Christmas for Costa Rican Drug Smugglers

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Even narco-traffickers are getting into the Christmas spirit this year. The Costa Rican Minister of Public Security reported that last weekend the Costa Rican Coast Guard along with the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), halted an Ecuadorian boat and its Costa Rican sister vessel containing 422 packets of cocaine – all prettily wrapped and decorated with Christmas gift wrap, featuring bells and ribbons befitting the holiday season.

The multinational drug-enforcement officials had been carefully monitoring an area about 24 nautical miles off Punta Llorona, Puntarenas, when a fast boat with no flag nor national identifying markings came into sight. They intercepted that boat, and were interviewing the three Ecuadorians onboard the vessel when a second boat approached at high speed. When the second boat realized a drug bust was occurring, they tried to flee. The Coast Guard gave chase and was able to overtake and stop them.

The second boat was occupied entirely by Coast Ricans, mostly with extensive criminal records. The first was named Morales Mendoza (28), wanted for both Domestic Violence and Manufacture of Explosives. The second was Madrigal Arrieta (27), with a criminal record including usurping other people’s property. The third was Benavidez Garcia (25), with a long criminal record including driving violations of every kind. The fourth man, Castante Vasquez (33), seemed to have no criminal record at all.

This drug bust was relatively small compared with Costa Rica’s biggest bust ever on February 14, 2020, when 5048 packets of cocaine worth $330 million USD were seized by Costa Rican drug enforcement agents. In Costa Rica, one kilo of cocaine is worth $6,500-$7,000 USD, that same kilo can be worth up to $60,000 in the US and parts of Europe. It is clear that narco-traffickers are making good use of Costa Rican waters to transport their goods, with only minor threat of detection due to understaffed maritime drug interdiction authorities.

Said Michael Soto, Minister of Public Security, “The problem of narco-trafficking needs to be viewed not as a local issue, but as a regional challenge, affecting all of Central America. Costa Rica sits between countries who produce drugs and countries who consume drugs, often using Costa Rica for drug storage and transport.” 2020 has seen numerous incidents of drugs moving through Costa Rica, on the way to either Europe or the USA. Costa Ricans are becoming increasingly involved in narco-trafficking, as the economy falters and unemployment rates increase dramatically.

About the Author :

Carol Blair Vaughn has written for Inside Costa Rica and The Costa Rica Star, as well as El
Residente magazine. She grew up in Latin America, traveling with her father Jack Vaughn,
former Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs, and US Ambassador to Panama
and Colombia. The Star published her book Crazy Jungle Love: Murder, Madness, Money & Monkeys
in 2017, and it is now available for purchase on Amazon as both a paperback and an


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