Contraband Bigger Problem than Drug Trafficking in Costa Rica?

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Contraband is a bigger problem in Costa Rica than drug trafficking, according to government officials, highlighting the scale of the country’s illicit smuggling of goods that range from cigarettes to medicines, while also raising questions on the current status of the country’s drug trade.

The recent statement by Costa Rica’s Viceminister of Finance, Fernando Rodriguez, that contraband is a larger issue than drug trafficking comes as the country decides on a legislative proposal to strengthen punishment of those convicted of illegally importing goods, reported Under the reform proposed in September 2014, offenders who smuggle over $50,000 worth of goods into Costa Rica could receive up to 5 years in prison.

Authorities in Costa Rica reportedly seized over 33 million units of contraband cigarettes in 2014, a new record and a 57 percent increase on the previous year. In December 2014, the director of Costa Rica’s fiscal control police unit told “We are talking about criminal organizations [involved in contraband]; this business can be as lucrative, if not more so, than drug trafficking.”

Earlier in 2014, Costa Rica’s Finance Ministry claimed the country loses up to $100 million every year in lost tax revenue from the contraband trade. 

InSight Crime Analysis

Considering that the drug trade typically brings in much higher profits than contraband, the statements by government officials that contraband could be more lucrative and a bigger issue than drug trafficking suggest that the illegal importation of goods in Costa Rica is widespread. While it remains unclear what type of involvement organized crime groups have in the country’s contraband trade, the illicit industry has grown exponentially in recent years, and the potential earnings are likely attracting the attention of many criminal groups in Costa Rica and perhaps beyond its borders.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Costa Rica

Nevertheless, the recent comments by authorities could be aimed more at putting pressure on Costa Rican legislators to pass the pending proposal to stiffen punishments for contraband offenders, rather than portraying the country’s actual security situation.

Last year Costa Rica seized more cocaine than any other Central American nation, meaning it may have become the hub of some of the most popular drug routes from South America to the United States. Mexican drug trafficking organizations have used Costa Rica as a transit point for international drug shipments since at least 2011, and they have reportedly begun arming Costa Rican gangs involved in the drug trade. Whether or not contraband is truly a bigger problem than drug trafficking is questionable, but Costa Rica does seem to be playing an increasingly important role in the regional drug trade.

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