Costa Rica Drug Seizure Shows Colombia Air Bridge Still Alive

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A plane has been captured in Costa Rica with over one ton of cocaine originating in Colombia, casting doubt on Colombian claims that drug flights leaving the country have been all but ended.

The drug plane was caught by Costa Rican police on December 16 after landing at a private airstrip on the country’s Caribbean coast with 1,020 kilos of cocaine on board, reported La Nacion. Information from Guatemala’s Civil Aeronautics Division showed the plane belonged to a company registered in Panama — Blue Assets — but the company operating the plane was Guatemalan.

According to Costa Rican police, the cocaine came from Cali, on Colombia’s southern Pacific Coast, reported elPeriodico. Guatemalan authorities reported the plane first entered Costa Rica from Guatemala with five Colombians, an Israeli and a US citizen on board. It later left for Cali, and was intercepted on its return when it was forced to make an emergency landing, according to La Nacion.

The same plane had already entered Costa Rican territory once, in January of this year, according to immigration authorities. The Guatemalan owner of the plane, Javier Hernandez Ramos, has not yet been linked to the case.

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InSight Crime Analysis

Both Colombian and US authorities say that, owing to radar technology and aggressive interdiction programs, Colombia has greatly reduced the number of drug flights leaving from its territory, while neighboring Venezuela has become a favored departure point. However, the present case shows that Colombia’s air routes remain open, something sources have previously indicated to InSight Crime, saying that flights still leave from Choco in the west and from the eastern plains.

The large find is also another illustration of Costa Rica’s increased importance as a transit point, with cocaine passing through the country thought to be sent to 39 destinations on four continents, although unlike this case many of Costa Rica’s large catches occur off the coast, brought in on go-fast boats, according to the US State Department.

The country has also increasingly become an center of operations for foreign criminals. This is not the first time Guatemalans have been implicated in a major drug bust in the country — in July 2011, Costa Rican authorities found over 500 kilos of cocaine and heroin stored in a house rented by two Guatemalans.

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