Costa Rican Ministry of Public Security Michael Soto Rojas took part in the Central American Security Conference (CENTSEC) 2020, which was held virtually for the first time, on July 14. Diálogo spoke with Minister Soto about the conference and Costa Rica’s role in the fight against narcotrafficking.
Diálogo: What is the importance of Costa Rica’s participation in CENTSEC?
Costa Rican Ministry of Public Security Michael Soto Rojas: CENTSEC allows us to listen to our colleagues and ministers who are responsible for security, about the strategies that their security forces use to confront the coronavirus pandemic. This is important, because we listen to the good practices that they carry out, so that we can take what we think might be useful to us based on our reality, and implement it. Our participation is also important, because we have an issue that is central to our relationship with U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), which is the fight against narcotrafficking.
Diálogo: Do you think that narcotraffickers are taking advantage of the global pandemic to carry out illicit drug operations?
Minister Soto: Each country’s security services are very involved in supporting the pandemic, especially with health services, without neglecting territorial security and vehicle movement restrictions, among other responsibilities, but criminal organizations can take advantage of this to make movements, especially involving drugs.
In Costa Rica, we’ve strengthened our land borders with Nicaragua and Panama, and we’ve deployed our vessels to the maritime border with Panama. We are starting to see more alerts regularly, as we normally did before the pandemic. It seems that criminal structures are desperate to take their products north. Here’s where coordination between countries is important, and we have combined operations with Colombia, the United States, and Panama to deliver positive results.
Diálogo: Costa Rica delivered historic results in drug seizures during the first quarter. What are these results due to?
Minister Soto: Costa Rican security forces have strengthened and there is team coordination in the regional field. The results are positive because of this teamwork and the training that different U.S. security forces have provided throughout the years. We’ve also shared training in Colombia and Panama. When I look at SOUTHCOM’s data on the Southern Triangle, I see that as teamwork, because many times, for example, we begin a pursuit in Panama, and we carry out the interdiction.
Our successes are also due to improvements to air and maritime resources, especially in interception. Last year’s results for example, were historic for cocaine and marijuana seizures, totaling nearly 40 tons, and right now we are close to 25 tons.
Diálogo: What sort of combined operations does Costa Rica carry out with regional countries and the United States to defeat transnational organized crime?
Minister Soto: Costa Rica takes part in different operations, such as Orión, led by Colombia, and other U.S.-led operations, in addition to our own. These operations are coordinated through the Joint Operations Center, which works 24/7 with members of different police forces in the country and coordinates information exchange with other countries.
Diálogo: What training does the Drug Control Police (PCD, in Spanish) carry out to confront narcotrafficking?
Minister Soto: The PCD is a criminal investigation police force that can identify a transnational criminal structure with branches in the country. It coordinates closely with Panama, Colombia, and other countries at the international level, including Europe.
Diálogo: What actions is Costa Rica taking to support the population during the pandemic crisis?
Minister Soto: During the pandemic, security forces have taken on a supportive approach for health and social services, citizen security, and general assistance. For example, we distribute food, we support humanitarian assistance in general terms with our boats and aircraft to move patients, and we help to isolate some communities that experience a cluster of infection.