Mexican drug cartels may have a significant presence in Costa Rica

Mexican drug cartels are reportedly arming gangs in Costa Rica with high-caliber weaponry, perhaps an indication that the Mexican criminals are shifting operations from countries under intense security pressure to those with weaker drug interdiction and law enforcement capabilities.

On November 13, Costa Rica's Attorney General Jorge Chavarria announced Mexican drug cartels are giving criminal groups within the country AK-47s and grenades in order to destroy rival drug gangs, reported La Nacion. The Costa Rican gangs are involved in aerial, overland, and maritime drug-smuggling operations, reported El Universal.

Chavarria did not specify which Mexican criminal groups are arming local gangs.  However, according to La Nacion the Sinaloa Cartel has had a presence in Costa Rica since 2006, and the Knights Templar is also reportedly active in the country. 

The statement comes less than one week after Costa Rica's Public Security Minister Celso Gamboa announced the country has seized nearly 23 tons of cocaine so far this year, more than any other country in Central America.

Costa Rica's Public Security Minister told El Universal the presence of Mexican cartels in Costa Rica is "undeniable".

InSight Crime Analysis

The reported arming of local gangs by Mexican drug cartels signals the on-going evolution of drug transit points in Central America. It is consistent with the strategy of Mexican organized crime groups to establish operations in countries unprepared to combat transnational drug trafficking.

For years, Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) have used the "Northern Triangle" region (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras) as transshipment points for Colombian cocaine being trafficked through Central America before reaching Mexico and the United States. In response to rising levels of crime and violence in these countries, some governments have adopted an iron fist ("mano dura") security strategy, putting greater pressure on both local street gangs and foreign DTOs. As a result, criminal groups in some countries traditionally unaffected by the transnational drug trade -- such as Costa Rica, which has no standing army -- have been "colonized" by Mexican drug trafficking groups. 

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Criminal Migration

The infiltration of Mexican cartels into Costa Rica is not a new phenomenon. While Colombian drug trafficking groups historically controlled the trafficking routes through Costa Rica, since as early as 2011 regional security experts have documented the increased presence of Mexican DTOs in the country. Costa Rica took steps under current President Laura Chinchilla to combat organized crime by investing in several law-enforcement agencies designed to fight DTOs and signing a bi-lateral maritime surveillance agreement with the United States. However, the recent remarks by the country's Public Security Minister stating Costa Rica has seized more cocaine than any other Central American nation in 2014 -- highlighted by a 2 ton haul in July -- suggest government efforts to limit the presence of foreign drug trafficking groups remain inadequate.

 

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

The power of Colombia's elites is founded upon one of the most unequal divisions of land in the world. As of the early 21st century, one percent of landowners own more than half the country's agricultural land.1  Under Spanish rule, Colombia's agriculture was organized on the hacienda...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Honduras is currently one of the most violent countries on the planet that is not at war. The violence is carried out by transnational criminal organizations, local drug trafficking groups, gangs and corrupt security forces, among other actors. Violence is the focal point for the international aid...

Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Organized crime and the violence associated with it is the preeminent problem in Latin America and the Caribbean today. The region is currently home to six of the most violent countries in the world that are not at war. Four of those countries are in Central America...

Special Report: Gangs in Honduras

Special Report: Gangs in Honduras

In a new report based on extensive field research, InSight Crime and the Asociacion para una Sociedad mas Justa have traced how Honduras' two largest gangs, the MS13 and the Barrio 18, are evolving, and how their current modus operandi has resulted in staggering levels of violence...

Bolivia: the New Hub for Drug Trafficking in South America

Bolivia: the New Hub for Drug Trafficking in South America

Transnational organized crime likes opportunities and little resistance. Bolivia currently provides both and finds itself at the heart of a new criminal dynamic that threatens national and citizen security in this landlocked Andean nation.

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

As Guatemala's Congress gears up to select new Supreme Court Justices and appellate court judges, InSight Crime is investigating how organized crime influences the selection process. This story details the interests of one particular political bloc vying for control over the courts and what's at stake: millions...

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

In August 2002, the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) greeted Colombia's new president with a mortar attack that killed 14 people during his inauguration. The attack was intended as a warning to the fiercely anti-FARC newcomer. But it became the opening salvo of...

The Urabeños - The Criminal Hybrid

The Urabeños - The Criminal Hybrid

The mad scramble for criminal power in the aftermath of the demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) is over. The Urabeños, or as they prefer to call themselves, the "Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia," have won.

Mexico's Security Dilemma: The Battle for Michoacan

Mexico's Security Dilemma: The Battle for Michoacan

Faced with the government's failure to rein in the criminals, communities across crime-besieged Mexico have been trying for years to organize effective civic resistance. Michoacan's vigilantes express the most extreme response by society to date, but other efforts have been less belligerent. In battle-torn cities along the...

Uruguay's Marijuana Bill Faces Political, Economic Obstacles

Uruguay's Marijuana Bill Faces Political, Economic Obstacles

If Uruguay's proposal to regulate the production, sale and distribution of marijuana is properly implemented and overcomes political and economic hurdles, it could be the most important drug regulation experiment in decades.