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

MS-13's 'El Barney': A Trend or an Isolated Case?

MS-13's 'El Barney': A Trend or an Isolated Case?

In October 2012, the US Treasury Department designated the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) as a transnational criminal organization (TCO). While this assertion seems unfounded, there is one case that illustrates just why the US government is worried about the future.

The FARC 1964-2002: From Ragged Rebellion to Military Machine

The FARC 1964-2002: From Ragged Rebellion to Military Machine

On May 27, 1964 up to one thousand Colombian soldiers, backed by fighter planes and helicopters, launched an assault against less than fifty guerrillas in the tiny community of Marquetalia. The aim of the operation was to stamp out once and for all the communist threat in...

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 FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC have always had a love-hate relationship with drugs. They love the money it brings, funds which have allowed them to survive and even threaten to topple the state at the end of the 1990s. They hate the corruption and stigma narcotics have also brought to...

The Reality of the FARC Peace Talks in Havana

The Reality of the FARC Peace Talks in Havana

If we are to believe the Colombian government, the question is not if, but rather when, an end to 50 years of civil conflict will be reached. Yet the promise of President Juan Manuel Santos that peace can be achieved before the end of 2014 is simply...

Criminalization of FARC Elements Inevitable

Criminalization of FARC Elements Inevitable

While there is no doubt that the FARC have only a tenuous control over some of their more remote fronts, there is no evidence of any overt dissident faction within the movement at the moment.

Ivan Rios Bloc: the FARC's Most Vulnerable Fighting Division

Ivan Rios Bloc: the FARC's Most Vulnerable Fighting Division

When considering the possibilities that the FARC may break apart, the Ivan Rios Bloc is a helpful case study because it is perhaps the weakest of the FARC's divisions in terms of command and control, and therefore runs the highest risk of fragmentation and criminalization.

A Look Inside El Salvador's Prison Nightmare (Video)

A Look Inside El Salvador's Prison Nightmare (Video)

El Salvador's Cojutepeque jail is a perfect illustration of how prisons in this country have become the main breeding and training grounds for street gangs.

El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives and Negatives

El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives and Negatives

The truce between El Salvador's two largest gangs -- the MS-13 and Barrio 18 -- opens up new possibilities in how to deal with the seemingly intractable issue of street gangs. But it also creates new dangers.

Barrio 18 Leader 'Viejo Lin' on El Salvador Gang Truce

Barrio 18 Leader 'Viejo Lin' on El Salvador Gang Truce

Barrio 18 leader Carlos Lechuga Mojica, alias "El Viejo Lin," is one of the most prominent spokesmen for El Salvador's gang truce. InSight Crime co-director Steven Dudley spoke with Mojica in Cojutepeque prison in October 2012 about how the maras view the controversial peace process, which has...