Drug Bust Points to Evolving Criminal Structures in Costa Rica

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A drug trafficking network linked to Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel has been dismantled in Costa Rica, a sign that the country’s criminal structures are becoming increasingly involved in transnational drug trafficking.

A two-year investigation culminated in the arrest of 14 individuals across the country on November 9, including the alleged leader of the trafficking ring, García Carillo, alias “Negro,” reported La Nación

Following the discovery of 374 kilos of cocaine in 2014, authorities have targeted the structure and have succeeded in apprehending an additional 10 individuals, reported La Prensa Libre. Police seized a total of 3 tons of drugs and $1.7 million over the course of the investigation.

The group reportedly operated by importing drugs from Ecuador and Colombia, which it received on both the Pacific and the Caribbean coasts, before shipping the product north to Mexico by land, air or sea. The organization was reportedly associated with the Sinaloa Cartel.

Authorities said the group’s operations were facilitated by a number of different assets, including properties across the country as well boats and clandestine air strips.

Following the seizures, a spokesperson for the Public Security Ministry said that this was the first dismantling of “a criminal structure which managed all aspects of drug trafficking from Costa Rica,” according to El Nacional.

InSight Crime Analysis

While Costa Rica has long been a transshipment point for cocaine being moved north to the United States, the recently dismantled structure could signal that some local groups are becoming important actors in the transnational drug trade. Previous drug busts have revealed that independent operators in Costa Rica are now less dependent on foreign cartels, and have also coordinated shipments to the more lucrative European drug markets.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Costa Rica

Behind this shift is the fragmentation of the traditional transnational trafficking groups operating in Latin America. Colombian cartels were once the main foreign influence in Costa Rica’s underworld, but they have long since been broken up. Mexican groups have since filled that void by expanding their presence in the Central American nation. In recent years, however, Mexican cartels have experienced a splintering similar to that of their Colombian predecessors, which appears to be providing the space for local groups to take on a bigger role in Costa Rica’s illicit drug trade. 

As a result, whether or not Costa Rica’s drug trafficking organizations continue to evolve may have as much to do with the criminal dynamics in Mexico as with efforts by Costa Rican authorities to dismantle these homegrown structures. 

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