Costa Rica Cracks Down on Illegal Explosives Smuggled from Nicaragua
By Dialogo January 21, 2013
SAN JOSÉ — Pyrotechnics are a deep-rooted tradition in Costa Rica, but the proliferation of illegal fireworks has the nation’s Ministry of Public Security on edge.
“Unfortunately we have seen an increase in burns and injuries from these explosives,” the ministry’s arms director, William Hidalgo, told Dialogo, noting a jump in smuggling of explosives from neighboring Nicaragua.
In response, the ministry — in an alliance with the Red Cross and a local children’s hospital — has launched a campaign called “Zero burned, zero suffering, zero pain and zero dead” [Cero quemados, cero sufrimiento, cero dolor, cero muertes].
The campaign is geared primarily toward preventing injuries to children. Statistics from the Public Security Ministry showed that 70 percent of hospitalizations involving illegal explosives last year were of children between the ages of 1 and 4.
“The campaign consists of banners and commercials designed to educate the public about the danger of different types of gunpowder,” said ministry spokesman Carlos Hidalgo Flores. “It informs people of the law and the danger of burns to children.”
Most of these injuries result not from large professional fireworks shows, but from poorly made gunpowder-packed explosives sold illegally at convenience stores throughout Costa Rica. While most of these fireworks are used for celebrations, they’re beginning to crop up in criminal investigations as well.
“We find them in clandestine locations, like houses or buses,” said Flores. “More and more we see people trying to bring explosives across the border. We are not sure what they are being used for.”
One of the Public Security Ministry’s main concerns is the importation of explosives from Nicaragua. In the last two months of 2011 alone, police seized 92,000 units of explosives at Peñas Blancas, Costa Rica’s most popular border crossing with Nicaragua.
“Many gunpowder factories in Nicaragua have no type of quality control,” Security Minister Marío Zamora told the press at the launch of the safety campaign. “These products often have technical problems and increase the chances for accidents.”
Costa Rica is not known for producing illegal explosives, but is a large importer, said Zamora, adding that his ministry has beefed up security at the border in response to the increased flow of smuggled explosives.
Since the start of the campaign last November, the Public Security Ministry has confiscated more than 9,000 units of gunpowder in rural Costa Rica; most of these seizures were at convenience stores selling fireworks illegally.
While fireworks are the most common illegal explosive, 2012 saw a number of other explosives seizures. On Dec. 29, police in Cartago pulled over a truck and found two men with 27 sticks of dynamite. Under Article 93 of the Costa Rican constitution, the arms and explosives law, the men face three to seven years in prison if found guilty.