New Minister of Justice Says Prison Will Be Built in Nicoya Despite Opposition from Municipality

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Decisively and firmly, the new Minister of Justice and Peace, Cecilia Sanchez, told The Voice of Guanacaste that there is no valid reason to change the decision to build a Productive Unit (prison), which is planned to be created in Nicoya with funds from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

Sanchez, who took over the role as minister on July 7th in place of Cristina Ramirez, explained that the project progresses although there is opposition from the Nicoyan mayor, Marcos Jimenez, and from other Guanacaste municipalities.

“This is a matter of public interest and, facing this, the government has all of the power to act. What we do not want is to come in violently and impose ourselves. The government does not need the permission of the mayor. The government has the technical and legal authority to act, but it does not want this. We want dialogue and to count on the community of Nicoya,” Sanchez said.

In an interview published in the May 2015 edition of The Voice of Guanacaste, Jimenez said “In order to build something in the canton of Nicoya, they need to have the authorization of the municipal government, and we have a specific guideline in this mayoral office that does not permit the construction of any prison because it is not what the people of Nicoya want.”

For her part, the minister believes that this work in Nicoya would mark the beginning of great change in the way prisoners are seen and treated in Costa Rica.

“Crimes are never going to be avoided since they are part of the dynamics of social relations. A society without crime does not exist. What does exist are different ways to deal with crime. In the last few years, we have wanted to solve crime by increasing disproportionate penalties, without having adequate detention conditions,” Sanchez commented.

To Sanchez, what is intended with this new prison model is to break with the old model and create conditions for achieving social reintegration of prisoners since they are human beings who need another chance.

The chief affirmed that the Nicoya prison module will not have extremely dangerousinmates. They will be people who will come with a social commitment to study and learn trades and crafts.

Conflicting Opinions

The population of Nicoya are not the only ones divided for and against the construction of the prison. The mayors of Guanacaste also have different opinions. On August 4th, the mayor of Hojancha, Eduardo Pineda, said, “I know it is a difficult situation and the decision is not easy, but in my case I would do the same thing that the mayor of Nicoya is doing in opposing this project.”

In August, the Federation of Guanacaste Municipalities (Femugua) sent a note to the Ministry of Justice in which they express their disapproval of this initiative.

“I would agree if the Ministry of Justice would show us a study to tell us what kind of investment comes with this prison for Nicoya and Guanacaste. In addition, we already have the Liberia prison. Why not expand that one? I do not understand why they bring us this kind of project to develop Guanacaste with all of the problems that Guanacaste already has. I am definitely not in agreement with this project,” said Viviana Alvarez, president of the federation.

But Carlos Gerardo Cantillo, mayor of Carrillo, said he supports the plan to create the prison.

“We need a place where those who violate the law can be punished, no matter where it is located. Many of us do not like projects Xto come to our canton, but we have to be part of our public safety and we all have to be willing to contribute. I think the fear is more psychological than anything else,” Cantillo said.

The minister said that the project complies with the constitutional framework and that construction could start in early 2016.