Youth gangs in San Jose, including their primary activities, recruitment membership, major gangs, gangs in La Uruca Rosistei Carballo neighbourhood, a gang called The Champions, government or NGO programs to address the problem of gangs, police actions against them [CRI38217.E]

The most detailed account of gangs in San Jose and Costa Rica found among the sources consulted, is in a recent article from the San Jose-based Tico Times (6 Apr. 2001). The report states, among other things, the following, which includes a passing reference to La Uruca area of the capital:

Described as experienced, professional and deliberate, a band of four young men-whose estimated ages range from 16 to 22-reportedly abducted, robbed, and beat up a U.S. expatriate Friday night while he was sitting in his van parked on the street outside the popular commercial and nightlife center El Pueblo, in the northern San José neighborhood of Tournón.
While it is not clear whether the assailants are members of one of the numerous San José youth gangs currently under investigation by the Judicial Investigative Police (OIJ), the methodical manner in which they reportedly pulled off their attack against New York native Charles David Sussman indicates that the four young men are already well practiced in crime. The assailants [were] allegedly armed with a handgun and several knives...
Sitting in the back of the van with the sliding door open, the two [the victim and a recently-acquainted woman] were reportedly not alone for more than a couple of minutes before the four assailants appeared. According to Sussman and the police report filed with the OIJ, the woman in the van fled the scene upon seeing the attackers, did not seek help from authorities, and may be considered an accomplice to the crime....After slightly more than an hour of the ordeal, Sussman was pushed out of his van "somewhere in Uruca," stripped of an estimated $3,000 worth of jewelry and money.
When the police finally arrived [to the crime scene, where the abandoned van was found], Sussman said, he tried to get them to take fingerprints inside the van, but they allegedly "queered the crime scene" by entering the vehicle in search of hard clues.
Marco Carreon, an official with the OIJ, assured The Tico Times this week that the police know of Sussman's case and will assign a detective to have it properly investigated. According to Francisco Ruíz, press chief for the OIJ, there is a possibility that Sussman was the latest victim of gang-related carjackings and assaults against people in vehicles.
Just in the first month of this year alone, according to OIJ statistics, 195 cases of car theft-73 of which resulted in assault-were reported. While not all are directly linked to gang activity, the involvement of organized youth in this type of criminal activity is of great concern to law enforcement officials.
"We are in the process of investigating these gangs," Ruíz told The Tico Times Tuesday. "But this takes a lot of careful planning and work."
While the total number of youths involved in organized crime is unknown, according to Ruíz, the OIJ has already successfully profiled the young men who are the alleged gang leaders. And contrary to what many people may guess, the leaders have been identified not as poor street dwellers, but as well-to-do middle- to upper-middle-class suburbanites, who get their first taste of crime by stealing friends' cars and parking them in different parts of the city as a practical joke.
Whether they start with bad intentions or just out of boredom, at some point along the way, according to Ruíz, these young men undergo a frightening transformation.
"The leaders of the gangs are from suburbs such as Santa Ana, Escazú, San Pedro and Rohrmoser," he told The Tico Times. "They are well dressed, carry guns, and are not afraid to shoot."
The sons of local businessmen and professionals, the gang leaders reportedly run their units much like their fathers run their businesses.
Thought to operate in a highly organized top-down power structure, the gangs are divided into numerous "cells," comprised of two to four young men. These "cells," although sometimes operating spontaneously, usually take their marching orders from leaders higher up on the gang pyramid.
According to Michael Soto, head of the OIJ's 20-member anti-gang division, the four men who assaulted Sussman had clearly robbed before -experience they may have from ties to a gang cell. However, the nature of the abduction and assault does not match the traditional pattern of car theft associated with organized gang activity.
"The number of instances of this particular crime [abducting people to withdraw money from ATM machines] is very low," Soto said. "So far this year, there have been only four reported cases, including Sussman's. And the other three cases were committed by 'pirate' taxi drivers against Ticos [Costa Ricans]." While youth gangs to date have not been involved in the type of crime committed against Sussman, Soto did not rule out the possibility that car theft-related crime was evolving.
"The evolution of this type of crime usually starts with stealing car radios," Soto explained. "This then leads to stealing motorcycles and cars, and, in some cases, ends with violent assaults and kidnappings."
While the four men who assaulted Sussman may have gang ties, Soto concluded, Friday night's assault was most likely a case of them operating independently of higher gang command.

Please note that the article reports that the OIJ profile of members of these organized crime youth gangs does not refer to the young "poor street-dweller" (ibid.); please refer to an attached 19 May 2000 Tico Times article that refers to gangs of young street criminals are known as chapulines (Mexican and Central American term for grasshoppers), and their alleged elimination as a result of efforts to improve quality of life in San Jose. One report states that the "first wave" of youth gang problems began with the appearance of these street youth groups known as chapulines (La Nación 29 May 2001). Other articles referring to efforts to address problems related to street youth and young criminals, as well as criminal gangs, are also attached.

The San Jose daily La Nación noted in an October 2000 article the "recent emergence" of criminal youth gangs in San Jose (29 Oct. 2000). The article reports a proliferation of youth groups that increasingly resort to violence, particularly in the marginal areas in the periphery of the capital, but it also differentiates different kinds of violent and criminal youth groups (ibid.):

-barras or local neighbourhood groups that have a limited territory or are in a school, who regard the group as a family and find in it protection; they have quarrels with other barras, and use firearms or other weapons;
-hinchas or barras de fútbol, who are fans of a particular soccer team, and gather youths from various areas;
-pandillas, more organized than barras, having a leader and often having identifying signs or symbols such as drawings or tattoos; they develop a sense of territory, belong to a particular neighbourhood, and live off the proceeds of crime;
-banda, a "higher" level than pandilla, with fewer members and with criminal objectives; have an "ideologue" leader who is skilled and can plan crimes;
-la organización, groups styled after a "mafia," such as the drug trafficking "cartels" and the Chinese "triads" (ibid.).

Please note that additional information related to Chinese triads and other gang-related issues for Costa Rica can be found in previous Responses, such as CRI34424.E of 17 May 2000, CRI34062.E of 14 April 2000.

No references to a gang called "The Champions" or "Los Campeones," gangs specific to a neighbourhood, of specific names of major youth gangs could be found among the sources consulted within the constraints of this Response.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


La Nación [San José]. 20 May 2001. "Delitos Juveniles." [Accessed 18 Jan. 2002]

_____. 29 October 2000. Carlos Arguedas and Giannina Segnini. "Inquietud por brote de Pandillas." [Accessed 18 Jan. 2002]

The Tico Times [San Jose]. 6 April 2001. Tim Rogers. "Youth Gangs Worry Police." [Accessed 17 Jan. 2002]

_____. 19 May 2000. Auriana Koutnik. "Sprucing Up San José." [Accessed 17 Jan. 2002]


The Tico Times [San Jose]. 28 September 2001. Tim Rogers. "Ousted Street Kids Demand to be Heard." http://www. [Accessed 17 Jan. 2002]

_____. 6 April 2001. Tim Rogers. "Youth Gangs Worry Police." [Accessed 17 Jan. 2002]

_____. 22 September 2000. Christine Pratt. "Petty Crime Shakes C.R. Security." http://www. [Accessed 17 Jan. 2002]

_____. 19 May 2000. Auriana Koutnik. "Sprucing Up San José." [Accessed 17 Jan. 2002]

_____. 5 September 1997. Christine Pratt. "Helping Street Kids." [Accessed 17 Jan. 2002]