Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 07/2009

The Culture of Fear and Control in Costa Rica (I): Crime Statistics and Law Enforcement

Sebastian Huhn

July 2009

German Institute of Global and Area Studies


The Costa Rican talk of crime is fundamentally based on the assumption that crime rates have increased significantly in recent years and that there is today a vast and alarming amount of crime. On the basis of this assumption, fear of crime, the call for the "iron fist," and drastic law enforcement actions are continually increasing. While crime statistics are the logical basis for the hypothesis on the far-reaching extent of delinquency, they are used in a problematic way in the talk of crime. In this paper I discuss Costa Rican crime statistics, their development, and their utilization in the talk of crime against the background of criminological theory. The theses of the paper are that a) the informative value of crime statistics regarding Costa Rican reality is far more questionable than the common utilization of them implies and b) when they are used as argumentation, these crime statistics do not provide evidence of the oft-proclaimed rising crime wave.