedom”) as if there was no reason they were incarcerated. We call prison cells ámbitos de convivencia (“shared living quarters”).
I’m not a politician and I do not have the tiquitis virus.