© Reuters. People cross the street a day after Costa Ricans elected Carlos Alvarado Quesada as the new president on April 2, 2018 in San Jose, Costa Rica. REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate/File Photo
SAN JOSE (Reuters) – More than 656 people have been killed so far in Costa Rica’s deadliest year on record, official homicide data showed on Friday. However, the government expects that number to rise to over 900 by the end of this year.
The number of murders in Costa Rica reached a record 654 last year, according to the historically peaceful Central American country’s Judicial Investigation Agency (OIJ).
“The numbers continue to rise and that brings us to a tipping point,” OIJ chief Randall Zuniga told a local radio station, calling for more investment in public safety.
Costa Rica, considered the safest country in Central America for decades, recorded more murders in six of its seven provinces, with the capital San Jose recording the highest increase – double the same period last year.
The nationwide rate of violent deaths is expected to rise to 16 per 100,000 people this year, from 12.6 in 2022. In the Caribbean province of Limon, the rate could exceed 33.
Authorities have reported crimes such as torture, gang killings and assassinations by highly trained killers that are similar to crimes committed by Mexican cartels.
They attribute two-thirds of those killings to turf war gangs seeking control of the drug trade in the country, a strategic location between producers in Colombia and consumers in the United States and Europe.
Costa Rica’s Security Minister Mario Zamora told Reuters in a statement that there were no “magic” and short-term responses to combat crime in the country and that a series of security and prevention initiatives were needed.
Zamora, who was appointed in May, held the post during the 2010-2014 presidency of Laura Chinchilla, known for her tough approach to crime.
President Rodrigo Chaves announced a series of security measures in April to combat rising crime after the Central American country’s main economic chamber warned of a “national emergency” that threatened foreign investment and tourism.
“There is a constant struggle for power and resources,” Chaves said at a news conference earlier this month, warning that the fight against international crime organizations will take time.
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