The recently launched Southern Bloc of nations and the combined patrols agreement with the United States were decisive factors.
Costa Rican security forces conducted a maritime and land operation in mid-April 2018, leading to the seizure of more than 800 kilograms of cocaine. The Costa Rican National Coast Guard Service (SNG, in Spanish) and Air Surveillance Service (SVA, in Spanish) conducted the maneuvers with the support of intelligence from Colombian security authorities.
Costa Rican authorities conducted the 12-hour operation in a section of the Pacific Ocean across from the Osa Peninsula on the southern tip of Costa Rica thanks to information about a vessel cruising from Colombia toward Costa Rica. Authorities located the drugs, distributed across 35 packets, on April 14th, on a beach in Osa.
The seizure added up to other recent exercises SNG carried out, including a blow dealt February 14th-20th, in two maritime interventions that led to the confiscation of more than two tons of cocaine. The Costa Rican security authorities described the seizure as the first large-scale blow dealt to international narcotrafficking in 2018.
Authorities seized 1,256 kg in the first operation, and 1,044 kg in the second. Security forces from the U.S. supported both SNG operations within the framework of the bilateral agreement for combined patrolling. Partners of the recently constituted Southern Bloc, comprising Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama, also backed the operations.
“The two operations were carried out successfully, supported by intelligence information that allowed us to find out the south-north route each vessel followed,” Commissioner Martín Arias, director of SNG, told Diálogo. “The cooperation of the United States allowed for data to be conveyed in a timely fashion to the U.S. Coast Guard vessel located along the route, which facilitated interceptions. The data wasn’t meant to be analyzed but for immediate response.”
Of all cocaine production headed to North America, 82 percent passes through the Pacific. In this case, the specific destination of the intercepted vessels was unknown. “The countries of departure could be Colombia or Ecuador; the destination countries could be Costa Rica, Guatemala, or Mexico,” Commissioner Arias said.
“The intelligence originates from a joint U.S.–Latin American countries operations center,” added Arias. “This is a combined task force that a number of U.S. agencies participate in, such as the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, in collaboration with authorities of Latin American partner nations.”
The Southern Bloc, key coordination tool
The Costa Rica-launched Southern Bloc, comprises four countries with extensive maritime territory in the Pacific Ocean. The sovereign waters of the four Latin American nations cover an area of about 2.2 million square kilometers. The region is ecologically rich, with 78 protected coastal marine areas, 92 percent of all the coral reefs in the Pacific, and several islands declared world heritage sites. Vessels used for narcotrafficking, the illegal traffic of people, and illegal fishing boats, operate on the vast body of water.
“As a coordination mechanism for multinational security, the Southern Bloc has a decisive impact on tasks such as the two maritime operations,” Costa Rican Minister of Public Security Gustavo Mata told Diálogo. “With the help of the United States and under the umbrella of bilateral joint patrolling agreements, the effectiveness of joint actions of four countries captures the attention of other nations in the area.”
Such is the case with Nicaragua, which “informally stated its interest in joining the bloc,” Mata said. “But I expect Central American countries in general to join the initiative because the problem of drug trafficking is a regional problem, and we have to understand it regionally,” he said.
Meanwhile, SNG and SVA remain vigilant; ready to react and initiate operations any time their partner nations request it or share information. Costa Rica doesn’t let its guard down when faced with threats from organized crime.