Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 10/2009

The Culture of Fear and Control in Costa Rica (II): The Talk of Crime and Social Changes

Sebastian Huhn

September 2009

German Institute of Global and Area Studies


The Costa Rican talk of crime is fundamentally based on the assumption that a formerly explicitly nonviolent nation has been transformed into a battleground for social violence-that is, on the belief that an alarming "crime wave" is occurring today while there was no crime at all in the past. On the basis of this assumption, the fear of crime and the call for zero tolerance and drastic law enforcement actions have been increasing. In this paper I discuss the Costa Rican talk of crime from a historical perspective to demonstrate that crime has always been a topic that has generated pervasive feelings of insecurity and social pessimism. I argue that social changes in Costa Rican society and the paradigmatic shift in economic and socialwelfare politics since the 1980s have been essential in the transformation of the talk of crime. As part of this transformation, the politicization of crime since the 1990s has been one of the most powerful changes in the dominant discourse.