President Luis Guillermo Solís and Public Security Minister Celso Gamboa traveled to San Carlos, Alajuela, on Monday, to announce an investment of more than ₡205 million ($383,000) in the canton’s National Police force following a rash of robberies and attacks in the area, a popular tourist destination.
“An immediate response to an immediate problem,” Gamboa said about the government’s actions, which include coverage of Arenal Volcano, Lake Arenal and La Fortuna. San Carlos police received four new Toyota Land Cruisers and two four-door pickup trucks. The vehicles were purchased with funds from the National Emergency Commission’s budget.
Authorities have been scrambling to respond to a recent string of robberies in the Northern Zone, including in the community of Nuevo Arenal, where on Aug. 23, 10 armed suspects in several vehicles robbed a gas station and an appliance store. Earlier that month, a suspect robbed a local hotel employee at gunpoint and made off with ₡5 million ($9,300) in money for staff salaries.
Although technically located in the Tilarán Canton of Guanacaste Province, Nuevo Arenal sits on the northern edge of Lake Arenal. Last week, Public Security Ministry spokesman Carlos Hidalgo told The Tico Times the stepped-up police presence in San Carlos would include patrols of Nuevo Arenal, which currently has no police station.
Then, on Aug. 28, a gang of 10 masked men robbed three businesses in the Plaza San Carlos, in the center of Ciudad Quesada, the daily La Nación reported.
According to La Nación, robberies in San Carlos are up by 20 percent so far this year over the same period in 2013. Citing figures from the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ), the daily said victims in 2014 filed 409 robbery complaints in San Carlos from Jan. 1 to July 31. That number was 336 during the same period last year.
“I’m afraid to be in my business. I’m anxious, I feel unsafe and I have no peace,” San Carlos business owner José Manuel Riggioni told La Nación.
Solís emphasized the need to act quickly, noting that robberies and assaults could eventually provide fertile ground for organized crime to enter the area.
“Unfortunately, as we know, crime extends its reach and digs in its roots across an area when it finds the right conditions. I’m thinking not only of everyday crime, but organized crime, too,” the president said.
But as La Nación noted, citing OIJ Assistant Director Gerald Campos, at least three organized criminal groups already operate in the San Carlos area.