Costa Rica investigators at a murder scene

Authorities in Costa Rica are expecting "pandemic" levels of violence this year, even as battles between local criminal groups for control of the country's drug trade intensify. 

According to Costa Rica's Judicial Investigation Agency (OIJ by its Spanish initials), the country is on track to reach 533 homicides by December, reported Diario Extra. This would be a significant increase from the 471 homicides Costa Rican authorities registered in 2014 and more than a 30 percent jump from the 407 murders in 2012 and 2013.

Costa Rica's 2015 homicide forecast pales in comparison to the skyrocketing violence facing Central America's  Northern Triangle region (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras). But the uptick in violence has reportedly pushed Costa Rica's murder rate past 10 per 100,000 inhabitants, a level the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified as reaching a "pandemic." 

Authorities estimate that 45 percent of the roughly 400 murders so far this year are related to drugs and organized crime. OIJ Deputy Director Luis Avila identified four neighborhoods within capital San Jose where some 77 murders have been registered this year as a result of score-settling between drug gangs, reported Diario Extra. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The possibility that Costa Rica -- once considered the "Switzerland of Central America" -- might reach "pandemic" levels of violence is a reflection of the country's changing criminal dynamics. 

There are indications that Costa Rica has become an increasingly important transshipment point for cocaine heading northward,  to such an extent that authorities say the country has been "colonized" by Mexican drug cartels. Officials also warn Mexican cartels have begun arming local drug gangs with high-powered weapons like AK-47s. This increased firepower and contact with transnational drug trafficking organizations has likely facilitated the rise of drug-related violence in Costa Rica.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Costa Rica 

However, authorities in Costa Rica have so far opted against the militarized policing strategies that governments in the Northern Triangle have turned to in order to combat rising violence.  According to Diario Extra, former Costa Rica Security Minister Celso Gamboa prioritizes drug education and treatment over an increased police presence. Meanwhile current Security Minister Gustavo Mata has focused on improving the country's judicial system by calling for a special unit to investigate drug and organized crime-related murders. 

Investigations

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