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Roman Catholicism is the official government religion here in Costa Rica, although the Ticos don’t seem to care what your religion is. Having an official religion appears to provide the Costa Ricans a sensible and wonderfully tolerant attitude toward sin. Perhaps it’s the convenience of the Sacrament of Penance.  Or maybe it’s the cultural effect of the graceful Spanish word for sin, pecado. A pecado sounds like such an excellently  trivial little habit, something for which no one would condemn a caballero, a gentleman, or his dona, his lady, either, for that matter.   

Official government sin policy is sensible, tolerant and understanding of human weakness. All the most common vices, drinking, gambling and prostitution are legal here. It is by no means an endorsement or even less a recommendation. The Costa Ricans are aware of the ruinous social pathology that springs from overindulgence in any of them. They are also smart enough to realize that criminalizing sin won’t make it go away. It will simply turn sinners into criminals.

A recent newspaper article discussed an American hotel owner’s campaign to stamp out prostitution in his hotel.  There’s a one man vice squad, thought I, bringing the benefits of American prudery and moral superiority to the benighted peasants of Central America. Of course, a private property owner has the right to do as he pleases with his property. If the self-righteous owner is set on checking every couple who enters his hotel to somehow determine what they are going to do in their private room and whether any money will change hands as a result, more power to him.

What struck me, however, was the owner’s complaint as to how much money his policy had cost him. Thousands, he said. It seems to me if he wants to puff out his chest with the courage of his moral convictions, risk insulting fathers with their daughters and guests who favor heavy make-up he might have the dignity not to whine about the cost.

That incident, and other related public discussion of “sex tourism” is evidence of a creeping increase in Gringo moral prudery in Costa Rican affairs. It is estimated that up to 10% of Costa Rica’s visitors are here as “sex tourists.” How they determine this figure is unclear, but the statistic is tossed about as if it were Gospel. No one ever considers that it’s only because the geezers have to risk jail time to buy a piece in their own country that they come here at all. I think it was George Carlin who asked, “If sex is legal and selling is legal, why isn’t selling sex legal?”

What we are talking about here is erotic commerce between consenting adults, not the sale of children to the degenerate or sex slavery. As it should be, the crime of having sex with children or with anyone not a willing participant is punished here by long stays in really nasty prisons. But pressure by the morally superior to interfere with the private affairs of willing adults persists in the face of Costa Rica’s common sense policies toward vice.

Criminalizing vice has never done much to eliminate it. For proof one need look no further than America’s experiment with alcohol prohibition, and its ongoing failures to prevent gambling, prostitution and drug abuse.  If anything, banning vice has done more harm than good, corrupting not only the sinners but ultimately those charged with keeping sinners from their private sins.

Organized crime in the U.S. got a running start during alcohol prohibition in the 20s. Vice squads everywhere are notoriously corrupt outfits that end up skimming the profits of vice rather than suppressing it. And the War on Drugs has become one of the largest money making government enterprises in history. It has spread the uniquely American myth that sin can be ended by banning it to nearly every country in the world.

Uncle Sam is generously providing the locals with all the high tech gear of the Drug War in hopes of dragging them ever more enthusiastically into the highly lucrative and totally futile effort to stamp out drug use. The Costa Ricans have not yet hit upon the War on Drugs as a money making enterprise. By U.S. standards the Ticos are real slackers when it comes to kicking in doors and confiscating property.

We can only hope that Tico common sense will manage to resist American efforts to escalate the Drug War that the attempt to identify and frustrate sinners in San Jose will remain limited to private vice squads in selected hotels.