Crime in Paradise

LisaValencia's picture

Many people ask me about crime in this country - specifically theft. Everyone wants to know how to avoid it and even if they should come here in the first place. I have had my own experiences, living in Costa Rica for three years. As a writer, I have been mulling over and even agonizing over what to say and how to deal with it myself.

After some sweat and tears (no blood!) I wrote an essay on the subject. It is too long to post here. You can find it on my web site, here:

The short story is: I still love Costa Rica and I'm not leaving any time soon. Like anything else, the major challenge is how you deal with it in your head.


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INsecurity is big business in Latin america, in El Salvador we have 18,000 PNC or National civil Police and 70,000 private guards, each of whom must be aremed, in Guatemala there are now over 90,000 armed gurds, and those of you who plan to visit Costa Rica, yes in urban and suburban areas there are thousnds of aremed gurds, many Nica War Veterans. The companies that own the gurd firms have a monoploy on the arms provided to employees, ti foes on and on. I always make friends with gurds in areas, malls and businesses which I frequent. I was drated into US military in late 1965 and know what it means to have to put your life and lib on the line for someone else who could care less whether you live or die. All I have to say.

Exploitation and reasons for gun sales and remittances

But I have seen so many of them that it sickens me. I have reached a conclusion about this country. It is set up to remain as a feudalisitic society, run by fourteen large and very wealthy families. The key exports from the U.S. sought by these people are remittances and weapons.

The price of a canasta basica has just risen again. So for the very poor, of which there are many here, the cost of beans has risn from 55 cents a pound to 81 cents a pound. Wheat has taken a price hike of 8%. The cost of these conusmer goods is already more than the U.S. in many cases. That doesn't even begin to deal with other foods that many poor simply cannot afford since the Salvadoran monitary system was changed to the dollar. So people's spending power has been reduced and prices have risen, leaving people here desperate in many cases. This can only be done for one reason, to keep the poor dependent upon the very wealthy monopolies.

Try to find basic things here to" do-it-yourself" and you will have difficulty. The system is set up to discourage any type of self help and keep the people dependent on purchasing the overpriced goods sold by families with names like Siman, Cristiani, and a plethora of Palestinean last names.

I sense that Palestneans once immigrated here to escape oppression. What I've noted is that when you see Directors and Exectuvie level people on the news, their names are oddly and often Palestnean. And I have heard that many only offer jobs to their family and friends. So the Salvadoran citizen who is not part of that clique of people do not have access to jobs, opportunity and things to improve their situation.

I have nothing against Palestineans, so this is not a rant on their culture. It is an observation and a common behavior withing privileged cultures, where help is kept within a certain social circle. But this behavior should be stopped, because it only allows one segment of people opportunity.

The problem this creates is crime. As the poor spiral further into hopelessness, they will either flee to the U.S. as many do, which benefits the wealthy who encourage sending remittances to family members to purchase the already inflated consumer goods priced based on the monopolies they hold tightly. Or, they will fall into crime as many do and gun sales will continue to skyrocket. Either way, the wealthy benefit, not the disappearing middle class or the growing poor classes.

The hypocrisy of this thinking is that the same families who own the monopolies parade around as if there is a free market in El Salvador, when they will not let free market enterprise enter this country. For instance, we have a form of WalMart here, called Hiper Paiz. In the U.S., WalMart has a very low price point that other stores have difficulty competing with and this is the success of the store. Here, Hiper Paiz (which is the brand WalMart has to go by so as not to break monopoly rules which is laughable with all the monopolies run by these families) has a higher price point than many other stores. The selection isn't even a quarter of what you would see in a U.S. WalMart. Try to find common items such as needles and thread, or gardening equipment, or book shelves at low cost and you'd laugh. It doesn't exist. The prices are not low, often they are higher than the supermarkts and other stores. I couldn't even find a cooler that wasn't made of styrofoam here. It's a joke!

Forget ever seeing a Target or IKEA here. The furniture in stores like Carousel and even Siman is as low grade of a quality as IKEA, mostly particle board crap, but the cost is much higher. The sectionals you would pay $600 for in the U.S. run over $1300 here. If Target or a REAL WalMart were allowed here, Siman and other stores would be blown out of the water, so this is highly controlled and they are very careful about who they allow to sell here. Designer gear? Not a problem. Anything with a low price point? Forget it! In short, the people of El Salvador are highly exploited. Even the packaging does this. Items here are packaged so that you have to purchase twice as much to get the same serving as in the U.S., so for groceries, you pay twice as much unless you shop at the mercados.

On one hand, Salvadorans are told by both political parties led by the monopolists here that this is a party for the people. But the people are the very ones they aim to exploit to accumulate weatlh. The transparency of this feudalism is so obvious it is sickening. It is hidden by political rhetoric from both the right and the left.

In order to cure poverty here, the world and United Nations needs to insist that remittances from the U.S. are minimized, gun sales are stopped and the economy is allowed to thrive with free market competition. It will never happen. The wealthy here will fight it tooth and nail and the U.S. owns this country. The U.S. also exploits it to help our economy and this is the reason we back certain political leaders here. Overall, this is the saddest thing I've ever seen in all of my travels.

And yes, you are correct that many of the guns sold are expensive models, while clinics have run out of medicines. We could be shipping that instead and saving lives. We don't. Why? Medicines here are 57% higher than in any other Central American country. Guess why? Yup! Those are owned by one of those 14 family names too.

social responsibility

I do find myself in agreement that any US company that is advertising or selling guns to minors and/or violent persons anywhere is socially inconsiderate as that is quite repulsive.  Maybe they are in some sense 'accessories to a crime' if they knowingly sell deadly weapons to persons who are clearly by common sense apparently motivated by antisocial/destructive behavior.

Have you been to a gun shop in El Salvador?  I haven't, but when I have been to gun shops in other violent, 3rd world countries, I have noticed that there are always more expensive US/Israel/etc models there, as well as Chinese/Czech/etc cheaper guns.  I've never asked, though, how many of each are sold or involved in crime.

Gun Sales in violent countries irresponsible and immoral...Why?

Peter, I understand your point and the context of what you are saying; but ere is why I disagree in this case. I cannot comment on the elements of gun sales in Africa, as I am not familiar with the culture there.

In Central America, the growth of gangs has included children young enough to still be in grade school. These are children who are using these weapons to murder others, without the childhood development stage to control their emotions and reason. But beyond that, I'll demonstrate this through another product marketed to

The toy manufacturers have accepted moral responsiblility for marketing age appropriate products by attempting to label the toys for appropriate age groups. That is not to say that irresponsible parents don't purchase age inappropriate toys all the time for their children, but overall, the companies demonstrate a great social responsibility towards selling their products to a target audience that will benefit from the use of their products, not end up maimed or dead. They have also accepted social responsibility when their products are defective and they are held accountable via law suits when children find defects whether they are using the product correctly or not.

Now, lets move to guns. Guns have one kill or hurt the target. So the degree of social responsibility should be on a higher plane. For instance, marketing guns to law enforcement agencies demonstrates a high degree of social responsibility. Marketing guns to hunters, also demonstrates social responsibility. But marketing guns to a region where the violence has reached epidemic levels? And where the age of the person using the device is generally below social norms? Where is the social responsibility in that? El Salvdor wasn't always a place with tons of gun shops. My husband can recall when thsi wasn't a social norm. But once the gang members were deported home, Rodrigo Avila the key candidate for the Presidency under the ARENA party, and a man who has been tied to many death squads increased his sales of guns. Why? Because he could profit and increase his financial portfolio by selling these weapons to both the police who are fighting gangs and the gang members who buy them from corrupt police. How is that socially responsiblle? It is true that machetes, knives, bombs, and various other methods of murder can be used instead of guns. But the fact is that they are not. The highest percentage of murders in El Salvador are committed with guns and the ages using these guns is disgusting.

The profits for U.S. gun manufacturers is tremendous! It helps the U.S. economy too. But what benefit does it provide for impoverished Central American countries where good citizens are terrorized by children barely old enough to stop sucking their mother's breast milk?

Selling guns in a region like Central America is not socially responsible. Not when they are used murder people on public transportation. Not when they are used to shoot a man walking home from the store, shot by a school kid who is trying to ensure he is valued in a gang because he lacked adequate parenting. Not when they are terrorizing the citizens of a country. There are much better products the U.S. manufacturers could be selling in places like El Salvador that would benefit the citizens here. And when the guns only magnify an already horrendous situation, it is immoral to market them here.

Why don't they sell guns to the juveniles in the U.S.? Because the parents there would overwhelmingly fight the gun manufacturers. But here, they know the parents don't have that option. Many of these kids' parents are struggling just to put food on the table here. The wealthy here exploit these people enough. So I do hold the U.S. responsible for this. I wouldn't if the violence here wasn't so high. But like the toy manufacturers, I believe the gun manufacturers should be held to a high degree of social responsibility in this world. If it is good enough for U.S. kids and residents, then the same should be applied here.


Hi LaFoca, Sounds like a pretty serious situation.  The only part I don't know about for sure is your closing statement that leaves the responsibility at the foot of the gun manufacturers.  While I can see how they have some responsibility, on the other hand in some places (most recently publicized in Africa) there have been massive ongoing slaughters of men, women, and children with machetes.  I'm not sure if I would say this was significantly influenced by the machete-makers profits.  What I mean to say is, if people want to kill each other, they usually find a way.  Maybe it's slightly more serious when there are more "effective" weapons available, but is it useful to lay the greater part of the blame elsewhere, when by this comparison it seems to be that it's not necessarily so?

Gangs shut down El Salvador for three days

Last week, El Salvador came to a stand still pretty much as gangs terrorized the country with threats of stopping buses and burning them with the passengers on board. Since this was done recently, killing 13 people inside of a bus in Colonia Mejicanos, the government took the threats very seriously. Here's a bit about it.

The bus drivers went on strike for three days and refused to drive their routes. The cities of Soyapango, Ilopango, Santa Tecla and many others were literally without service and people were paying up to $6.00 a piece to be loaded into the backs of trucks like cattle and get to work. The gangs did this in response to President Funes preparing to sign and anti-gang law that would keep them in prisons for crimes committed and also having gang tattoos. The gang tattoos would lend the sentence an additional 15 to 30 years alone.

There have been many talks about why the government should negotiate with the gang members making demands here; because clearly, when gang members are deported from the U.S. back to El Salvador they are persecuted in every way. It is a form of stupidity that keeps them from assimilating into the culture and beginning life anew; but instead increases the membership of the gangs here. I'm not suggesting that anyone should negotiate with terrorists who threaten to hurt innocent citizens, but the fact is that even ex members of gangs here are denied medical care, tattoo removal, jobs, and anything that will allow them to change their lives. It is an ignorant form of thinking that has increased the power of gangs, as these people who may want to change their lives are forced to remain in gangs to eat and survive.

The new anti-gang law is a good step in the right direction. IF a person is actively involved in gang activity and commits a crime, then prison is where they should be. The military in the streets is another good step, to help keep the citizenry safe. The problem in El Salvador though is denial. While they insist that deported gang members are the problem, they are living in denial. Most of the deported members want nothing to do with the gangs here and find them a bit ridiculous and provincial. The gangs in EL Salvador are composed of reactive youth who kill first ant think later, where the gangs from the states have become a more organized enterprise. So when many gang members arrive here, they decide to leave gang life. Boxing them in a corner and blaming them for what the Salvadoran gang members do isn't helping the problem. Also, denying them the right to tattoo removal doesn't benefit anyone. It's time all countries take this issue seriously to reduce crime.

If countries begin programs to protect gang members who want to leave, help them assimilate into societies and find a normal pattern of living, and stop exhaling nationalistic rhetoric blaming crimes on those who aren't committing them instead of local members who are, they could eradicate the gang problem along with stiff laws protecting citizens.

As of now, Guatemala and Honduras are following the anti-gang law and thinking of imposing their own versions to make this law universal in Central America. In El Salvador today, they are also investigating any police gang collaborators. What would be another good step is to remove the sale of guns in the country...but that won't happen, since the U.S. wants the conflict to bolster gun sales here. The fact is, gangs are a profitable commodity in El Salvador. The more violence here, the higher gun sales go and the gun shops are all over the country. The end result is that the U.S. makes a fortune off of gun sales and THAT folks, is the reason Central America is so dangerous today.


No Peter, sorry. I heard about it several hours after it happened and have talked to a few people and heard rumors, but the article you sent me had more information than I knew. Seems the killer left a bicycle on the beach and the police are trying to use it to trace him... that's all. Very sad - sad for the family and sad for our area.

puerto viejo "back of head" shooter

Reply to Crime Everywhere

I'm so sorry to hear that. It is just not fair. If only everyone had a sense of fairness and the"golden rule"... All we can do is try to put ourselves above it all and still set a good example to others - treating them the way we would like to be treated. (I know - that does not pay for your car repair. I'm truly sorry about that injustice.)

Crime everywhere

What I didnt know was that parking lots have no right to be policed! Yes thats right, you can have crimes perpetrated against you and the police do nothing. I was driving out of Plaza Rohrmoser when the suzuki in front of me decided to back up into my car. He said he didnt see me, wanted to exit faster from the other lane. Transito came and said "sorry, private property". Although this guy had insurance he said he was too busy to go to the taller and sign the papers. Im out of lucK! INS said I have no case without his signature. Also the three guys at the guard house which was 3 metres away said THEY SAW NOTHING.

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