President Rodrigo Chaves’ statements, emphasizing the Nicaraguan nationality of a detained individual suspected of murdering a police officer in Costa Rica on January 25th, have triggered xenophobic comments on social media. This has raised concerns among those warning against linking the Costa Rican insecurity crisis with migration, especially as official data shows no disproportion between the percentage of the Nicaraguan population in Costa Rica and individuals of that nationality detained for various crimes. Costa Rica closed 2023 with a concerning record of 907 homicides.
In the early hours of January 25th, in Herradura de Jacó, Puntarenas province, 28-year-old Costa Rican Police officer Bryan Josue Rivera Oviedo died after being shot in the head, with other officers injured. Minister of Public Security Mario Zamora lamented the officer’s death, describing it as a “new, more serious stage” in Costa Rica’s organized crime scene.
Less than a week earlier, on January 18th, Minister Zamora confirmed the murder of another officer, 28-year-old Jordy Rojas Zuñiga, in the Limon province. Three suspects were detained – and later released – in connection with the case, with no details on their nationality provided.
Zamora reported that in the operations related to the Puntarenas case, two suspects and thirty other individuals, including a minor, were detained. He added that the suspects had criminal records for offenses such as homicide, aggravated robbery, illegal possession of weapons, and usurpation. Costa Rican media reported that both suspects were Nicaraguans.
The President’s Statements and the “Erroneous Connection”
On the same afternoon, President Chaves recorded a video lamenting the officer’s death, extending condolences to his loved ones, and emphasizing the Nicaraguan nationality of one of the suspects and his extensive criminal history. He then complained about the inability to deport foreigners who have committed crimes in Costa Rica.
“Compatriots, how is it that we cannot deport people from other countries who come here to do harm, to murder, to threaten, to endanger our population, to traffic drugs? I reiterate the call to the three branches of the Republic to end insecurity in the country,” said Chaves.
Costa Rican migration specialist Daguer Hernandez believes that President Chaves erroneously establishes a connection between criminals and deportations. The specialist, former deputy director of the Directorate of Migration and Foreigners, explained that if a foreigner commits a crime in Costa Rica, they must be tried and sanctioned within Costa Rican borders. “Sanction and trial must take place in the country where the crime was committed, ensuring a territorial application of justice,” he detailed.
Xenophobic Interpretations Multiply on Social Media
Following the president’s statements, xenophobic comments have increased on social media. Some point fingers at Nicaraguans or migrants as the cause of insecurity, while others question the functioning of the justice system and blame organized crime.
Migration experts consulted by Nicas Migrantes from CONFIDENCIAL agree that the president is trying to divert attention from his responsibility in finding solutions to insecurity by emphasizing the nationality of those detained in a particular case.
In the first 25 days of 2024, Costa Rica has accumulated 54 homicides, according to data from the Judicial Investigation Organism, which is twelve less than the total reported in the same period in 2023.
“Emphasizing a homicide committed by a Nicaraguan, who must bear the weight of the law, is the old tactic of blaming migrants for the country’s problems,” says Carlos Sandoval, a sociologist specializing in migration issues and a researcher at the University of Costa Rica.
Sandoval comments that the case, like many other homicides, evokes immense sadness and deserves complete condemnation, but he points out that the vast majority of homicides are committed by young Costa Rican men.
Unprecedented Insecurity Crisis in Costa Rica
In a special report titled “Nicas experience ‘the most violent year’ in Costa Rica amid shootings and drug trafficking,” published in late November 2023, the Nicas Migrantes team requested and analyzed statistics from the Judicial Investigation Organism regarding citizen insecurity in Costa Rica. This included the number of homicides from 2017 to 2023, the nationality of victims and perpetrators, and the quantity and nationality of the prison population.
Official data revealed that 71 of the 678 homicides recorded between January and September 2023 were Nicaraguans.
Furthermore, the statistics showed that Nicaraguans, both as victims and perpetrators, consistently made up between 9% and 11%, proportional to the total number of Nicaraguans living in Costa Rica.
Similarly, the percentage of Nicaraguans in the prison population between 2018 and 2023 was also approximately 10% or 11% annually, with a total of 1,703 Nicaraguan nationals in prison until September 2023.
Costa Rican sociologist Carlos Sandoval believes that “the idea that foreigners are responsible for violence has lost credibility.”
Adilia Eva Solís, president of the Center for Social Rights of Migrant Persons (Cenderos), recommends that reflection on the situation goes beyond the nationality of criminals and focuses on recognizing the structural problems in Costa Rica, such as deficiencies in justice application, approaches of the judiciary, and the lack of an effective government strategy to combat organized crime.
This article was published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times. To get the most relevant news from our English coverage delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe to The Dispatch.