Costa Rican Officials Seek to Create Elite Unit to Fight Organized Crime

Costa Rican Officials Seek to Create Elite Unit to Fight Organized Crime

By Geraldine Cook
January 22, 2016

Authorities are drafting a bill to create a specialized, anti-organized crime unit that will operate nationwide. The proposed legislation needs approval by the country’s Legislative Assembly.

Costa Rican law enforcement officials are writing a legislative proposal to create a specialized police unit to take on organized crime nationwide.

The elite squad, which would fall under the Judicial Investigation Organization (OIJ, for its Spanish acronym) and be based in the nation’s capital of San José, aims to have a centralized command structure tasked with investigating crime nationwide, OIJ Director Walter Espinoza told Diálogo.

Espinoza, a former deputy prosecutor of organized crime who took over as OIJ’s leader on December 1st, said the OIJ is writing the bill, which would need to be approved by the country’s Legislative Assembly.

Cooperative effort

The OIJ is developing the initiative in collaboration with the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and will seek to bring the Security Ministry on board “because we understand that standing up to organized crime is a country issue, not only [an issue] of the [OIJ],” Espinoza stated. He said he plans on presenting the plans for the new unit by February.

“We understand and know that organized crime reaches beyond the central area – it has [a presence] throughout the country, it covers our entire territory, and thus, it requires us to have work groups in all the sensitive, important, or high-incidence areas,” Espinoza stated. “So the Central Command will be the coordinator. It will be directly linked with the organization’s directorate, and it is going to coordinate very, very closely with the Public Prosecutor’s Office.”

A bridge for criminal operations

Drug traffickers use Costa Rica as a strategic bridge between cocaine-producing countries in South America and consumer markets, according to the OIJ’s 2013 report, “Drug Trafficking and Organized Crime Threats in Costa Rica”.

“International traffickers are foreign groups/individuals operating on Costa Rican soil filling cocaine orders that will be forwarded mainly to the north – and to Europe – and also act as supervisors for all the trafficking operations in the country,” according to the report. Drug traffickers primarily transport cocaine through Costa Rica, the report explained.

“Cocaine trafficking is the most prominent drug flow going through Costa Rica, along its trail from the Andean region – the highest production area – toward North America, particularly the United States, the main cocaine consumer worldwide,” the document stated. Costa Rica “stands out as a strategic point for the cocaine transit by land, air, and maritime routes as a transit and storage zone for the drug.”

Arrests and seizures

Costa Rican police are combating organized crime groups that engage in drug trafficking in a variety of ways. In 2015, police forces confiscated 16 tons of cocaine, 1,350 firearms, and seized about $4 million in cash from criminal groups, Security Vice Minister María
Fullmen said during a January 4th press conference. Law enforcement officers also dismantled 134 drug-trafficking groups, 34 of which operated internationally.

If the legislative proposal is approved, the new police unit would enhance the OIJ’s abilities to fight organized crime groups, according to Espinoza. “This unit would give us more capabilities for action.”