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  HOME | Central America

Tentacles of Drug Trafficking Extend Widely in Costa Rica

By Douglas Marin Mata

SAN JOSE – The 80 tons of cocaine seized in the last three years are the best evidence that the tentacles of drug trafficking are spreading freely through Costa Rica, a country that was taken unawares by organized crime due to the lack of laws and specialization by the police.

Police, fishermen and businessmen involved with bands of drug traffickers, judges investigated for controversial rulings in favor of kingpins and the lack of resources to combat the problem have set off alarm bells with the authorities and the public.

The latest big case came to light in mid-June when Mexican authorities discovered in a port in Yucatan 894 kilos of cocaine inside frozen sharks that had been loaded in Costa Rica.

Costa Rican police arrested five suspects for making the shipments through a fish export firm, the owners of which possess a huge amount of property, where authorities subsequently discovered tunnels and storerooms apparently used to warehouse drugs.

To this case, and just so far this year, may be added the seizure of 395 kilos of coke that were being transported in a helicopter that crashed in May in the country’s eastern mountains and the theft in March of 320 kilos of the drug from police warehouses in Golfito, in Costa Rica’s southern Pacific region.

Authorities arrested eight people suspected of having stolen the drug shipment, among them three policemen and a former cop, from whom they also confiscated $306,000, apparently obtained from the sale of part of the shipment.

Costa Rica’s attorney general, Francisco Dall’Anese, said last week that the country “is doing the ridiculous” in the fight against drug trafficking because some seizures have been made by chance or thanks to the activities of another country’s authorities, and he called for the approval of a crime bill that Congress could bring to a vote next week.

The national ombudswoman, Lisbeth Quesada, said that Costa Rica is becoming “a paradise” for drug traffickers and money launderers because there is little police specialization and no specific policy against drug trafficking and also because of “a legal response that moves very slowly.”

And Security Minister Janina Del Vecchio acknowledged that Costa Rica had stopped being a “transit” country for drugs, having been transformed instead into a warehouse for the Mexican and Colombian cartels.

Del Vecchio emphasized the seizures made despite the lack of resources and she characterized as “insufficient” the $4.3 million authorized for Costa Rica for 2009 as part of the Merida initiative, a U.S.-led effort to help fight drug trafficking in Central America and Mexico.

Since 2006, drug seizures in Costa Rica have been on the rise, mainly along the Pacific coast, thanks to a joing monitoring treaty with the United States.

Authorities have discovered fishermen who have been hired to transport drugs or supply fuel to drug runners’ speedboats, while a judge is being investigated for freeing reputed traffickers.

Costa Rica is a country of 4.5 million people and no army, with dozens of points along its borders with no government presence and with long coastlines, but it has only 11,000 police officers.

Earlier this year, a law to protect witnesses entered into force and the approval of a bill against organized crime is expected, and authorities hope that both these measures will help reduce the gap between criminals and the judiciary, thus returning security to the nation once known as the Switzerland of Central America. EFE

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