SAN JOSE (Reuters) - Costa Rican President Rodrigo Chaves on Wednesday removed his security minister and other top officials from office, after the Central American nation famed for being a safe haven in the region recorded its worst ever year for homicides.
Costa Rica ended 2022 with the highest number of murders on record, with a rate of 12.6 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, and data for the first quarter of 2023 indicate a 40% jump from the same period last year.
This comes as El Salvador's President Bukele - who has made the fight against crime a key campaign - said El Salvador was on the verge of hitting 365 non-consecutive days without murders since he came to power in 2019.
Police have however reported some homicides and gang member "casualties" of fights with security forces are not recorded as homicides.
In April, Costa Rica's Chaves had presented a set of security measures to tackle surging crime rates, after the country's main business chamber called for a state of "national emergency," fearing a hit to foreign investment and tourism.
Chaves appointed lawyer Mario Zamora as the country's new security minister. She had held the same position in the 2011-2014 government of former President Laura Chinchilla, known for having been hard on crime.
Opposition parties have criticized Chaves, saying he has not acted enough against insecurity and calling out his April suspension of a proposal to boost street patrols - police had protested since it increased their working days.
Costa Rica had abolished its army in 1948.
As incoming minister, Zamora said that his focus will be on combating hired killers, which authorities believe represent two of every three murders.
(Reporting by Alvaro Murillo in San Jose and Nelson Renteria in San Salvador; Writing by Valentine Hilaire; Editing by Sarah Morland)