Costa Rica and Panama Find Joint Success in Tackling People Smuggling

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Authorities in Panama and Costa Rica have dismantled an international human smuggling ring, highlighting the success of police cooperation in both countries’ fight against established smuggling networks.

On July 30, Costa Rican authorities carried out 36 raids along the country’s borders with Panama and Nicaragua, arresting 40 suspected members of the smuggling network, Reuters reported. At the same time, Panama federal police raided 21 locations throughout the country, arresting another 12 people.

SEE ALSO: Costa Rica News and Profiles

The network moved migrants — bound for the United States — from various Asian and African countries. Migrants from Cuba and Haiti were also among those smuggled.

Investigations into the smuggling ring, which reportedly charged migrants $1,500 to pass through Panama, began in 2018, according to a news release from Panama’s Attorney General’s Office.

The crackdown was one of Costa Rica’s largest operations against a human smuggling network, according to Reuters.

InSight Crime Analysis

Authorities across Central America must collaborate in their efforts to take down people-smuggling rings, which rely on networks of individuals in different countries.

Criminal actors involved in human smuggling have long exploited Central America, which acts as a bridge to the United States. Smugglers also have had success evading authorities in the region, as many of the countries have porous borders and inadequate migration controls.

Panama is a hotspot for Cuban migrant smuggling. For example, the traffickers involved in the dismantled ring entered the country on a tourist visa.

But Panama and Costa Rica have shown that the two countries are prepared to work together to combat people smuggling.

SEE ALSO: Panama News and Profiles

In September 2018, Costa Rican and Panamanian authorities arrested 39 people involved in the smuggling of Chinese migrants. The network, run by three Chinese nationals in Costa Rica, had a chain of contacts in Asia, Europe and South America. It could also count on corrupt Costa Rican migration officials who falsified documents for the Chinese migrants upon their entry into the country. The migrants arrived in Bolivia, Colombia, Peru or Ecuador, from which they then travelled to the Central American country.

Smuggled Chinese migrants are often subjected to forced labor practices, where they are paid a pittance to pay off costs for their transportation, housing and entrance into the country. Migrant women have also become sex trafficking victims after recruitment by criminal groups in China, or in countries in Africa and Latin America.

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