Tuesday 7 February 2023

Minister of Security: “Costa Rica is a transit, a warehouse, the cocaine does not stay here”

The Minister considers that the increase in drug seizures is good for the police, but from the social point of view it continues to be worrisome

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7 February 2023 - At The Banks - BCCR

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QCOSTARICA – Drug seizures made by all police forces in Costa Rica increased 100% between 2018 and 2021. In the first year, 35.4 tons of narcotics were seized and since then the increase is remarkable.

In an interview with ‘La Nación’, the Minister of Security, Michael Soto Rojas, spoke about the behavior of drug trafficking in Costa Rica. Photo: Mayela López.

In 2019, 46.2 tons were seized from drug trafficking, in 2020 the historic figure of 71.2 tons, and until last month (December 2021), criminal gangs lost 70.6 tons of cocaine and marijuana in Costa Rican territory, according to figures from the Organismo de Investigación Judicial (OIJ) – the Judicial Investigation Agency similar to the FBI in the United States.

For the Minister of Public Security, Michael Soto Rojas, these numbers are positive from the police point of view, but he recognizes that from the social perspective they generate concern.

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In an interview with La Nación, on December 22, 2021, the Minister spoke about drug trafficking, its behavior in Costa Rica and other countries in the region, with which they work daily to prevent the drug from reaching the U.S. and European markets. He also addressed the violence generated by these groups, especially local organizations.

For Minister Soto, without a doubt, the overproduction of cocaine in Colombia that increased abysmally means that all the countries of the region, not only Costa Rica, are mainly affected by cocaine trafficking.

“This is demonstrated by our data, where we have worked every day from objectives in conjunction with Colombia, Panama and the United States in a joint patrol. That has caused all three countries to increase their seizure figures. It must be taken into account that Costa Rica is geographically very close to Colombia and that makes it a very desirable area for criminal structures to use it, just like the case of Panama, which seizes more drugs than Costa Rica.

“But cocaine is brought to our territory to eventually get it out by containers to Europe or the United States, although sometimes it (the country) simply becomes a place for refueling so that the vessels can continue to the north of the continent,” said Soto.

For the Minister, “Costa Rica is transit, a warehouse” but the drug does not stay here, not making sense to stay here because the consumer price of cocaine in Costa Rica is much lower than what it is in Europe or the United States. “This phenomenon also occurs in Panama and other Central American countries, only that we are among those who seize the most,” added Soto.

“Seizing drugs is good and bad for Costa Rica,” according to Soto, going on to explain that “good” because it means that the police are working hard, that they are coordinating with other countries and that operations are carried out together and great results are obtained, but at the same time it is bad because it means that the structure or the Costa Rican territory is being used more for this type of cases.

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“Both the OIJ and the Drug Control Police (PCD), which is part of the Ministry of Public Security, have dismantled very robust criminal structures such as that of Pancho Villa, that of Turesky, the Escudo del Pacífico case that allowed us to dismantle an entire structure Puntarenas and the same case of APM Terminals employees who were arrested.

“This is a sign that structures that are used to receive and, later, to remove with another methodology such as containers have been unraveling. Really all the work that the police forces have done has been important, targeted and the numbers and the cases prosecuted show it,” said Soto.

On the matter of containers, Soto explained that the issue of containers has become more evident, but that has happened for many years, when drug shipments were smaller, about 200 or 300 kilos, and they were put into the refrigeration systems.

“In reality, the issue of containers is not new, what has happened is that the work has improved, first due to the use of scanners and then due to work methodologies. Although it is also probable that now the criminal structures dare to put more amounts of drugs in the containers,” said the Minister.

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Without going into specifics, the Minister explained that methods of introducing illegal drugs into legitimate shipping have varied over the years. For example, in the past drugs were inside the product, for example, inside a fruit or a piece of furniture, but in recent times the legal product leaves the warehouse and is then contaminated with illegal drugs on the way to the shipping docks.

An example is the driver, who has a stake in the illegal shipment, stops along the route where drugs are added to the load and continues on his route, passing through scanners and controls without problems. At times the load is transferred from one truck to another.

The Minister emphasized that the drives are previously recruited, it is not that they stopped on the road and forced to load the illegal drugs. “Regularly, they know what product they are going to pick up, on what date, where to stop, how long it will take and makes the delivery, to which he is financially compensated (…) That driver may do it several times or it may be that the first time the police detect him and arrest him, but they are already recruited in advance,” said Soto.

Read the entire interview (in Spanish) in La Nacion here.

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