Has Costa Rica Become a Hub for Drug Cartels?

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In June, 2017, the former head of the Costa Rica Public Force (Fuerza Publica) was arrested for traveling in a false-bottom truck with 237 kilograms of cocaine – probably destined for the USA via Mexico.  In October, between 800-1,000 kilos of cocaine were found floating near Golfo Dulce. Last week, 785 kilos of cocaine were seized by authorities near Daniel Oduber Airport in Liberia. Last Friday Nov 24th a Truck was stopped carrying 321 Kilos of cocaine ,and only today a Coast Guard chase occurred where over 1000 kilos of cocaine was recovered.

These are just a few of the recent cocaine busts in Costa Rica. Costa Rican authorities have seized over twenty-five tons of cocaine so far this year, 92.7 tons of cocaine in the last 3.5 years.

Is this an anomaly or an alarming trend? Is Costa Rica turning into a meeting ground for Mexican and Colombian drug cartels?

Former President Laura Chinchilla once commented to the Wall Street Journal about Costa Rica, “We are prisoners to our geography,” referring to Costa Rica’s location between cocaine producers of South America, powerful drug cartels in Mexico, and voracious consumers in the USA. It certainly seems that Costa Rica has transitioned from being a bridge between South and North America, to becoming infamous as a warehouse and trading center for drug cartels.

Security Minister Janina Del Vecchio stated recently that Costa Rica is no longer just a transit area for drugs. She said, “In this part of the world we are privileged by nature and the climate, but it is also the drug route from south to north, and of money from north to south.” According to Del Vecchio, “traffickers come here and store the drugs, and they don’t even have intermediaries – Colombians come and leave the drugs, and Mexicans come and pick them up.” It’s just that easy.

Foreign drug trafficking groups often subcontract Costa Ricans to help with local logistics. Costa Ricans will pick up the cocaine shipments at strategic points throughout the country, then store and transport them domestically for re-shipment.

Several days ago the Director of the OIJ criminal investigations agency, Jorge Rojas, complained that his country was turning into a “meeting ground for Mexican and Colombian cartels.” Rojas added that in recent months, Colombian drug-running organizations have been detected bringing drugs into Costa Rica, where they store them and sell them to their Mexican “colleagues,” particularly those of the Sinaloa cartel.

Most of the confiscated 92.7 tons of cocaine were discovered in boats in the Pacific Ocean. Also seized in drug raids were vehicles, speedboats and properties, as well as over $17 million in cash. Costa Rica has dismantled some 36 international drug rings – mostly comprised of Colombians and Mexicans.

Since 80% of the drugs produced in South America probably pass through Central America, it would seem that regional co-ordination among Central American countries is crucial to successful control of illegal drug trafficking.

Minister Del Vecchio stated, “Police also need to be more specialized and have more technological resources available because the cartels are constantly reinventing their operations… They have all the time and money in the world to traffic in any way they want: in wigs, surfboards, marble structures, frozen sharks. They use anything that looks legal to do it.”

Former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias told reporters that “geography” has condemned his country. He said, “We are the waistline of the Americas, we are between the producers and consumers and we can’t do a thing.” He added that “drug prices are such a huge incentive that it is almost impossible to eradicate the cartels.”

Costa Rica with its 4.5 million inhabitants, dozens of unguarded border crossings, extensive unguarded coastlines, and a scant 11,000 police officers, makes this tiny country a perfect haven for drug traffickers. And the problem seems to be escalating.

 

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