As Mexico’s cartels continue to spread their influence in the region, even Costa Rica - which has a reputation as one of the most stable countries in Central America - is becoming increasingly infiltrated by organized crime.
Last week, Costa Rican security forces dismantled a suspected cell of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, arresting three suspects and seizing over 300 kilograms of cocaine, Costa Rica’s La Nacion reports. The operation involved raiding a storage warehouse just outside the city of Cartago, which traffickers used to load drug shipments onto trucks bound for Nicaragua, and eventually, Mexico. According to police, the group’s leader, identified only as 'Flanders,' was a man close to Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias ‘El Chapo,’ the leader of the Sinaloa cartel.
The arrests come at the heels of reports of increased drug trafficking activities in Costa Rica, the vast majority of which is controlled by the Sinaloa Cartel. As DEA officer Phillip Springer told the AFP in an interview last December, the Sinaloans have been using Costa Rica as a transit point for some time, but are now stepping up their operations in the country.
"For the last year and a half to two years, most of the drugs [in Costa Rica] belonged to the Sinaloans," Springer said. "They weren't just working to traffic drugs through Costa Rica, but guarding it there in Costa Rica and storing it in warehouses." Since 2008, the Sinaloans have set up a command cell in Costa Rica, he said, and have worked with Colombian traffickers and to establish the country as a major stopping point for drugs headed northward.
As intelligence and law enforcement agencies have cut off other routes through Mexico, Costa Rica and other Central American countries have increasingly become a target for drug traffickers. This problem is especially threatening in Costa Rica, as the country has no military. In response to the rise of organized crime, many of the region’s leaders have recently called for the creation of a combined counter-narcotics force, to be funded by the United States. Although the region already receives $165 million in aid under the terms of the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), they say the amount is not nearly enough to strengthen the region’s relatively weak judicial institutions and modernize its police and military forces.