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Recientemente una nueva fuerza policial ha sido formada, la policía turística. Esta parece ser bastante profesional pero también atenta a las necesidades de la comunidad. Fue organizada con el objetivo de hacer el país más seguro para el turismo, y para atender directamente a los delitos contra los turistas. Al mismo tiempo se están involucrando en las comunidades rurales, atrayendo así memorias de la Guardia de Asistencia Rural.

Law and Lawlessness in Rural Costa Rica Prior to the early 1980s, the Osa Peninsula was wild and lawless place, a land of exiles. Any criminal wanting to escape the authorities and willing to endure the hardships of the jungle, fled to the Osa. Most panned gold for a living. They earned enough to buy food and lots of drink and carry on their daily routines, but none got rich. I first visited the Osa Peninsula in 1972. We landed on the small air field in a single engine Cessna, and were met by a man named Santiago. Driving through Puerto Jiménez I noticed several bars, a small hardware store and even a gas station, but no police station. We stopped at a general store to buy some snacks and drinks. From there drove over a rough jeep trail to look at a farm, and several hours later returned to Puerto Jiménez where we caught the afternoon passenger boat to Golfito. There were only five passengers that afternoon and Ignacio, the boat driver, was in a talkative mood. He explained that about 90% of the population of the peninsula was wanted by the law for one thing or another. As long as they stayed in the Osa, there was nothing to worry about, but sooner or later most would delude themselves into thinking that the police had forgotten about them. They would board one of the two passenger boats that made regular runs to Golfito with the idea of slipping back into society unnoticed. What they didn’t know was that the police had a pretty complete list with photos and descriptions of every criminal who lived on the Osa. Two or three policemen waited for every boat and arrested every wanted person who stepped off. My good friend Patrick lived in Osa for 26 years from the early 1960s to the late 1980s. He walked over every inch of the peninsula with a small scale in his pack and a big wad of cash in his pocket, and

bought gold from the miners. He always paid a fair price for the gold, and never tried to cheat anyone. “Nobody ever bothered me,” he said. “I started buying about the time that the price of gold started to climb, and everyone thought I was the one who made the price go up. Nobody wanted anything to happen to me. They were afraid that if I left, the price would fall.” When Pat started buying the price of gold was less than $100 per ounce, and when he moved away it was around $800 per ounce. According to Patrick no occurrence was serious enough to bring the police to the Osa. On two occasions he saw people killed in barroom brawls. They just dragged the dead men out front, and everyone went back to drinking. The next day someone would bury the body. Everyone carried a hand gun. It was pretty much a wild west scenario. The 1980s brought roads to the peninsula, and with the roads came the police. The area is still far from being a prime example of law and order, but at least nobody gets away with killing people in public bars. Prior to 1940, the area around Dominical was also a place without law and order. The nearest police office was in San Isidro de El General and was called the Agencia Principal de Policía. The police chief was the Agente Principal de Policía. I believe the first Agente Prinicipal in San Isidro was Juvenal Venegas Garcia. He was there from 1914 until his death in 1928. Later his son-in-law, Trino Montero Rodriguez, took over the job. Though there was no police presence in Dominical or Uvita, the people living there were mostly hard working farmers and ranchers, much different from the residents of the Osa Peninsula. Early writings mention that homemade liquor was the main illegal activity, but I doubt if the people who lived here thought it was much of a problem, only the government, who couldn’t collect tax on the moonshine. That didn’t mean that there weren’t thefts, disputes between neighbors, and even killings, because there were. But the area didn’t boast the wild west type of lawlessness so characteristic of Osa. Emilio Vargas, who was destined to become the most remembered policeman in Dominical, was born in 1930 in San Isidro de El General. When only six years old he accompanied his uncle on his first trip to Dominicalito to bring back some cargo that was waiting there in a store house. Long dugout boats called bongos carried local products such as rice, beans, and corn to the market in Puntarenas and returned with goods that weren’t available in the area, such as metal

tools, cloth, salt and medicines. People from San Isidro carried coffee, sugar and tobacco to Dominicalito and Uvita on horseback or by oxcart. They left it with a man known as Chucuyo and others like him who took charge of the cargo and made sure it got loaded on the next bongo that came by. Chucuyo would also place the order with the bongo captain for goods to be purchased in Puntarenas and brought back on the return trip. The purpose of Emilio´s visit to Dominicalito was to help his uncle with the goods they had ordered from the port city. At that time there were no police in the area. It wasn’t until 1940 when Emilo was ten, that a man named Gonzalo Gutierrez became the first Agente Principal de Policía in Dominical. He was later replaced by Pepe Morales. During the brief but bloody interlude of the 1948 civil war, the local police agents took up arms with one side of the conflict or the other. The revolutionary troops of Jose “Don Pepe” Figueres Ferrer, arrived in San Isidro by way of the Cerro de la Muerte and set up a stronghold there. On March 16, 1948, government troops under the command of General Tijerino arrived by sea and landed in Dominicalito. They marched to San Isidro where they clashed with the revolutionaries in a fierce battle that lasted 36 hours. General Tijerino was defeated and fled south. The rebels caught up to him in Palmares where he was killed in a short skirmish. After the victory, Don Pepe returned to Cartago, from where he took San Jose and ended the war. He already had most of the rest of the country. On April 20 a second detachment of government troops landed in Dominicalito and marched to San Isidro. They dug in on the hill where today we find the installations of the Ministry of Transport. Either these government troops didn’t know that the civil war was over, or just didn’t want to give up, but when the victors returned to San Isidro, what ensued was more of a slaughter than a battle. There were so many casualties that the people of San Isidro had to build a make-shift crematorium to dispose of the corpses. Shortly after the war, Don Pepe abolished the army, and Costa Rica became the only country in Latin America without a military. The men who had previously been Agentes de Policía were replaced with ones who had demonstrated absolute loyalty to Don Pepe. For many years thereafter, every time a new president came into office the entire police force was dismissed and a new one hired. The job of local policeman was like a reward to supporters. It insured loyalty to the new president, but did little to promote Dominical Days 5

DD 2010 12 05  

Dominical Days 5

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