Gangs Battle for Costa Rica’s Local Drug Market

Recent bloodshed in Costa Rica’s capital has been attributed to gangs battling for control of local drug sales, furthering concerns that the country’s development as a major drug transit zone is feeding violence. 

In recent weeks, the neighborhood of Santa Rita de Alajuela, also known as El Infiernillo (“Little Hell”), has seen several violent confrontations between rival gangs, reported La Nacion. After one such clash, police collected over 600 pieces of ballistic evidence; all of which had been fired within 30 minutes.

Costa Rican authorities reportedly believe the violence is the result of two gangs — the Zamora and Gabinos — uniting to fight a rival group, the Maracuya. According to news website CR Hoy, six gangs have been identified as disputing territory and drug sales in the area.

The neighborhood of El Infiernillo is reportedly a major hub for drug distribution, including marijuana, cocaine, and crack. A gang headed by Martin Zamora Pachecho, alias “Beto Zamora,” used to manage drug sales in the neigborhood, until his organization was dismantled in the early 2000s. 

Francisco Segura, head of Costa Rica’s judicial investigation agency (OIJ), noted that gangs in El Infiernillo are making strong efforts to recruit youths into their ranks, and called the situation “worrying.” Security forces have moved into the area in an effort to quell the violence.  

InSight Crime Analysis

Costa Rica has become an important transit and storage zone for illicit networks moving drugs from South American suppliers to North American consumers. Not only has this led to the creation of local criminal groups involved in the transnational drug trade, but it has fed the local market as more cocaine flows through the country. This has led to increased violence as local street gangs and rival drug trafficking groups battle for control of this market. 

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Costa Rica

Costa Rica has previously had the distinction of avoiding the rampant violence and aggressive gang turf wars seen in other Central American nations. This is clearly no longer the reality, and it is likely that Costa Rica’s gangs will continue to become more organized and violent as they vie for control of the country’s micro-trafficking trade.