Are Crime Groups Increasingly Corrupting Costa Rica Police?

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Authorities in Costa Rica have arrested a former high-level police official for allegedly guarding a large cocaine shipment, suggesting that Costa Rican criminals have adopted a strategy seen elsewhere in the region: using state protection to facilitate their criminal activities.

José Fabio Pizarro, the director between 2007 and 2008 of Costa Rica’s national police, known as the Public Force (Fuerza Pública), was arrested along with three other men June 21 for allegedly guarding a 237 kilogram cocaine shipment, CRHoy reported.

Pizarro is also under investigation for allegedly having previously created a patrol group while he was in office that was later found to be linked to Mexican drug trafficking organizations, CRHoy reported separately on June 22.

The “Patrulla 1856” (1856 Patrol) was a so-called self-defense group created in the name of national sovereignty. Led by Pizarro, the group’s goal was reportedly to ensure Costa Rica’s sovereignty from conflict with Nicaragua in the northeast border region near Isla Portillos.

However, the group was instead allegedly selling logistics and security services for drug trafficking organizations moving product through Costa Rica, according to CRHoy.

Pizarro was first linked to the drug trade in 2009 after he was the first to arrive at the scene of a helicopter crash rumored to be carrying 380 kilograms of cocaine, according to the Costa Rica Star. The drugs were never found and the helicopter’s GPS technology was removed before police arrived.

InSight Crime Analysis

State complicity is crucial for drug trafficking organizations to function successfully, and this phenomenon has been particularly pronounced in Central America. However, Costa Rica has traditionally been considered less graft-prone than some of its neighbors. The new arrests, combined with other evidence, suggest that this may be changing.

Costa Rica’s role in the international drug trade has evolved in recent years. In 2013, authorities dismantled a Colombia to Belgium cocaine trafficking network allegedly operated by Costa Rican nationals. Two police officers were accused of assisting in the operation. And in 2016, a two-year investigation led to the dismantling of a drug trafficking network linked to Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel that seized 3 tons of drugs and $1.7 million. The leader of the network allegedy attempted to bribe police officers to allow him to escape.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Costa Rica

As Costa Rica grows in importance for Central American traffickers, so too will the incentives for criminal operators to corrupt state officials. And given the country’s plans to send over 1,000 new police onto the streets with little training, it is likely that criminal groups will seek to capitalize on weak vetting of these officers.

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