Q COSTA RICA (Reuters) – Murders in Costa Rica have been pushed to a record high due to both the presence of Mexican drug gangs and the increase of cocaine being produced in Colombia, according to a top official. This has caused a dark cloud to be cast over the country, which had previously been a symbol of stability in the region.
At the end of 2022, Costa Rica had a record-high 656 murders. However, the number has risen sharply in the first half of 2023, as statistics demonstrate a 42% increase in comparison to the same period in the previous year..
“We’ve got a Mexicanization of crime,” Costa Rican Security Minister Mario Zamora said in an interview with Reuters this week, pointing to increased clashes between gangs in broad daylight that have Costa Ricans worried about both their safety and the impact on tourism, on which the economy heavily depends.
In parts of Costa Rica, authorities are seeing violence synonymous with Mexican cartels like torture, gang killings, and assassinations carried out by highly trained hitmen.
In April, President Rodrigo Chaves presented a set of security measures to tackle surging crime after the Central American country’s main business chamber warned of a “national emergency,” fearing a hit to foreign investment and tourism.
In May, Chaves named as security minister Zamora, who also held the post under the Laura Chinchilla presidency (2010-2014), and has a reputation for being tough on crime.
Zamora commented that the circumstances had changed drastically since when was first security minister. He pointed out that currently, two thirds of homicides are related to disputes among gangs concerning illegal commerce, drug trafficking and territorial control.
The shift showed Costa Rican gangs were influenced by how Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel operated in Central America, he said.
These groups receive cocaine from Colombian gangs as payment for handling local logistics, much of which they send to the U.S. and Europe. Tons of the drug have arrived in Europe hidden in fruit shipments from Costa Rica’s main port, Moin in Limón, Costa Rica’s most violent province, with homicides almost triple the national average.
Last week, the government debuted a new scanning device to review all goods. The measures are due to be rolled out across Costa Rica by 2025.
Law enforcement officials have noted that due to better-trained assassins, it has become more difficult to prosecute those responsible.
“We’re now facing a situation with many homicides where the perpetrator’s unknown,” Zamora said, “and not the slightest piece of evidence to tell you who did it.”