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  HOME | Central America

Costa Rica Becomes Hub of Drug Cartels

By Douglas Marin

SAN JOSE – Costa Rica has gone from being a bridge for drug trafficking between South and North America to becoming established as a warehouse and trading center for drug cartels, from which the authorities have seized 92.7 tons of cocaine and $17 million in the last 3˝ years.

“In this part of the world we are privileged by nature and the climate, but it is also the drug route from south to north, and of money from north to south,” Security Minister Janina Del Vecchio said in her annual activities report.

She said that Costa Rica is no longer just a transit area for drugs.

Now, according to Del Vecchio, “traffickers come here and store the drugs, and they don’t even have intermediaries – Colombians come and leave the drugs and Mexicans come and pick them up.”

Her view is shared by the director of the OIJ criminal investigation agency, Jorge Rojas, who several days ago decried the fact that his country is turning into a “meeting ground for Mexican and Colombian cartels.”

Rojas said that in recent months Colombian drug-running organizations have been detected bringing drugs to Costa Rica, where they store them and sell them to their Mexican “colleagues,” particularly those of the Sinaloa cartel.

Figures from the Security Ministry show that since May 2006 authorities have confiscated 92.7 tons of cocaine, mostly from boats in the Pacific Ocean, and have dismantled 36 international drug rings, made up above all by Colombians and Mexicans.

Dozens of vehicles, speedboats and properties have also been confiscated, as well as more than $17 million in cash.

“This is a very serious problem and does not mean we can’t contain it. We know, however, that we’re fighting against a giant with seven heads, against a structure with a bigger budget than any rich country in the world,” Minister Del Vecchio told Efe.

Noting that “80 percent of the drugs produced in South America” pass through Central America, she said regional coordination is crucial.

Police also need to be more specialized and have more technological resources available because the cartels are constantly reinventing their operations, she said.

Outstanding examples of drug-trade diversification discovered in Costa Rica this year have included hiding the banned substances in huge pieces of marble, inside of frozen sharks and in tanker trucks used for transporting chemicals.

“They have all the time and money in the world to traffic in any way they want: in wigs, surfboards, marble structures, sharks. They use anything that looks legal to do it,” Del Vecchio said.

The biggest seizure this year was a shipment of 2.2 tons of cocaine impounded last month at a warehouse in San Jose, while one of the most famous cases was the discovery of 395 kilos (870 pounds) of cocaine in a helicopter that crashed in May in the mountains in the eastern part of the country.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias told reporters that “geography” has condemned his country.

“We are the waistline of the Americas, we are between the producers and consumers and we can’t do a thing,” he said.

He added that “drug prices are such a huge incentive that it is almost impossible” to eradicate the cartels, and urged the United States to increase its resources dedicated to regional cooperation and fighting drug consumption.

Costa Rica is a nation of 4.5 million inhabitants and some 11,000 police, with dozens of unguarded border crossings and with extensive coasts, all of which makes it a natural for drug trafficking. EFE

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