(QCOSTARICA) A rise in crime in Costa Rica can be directly attributed to drug trafficking, a rise in drug-related murders contributing to the homicide rate almost doubling in the last decade and a half.
According to the report by Crhoy.com, battles for turf between local drug gangs in Costa Rica is responsible for 399 murders recorded last year.
The homicide rate last year (2015) was 11.5 per 100,000 people, nearly as twice as the 6.3 in 2000.
The Minister of Security, Gustavo Mata, said that criminality in the country now revolves around the illegal drug trade, whereas in the past it largely consisted of bank robberies, vehicular theft and kidnappings.
The minister attributes the change to the presence of Colombian and Mexican criminal organizations operating in Costa Rica, leading to the formation of local structures allied with the larger international drug cartels.
Another change pointed out by minister Mata is the role of Costa Rica in the drug trade, local operators received cash for the transport of the illegal drugs through the country, rather now the local gangs are being given drugs, mainly cocaine, as payment as payment, which is then sold on the local market.
“Local drug dealing generates a number of homicides produced by rival groups battling for territory,” Mata told a meeting of regional security officials discussing anti-drug trafficking strategies, according to the Crhoy.com report.
Official statistics indicate Costa Rica has had 371 homicides so far this 2016, 16 fewer than the 387 recorded during the same period last year.
Although the increase in violence in the country is alarming among authorities and the public, violence levels in Costa Rica is pale compared to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
To combat the increase in violence, Mata has called for the creation of a new crime-fighting unit that would investigate “every homicide” suspected of having links to drug trafficking and the drug cartels (organized crime).
Last month, the United States announced a US$30 million dollar co-operation deal to help the country to combat organized crime and strengthen security at land borders.