Costa Rican Minister of Public Security Michael Soto Rojas took part in the Central American Security Conference 2021 in Panama City, on June 22-23. Diálogo spoke with Minister Soto about Costa Rica’s role in the fight against narcotrafficking.
Diálogo: What is Costa Rica’s main security problem?
Costa Rican Minister of Public Security Michael Soto Rojas: Without a doubt, it’s narcotrafficking. Costa Rica is located on the routes from producing countries to consumer countries, especially in the Pacific, which is a large and complex region with many jungle areas that criminal groups use to position themselves in the national territory to store drugs and later look for outlets to other latitudes of the planet, such as the United States and Europe. The narcotrafficking problem is associated with some problems of internal violence; however, I must say that even under these circumstances, insecurity indices in Costa Rica are the lowest in the region.
At present, we are concerned with the humanitarian sector due to migratory flows, which are impacting our country. For example, we are seeing very strong waves of Haitian [migrants] and people from Southeast Asia. In this respect, we give them humanitarian assistance, we help them with food and accommodation, and we assist them if they have an illness. However, I believe that this issue requires a more comprehensive approach, since every individual has the right to enjoy their own homeland.
Diálogo: What are Costa Rican authorities doing to combat crime problems?
Minister Soto: I work with a sectorization plan based on criminal analysis, which enables us to analyze the areas here with the highest crime rate, so that we can make plans that facilitate criminal containment. But what can really solve a country’s security problem in the mid or long term has to do with other types of strategies, such as prevention management that enables working with young people and children in vulnerable areas, in an environment where there is employment, education, culture, and sports. For example, we have a program that we developed with the U.S. government called “Sowing Security,” which conducts nationwide diagnostics of vulnerabilities in sensitive areas to address social issues and provide better social and cultural opportunities for children and young people.
Diálogo: What type of cooperation does Costa Rica have with neighboring countries to counter the activities of transnational criminal organizations?
Minister Soto: Costa Rica has been making important efforts to contain transnational criminal organizations, and joins the region to do very important combined work not only with neighboring countries, but also with the region in general. Our close relationship is undoubtedly with Panama, because it’s our immediate neighbor and because both countries are in the area of drug trafficking routes. We also have a close relationship with the United States in [terms of] operational support for training and in aspects related to logistics equipment and fuel, among other things. We have called this relationship with Panama and the United States the Southern Triangle, because of the ongoing work we carry out among the three countries.
Diálogo: What results has the Southern Triangle relationship yielded?
Minister Soto: From the operational viewpoint, it’s been very positive because it means that we’ve been doing a good job, especially in drug seizures; for example, we seized 71 tons of marijuana and cocaine in 2020. By June of this year, we had already seized 35 tons, including marijuana and cocaine. However, it can be negative in some way, from the internal strategic viewpoint, due to the fact that transnational criminal organizations are using our territory and our waters to move internally and be able to traffic.