Costa Rica authorities report the arrest of 36 people suspected of being part of a migrant smuggling rings, following early morning raids in 35 different points all over the country.

The transnational operation began at dawn this morning (Tuesday) both on the northern and southern border of the country, that included agents of the Deputy Prosecutor’s Office Against Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants (Fiscalía Adjunta Contra la Trata de Personas y el Tráfico Ilícito de Migrantes), the Organismo de Investigacion Judicial (OIJ), Fuerza Publica (National Police), Immigration Police (Policía de Migración) and Panamanian authorities.

Apparently, the organization was led by a woman from La Cruz de Guanacaste, identified by her last names López Martínez and known as Mamá África, who is the main suspect in the transfer of at least 249 foreigners through Costa Rica.

She is a 48-year-old Nicaraguan who had requested refuge in Costa Rica but was denied.

Mamá África was in charge of several people who were dedicated to recruiting and illegally transferring Africans, Asians and Cubans in Costa Rica looking to travel north, with a final destination the United States, in their quest of the “American dream”.

According to initial reports, the migrants were recruited in Panama, moved through Costa Rica to Nicaragua and further north. Details of the movements were not given, authorities would only say their investigation began months ago.

The director of the immigration police, Stephen Madden, explained the network charged between US$7,000 and US$20,000 per person. In Costa Rica, the migrants would be hidden in safe houses.

Panamian authorities particiapted in conjunction with the Costa Rica operation

According to the Minister of Public Security, Michael Soto, the group had a low profile and ofthe arrested, 21 were in the South Zone, 14 in the North Zone and one in Alajuela. Soto added that Panamanian authorities reported the arrest of 10 people in connection to the Costa Rica operation.

 

The Minister of Public Security, Micheal Soto (yellow tie) stans next to Attorney General Emilia Navas (purple outfit) during the Tuesday morning press conference

According to Madden, among those arrested is also an official from the Ministry of Health who had a participation of the ring.

Attorney General (Fiscala General), Emilia Navas, described the investigation as “successful. For her part, Raquel Vargas, director of immigration, said this would be one of the largest people smuggling rings in Costa Rica.