Costa Rica’s president promises more police, tougher laws

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) — President Rodrigo Chaves vowed Wednesday to bring more police to the streets and called for changes to Costa Rica’s laws to counter the record-breaking number of murders that have rocked daily life in a country, long known for peaceful stability.

Choosing to deliver his speech in the plaza before the country’s Congress, Chaves said too many violent criminals are allowed to roam free and called for more flexibility in extraditing Costa Ricans to countries where they are wanted for drug trafficking crimes.

Costa Rica recorded 657 homicides last year, most of which were attributed to drug-related violence. The country is no longer just a transit country for drugs being shipped from South America to the United States. It has become a major hub for shipping drugs to the US and Europe, and there is also a growing domestic drug market.

“I want people to be able to walk the streets peacefully, for children to be able to walk safely in the park, for children to go to school without fear that they could be caught in the middle of a gunfight at any moment,” Chaves said.

The president lamented that only one in 22 people arrested for violent crimes ends up in jail. He said judges too often release suspects on bail, even if they have a criminal record. He also wants the ability to prosecute minors in drug gang killing cases as adults.

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Chaves also wants to tighten control over gun purchases and improve the government’s ability to intercept suspects’ communications in order to dismantle organized crime groups.

He said he will strengthen the police force by restructuring the national police force to bring more officers to the streets and hire 700 more officers.

Previously, Colombian and Mexican drug cartels have shipped their drugs through Costa Rica, but experts say indigenous Costa Rican gangs have also gotten into the business in recent years, fueling more violence with their territorial disputes.

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