Image by CharlesFred via FlickrWhile trying ex presidents for corruption in the regular courts can take time, the new 'flagrancia' courts can act fast in criminal cases.
There was an incident yesterday at the central offices of the Banco de Costa Rica, in the centre of San Jose to prove the point.
Costa Ricans are patient, calm people and this man was no exception.
Let no one say that the he acted impulsively.
None of this vulgar rushing in waving a sub machine gun for this chap.
First he took his ticket for the queue..from .a wonderful touch screen device which asks if you are envisaging a transaction of
A...less than one million colones
B...more than one million colones
C...more then one transaction whatever its nature
D...whether you are an old age pensioner, pregnant woman, person with a small child in attendance or otherwise handicapped
and then spits the ticket on the floor in front of you thus making sure that D can't pick it up and has to be assisted by the security guard.
Then he sat down on the chair provided, to watch for his number on the big screen at the end of the banking hall.
He would have had plenty of time to check the exchange rates, consider the advantages of a safe deposit box, debate with himself whether to buy properties upon which the bank had foreclosed, or wonder at the discounts available if he used his bank card to pay for his car parts until finally his number appeared on the screen, directing him to one of the cashier's boxes.
He was in luck.
When he got there he was not ambushed by one of the tiny, elderly, utterly determined ladies who believe that the notion of preference for those pressing D on the ticket machine means that they go to straight to an unoccupied cashier and start a long and rambling tale while producing an ominous pile of papers.
Accordingly he produced a note, which informed the cashier that he wanted thirty million colones...ah, ticket B then...and all the dollars available...no, senor, you should have taken ticket C....and that if the cashier kicked up he, the customer, would be obliged to kill both the cashier and the guard...which guard, senor, there are at least five in the banking hall...and his accomplices would be obliged to kill the cashier's family.
At this point he showed him a gun...later found to be a toy...hidden under his jacket.
Not surprisingly, at this stage the cashier fainted. This was nothing provided for on the ticket machine.
It was eleven o'clock.
The man left the building, neatly avoiding the out of action but unmarked as such escalator, but by dint of the effective work of the municipal police and the OIJ (investigating branch) he was arrested and was in court by eight o'clock that night.
The judge heard the case and sentenced him to three years in prison for aggravated robbery ...the toy gun, I suppose.
So it might be with some surprise that you learn that that very evening, the chap was restored to the bosom of his family.
How comes this, you ask.
It comes like this.
The judge took into account that he was a first time offender of good character with a stable home and job, that he was on medication for suicidal depression - and gave him five years probation.
Not jumping the queue might have helped, too.
I quite sympathise with the judge....sending the culprit to La Reforma, the overcrowded prison rife with guns and drugs and that's only the inmates would have done nothing for him.
He succumbed to a mad impulse.
No one was hurt.
Nothing was stolen.
And anyone whose job is to face the gridlock traffic of San Jose every working day ferrying students to and from a language school would undoubtedly be in need of medication for suicidal depression.
But when an ex president gets only three years' house arrest for swindling millions (dollars, not colones) on a contract to provide medical equipment for the national health service, three years probation for frightening a cashier looks quite tough.