“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Costa Rica is a Dangerous Country for Tourists

U.S. teenager shot, killed in Costa Rica by hotel security guard

Posted: Thursday, June 02, 2011 - By Will Ferguson
UPDATED: A high school student from Kansas was killed by a guard at a lodge in La Fortuna early Thursday morning.
Justin Johnston
Justin Johnston, 16, student at McLouth High School in Kansas.
A 34-year-old hotel security guard at La Cangreja Lodge in La Fortuna, San Carlos, in north-central Costa Rica, shot and killed a high school student from Kansas early Thursday. Justin Johnston, 16, a student from McLouth High School, in McLouth, Kansas, in the U.S, died soon after he was shot.
According to the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ), two students left their rooms in the hotel late at night. When they returned, they passed close to an adjoining property with a barbed-wire fence to avoid being noticed. A dog barked, startling the students and alerting a hotel guard to their presence, the daily La Nación reported.
Police said the guard fired a warning shot into the air, frightening the teenagers, who began running towards the hotel. Thinking he was being attacked, the guard, identified as Jorge Guevara, shot and fatally wounded Johnston, La Nación reported, citing the OIJ.
Police reported that the guard’s weapon, a .22-caliber pistol, was not registered. Firearms are regulated by the Ministry of Public Security. Possession of unregistered firearms can result in criminal charges and jail time.
Guevara’s attorney, Marcela Rodríguez, who was contacted by Guevara’s family shortly after the incident, would not comment at press time because she didn’t have complete details of the shooting.
No other students were injured. McLouth school district is arranging emergency counseling for students at the Kansas high school.
During a press conference late Thursday afternoon, McLouth superintendent Steve Splichal said remaining students and staff will return home early. Their original return date was next Wednesday.
Johnston was on a nine-day Spanish Club trip with 11 other students and two district sponsors. School district officials worked with EF Educational Tours to set up the trip.
In a statement released by EF Educational Tours Thursday afternoon, the company said that while the death of Johnston is tragic, the incident appears to be an isolated occurrence and should not indicate broader safety concerns in Costa Rica.
The company offers four travel packages to Costa Rica, all of which include visits to La Fortuna waterfall and Arenal volcano. According to the company’s website, an EF tour director is required to make sure students return to their rooms on a nightly basis. The website says the curfew time is generally set around 11:30 p.m.
The U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica released a brief statement on the shooting, saying that the embassy is in contact with the family and that embassy personnel have gone to La Fortuna to meet with local authorities and the U.S. residents involved in the incident. The embassy would not comment further due to U.S. federal privacy law that prohibits divulging citizens’ information to the press.
In the last 10 years four other students from the state of Kansas died while in Costa Rica. In 2006 three students and a high school Spanish teacher drowned at Palo Seco Beach, on the central Pacific coast, after swimming into strong currents (TT, June 23, 2006). In 2001, University of Kansas student Shannon Martin was stabbed in the pacific port town of Golfito (TT, May 21, 2003).


  1. I feel the gunfire coming ever closer, here too.

    I wish I could actually do something about all the nonsense in the world.

    But you folks are gonna get it Wednesday next week, as daughter will be plugged in then, and she will plug me in too. No more of this hot spot craparoo.

    I'm gonna put on a seminar bout William Blake, an' how the imagination is truly creative.

    Truly creative of something more.


  2. All in all, it doesn't sound like too bad a record.

  3. What do they get, hundreds of thousands of tourists/yr?

    A lot (most?) of them there to "party," and "get in trouble?"

  4. Costa Rica gets better press than it deserves:

    This happened in April and they were neveer found>

    Gérard and Claude Dubois of France have been missing since Thursday. If you have any information on their whereabouts, call the Judicial Investigation Police at 2777-0511. Courtesy of the French Embassy.

    The French Embassy sent out an alert Monday for two citizens of France that have been missing since last Thursday, according to Costa Rican police.

    Gérard and Claude Dubois disappeared in Quepos on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast in Puntarenas.


    June 2009 -Itai Elias, a 26-year-old Israeli tourist, was shot and killed early Monday in the Costa Rican central Pacific coast town of Jacó, police said.

    The Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) reported Elias was shot once in the right clavicle at 4:55 a.m. near Pops ice cream shop in Jacó. Elias died at 5:25 a.m.


    The number one way to prevent crime from happening to you is to realize that you stick out. You are not a Costa Rican, you do not dress like a Costa Rican, you do not act like a Costa Rican, and they know that.

    Number two, do not travel by yourself at night anywhere in the country. There are thousands of taxis in Costa Rica - either have the restaurant or hotel call you one or stand out front and wait for one to come by. But never at night go looking for one on your own.

    Don't wear expensive or flashy jewelry, it is unnecessary and draws unwanted attention. Carry all money and your passport in a money belt that you keep under your clothing. If you have a wallet always carry it in your front pocket as it is more difficult for pickpockets to get at.

    Don't change money on the street, always change it at banks. If there are no banks or they are all closed go to a hotel or a restaurant. You are not going to get as good an exchange rate but at least you will know that the money is real.

    Always be aware of your surroundings and where you are, and act like you know what you are doing. Most thieves are looking for an easy target, someone who looks disoriented or lost.

    Be Aware - In San Jose most crimes happen in particular areas and they tend to happen at night.

    There are two 'Zona Roja's' or Red Zones: the Tico and the Gringo.

    The Tico area has three major sections: Coca Cola, Merced and Barrio Mexico. Of all of these, the one to be most concerned with is Coca Cola. There are a couple of reasons for this.' One, it has the highest rate of pick-pocketing and the other is that it contains the major bus terminal for the entire country. When at the Coca Cola Bus Station always give yourself enough time to find your bus and buy your ticket. Don't wait until the last moment and rush around trying to find everytning. You can easily get distracted. Don't let anyone you don't know handle or watch your things.

    The Gringo zone is centered around Parque Morizon and the bars, restaurants and hotels. Actually, you should be careful at all of San Jose's parks, even during the day. If you follow a few simple rules of thumb you can drastically reduce the chances of anything bad happening.

    Remember: Just say NO! - If someone approaches you for money or wants to sell you something or offers to give you help, just say no and keep your eyes open. They may be genuine but it is best to play it safe. Most pickpockets work in pairs, one to distract and one to extract. If you need help, you pick out the person and the place, not the other way around. While you are at Coca Cola, or any other bus station, keep your eyes on your things all the way up until the bus leaves. If at all possible, travel with only a carryon bag and store it above you in the baggage rack. You stick out Do not travel by yourself at night Don't wear jewlery Buy and use a money belt or pouch Never exchange money on the street Be aware of where you are at all times.

  5. Costa Rica taxi drivers reported they net about $400.00 per month and they will not go to certain areas of san jose even to drop off good customers for fear of street gangs that will surround to rob the taxi drivers in areas like Alajuelita, Leon 13 and los cuadros de Guadeloupe.............Of course the police do not go to these areas either and these gangs are growing into other areas fast.

    Tico Times ...…back pages...reported in late 2006 ...…USA female tourist are being raped then robbed in late night taxi rides when the taxi driver stops and another man would jump into the taxi... and go to a remote location where they rape and rob their victims.... the same type of taxi related rapes/robbery has been occurring to maids and other illegals working in the up scale area of Escazu, san jose...…police has reported no arrest

    tico time....2/16/07... front page..president oscar arias lobbying in the USA for the the world to disarm while his country is having a crime wave crises that he has never addressed ...…strangely he uses to promote himself but not his own countries internet channel....Oscar Arias

  6. Tico times...9/22/ #7....Costa Rica officials of the j.i.police estimate the real figures are much higher than their latest figures show of 3327 street thugs victims from jan thru aug. 2006 they say that is a rate of 1 per hour in san jose. Many victims simply do not report these crimes...…it maybe more like 10 per hour....

    note....the reasons are many ....the victims are immigrates, tourist, or Costa Rica citizens that may not want their name in a police report or be in the news. nor want to interrupt their vacation plans... some think the police and justice system will do nothing away ....which is true...… and are concerned that the criminals will come after them again for reporting the crime... as the police and courts are useless protect...… your self.

    tico times......9/29/06...…page # 5... the chief prosecutor's issued a warning in his 2006 annual report that Costa Rica now faces an increase in organized crime from ...crime-for-hire and hit men from street gangs and now organized groups like ......... the m-19 and the f.a.r.c both separate colombian guerrilla groups are now operating in cr..... other criminal chinese groups are kidnapping for ransom Costa Rica citizens of chinese origin ...these group are threatening and intimidating both victims and witnesses of crimes these groups have committed.

    more news reports to follow...

    crime was mostly found in san jose, some other highly touristed areas and the two port cities of Limon and Puntarenas. crimes are were mostly petty such as pick-pocketing, purse snatching and car radio theft. once the benefits of not having a military is that costa rica is now a gun oriented society. criminal acts were normally non violent and very few criminals have guns. this is no longer the case in 2006

    There are youth gangs known as 'chopolines', which in spanish means grasshoppers. They are young street kids who are generally found in the poorer sections of san jose, Limon and Puntarenas. the likelihood of any of these things happening can be dramatically reduced with a little knowledge and foresight. Crime in costa rica was definitely less than in the u.s.

    note......a lot of out dated reporting is still out there on the internet about costa rica crime (like that shown above) in 2006. but is not the current status here. so do not be miss led by the low tone of these out dated reports including those found at...… USA reports

    yes....if you stay i n only the gringo tourist zones you are generally ok . but criminals out side the zones do have guns knifes and other weapons and armed robbery, home invasions and car jacking are daily events and are on the rise as more travelers and money flow into Costa Rica with their under funded and very liberal justice system and few jails it has reached a new and alarming levels in the last year along.

    The costa rican government does not even discuss the crime wave they are now experiencing they prefer to get head lines in their news about their big new plans to stamp out tourist related sex crimes that have never been a serious problem here but is sure to get you on the front page with the local tico news very time. They play this over and over while disregarding their real problems with their new crime wave.

    A few costa rican officials do sound the alarm but thats usually on the back back pages unless there is dead bodes from a shoot out.

  7. EF Tours is not known for making student safety a priority. Cheap hotels and students "let loose" at all hours is a recipe for disaster. Having just returned from one of their trips, I know what I'm talking about. EF Tours sells the idea of chaperoned foreign education for students. They do not deliver on either. This is their fault. Sadly, a kid lost his life due to their pitiful safety measures.

  8. Dude, you should go to some areas in the USA:

    Stop making a country look bad. Thousands of tourists go to Costa Rica each month. 5 were killed in the last years? Come on! How many tourists were killed in the US in the last year? If you don't know, don't try to make a case.

    The majority of people killed were trouble makers... and of course there are some unfortunate accidents like this boy. Hotel and guard responsibility. However, teach your kids to not jump fences between properties in the middle of the night! It is a rule worldwide :)

  9. Dude.

    Costa Rica has more murders per hundred thousand inhabitants than Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Zimbabwe

    Costa Rica has a homicide rate twice the United States.

    The amount of people victimized by crime is startling. The police are corrupt and inept. I have never had a dealing with a Costa Rican cop that I could not bribe.

    You will find few houses where there are not iron gates and or barbed wire. Thievery is rampant. Car break-ins, kidnappings and house invasions are not unusual. The house invasions target foreigners.

    I drive a heavy Land Cruiser and have twice been targeted for assault. I also am armed and use evasive action and am not afraid of putting a dent or two in my car or others when assaulted.

    The beaches at Limon are particularly dangerous for woman because of predatory and repeat sexual offenders.

    Costa Rican propaganda is that it is a safe paradise and thousands of tourists naively buy it. It is not the worse place in the World, but you better know what you are dealing with.

    1. I'm the victim of a violent attack in Costa Rica. Three on one. All the bullshit. Deuce, it's good that you're posting this information because you're right: all the literature from CR makes it sound like the only crimes are pickpockets (even in Coca Cola!!) and that's not the case at all -- I'm living (thank God) proof of that.

  10. I may also add that the courts in Costa Rica are inept and a disgrace. Costa Rica is one of the few places on the planet where an accused felon can make a statement in court and not be cross-examined by the counsel for the offended party.

    September 2009:

    There was an Armed Robbery on a Bus from Tortuguero to Cariari at about 1:20 PM local time on Wednesday September 16.

    I was on a public bus for the hour-long drive from the port at Tortuguero, Costa Rica, to Cariari, another small town that serves as a connection point for buses to San Jose.

    As we came around a turn in the road, I heard what sounded like a balloon pop from the front area of the bus. This sound was followed by several more popping noises and the din of men shouting, and then the bus came to a sudden halt.

    Suddenly, five men wearing ski masks and three carrying machine guns, and one each carrying a pistol and a knife boarded the bus and demanded money from the passengers. They also removed certain bags from the bus, including my daypack. One passenger resisted, and the bandits hit him in the head with a gun, but otherwise no one was seriously injured.
    When the bandits were through with their work, they fired several more shots into the air as they escaped into the banana fields. The entire incident lasted about five minutes. The bus then continued for another 20 minutes or so until we found a roadside establishment and phoned the police.

    The police in Cariari were useless, and sent us to the OIJ office in Guapiles, where they took a report, but did not even ask us for contact information.

    Some locals on the bus suspected that the driver was a con-conspirator and was acting suspicious.

    Article submitted by Jeff Jordan -Tico Times

  11. Another day in Paradise

    Monteverde massacre stuns nation, failed bank robbery leaves 9 dead, 17 injured
    Posted: Friday, March 11, 2005 - By Robert Goodier
    This usually peaceful, tourist-filled town turned into the site of one of the most tragic hostage situations in the country’s recent history this week, as nine people were killed and 17 injured during a failed bank robbery.

    The bloody standoff at Banco Nacional began Tuesday afternoon and ended 28 hours later when the last assailant, Erly Hurtado, a Nicaraguan in his mid-20s, surrendered to police. Among the killed are Mario López, a Red Cross worker who was in the bank as a client, and officer Oscar Quesada, 44, who worked for the police special intervention unit.

    Five other bank employees and clients were killed, as well as two of the assailants.“WE were waiting in line to do a transaction and I looked at the door. A guy was saying ‘alarma, alarma,’ and the door guard looked scared. There was lots and lots and lots of gunfire,” said Dorothy, a U.S. citizen who was in the bank during the failed robbery attempt and told the The Tico Times she preferred not to use her last name.

    “Immediately when we saw the guns we dove on the floor and didn’t look around,” she continued. “We heard gunshots, a lot of gunshots. Workers and clients were killed.”

    While the hostages inside the bank lived the nightmare, Costa Ricans around the country clung to live TV news coverage to watch the drama unfold in this rural community, renowned for its conservation efforts and cloud forest. Despite its characteristic peacefulness, this was the third attempt to rob the town’s only bank in the past 10 years – the others were June 14,1995, and Jan. 20, 1998 – and the second time people carrying out the assault were killed, according to Roberto Méndez, director of security for Banco Nacional…

  12. ...Méndez said he believes the bank in Monteverde is more prone to robberies because it is in a mountainous region, presumably making escape easier. Bank director Francisco Araya told The Tico Times the bank is going to pay for the funerals of all the victims, the medical bills of everyone involved, and repair all nearby buildings damaged by gunfire.

    Bank employees also will be given 15 days of vacation and a substitute team will be brought in so the bank can reopen by Monday.

    THE deadly gunshots began at 3:30p.m. Tuesday when three assailants armed with AK-47s and other heavy weaponry attempted to enter the bank.

    According to witnesses and photos, a fourth suspected assailant was outside the bank, but left the scene before attempting to enter or participating in any exchange in gunfire, explained Jorge Rojas, general director of the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ). A fifth assailant may have been waiting in a getaway car somewhere, he said.

    Bank guard Álvaro Castro, 20, told Channel 7 TV news he saw three of the suspects approach, two with painted faces and one with a handkerchief covering his face. Castro said they shot at the door a total of three times. When they shot the second time, Castro shot back, and in the third, Castro was hit in the arm and the abdomen. He is recovering well.

    The guard fell to the ground and feigned death, in order to protect himself, he told news cameras.

    WHEN Castro shot back, he was successful in hitting the assailants, and two died outside the bank entrance, according to the Ministry of Public Security. They were both Nicaraguan.

    The third wounded assailant, Hurtado, entered the bank reportedly shooting and killing all the six victims immediately. Among the victims are Víctor Badilla, Rosa Marchena, María Bolaños and William Suárez, according to the daily La Nación…

  13. Authorities have not released an official list of the deceased. When Hurtado spoke to the police during hours of negotiations, he apparently lied and spoke of a colleague, to give himself more weight, although there was none, according to an official police source.

    However, several of the hostages – of which there were 28 – reported to the daily newspapers hearing voices talking throughout the night. This is “under investigation,” according to the police.

    ANOTHER suspect possibly remains at large after escaping in a car closely after the incident began, presumably driving the getaway car, according to Minister of Public Security Rogelio Ramos.

    The hostages, including bank employees and clients and a woman seven months pregnant, were released or managed to escape throughout the course of the evening and following day. Many sustained gunshot wounds and were airlifted to Hospital Mexico in San José or treated in the Monteverde public health clinic.

    All of the most seriously injured, including David Saunders, from Hawaii, and Nancy Ramírez, who is pregnant, are recovering and in stable condition, according to a spokeswoman for Hospital Mexico.

    HOSTAGE Dorothy and her U.S. friend Beth, a fellow volunteer at a nearby school who also asked not to use her last name, were released from the bank at about 2 a.m., Wednesday.

    “It was the scariest thing in my life. I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to die,’” Bethsaid. “There was a guy with black paint on his face, like shoe polish. He didn’t talk.”

    They remembered the smells of gunpowder and urine.

    “We heard a guy coughing blood to death. I’m pretty sure. We had no idea what was going on the entire time. We didn’t know who was outside, who was inside,” Dorothy said…

  14. ...MANY hostages said they escaped on their own, without police help.

    However, Ramos explained, “They were able to leave because we were occupying the attention of the suspect for quite awhile.”

    Hurtado finally gave up at 7:42 p.m. Wednesday after he “realized the reality of his situation, that he was not going to escape,” Ramos said.

    The assailant exited the bank and was escorted between two police officers. One Red Cross worker described him as looking “drugged” and exhausted. At one point Wednesday afternoon, police considered the idea of allowing the assailant to escape in a vehicle, as he requested in exchange for hostages, but that idea was abandoned and officers decided to enter the building. Officer Quesada was killed during the attempt, according to TV news reports. Ramos would not release information on reasons behind the change of tactics.

    THE police and rescue effort was a combination of forces between the special intervention unit – known as the anti-terrorism unit, national police, Monteverde police, and at least 60 Red Cross workers.

    Area police responded within minutes, according to officer Marvin Ugalde.

    “When I got there, there was a dead man and an injured man and one coming,” Officer Cristian Carballo said. “He turned back into the bank. We shot the injured man when he reached for his gun. We waited about an hour behind buildings for the arrival of reinforcements.”

    The officer added it was only the second time he had ever shot anyone protecting this normally peaceful town. One of the main draws to the area is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, started by Quakers who immigrated to Santa Elena in 1951. With peace and conservations guiding principles, the area has become one of the country’s top tourist destinations.

    “When all this is gone, when all the press is gone, I would hope you comeback to see what this community does, because it will be honorable, truthful and healing,” Randal Smith, owner of Pension Santa Elena, a hotel next to the Banco Nacional, told The Tico Times.

    IN defense of criticism that maybe the bank guard should not have returned fire, bank director Araya said, “We think the guards acted appropriately, it was in self-defense, and in defense of those inside. People say if the guards hadn’t shot, the others wouldn’t have entered shooting. But that is not the nature of people like that, it has been shown, they would have been shot regardless.”

    Hurtado and the two assailants who died – his brother Santos Angenor Hurtado and half-brother Santos Marjory Cruz – are part of a group believed to be responsible for violent robberies in the past in Guanacaste, Puntarenas, Turrialba and Guápiles, in which they enter restaurants and supermarkets shooting, according to OIJ investigators. They are also suspects in at least two homicides.

    Kim Beecheno, Sonia Cordero, María Gabriela Díaz and Katherine Stanley contributed to this report.

  15. Costa Rica is like a Casino everything looks great until you have a problem, this country is the violator of alot of human rights I do not know why the world let's Costa Rica do what evr they want without consequences, this is a dangerous place and beoming more so, I have been living here on and off for 20 years so I know the place wel I have a Costa Rica and an American Passport, the corruption is huge and the country is extremely expensive and the services are poor, Oscar Arias is a great example of a false publicity campain he won the Nobel Prize using Costa Rica resources he comes from a wealthy family he does not have a clue what the average Costa Rican has to go thru on a day to day basis, basically if you live here you will become paranoid people are like hungry vampires for money but they do not want to earn it they want to steal it from you, this country 20 years ago was awesome now is time to get out it will soon become one of the most dangerous countries in Latin America, another thing they do not protect their investor and the police are partners with the criminals.


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  18. Deuce, interesting. I was beaten and robbed (strangled to death - unconscious) by three thugs in the back of a taxi pirata in the Coca Cola of San Jose. Everything was stolen. You're right that a lot of the shit that happens in Costa Rica goes unnoticed. Thanks for providing this catalogue of unaddressed violence.