Drug traffickers in eastern Costa Rica are reportedly keeping schoolteachers out of an indigenous town in an attempt to pressure locals into cultivating marijuana, pointing to criminal gangs’ increasing influence in the country.
In a recent trip to the eastern Costa Rican province of Limon by Education Minister Leonardo Garnier to mark the opening of several public schools, La Nacion reports that local education officials complained that teachers in the area had been barred from working by drug traffickers.
According to these officials, the eight teachers named to work at schools in the village of Alto Telire have stayed away from the town after one of the buildings in which they taught was burned to the ground. It is believed that a local criminal gang is attempting to steer the community away from school as an alternative to marijuana cultivation in the area.
Guillermo Rodriguez, an indigenous education consultant at the Ministry of Education (MEP), asserted that the situation in Alto Telire was so dire that the population had even lost control of their own food supply. Criminal groups provide basic food stuffs to those in the area who grow marijuana. Rodriguez warned that it would be impossible to bring proper education to the area without support from other government institutions to regain sovereignty.
InSight Crime Analysis
As InSight Crime has reported, despite Costa Rica’s reputation as an oasis in the otherwise violent region of Central America, drug trafficking has emerged as a serious threat to stability.
In 2012, there has been an apparent spike in drug trafficking activity in the country. In December, the head of the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) warned that the country had shifted from a transshipment point to a center of negotiation for Mexican and Colombian criminal groups.
The province of Limon has historically been a important location for trafficking in the country, as its access to the Caribbean makes it appealing for Colombian trafficking organizations. Limon is also marked by a lack of police presence, especially in the remote Talamanca county, where Alto Telire is located. In June, authorities destroyed more than 562,000 marijuana plants in an operation in Talamanca.