Violence, crime, and insecurity are major topics in contemporary political and societal discourses
in Central America. With very different crime rates and varying thematic foci, these
topics are discussed in the media, politics, and society. It is noticeable that the fear of crime
and the public sensationalization of crime and violence vary significantly from country to
country. Thus, low crime rates do not necessarily reduce fear and vice versa.
This paper is related to a research project about discourses on violence and crime in contemporary
Central America, and is based on the observation that the “talk of crime” is very
prevalent in Costa Rica, a country usually known as being calm and peaceful. The extensive
fear of crime becomes manifest in many different social spaces and contexts. Rico recently
stated, on the basis of crime statistics and opinion polls, that a) many Costa Ricans do not
have a clear idea, or even have a very incorrect idea, of crime rates in Costa Rica and that b)
the number of Costa Ricans who have the impression that they could very likely become a
victim of crime is remarkably high (Rico 2006: 30). In 2004, for example, 77.6 percent of the respondents of a representative public opinion poll stated that Costa Rica is not safe at all
(while 62 percent regarded their neighborhood as a safe place); 59.9 percent declared that
one should not leave his home unguarded; 64.2 percent declared that houses need fences in
Costa Rica; and 39.2 percent advocated for a watchdog in their houses (Rico 2006: 31-32).
Furthermore, there is notable sensationalization of violence and crime in the Costa Rican
mass media (Fonseca/Sandoval 2006; Bejarano 2006: 32-34) as well as in political debates
about Costa Rica. An example of the extraordinary social significance of violence and crime
compared to other topics is provided by the Informe Nacional de Desarrollo Humano 2005 of
the UNDP. Out of all possible social problems, the UNDP picked violence, crime and insecurity
for the Costa Rican report.