Human Smugglers Could Benefit From Costa Rica-Nicaragua Silence

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Costa Rica has enhanced border security during the coronavirus pandemic to crack down on human smuggling from Nicaragua but its measures are undermined by a lack of communication between the two governments.

In early April, Costa Rican officials reported that more than 2,700 foreign nationals, mostly Nicaraguans, had been caught illegally entering the country after a March decree shut down Costa Rica’s borders, CR Hoy reported.

According to Vice President Epsy Campbell, 98 percent of the illegal crossings occurred in the northern part of the country.

The border closing, however, has incentivized small scale human smuggling. In early April, a Costa Rican was captured with five Nicaraguans hidden in a vehicle who had been charged 5,000 colones each (around $9).

Later that month, police detained a man after his car was stopped at a checkpoint, where it was discovered that he was transporting a Nicaraguan couple who had entered the country illegally. He allegedly charged the couple 30,000 colones (about $53) for assistance crossing the border and then putting them up in a house for a day. A Nicaraguan man was also arrested for charging 3,000 colones (about $5) to guide a person across the border.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Human Smuggling

Officials in Costa Rica have announced efforts to stop illegal border crossings, including dispatching several police units specialized in border, coastal and aerial patrols.

The head of Costa Rica’s migration police, Stephen Madden, said that “we are continuing to…be vigilant about the crime of migrant trafficking” and Security Minister Michael Soto said surveillance had been increased at “blind spots” across the border with Nicaragua, according to CR Hoy.

InSight Crime Analysis

Costa Rica is an ideal transit point for migrants, drugs and contraband with shorelines on both the Atlantic and Pacific and land borders with Panama and Nicaragua. To counteract such smuggling, the country has largely relied on regional policing partnerships, which has proven to be difficult with Nicaragua.

In a recent interview with InSight Crime, Security Minister Soto said that while Costa Rica regularly collaborates with El Salvador, Honduras, Panama and Colombia, joint operations and communication with Nicaragua are “nonexistent.”

SEE ALSO: Costa Rica News and Profile

Costa Rica’s joint initiatives with its neighbors have borne fruit. Last year, for example, Costa Rica and Panama dismantled an international human smuggling ring transporting US-bound migrants from Cuba, Haiti and several Asian and African countries. Some 50 suspects were arrested in the joint raids.

The absence of diplomatic relations between Costa Rica and Nicaragua impedes them from collaborating on tracking the movement of people. This is essential to managing the spread of coronavirus, making strategic cooperation between the two countries more pressing than ever.

Officials in Costa Rica, which had nearly 700 cases of Covid-19 at the end of April, have said that the border shut down is necessary to maintain a “sanitary fence.” Nicaragua has claimed to have just a handful of cases — numbers which have been in question after the country’s reticence to implement social distancing and isolation measures instituted around the world.

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