Thievery Strikes Again

In an effort to turn over a new leaf, I had invested a tidy little Costa Rican sum in a used mountain bike. Ostensibly, this mode of transportation would allow me to flex my legs as I improved my physical health, all the while pedaling past velvety coffee fields, whitewater streams and colorful bursts of tropical color. Life was about to get better, one kilometer at a time.

I got exactly eight kilometers before it got worse. 

After an afternoon jaunt through a local neighborhood, I loaded the bike into the Lesbo Rider, stopping briefly at a friends place. Quicker than a Domino’s pepperoni gets to your door, my phone rang. “Are you Mr. Peter? Did you get robbed? Because I found your agenda, journal and eyeglasses in the lot next door.” 

Shit. 

One step outside revealed the two passenger doors open, my lock bored out, everything in the car gone. 

In a way, I am at fault here. I should have known that one cannot leave anything of value in car, even if for a few minutes. I should have gone for my bike ride, driven to my friend’s house, taken the bike out, parked it in her living room, and reloaded it when it was time to go. 

Or I shouldn’t have even purchased a bike. I know many people who have been surrounded as they rode leisurely around town, beaten into relinquishing their Trek. 

As I posted below, the police will classify this robbery as “carelessness.” But once again it’s a sad testimony to what’s happening in what was once Latin America’s most egalitarian society. Everyone I know who has been here for any length of time has suffered at the hands of delinquents. Home burglaries, stolen cars, cellphones taken at gunpoint. Somebody once climbed onto the balcony of my office, to steal a broken coffee table and an umbrella. I have even lost all the rubber stripping on my car. A pair of pants from luggage on the bus. Two garbage cans. Some old, bald tires. 

Part of my “carelessness” stems from the fact that I still do not recognize, or at least fully believe, the truly dire situation that Costa Rica has been experiencing in the last decade. With an underpaid, poorly equipped, semi-literate police force, what can you expect? With laws that allow criminals, even murders, back onto the streets hours after being apprehended, what can you expect? With an alarmingly growing gap between the upper and lower classes, what can you expect? 

Somehow, I expect better of the country. I expect that at some point, passionate, honest, capable politicians will take the rotting reigns of this runaway country and snap them straight. That they will strive to make deep, fundamental changes. To heal wounds. To outrun the storm. 

However, each time I experience or hear about the audacious actions of the large criminal class – and I hear about them often – my expectations wither a bit more. The flower of my experience here in Costa Rica still has a few drooping petals left, but if the currents conditions prevail much longer, I’ll either have to get used to living in a desert, or plant my garden elsewhere.

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One Response to “Thievery Strikes Again”

  1. Rusty Says:

    I think crime in Costa Rica may be reaching an uncomfortable threshold. Perhaps it is just an imagined milestone enhanced by my mind’s tendency to seek patterns where none exist, but I can’t stop from recalling a line delivered by Dr. Fleishman from Northern Exposure: “Crime in L.A. is different… you can avoid it. But in New York, crime finds YOU.”

    A fellow ex-pat recently declared to me that we in Costa Rica are no more in danger of being victims of crime than we would be in many cities in the U.S. I find this impossible to believe and I feel that such logic is a classic example of incorrectly applying a general statistic to a specific case. For the sake of argument let’s say that L.A. and San José have identical statistics for all crime categories. It is a fallacy to assume that the theft or murder rates in the two cities mean the same thing to a particular individual.

    For example, the vast majority of violent crimes in U.S. cities are perpetrated in certain neighborhoods and are largely limited to violence among select ethnic groups and sophisticated criminal gangs that literally control the streets. If one stays clear of these neighborhoods and affiliations–and most everyone does–the overall statistics prove to be inapplicable.

    But in Costa Rica criminality is spread more evenly throughout the population centers of the country. This is expected given the undermanned, undertrained police force. Opportunity for criminals is everywhere and at all times. And since the devestatingly poor barrios contain nothing of value (unlike the poor neighborhoods in the U.S. where criminals can still turn a healthy profit), criminals have predictably evolved to be opportunistic predators, seizing the moment when time and place intersect just right to pull off a successful crime.

    The result of this is that, just as in Dr. Fleishman’s recollection of New York, crime in Costa Rica finds YOU. As with U.S. cities, the statistics are skewed for people who look like me, but this time it is in the wrong direction! What better opportunity is there for an opportunistic criminal than a self-assured gringo walking down a familiar street in a relatively safe neighborhood?

    Perhaps it is just a coincidence, but just today such an “opportunistic” crime occurred where 3 young women were kidnapped, robbed, assaulted and shot just a few feet from the casino where on of them worked (sadly, one of them died). This crime was uncharacteristically brutal as the women were shot at point blank range even though they posed no threat to their assailants. I say “uncharacteristic”, but if Costa Rica doesn’t start taking some serious steps, I fear such crimes will no longer be considered so out of the ordinary.

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