A curious cargo airlift operation recently took place at the Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport (LIR), in the northern province of Guanacaste. According to a news report by Alvaro Sanchez from online news daily CRHoy, nearly 24 tons of cocaine were loaded onto a United States Air Force transport aircraft. The destination of the controversial payload? Miami, a city that once held the infamous title of “Cocaine Capital of the World.”
The public affairs office of the Organization of Judicial Investigations (OIJ in Spanish) in Costa Rica explained to CRHoy that the 23 tons and 780 kilograms of powder cocaine hydrochloride were the result of two years of interdiction work by the National Coast Guard Service, the OIJ, the Border Police, and Fuerza Publica (the national police force in Costa Rica). This does not include seizures made by the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy as part of the Joint Patrol Agreement between Costa Rica and the U.S.
Too Much of That Snow White
The OIJ further explained that Costa Rica does not have the capacity or resources to destroy such a colossal amount of nose candy, which is the reason for requesting assistance from the U.S. military to take away almost 24 tons of what is often referred to as “the champagne of drugs.” Costa Rica is considered a bridge between the cocaine producing countries of Bolivia, Colombia and Peru for further traffic up to Mexico and ultimately the top consumer nation: The United States.
To understand the irony of such a massive quantity of marching powder being flown from Costa Rica to Miami, one only needs to screen the award-winning 2006 documentary Cocaine Cowboys. To really stoke the fire of conspiracy theory with regard to U.S. military aircraft being used to transport yeyo, it pays to read Dark Alliance, a masterpiece of investigative journalism by the late Gary Webb, published by the San Jose Mercury News; it is all about the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and its role in funding the Contras in Nicaragua by transporting cocaine to Los Angeles during one of the longest proxy battles of the Cold War.
In the last few years, law enforcement in Costa Rica has considerably stepped up its drug interdiction efforts. So far this year, the National Coast Guard Service seized 4.6 tons of cocaine just in the Caribbean region. As a result, law enforcement officials in Costa Rica ended up with too much coke and no means to destroy it, which requires special incinerators that burn at 816 Celsius (1,500 Fahrenheit). These incinerators feature multiple chambers that filter out the hazardous fumes and leave nothing but carbon dioxide.
Transporting almost 24 tons of the devil’s dandruff from different areas of Costa Rica to Liberia was, according to the OIJ, an unusual task that involved members of the Ministry of Public Safety, the Superior Council of the Republic, the Third Chamber of Justice, the Presidency of the Courts, and a judge that will apparently fly with the blow to ensure that it reaches its destination safely. Once in Miami, the Consul General of Costa Rica will continue the chain of custody and make certain that the massive stash is indeed destroyed.
The CRHoy news article mentioned that the OIJ stated that the aircraft that picked up the tons of flake belongs to the U.S. Air Force, and journalist Alvaro Sanchez copied reported 7708 AMC as the tail code, which is a bit puzzling because it does not conform -at least upon cursory investigation- to the system used by that military branch. If we assume that AMC stands for Air Mobility Command, perhaps Mr. Sanchez missed the name of the base that the aircraft belongs to, which should have been lettered on the tail; but, the number should have five digits.
The Costa Rica Star invites military veterans, subject matter experts and aviation buffs to leave comments properly identifying this mystery aircraft. CRHoy published a grainy photograph which shows what looks like a C-17 Globemaster on the LIR runway with tons of cocaine in the foreground, but we would like your assistance in determining the aircraft and the unit or base it is assigned to.
The real mystery of this aircraft, however, is whether it had the proper authorization to be in Costa Rica. The OIJ says yes, but legislator Carmen Munoz is not so sure. She questioned this matter during an open session at the National Assembly and was met with silence because not a single legislator recalls seeing such a request come through the docket. Legislator Munoz wants answers about the circumstances under which this U.S. military cargo aircraft landed in Costa Rica and who authorized it. The legislative permit in question is a Constitutional matter, and it is specially sensitive since Costa Rica abolished its military more than six decades ago; the country can’t afford to have foreign military forces (or paramilitaries) running around unchecked -it would be an affront to her sovereignty.
In a couple of articles recently published by the Costa Rica Star, we have discussed the importance of legislative permits for foreign military forces to enter our country. First there was the snub of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Sherman while a Colombian Navy vessel docked in Puntarenas. The Sherman did not have permission while its Colombian counterpart did. And what about the Blackhawk helicopters that arrived on the eve of President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Costa Rica? They were found to be in the country without permission and thus “disturbed the peace” in Costa Rica.
P.S.: Aviation buffs may enjoy some of our previous articles:
- The Mystery of the TC-48
- The Search for the Missing TC-48 Resumes in the Mountains of Talamanca
- Conditions at SJO in Costa Rica Sometimes Make for Scary Landings
- Chartered Flights, Helicopters, and Air Travel in and around Costa Rica
- Drones For Science, Not War