Costa Rica to Spy on Foreign Criminal Organizations

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Costa Rica plans to begin using its embassies in other countries to track the activity of criminal organizations, suggesting the Central American country is stepping up anti-crime operations in the face of its growing popularity among traffickers as both a transit and storage point for drugs.

The Public Security Ministry introduced legislation that, if approved, will allow a special team of intelligence agents to spy on criminal organizations in Colombia, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama with the goal of determining whether these groups have plans to expand operations into Costa Rica. Security Minister Mario Zamora said that, if done properly, this could prevent the entry of drug traffickers into the country, reported Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa.

Police intelligence agents hired to perform surveillance will not make arrests, but instead keep track of the plans and movements of criminal networks in order to create early alerts. According to Zamora, the intelligence agents will have to be specially trained and “incorruptible,” reported Panama’s La Prensa.

InSight Crime Analysis

The decision to begin foreign surveillance operations appears to be a way of stepping up Costa Rica’s response to pressures from transnational criminal organizations.

Costa Rica, until now one of the region’s safest countries, has become progressively affected by the regional drug trade. According to the authorities, the country serves as a departure point for cocaine sent to 39 countries on four continents, and has also increasingly become a base of operations and drug storage point for Mexican and Colombian drug traffickers. In 2012, President Laura Chinchilla called organized crime the greatest threat faced by her country and expressed the need for better resources to fight these pressures.

SEE ALSO: Costa Rica in the Crosshairs

Geography is a central factor in this increasing role — the country lies directly along the route between South American cocaine producers and Mexico, and has a long stretch of coastline. The country is also poorly equipped to combat transnational crime, according to the US State Department, with problems including inadequate border security. In addition, unlike other countries in the region that rely heavily on their militaries for anti-narcotics operations, Costa Rica has no standing army.  

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