Authorities have confiscated more than 5.8 tons of cocaine so far this year, with the majority of the seizures occurring in maritime operations, according to the Ministry of Public Security.

Costa Rican Minister of Public Security Mario Zamora is confident he knows why cocaine seizures are up nearly 35% through the first five months of the year compared to the same period a year ago.

Constant training and international cooperation have keyed Costa Rica’s Coast Guard operations, according to the Ministry of Public Security. Above, Costa Rican Coast Guard officers seized 400 kilograms of cocaine off a boat on Jan. 31. (Ministry of Public Security)
Constant training and international cooperation have keyed Costa Rica’s Coast Guard operations, according to the Ministry of Public Security. Above, Costa Rican Coast Guard officers seized 400 kilograms of cocaine off a boat on Jan. 31. (Ministry of Public Security)

“For the first time, the Coast Guard has the resources to cover our entire border along the Atlantic Ocean,” he said. “They can support patrol operations in the fight against narco-trafficking.”

That’s because the Costa Rican National Coast Guard Service (SNG) has a new weapon in its counter-narcotics fight: a base in the country’s main Caribbean port of Moin, which the government built for $632.442 million colones (US$1.263 million).

The facility – inaugurated in February by President Laura Chinchilla – features a floating dock that makes vessel berthing easier, facilitating operations of ships that monitor the area, according to the SNG.

In addition to the station in Moin, the Ministry of Public Security also has reinforced the Barra del Colorado and Pacuare Coast Guard stations in the northern region of the province of Limón, and the Sixaola base in the province’s southern area. Each station received two boats and several 4×4 vehicles to intercept suspects on land, allowing authorities to conduct surveillance across the country’s entire Atlantic region.

So far this year, authorities have seized a total of 5.8 metric tons of cocaine and 80 kilograms of marijuana, with 4.3 metric tons of the cocaine and 58 kilograms of the marijuana confiscated during maritime operations.

During the same period last year, authorities seized 4.3 metric tons of cocaine and 243 kilograms of marijuana combined in land and maritime operations.

Costa Rica is continuing to bolster its counter-narcotics fight with the building of a station at Punta Coyote along the country’s northern Pacific coast. The facility, which the government is building at a cost of more than $150 million colones (about US$300,000), is expected to be operational in May 2014.

Costa Rica also has improved its manpower, as the SNG’s Special Operations force, which monitors the Caribbean coastline, is in its sixth year of being trained by the Colombian Navy.

Costa Rican Minister of Public Security Mario Zamora (center), alongside Argentina’s Ambassador in Costa Rica, Martín Antonio Balza (left), signed an agreement on Feb. 21 to train officers at Argentina’s Naval Prefecture to bolster the countries’ counter-narcotics operations. (Courtesy of the Ministry of Public Security)
Costa Rican Minister of Public Security Mario Zamora (center), alongside Argentina’s Ambassador in Costa Rica, Martín Antonio Balza (left), signed an agreement on Feb. 21 to train officers at Argentina’s Naval Prefecture to bolster the countries’ counter-narcotics operations. (Courtesy of the Ministry of Public Security)

“In the courses, we teach maritime interdiction, self-defense, how to search for hidden compartments, weaponry and gathering intelligence,” said Lt. Juan Camilo Ocaña, head of the Colombian Coast Guard Mobile Training Group.

Costa Rica also signed an agreement with Argentina in February to increase the exchange of training related to drugs and other crimes at sea and coastal areas.

Currently, four Costa Rican officers are studying at Argentina’s Naval Prefecture as part of a four-year course in Maritime Security, according to Martín Arias, SNG’s director.

Meantime, Argentine officials are learning how Costa Rican officials identify – and shut down – international narco-trafficking routes, said Martín Antonio Balza, Argentina’s ambassador in Costa Rica.

“For Argentina, it’s very important to learn about Costa Rica’s experience and to convey our experience,” Balza said. “It’s a very different region, which is very important in a sector with particular characteristics such as Central America.”

Costa Rica’s Ministry of Public Security is in the process of negotiating two cooperative agreements with Colombia and Panama. Costa Rica is hoping to partner with Colombia’s military base on the Caribbean archipelago of San Andrés and Providencia to close narco-trafficking routes in the Atlantics, Zamora added.

“Panama is investing heavily in naval air bases and radars placed on its shores,” Zamora said. “The idea is that the Costa Rican border will not allow vessels in pursuit, especially in hot pursuit, to escape.”

In 2012, Costa Rica joined Operation Martillo, a regional counter-narcotics mission that brings together Western Hemisphere and European countries to cut the flow of illicit drugs through Central America.

About 80% of cocaine shipments from Latin America are transported by sea. Around 90% of the cocaine entering the U.S. makes it through Mexico and Central America, according to the United Nations’s International Narcotics Control Board.

On May 11, 58 kilograms of marijuana were seized from a boat coming from the Netherlands, another country that is participating in Operation Martillo along with Canada, Belize, Colombia, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“Once again, this demonstrates the effectiveness of international instruments, in which Costa Rica participates, regarding its fight against drugs,” Zamora said.

Eight days later, Costa Rica seized 406 kilograms of cocaine at the border crossing of Peñas Blancas, which borders Nicaragua.

The narcotics were hidden in a truck bound for Nicaragua, the Drug Control Police (PCD) said.

Anti-drug Commissioner Celso Gamboa said counter-narcotics agents have their “guard up,” as the Central American nation has become a transit route for drugs flowing northbound toward Mexico and the United States.