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Desamparados residents plead for help as the San José canton turns into a gang war zone

November 26, 2014

The number of homicides in the canton of Desamparados, located south of Costa Rica’s capital, has doubled in the past year, according to a report released Monday by Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) Director Francisco Segura.

The report states that 38 homicides occurred in Desamparados from Jan. 1 to Nov. 18, a figure surpassed only by the Central San José canton, at 58.

Last year, Desamparados ranked fourth among Costa Rican cantons with 19 homicides. That means the canton currently is second across the nation in terms of homicides, surpassing Central Limón, which had consistently ranked among the top two cantons for OIJ crime statistics. The Caribbean canton is now third, with 29 homicides, while Alajuela Central is fourth with 23.

On Tuesday, several residents, students and members of civil groups demonstrated in the canton’s main streets to demand that government officials help in stopping the crime wave.

Desamparados Mayor Maureen Fallas attributed the increase in violence to disputes over gang territory. Last week, she sent a formal request for an intervention to the Presidency Ministry, the Public Security Ministry and the OIJ, as gang battles are becoming increasingly violent. Perpetrators also increasingly are using heavy weaponry, including automatic weapons.

“We’re asking for an increase in patrols in Desamparados, and we urge security officials to take control of the situation,” Fallas told The Tico Times on Tuesday.

The mayor’s statements coincide with those of the OIJ’s director of plans and operations, Michael Soto, who on Monday described the gangs’ activities: “Victims are being tortured or mutilated, and most of these crimes occur in the streets. Previously we had information of at least six organized groups operating in Desamparados, but our intelligence now says that these gangs have merged into two major groups that are disputing control of the area.”

Public Security Minister Celso Gamboa, speaking during a graduation ceremony for 392 new police officers on Monday, said 40 officers would be sent to the canton in coming days. Gamboa also agreed to attend, along with National Police Director Juan José Andrade, a weekly meeting of the Desamparados Municipal Council on Tuesday night to coordinate a security response.

Business chambers and civil and religious groups on Tuesday evening announced they would join residents to demonstrate again on Wednesday morning and would march from Desamparados to Casa Presidencial in Zapote, where they hope to meet with Presidency Ministry officials.

Watch a video of that demonstration:

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