Sunday, March 28, 2010

Implementation of Networking Information Technologies for Social Transformation

“Social-network ties can—and […] usually do—convey benefits that are the very opposite of violence. They can be conduits for altruistic acts in which individuals pay back a debt of gratitude by paying it forward.” (Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives)

Costa Rica is experiencing a fast-growing rate of homicides that has already trespassed the threshold of 10 per 100,000 inhabitants, which the World Health Organization considers as a severe public health issue.

Among the wide range of options that can be chosen, adopted and implemented to transform the conflict, it is important to first bear in mind the framework of limitations or conditions within which the government authorities, the civil society and private corporations should act. The reason for this is that the cost-benefit analysis should conduct the nation towards an effective and sustainable change. It would not be considered a successful strategy if, for example, the suppression of violence by violent means will only provoke a new sprouting of violence in a decade from now. So, if violence breeds violence, by the same token it will be assumed that peace breeds peace.

The first philosophical condition is that the measures must be peaceful. This means, following a way of doing things that will breed further peace in the future, not further violence. The definition of peace followed to understand this concept is Johan Galtung’s definition: “Peace is the ability to transform conflicts empathically, creatively and nonviolently.” It can be assumed that nonviolence is a synonym of harmony. Then the definition adopts a more constructive sense. It can further be assumed that empathy implies nonviolence (“do unto others what you want done upon you.”) The definition can be shortened to “the ability to transform conflicts empathically and creatively.” Therefore, the proposed solutions must comply with it in order to be a peaceful solution.

Second, an ethical consideration is sustainability. Again, the intent is to eradicate violence, or at least drug-related violence. This is an ambitious goal, and a virtuous one as well. A goal will be sustainable if, by accomplishing it, future authorities can choose to run it again –after duly adapting it – confident that it is the right option in terms of public support and generation of political capital. In that sense, what the government is looking for is a permanent solution to drug-related violence not for the rest of the year or the rest of the decade, but for the rest of the century.

Third, the solution or group of solutions to be adopted is a strategic one: it must be effective. That is, to be the right thing to do and to do it in the right way. In terms of resource management, it should respond to a sound cost-benefit analysis, it should be feasible to implement in a short period of time, and, most importantly, it must be subject to objective parameters, such as statistical measurements, to determine its degree of successful achievement.

Similar to this, the options must observe financial limitations, or the obvious constraints of the national public budget destined to national security. A country like Costa Rica has a long history of sound prioritization of its budget towards health and education. This should represent no difference. The solutions must come precisely from those two sectors, in combination with others that may assist, for example science and technology, environment, tourism, and culture. In sum, the country should not readjust its historical priorities or cultural values to create a special budgetary fund to spend on security. In fact, Costa Rica’s institutional success as a nation is partly due to its reallocation of military spending into health and education since 1948. This strategy should render success again towards the future. To put it in Emile Durkheim’s words: “When cultural values are sufficient, laws are unnecessary; when cultural values are insufficient, laws are unenforceable.”

Apart from the philosophical, ethical, strategic, and financial conditions, there are four other considerations that are institutional, humanitarian, axiological, and intellectual. The institutional condition is the Rule of Law. The oldest democracy in Latin America owes its national success to a strict respect for the institutions created by law and by the Constitution. This is the foundation of the Rule of Law. It is understood by this that it is not people who govern the country, but laws instead. One of the first victims of rampant insecurity is precisely the Rule of Law, and this cost may be too high to bear.

The humanitarian limitation is the enforcement of Human Rights. Costa Rica in particular must be extremely careful with enforcing this code of humanitarian law since the Inter- American Court of Human Rights is headquartered in San José, capital city of Costa Rica. The country authorities must be conscious of the temporary stigma that criminals portray. A successful transformation of the conflict into the future should deem those temporarily stigmatized as free members of the community coexisting peacefully among the rest.

The seventh condition is axiological, and refers to transparency. This is not a war. This is more like a disease. What a patient wants, most of the time, is to know clearly what are the diagnosis, prognosis, and proposed prescriptions. To defeat drugs the entire national community should start talking openly about drugs. It is a reality that affects the security for all, not just for the families and individuals involved in the drug business. The entire population must engage in dialogue about the causes and consequences of drug addiction, ways to identify suspicious symptoms, and recommended suggestions for a healthy recovery.

Finally, the eighth limitation is an intellectual one. Again, one of the two characteristics of peace discussed above is that it be creative. Following Einstein’s idea that imagination is more important than intelligence, the options to be taken into consideration must be imaginative into the future; creative, in terms of innovation; and conducive towards a paradigm shift or a leapfrog in the nation’s status quo.

Three possible options are to be considered herein, ranging from the least desirable to the most desirable.

The least desirable option of the three is the status quo, or leaving things as they are. Under this premise, the government is to take no new decisions or implement no new courses of action to try to solve the conflict. In this regard, there are several outcomes that could be expected. For example, the homicide rate could continue its fast-growing trend and move from 11.2 per 100,000 inhabitants, to somewhere closer to the rates in neighboring Honduras (58), El Salvador (52), or Guatemala (48) , making of Central America one of the most dangerous regions in the world. This, of course, is the worst-case scenario. The costs in lives, national security, peace, political stability, economic growth, foreign direct investment, social security, and displaced and migrating populations, could be too high. Under such circumstance, it is doubtful that the most remarkable traits that have made of Costa Rica a success story would continue existing.

In this scenario, drug gangs and international drug traffickers that operate in and from Costa Rica would enlarge their operations, recruit more people, take more risks, infiltrate public institutions such as Municipalities, court tribunals, political parties, hospitals, or religious congregations, to secure their business and make it more profitable.

Also, they would consolidate a workforce that would earn diminishing marginal revenues per unit of drug sold. This would push the suppliers of drugs towards increasing their levels of influence in the market, searching constantly for more consumers of their product. At the same time, this would generate greater frictions among different street gangs and drug cartels that make a living out of selling illegal drugs. Under such circumstances, revenge becomes a tool of containment of adversarial gangs from taking market sectors or geographical territories from one another, spiraling into a degree of fatal violence involving innocent people that have nothing to do at all with the criminal activity.

Finally, doing nothing could lead the society or at least several communities in the country to accept illicit drugs as a new reality, as a new way of life so that “if you can’t fight it, join it.” This shifts the role models for young children; alters the life expectancy of the population; deters positive values that aim at higher moral standings or ethical grounds; reduces the quality of life for the entire nation; scares away foreign direct investment and tourism, among the largest items in the services sector, which add up to almost 70% of the country’s gross domestic product ; chases away the supply of some basic public services from certain areas of the country, such as transportation, emergency healthcare, and education; disincentives several jobs that support rural communities and provide resources for the entire country, such as fishing and agriculture; and perhaps even changes the dynamics of free, democratic, and representative elections in the presence of fear or perverse monetary incentives that would worsen the game as it is today.

The next-to-last desirable option is that the government aims for the use of more force to fight violence with violence. Several changes would have to take place for this to happen. The first and most obvious one would be a budget reform to allocate more funds to police recruitment, police training, and purchasing of new equipment, including weapons, bulletproof vests, communication and monitoring technologies, and motor vehicles such as motorcycles, patrol cars and helicopters.

Additionally, the government would need to implement legal reform to pass legislation for more severe sanctions against drug-related crimes, such as illicit association to commit crime, drug-trafficking to end consumers, international drug-trafficking, and violent intimidation.

Perhaps more than that, the reform would have to include an amendment to the judicial procedure to incarcerate offenders. The process would need to ensure the degree of impunity is significantly reduced, and that the ratio of convictions per trial grows in effectiveness. This should also consider making trials more expedite to dedicate fewer resources per conviction. In other words, convicting a criminal would have to respond to a favorable cost-benefit analysis.

Also, the state would have to generate options for jailing a growing number of prisoners. This would be a challenge, as constructing and operating a prison is a costly public exercise and the country at present lacks infrastructure for a higher number of prisoners. In fact, Human Rights concerns have already been raised towards overcrowding conditions within prisons According to FLACSO, Costa Rican prisons in 2002 had a percentage of overpopulation of 110%.

The greatest concern, apart from the obvious budget impact, is the time span that would be required to accomplish a measurable improvement in the degree of national security through this option of increased force. A new legislature is taking over in May, 2010, and the official party does not have simple majority in Congress. This means it will have to negotiate all its bills throughout the term. It additionally means that all other minority parties conforming the opposition have a majority of votes. In other words, a well-organized opposition could have majority performance and impact in the four years to come. The counterargument would be that national security is atop the legislative agenda. Unfortunately, public opinion polls have revealed this as the greatest concern of the population. As of November, 2007, an academic study at the University of Costa Rica revealed that 73% of the population felt defenseless against crime.

The preferred option can be called as “Adoption of Network Information Technologies for the promotion of social harmony and sustainable peace.” This plan consists on the implementation of modern, free, and secure Network Information Technologies (NIT) such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Wikis, and blogs to more effectively exchange relevant information that will be useful in the promotion of social harmony within communities that will generate sustainable peace for all Costa Ricans. In the words of Harvard researchers Christakis and Fowler: “understanding the way we are connected is an essential step in creating a more just society and in implementing public policies affecting everything from public health to the economy.”

There are five methodological principles that will ensure proper implementation of this proposal. The first one is to consider civil society members –individuals and organizations – as volunteers driven by self-interest and the desire of recovering the feeling of security the country enjoyed only over a decade ago. This would mean that the recruitment of active participants would be conducted at all levels of the community, regardless of the person’s involvement in community affairs or their particular leadership role within it. The reason for this is that several different networks will be created, and nearly every person will find a place within one that meets their profile best. The different networks will be discussed below.

The second principle is capacity-building. This means that a group of professionals and experts from different fields will be training people in the networks to learn more about different issues regarding security. For example, doctors can explain the clinical consequences of drug addiction. Lawyers can explain the different types of crime, including, especially, threats and drug-related crimes. Also, the definition of an accessory to crime and the legal obligation to denounce criminal activity, since it is commonly believed sometimes that “don’t ask, don’t tell” behavior is sound policy. Policemen can offer training about ways in which a community can become more secure by assessing risks, and other ways in which organization and technology can render a more secure habitat for them. Local governments can explain policies and procedures to deal with crime, so that the people know how best to help.

Thirdly is communication. The main idea behind NIT is to raise awareness about problems, reveal diagnosis of the situation clearly through statistics and trends, offer mappings of different areas and different risks, and offer tools to better equip communities to help the government help themselves. This communication aims at sharing information that adds value to the community in the form of a connected network where the sum of its parts is greater than the separate parts individually. This is the true value of networks with a synergistic outcome. “Just as brains can do things that no single neuron can do, so can social networks do things that no single person can do.”

The fourth methodological principle is connectivity. People that belong to different networks must be connected to them either by word of mouth or a periodical meeting with other members. Ideally, the cost-effectiveness of virtual connectivity through NIT will allow participants to have a greater reach in a shorter time with a lesser effort. Therefore, the possibility of people to use their land and mobile phones, personal or public computers, radio and television devices, and other means of technological communication, will enhance their participation and make them more interconnected with one another, and their networks with the coordinating entity (see below). The main purpose of this is to allow people to develop trust and rely on their corresponding network. Trust is essential for this nation-building type of endeavor. “The main principle of establishing Societal Trust is contribution. It is demonstrating the intent to give back, to be a responsible global citizen, and it is becoming both a social and an economic necessity in our knowledge worker age.”

Finally, the fifth element is proper and swift coordination by government authorities. Although this project is doable without government support, it would have farther reach and depth if the government offered its support in terms of: human and financial resources; public authority spread locally throughout the country; and the support of the Rule of Law. By the end of this project, then, a side-result would be ever-greater trust in government authorities and support for public action towards a severe public conflict.

Several networks may be created. Here, eight suggestions are proposed:

1. Mothers: a high percentage of the population, mothers are driven by their desire to see their children succeed and to stay away of harm’s way. A tight coordination among mothers in a community could bring a lot of authority back to the household to be able to more closely monitor their children’s behaviors and offer qualified assistance for better decision-making towards a more sustainable future;

2. Doctors: Costa Rica is a country renowned by its healthcare coverage that reaches every corner of the country. Almost everybody is born in the care of a doctor or a trained assistant. This gives doctors recognized authority among the population to refer to different ailments and public health concerns. The participation that a group of coordinated doctors could have in terms of training other networks and raising awareness about behaviors that represent a risk to health or a threat to life could be critical in achieving a better quality of life for the community;

3. Teachers: As with health, the public education service has national coverage. There is an army of trained teachers that work towards the improvement of children’s capabilities to develop as individuals, therefore developing their communities as well. Teachers are good communication vehicles not only with students but also with their parents. Teachers gather valuable information that could be made available in a sensitive manner to solve security-related issues;

4. Municipalities: local governments reach far out into the communities they represent. People usually know the name of someone that works at the Municipality. The power that these leaders could exert upon their communities in terms of network-building towards greater security is undoubted;

5. Moral leaders: a predominantly Christian country, most Costa Ricans attend to the church of their favorite denomination, where a religious or community leader dictates moral principles periodically. These leaders, with proper training, can also become important messengers of peace and facilitators of security among their congregations;

6. Media: the role of media in free democracies is critical in the formation of opinion and perceptions by the public. “[I]t is well known that media overlaps other functional areas of democracy and governance. For example, support for media may yield results in governance activities, particularly those related to decentralization, anti-corruption, and citizen participation in the policy process.” Their role as capacity builders and change agents is fundamental in this process;

7. Street gangs: although not as feared as their Central American counterparts, drug-related gangs in Costa Rica have risen in size, criminal organization, and violence. They also have the option to help in the promotion of social harmony in the community. They are an important sector of the “market of peace” aimed for with this proposal. Bringing them on board would be a sound success, as well as an important asset for this network’s capacity-building;

8. Musicians: Violent people need outlets to their attitudes and behaviors. This will not be achieved within a prison cell and will not be overcome in a short term. Providing violent people the tools to express themselves artistically could become a therapeutic way of treating their dysfunction. Also, it could become a way of generating income if the market supports their talent. Several music schools and expert musicians in the country, coordinated through a network to promote harmony, can foster this.

In order to achieve more social harmony within the nation, we need to start talking less and less about violence and more and more about peace. This is the beginning of the leapfrog or paradigm shift that needs to take place. As Sir Edmund Burke once said: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”


1. Center for Democracy and Governance, U.S. AID. The Role of Media in Democracy: A Strategic Approach. June, 1999. In Last reviewed March 26, 2010.
2. Covey, Stephen M.R. The Speed of Trust. Free Press, 2006.
3. Christakis, Nicholas A., and Fowler, James H. Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives. Amazon Kindle Electronic version, released Feb. 4, 2010.
4. CIA, World Factbook. In Last reviewed March 26, 2010.
5. La Nación newspaper. “Honduras is the most violent country in the region.” March 23, 2010. In Last reviewed March 26, 2010.
6. Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO). In Last reviewed March 26, 2010.
7. Poltronieri, Jorge. Research Project on Public Opinion Structures. University of Costa Rica, 2007.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Memorando de la violencia

Su excelencia, señora Laura Chinchilla, presidente electa de la República de Costa Rica:

Con gran preocupación escribo estas líneas, con respecto al vicioso espiral de violencia que ha asaltado a nuestra nación a expensas de la paz que caracteriza nuestra idiosincrasia. Confío en que usted, señora Presidente, cuente con el más preciso diagnóstico de situación, habiendo sido Ministra de Seguridad Pública durante la Administración 1994-1998 y habiendo sido tanto Vice-presidente de la República y Ministra de Justicia y Gracia durante la actual administración 2006-2010 que precede la suya.

Es, entonces, con el debido respeto, que me dirijo a usted para ofrecerle algunas consideraciones que podrían ayudar a transformar el problema de inseguridad en más eficazmente, dada la urgencia y el limitado tiempo disponible para evitar que esta espiral crezca a un ritmo más acelerado, y la imperiosa necesidad de revertir el proceso hacia una coexistencia más pacífica entre los ciudadanos.

Después de revisar cuidadosamente su Plan de Gobierno 2010-2014, más concretamente su primer capítulo sobre Seguridad Pública [Chinchilla, p.p. 7-10] como el primer tema de su agenda, llamo su atención al proyecto que ha sido llevado a cabo durante la presente Administración, llamado “Plan nacional de prevención de violencia y promoción de la paz social 2007-2010: Un país sin miedo” [Ministerio de Justicia (MJ)], el cual usted coordinó como Ministra de Justicia.

Su Plan de Gobierno concluye que algunas de las acciones de “Un país sin miedo” han sido “efectivas para atender numerosos factores asociados con crímenes violentos.” [MJ, p. 10] Sin embargo, su anterior colega Vice-presidente y actual investigador en el reconocido Instituto Brookings en Washington, D.C., Dr. Kevin Casas, ha publicado una trilogía de artículos que revelan justamente lo contrario respecto a la eficacia de las políticas asumidas en términos de seguridad en años recientes. Él dice que “el aumento de la tasa de homicidios en el país en el 2008 […] el más básico en materia de seguridad ciudadana – pasó de 8.2 homicidios dolosos por 100.000 habitantes en 2007 a 11.2 un año después, un aumento del 37 por ciento.” [Casas, parte I] Él explica que, más allá del umbral de 10 homicidios por 100.000 habitantes es considerado por la Organización Mundial de la Salud como un serio problema de salud pública.

Como usted sabe, el Dr. Casas es un referente calificado para hablar sobre seguridad, pues él ha sido el coordinador del Reporte Nacional sobre Desarrollo Humano para el Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo (PNUD) “Derrotando el miedo: inseguridad ciudadana y desarrollo humano en Costa Rica” en el año 2005, el cual contribuyó con datos estadísticos en la elaboración del proyecto “Un país sin miedo” bajo su Ministerio.

Sus dos principales recomendaciones para una estrategia sostenible en términos de seguridad ciudadana son: número uno, “resistir los estridentes llamados a resolver el problema por medio de políticas de ‘mano dura’ y el retorcido populismo represivo, que casi siempre falla en bajar los niveles de criminalidad, pero nunca falla en vulnerar las garantías del Estado de Derecho.” [Casas] Él hace referencia a tales estrategias de violencia estatal implementadas en países vecinos como El Salvador y Honduras – dos países con tasas de homicidios de las más altas del mundo – sin ningún resultado positivo hasta el momento.

Número dos, invertir en información como el requisito más importante para combatir el crimen como estrategia a corto plazo. Se dice que la información es conocimiento, y el conocimiento es poder. La manera más efectiva de asignar recursos policiales a la lucha contra el crimen es saber con precisión adónde, cuándo y cómo se lleva a cabo un hecho criminal.

La revista internacional Time concuerda con el Dr. Casas, y de hecho ilustra el argumento con el mismo ejemplo dado por él en su artículo: la reducción de la criminalidad en la ciudad de Nueva York bajo la administración de Rudy Giuliani. Se refieren a CompStat, una “base de datos en tiempo real sobre estadísticas criminales y otra inteligencia útil para identificar áreas problemáticas y la correspondiente asignación de recursos.” [Time]

Esto no es nuevo para su Plan de Gobierno, donde usted propone la creación de un “Sistema Integrado de Estadísticas Policiales que unifique estadísticas e información […] permitiendo de esta manera un monitoreo permanente del comportamiento de la criminalidad y una mejor planificación de la acción policial”, y la instalación de un “Sistema de Vigilancia Electrónica mediante videocámaras en diversos espacios públicos especialmente concurridos y con circuito cerrado de televisión.”

Aún así, esto no proveería solución para los crímenes relacionados con el narcotráfico, que son tan oscuros aunque aparentan suceder a plena luz del día. De nuevo, el Dr. Casas ofrece un diagnóstico sobre este tipo de crimen que merece atención: “El impacto del narcotráfico en la epidemia de violencia que afecta a toda la región, no puede ser minimizado. La mitad de los homicidios dolosos registrados en México en 2008 está directamente ligado al narcotráfico. En Puerto Rico fue el 79 por ciento. Muy pocos países llevan la contabilidad detallada de esas muertes, pero es indiscutible que un ejercicio similar en Costa Rica arrojaría un resultado alarmante.” [Casas, parte III]

Time sugiere que, aparte de estadísticas, otra forma en que la ciudad de Nueva York redujo notablemente sus niveles de criminalidad fue con procesos expeditos de encarcelación. El artículo cita a Mark Kleiman, experto en justicia criminal de UCLA, explicando que “las nuevas estrategias para atacar reincidentes – incluyendo reformas para hacer de la prisión condicional una sanción efectiva más que una farsa ineficaz – podría recortar la criminalidad y reducir las poblaciones carcelarias simultáneamente.” [Time]

Por una cuestión de urgencia, en principio esta no parecería ser una medida práctica para nuestro país dado que su sistema carcelario se encuentra en su capacidad máxima de población. En cuanto a la reforma legal, la implementación podría ser relativamente rápida, pero el cuerpo encargado de aprobar nuevas leyes es bastante impredecible.

La violencia engendra violencia. Cada día despertamos en un país más violento. Nuestro tranquilo estilo de vida ha sido secuestrado de repente por el miedo en el instante que uno abandona el hogar, y muchas personas ya ni siquiera se sienten seguras en casa. De hecho, como lo ilustra el Dr. Casas, los hombres son más vulnerables que las mujeres de ser víctimas del crimen en áreas públicas, pero en el hogar sucede lo contrario. “Para las mujeres,” dice él, “el problema de seguridad más serio no ocurre en los espacios públicos, entre desconocidos, sino en el hogar, entre conocidos.” [Casas, parte II]

El miedo paraliza. Un país sin miedo es lo que solíamos ser. Muchas vidas se han perdido, muchas familias han sido desmembradas, y muchos crímenes han dejado marcas indelebles en hombres, mujeres y niños en todo el país. Nuestra población ha aprendido a temer, y revertir este proceso tomará tiempo, que es precisamente lo que ya no tenemos. La gente está no sólo atemorizada sino también cansada de esperar una solución que parece atrasarse más de la cuenta.

El miedo no es una emoción vacía. Tampoco es sólo una “sensación de temor” [Chinchilla, p. 7], como se refiere el primer párrafo del primer capítulo de su Plan de Gobierno, y no es sólo “un incremento alarmante en la percepción de inseguridad,” [MJ, p. 3] como usted escribió en la introducción de “Un país sin miedo.” El Ministerio de Justicia bajo su liderazgo publicó un documento paralelo con una presentación en diapositivas sobre “Un país sin miedo” en el cual algunas estadísticas demuestran este punto.

Las tasas de criminalidad se han disparado en las últimas dos décadas. Por ejemplo, de 1990 a 2005 las denuncias sobre robos aumentaron 693% [MJ, diapositiva 6], sobre violaciones a la Ley de Psicotrópicos creció 406% [Ibidem.], y los homicidios dolosos crecieron 46% [Ibidem.] (de hecho, 133% si se considera la cifra de 11.2 en 2008 del Dr. Casas). Por otra parte, la percepción sobre el nivel de inseguridad en el país creció de 59.8% en 1999 a 78.5% en 2004. [Ibid, diapositiva 8.] Si bien las fechas de un cuadro a otro no coincidan, aún permite una consideración general sobre el crecimiento desproporcionado del crimen que de la percepción del crimen de la opinión pública.

El Ministerio de Planificación revela estadísticas sobre el incremento de casos criminales en los Tribunales de Justicia. De 1990 a 2008 los casos criminales se multiplicaron de 22.854 a 188,074, [Ministerio de Planificación] más del 800% de aumento. Así que la percepción de la gente está basada en hechos pero los está tratando de manera sosegada, porque las estadísticas son aún más alarmantes.

Bien recordamos la reacción pública de desaprobación a la Ministra de Seguridad Pública actual en su afirmación inaugural sobre inseguridad y su percepción. Ella dijo que “lo que está percibiendo el costarricense es una escalada de violencia pues cada vez los delitos son más violentos (…), lo que sí es cierto es que la percepción de inseguridad es más alta que la inseguridad misma.” [La Nación]

En un esfuerzo por diagnosticar el alcance de la situación, es importante considerar tres dimensiones que proveen un marco analítico para ser más eficaces en la identificación del problema. La primera dimensión se refiere a las partes involucradas en este conflicto. Existen múltiples actores y roles que desempeñan o podrían desempeñar en el diagnóstico y transformación de la situación. Hay víctimas del crimen, victimarios o criminales, asociaciones organizadas de la sociedad civil como algunas mencionadas en el Plan de Gobierno, por ejemplo “Escuelas Seguras” y “Comités de Seguridad Ciudadana” [Chinchilla, p. 10]; corporaciones privadas que cuentan con fondos asignados a responsabilidad social; gobiernos locales; instituciones públicas en general, y también en particular aquellas relacionadas con seguridad, justicia y salud; tomadores de decisiones políticas, especialmente en los poderes Legislativo y Ejecutivo; entre otros.

Por último, la población en general que es un actor complejo pues incluye víctimas, victimarios y participantes en todas las instituciones antes mencionadas. Según manda nuestra Constitución Política, “la soberanía reside exclusivamente en la nación,” [artículo 2] y “el gobierno […] lo ejerce el pueblo…” [artículo 9] Las diapositivas de “Un país sin miedo” establecen la separación de roles para lidiar con este conflicto. Dice “La responsabilidad es sobre todo pública, pero la ayuda de la sociedad civil es bienvenida.” [diapositiva 2] Quizás un análisis más profundo de las causas y propuestas de transformación nos conduciría a creer que la participación de la sociedad civil es requerida y, en algunos casos, incluso obligatoria. Obtener claridad en la identificación de las partes involucradas ofrecerá más eficiencia en la coordinación esfuerzos dependiendo de la participación social y política que cada persona tenga.

La segunda dimensión tiene que ver con el tiempo en el que se desenvuelve el conflicto. Para diagnosticar la situación con precisión es importante conducir un análisis histórico crítico sobre las causas y orígenes del presente conflicto, uno que no existía tan solo dos décadas atrás. En “Un país sin miedo” hay una cita introductoria en la primera diapositiva que dice “Seremos duros contra la delincuencia pero más duros aún con las causas que la provocan.” [diapositiva 1] La especificidad en la raíz de estas causas permitirá lidiar más efectivamente con el problema donde sea posible. Este estudio cronológico también deberá ser conducido hacia el futuro, no sólo en el sentido de “garanti[zar] la continuidad de las estrategias y acciones a emprender”, [Chinchilla, p. 7] sino también en alcanzar la sostenibilidad en términos de armonía, empatía y creatividad con relación al conflicto de manera individual como personas y colectiva como nación por las décadas venideras.

La tercera dimensión se refiere al conflicto propiamente dicho. Un conflicto es generalmente compuesto por actitudes, comportamientos y contradicciones. Las actitudes incluyen elementos como el miedo. Los comportamientos se refieren a elementos como evitar factores de riesgo. Las contradicciones son incompatibilidades en la forma en que algunas personas pretenden vivir sus vidas y, al hacerlo, interfieren con la forma en que otros quieren vivir la suya. Saber exactamente cuál es el conflicto y poner esta información a disponibilidad del público para aumentar la concientización permitirá una acción colectiva más comprensiva y en la dirección correcta.

Es hora de que pensemos creativamente hacia un nuevo paradigma realizando saltos conceptuales imaginando un mejor futuro. “No podemos resolver problemas usando la misma forma de pensar que usamos cuando los creamos.” [Einstein]


1. Chinchilla, Laura. Plan de Gobierno como candidata presidencial par alas elecciones nacionales del 7 de febrero de 2010., en “Pensamiento/Plan de Gobierno.” Revisado por última vez el 22 de febrero, 2010.

2. Einstein, Albert. Revisado por última vez el 24 de febrero, 2010.

3. La Nación, periódico, “Janina Del Vecchio dice que inseguridad no es tan alarmante”, 16 de abril, 2008. Revisado por última vez el 24 de febrero, 2010.

4. La Nación, periódico, “Para no caer en el abismo, Parte I” Kevin Casas, 23 de agosto, 2009. Revisado por última vez el 22 de febrero, 2010.

5. La Nación, periódico, “Para no caer en el abismo, Parte II”, Kevin Casas, 30 de agosto, 2009. Revisado por última vez el 22 de febrero, 2010.

6. La Nación, periódico, “Para no caer en el abismo, Parte III” Kevin Casas, 04 de setiembre, 2009. Revisado por última vez el 22 de febrero, 2010.

7. Ministerio de Justicia, “Plan Nacional para la prevención de la violencia y la promoción de la paz social 2007-2010: Un país sin miedo”. Revisado por última vez el 24 de febrero, 2010.

8. Ministerio de Justicia, “Plan Nacional para la prevención de la violencia y la promoción de la paz social 2007-2010: Un país sin miedo”, presentación de diapositivas. Revisado por última vez el 24 de febrero, 2010.

9. Ministerio de Planificación Nacional y Política Económica de la República de Costa Rica. Revisado por última vez el 24 de febrero, 2010.

10. República de Costa Rica, Constitución Política. Revisado por última vez el 24 de febrero, 2010.

11. Time revista periódica, “Por qué desapareció el crimen,” David Von Drehle, 22 de febrero, 2010.,9171,1963761,00.html. Revisado por última vez el 22 de febrero, 2010.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Violence out of control

Your Excellency, madam Laura Chinchilla,

It is with great concern that I write these lines, regarding the vicious spiral of violence that has taken our nation at the expense of the peace that characterizes our idiosyncrasy. I am confident that you, Madam President-elect , have the most accurate diagnosis of the situation, having been Minister of National Security during the 1994-1998 Administration, and having been both Vice-president and Minister of Justice during the 2006-2010 Administration that precedes yours.
It is then, with all due respect, that I address you to offer some insights about ways in which the problem of insecurity in the country can be transformed more effectively, given the urgency and limited time available to contain this spiral from growing larger and faster, and the imperious need to revert the process towards a more peaceful coexistence.
After considerable review of your Government Plan 2010-2014, more concretely its first chapter on National Security as the number one issue in your agenda, I call your attention to the effort that has been done during the present Administration under the name “National Plan for the Prevention of Violence and Promotion of Social Peace 2007-2010: A Country Without Fear” , which you coordinated as Minister of Justice.
Your Government Plan claims that some of the actions of “A Country Without Fear” have been “effective to face numerous factors associated to violent crimes.” Nevertheless, your former fellow Vice-president and current researcher at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., Dr. Kevin Casas, has published a trilogy of articles that reveal quite the contrary regarding the effectiveness of policy actions taken in terms of security in recent years. He says, “the increase in the intentional homicide rate in Costa Rica for 2008 […] the most basic one in terms of national security- went from 8.2 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2007 to 11.2 a year later, a 37% increase.” He further explains that, past the threshold of 10 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants is regarded by the World Health Organization as a serious public health issue.
As you well know, Dr. Casas is a qualified reference to speak about security, as he was in fact the coordinator of the 2005 National Report on Human Development for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) “Defeating Fear: National Insecurity and Human Development in Costa Rica”, which contributed with facts and figures for the elaboration of “A Country Without Fear” policy under your Ministry.
His two main recommendations for a sustainable strategy in terms of national security are: number one, to “rethink the debate […] to resist the strident calls to solve the issue through ‘crackdown’ policies and twisted repressive populism, that almost always fails to reduce the levels of crime, but never fails at violating the Rule of Law.” He makes reference to such State-violent strategies implemented in neighboring El Salvador and Honduras – two of the countries with the highest homicide rates in the world – with no effective results whatsoever.
Number two, to invest in information as the single most important requirement to fight crime as a short-term strategy. As the saying goes, information is knowledge, and knowledge is power. The most effective way to allocate police resources in fighting crime is to know accurately where, when, and how crime takes place.
Time Magazine would agree with Dr. Casas, and in fact illustrates with the same example he uses: crime reduction in New York City under Rudy Giuliani’s administration. They refer to CompStat, “a real-time database of crime statistics and other intelligence useful for pinpointing trouble spots and targeting resources.”
This is nothing new to your Government Plan, where you propose the creation of an “Integrated System of Police Statistics that unifies statistics and information […] allowing therefore permanent monitoring of criminal behavior and better planning of police action” , and “installing a System of Electronic Surveillance through video cameras in several especially crowded public spaces and with closed circuit television.”
Still, this would not provide a solution for drug-related crime, which is so obscure and appears to take place underground in broad daylight. Again, Dr. Casas offers a diagnosis of this type of crime that is worthy of attention: “The impact of drug trafficking on the violence epidemics that affects our entire region cannot be minimized. Half of the intentional homicides that occurred in Mexico in 2008 are directly linked to drug dealing. In Puerto Rico it was 79 percent. Very few countries keep a detailed account of such deaths, but it is undisputed that a similar exercise in Costa Rica would offer an alarming result.”
Time goes on to suggest that, apart from statistics, another way in which the city of New York brought the crime levels to a remarkable low was speedy incarcerations. The article quotes Mark Kleiman, a criminal justice expert from UCLA, arguing that “new strategies for targeting repeat offenders – including reforms to make probation an effective sanction rather than a feckless joke – could cut crime and reduce prison populations simultaneously.”
As a matter of urgency, this may not be a practical measure for our country since its prison system is beyond its full capacity. As of legal reform, implementation might be relatively quick, but the policy-making field is quite unpredictable.
Violence breeds violence. Every day we wake up to a more violent country. Our easygoing lifestyle has suddenly been sequestered by fear the instant one leaves the household, and even at home people do not feel safe anymore. In fact, as Dr. Casas exemplifies, men are more vulnerable than women of becoming victims of crime in public areas, but at home it is the opposite. “For women”, he says, “the most serious problem of security is not in public spaces, among unknown people, but at home, among well-known people.”
Fear is paralyzing. A country without fear is what we used to be. Many lives have been lost, many families have been dismembered, and many crimes have left indelible marks in men, women and children around the country. Our population has learned to be afraid, and reverting the process will take time, which is precisely what we do not have anymore. People are not only afraid but also tired of waiting for a solution that seems to be delayed a little too long.
Fear is not an empty emotion. Neither is it only a “sensation of fear” , as referred to in the opening paragraph of the first chapter in your Government Plan, and it is not only “an alarming increment in the perception of insecurity”, as you wrote in the introduction for “A Country Without Fear.” The Ministry of Justice under your leadership issued a parallel document with a slideshow presentation of “A Country Without Fear” in which a few statistics allow to make a point in this regard. Crime rates have soared in the last two decades. For example, from 1990 to 2005, filed complaints about theft increased 693% , violations to the Law of Narcotic Substances grew 406% , and intentional homicide rose 46% (in fact, 133% if we consider Dr. Casas’s figure of 11.2 by 2008). On the other hand, perception about the level of insecurity in the country grew from 59.8% in 1999 to 78.5% in 2004. Even though the dates from one slide to another do not match, it still allows for a general overview of a disproportionate growth in crime than in the public opinion’s perception of crime.
The Ministry of Planning reveals statistics about the increment in criminal cases being tried at national tribunals and courthouses. From 1990 to 2008 criminal cases skyrocketed from 22,854 to 188,074, more than 800% variation. So the perception of the people is grounded on facts, and is treating them mildly, because the statistics are alarming.
We well know the public reaction of disapproval to the Minister of National Security’s inaugural statement regarding insecurity and its perception. She was quoted saying: “What Costa Ricans are perceiving is a growth in violence rates, since crimes are more violent (…), what is true is that the perception of insecurity is higher than insecurity itself.”
In an effort to diagnose the scope of the situation, it is important to consider three dimensions that provide an analytical framework to be more effective in the identification of the problem. The first dimension refers to the parties involved in this conflict. There are multiple actors and roles they play or could play in diagnosing and transforming the situation. There are the victims of crime, the victimizers or criminals, organized institutions of the Civil Society like a few you propose on your Government Plan, for example “Safe Schools” and “Citizen Security Committees” ; private corporations that have funds allocated for social responsibility; local governments; public institutions in general, and also in particular those related to security, justice, and health; policy decision-makers, especially in the Executive and Legislative branches.
Last but not least, the people in general are a complex actor because it includes victims, victimizers, and participants in all institutions mentioned before. As it is stated in our Constitution, “sovereignty resides exclusively in the nation,” and “the government [is] exercised by the people…” The slideshow “A Country Without Fear” makes a statement about the separation of roles dealing with this conflict. It says “The responsibility is, above all, public, but help from the Civil Society is welcome.” Perhaps a more thorough analysis of the causes and the proposals for transformation will lead us to believe that Civil Society participation is required and, in some cases, even obligatory. Clarity in the identification of the parties involved will offer more efficiency coordinating efforts depending on the social and political participation that each person has.
The second dimension has to do with time and the elapse of the conflict. In diagnosing the situation with precision, it is important to conduct a critical and historical analysis of the causes and origins of the present conflict, one that did not exist only a couple of decades ago. As quoted as an opening remark on the first slide of “A Country Without Fear”, “We shall be hard on crime but harder on the causes that provoke it.” Specificity in the root of these causes will allow for a more effective intervention dealing with the problem wherever it may be possible. This chronological study should also be driven into the future, not only in the sense of “guaranteeing continuity of strategies and actions to take” , but also in achieving sustainability in terms of harmony, empathy, and creativity dealing with conflict individually and collectively as a nation for the decades to come.
The third dimension regards the conflict itself. A conflict is generally composed of attitudes, behaviors and contradictions. Attitudes include elements like fear. Behaviors refer to elements like risk. Contradictions are incompatibilities in the way some people pretend to live their lives and, in doing so, interfere with the way others want to live theirs. Knowing exactly what the conflict is and making this information available to the public to raise awareness, will allow for a more comprehensive and even collective action in the right direction.
It is time to think creatively towards a new paradigm by leapfrogging with our imagination of a better future. “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”


1. Chinchilla, Laura. Government Plan running as candidate for nacional elections on 07 February, 2010., in “Pensamiento/Plan de Gobierno.” Last reviewed February 22, 2010.

2. Einstein, Albert. Last reviewed February 24, 2010.

3. La Nación Newspaper, “Janina Del Vecchio says that insecurity is not so alarming”, 16 April 2008. Last reviewed February 24, 2010.

4. La Nación Newspaper, “Avoiding the Fall into the Abyss, Part I” Kevin Casas, 23 August 2009. Last reviewed February 22, 2010.

5. La Nación Newspaper, “Avoiding the Fall into the Abyss, Part II”, Kevin Casas, 30 August 2009. Last reviewed February 22, 2010.

6. La Nación Newspaper, “Avoiding the Fall into the Abyss, Part III” Kevin Casas, 04 September 2009. Last reviewed February 22, 2010.

7. Ministry of Justice, “National Plan for the Prevention of Violence and Promotion of Social Peace 2007-2010: A Country Without Fear”. Last reviewed February 24, 2010.

8. Ministry of Justice, “National Plan for the Prevention of Violence and Promotion of Social Peace 2007-2010: A Country Without Fear”, slideshow presentation. Last reviewed February 24, 2010.

9. Ministry of National Planning and Economic Policy of the Republic of Costa Rica. Last reviewed February 24, 2010.

10. Republic of Costa Rica, Political Constitution. Last reviewed February 24, 2010.

11. Time magazine, “Why Crime Went Away,” David Von Drehle, February 22, 2010.,9171,1963761,00.html. Last reviewed February 22, 2010.