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Safest Country in Latin America? Maybe, But Exactly How Big an Honor is That?

Inside Costa Rica reports that  Costa Rica is the safest country in Latin America, according to a study published recently by publisher-analyst, LatinvexThe ranking of 19 countries is based on data from public security departments, local police, governments, NGOs, and institutions responsible for crime investigation.

Inside Costa Rica says the study "positions Venezuela and Haiti as being the most violent countries in the region.  Venezuela has seen a constant increase in its homicide rate, still the highest in Latin America after Honduras".

Mario Zamora, Costa Rica’s Minister of Public Security said that the data matches the fact that authorities here have seen a decrease in reported crimes in recent times.

As any reputable analyst will tell you, a decrease in reported crime does not necessarily correlate to a decrease in crime. In cities and countries in which crime is rampant and the police are widely believed to be part of the problem, crime reporting often goes down, even as crime skyrockets -- and this, according to A.M. Costa Rica, a competing publication to Inside Costa Rica, appears to be what is happening in "Latin America's Safest Country".

A.M. Costa Rica reports that "individuals detained in a fatal stickup early March 2 may be the gang that has been plaguing the Caribbean Coast since October. A massive response from police officials required the murder of a 17-year-old girl. The girl was shot at her family's store in Panama near the border but died in the Hone Creek clinic. In fact, in late February, a police officer reportedthat crime had decreased in the area. There was no mention of a long string of criminality."

The article goes on to say, that "in addition, there did not seem to be much emphasis in the Spanish-language press or on television stations about the continuing problem in the Puerto Viejo, Cahuita and Sixaola areas. A.M. Costa Rica editors and reporters monitor such news closely.

"The bulk of  reports about crimes in that area came mainly from readers of this newspaper. Those who went public with the situation, such as Carol Meeds, faced extensive criticism from fellow residents, mainly through a local Internet discussion list."

Equally silent, are the embassies of foreign countries, including those whose citizens have been victimized:

"Although embassy workers are among the first to know about crimes committed against their nationals, no diplomat has even sought news coverage of the situation. They prefer to make personal comments to their Costa Rican counterparts and are not anxious to rock the boat too much."

"A case in point is the U.S. Embassy, where workers there decline to even confirm that a U.S. citizen has been involved in a crime. They cite the State Department's expanded interpretation of the U.S. Privacy Act."

If you are planning a trip -- to Costa Rica or anywhere else in the developing world -- please do more than simply Google the country's name to identify the best rate on the prettiest locale. You are walking into a world in which you, quite literally, have no rights; in which it is easier, cheaper, and safer to kill a foreigner during a conflict than to let him take you to court; in which basic institutions and infrastructure that you are likely used to in your home country simply do not exist. Do your homework and take precautions, as you would if you were going in for surgery from which you might not come out alive. 


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