COSTA RICA JOURNAL – This past week, Costa Rican authorities intercepted over four tons of cocaine and detained 11 Costa Ricans, in a case providing one indication of deepening local involvement in drug trafficking through the country.
According to the Ministro de Seguridad Publica (MSP) – Public Security Minister, Celso Gamboa, the Drug Control Police in conjunction with the Costa Rican Coast Guard seized approximately 4.1 tons of cocaine during three separate operations off the Pacific Coast between June 10 and June 11, all of which was found on Costa Rican fishing boats. The seizure was reportedly the largest in the country’s history.
Costa Rica’s Vice Minister of Public Security, Gustavo Mata, said the profile of the 11 alleged traffickers was “very young people with no criminal record.” He added that youth in the area had largely abandoned the traditional fishing industry in favor of drug trafficking, reported Reuters.
The seizure came days after Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly agreed to extend joint maritime patrols with the US Coast Guard until the end of the year, a measure aimed at combating drug trafficking.
InSight Crime Analysis
For years, Costa Rica has served as a meeting point for Colombian and Mexican cartels transporting drug shipments, a role facilitated by its strategic position between the two countries. More recently, however, the country has become a storage center for the product, and cocaine seizures in the country have more than doubled since 2011.
Between 2006 and 2010, the number of international drug trafficking operations dismantled in Costa Rica rose from seven to 16. Various foreign criminal organizations have been reported to operate there, including Mexico’s Knights Templar and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
The number of local Costa Rican groups dismantled has followed a similar trend, also more than doubling in the 2006-2010 period. Meanwhile, a high percentage of drug-related arrests last year, coupled with the disbanding of what was reportedly Costa Rica’s first transnational drug trafficking group, suggest that Costa Ricans are becoming more deeply involved in the cocaine trade, likely developing independent structures to move cocaine for larger groups. According to The Tico Times, Costa Rican fishermen have been caught with nearly three tons of cocaine in 2014, and are increasingly taking on roles in large-scale operations, while the size of the most recent shipments indicates the suspects were using a tried and true drug route.
The evolution of the drug trade in Costa Rica is facilitated by the fact that the country is ill-equipped to combat this increasing narco-activity, relying in some cases on US assistance.