Costa Rica’s Special Operational Force Cracks Down on Domestic Drug Dealing

Costa Rica’s Special Operational Force Cracks Down on Domestic Drug Dealing

By Dialogo
December 07, 2015

Costa Rica is undoubtedly making an extraordinary and very valuable effort to fight transnational crime, but the rest of the region needs to do the same. In that sense it needs to redouble efforts to improve conditions for the majorities above all for youth, technical labor training centers, sports, culture and opportunities to study and good salaries for graduates who stay in their country in order to avoid brain drain, this way fighting crime becomes effective and integral in the long term solid, not contextual results will become evident, ok

An elite, new Costa Rican police force has launched an all-out effort against local drug-dealing organizations, which are responsible for much of the Central American country's gang violence.

The 500-member Special Operational Force, which is made up of officers from the Drug Enforcement Police, the Operational Support Group, and the Police Intervention Unit, was formed in late October.

The Special Operational Force took to the streets of San José, the country’s capital, and other cities nationwide to disrupt drug-trafficking groups. Security officials have deployed these officers to neighborhoods where gang members are dealing drugs and committing homicides as they battle over turf.

“We’re reaching exactly the places where they are with these sales, the so-called ‘bunkers,'” Security Minister Gustavo Mata explained. “Bunkers are places they use for small-scale distribution of cocaine, crack... We’ve destroyed a big number of bunkers, we’ve arrested people in charge of those bunkers, and we’ve also intercepted a number of firearms ... In a single event we’ve located more than 26,000 doses of crack and more than 3,000,000 colones (some $5,660).”

But the Special Operational Force's impact has reached beyond the destruction of drug bunkers. Through November 16, the unit had investigated 18,761 people, and conducted checks on 2,301 motor vehicles and 1,584 motorcycles. Officers arrested 46 suspects and confiscated 9,377 doses of crack and 43 firearms – mostly .9 mm pistols – as well as 1,030 rounds of ammunition and 10 clips.

The effort is part of law enforcement's goal of reducing drug-related violence nationwide, according to Assistant Attorney General Celso Gamboa.

Costa Rica was home to 477 killings in 2014, after 411 were recorded in 2013, 407 in 2012, and 474 in 2011.

Between January and September of this year, there have been 416 homicides, of which 165 (nearly 40 percent) were drug-related, according to law enforcement authorities.

“This means that investigations against organized crime must be backed more to dismantle those networks,” Gamboa explained.

Much of the bloodshed is caused by local drug gangs fighting to control retail sales in densely populated, low-income neighborhoods in southern San José and in other cities. Most of the small-scale drug trade takes place in the Greater Metropolitan Area, but it's also spreading to nearby cities such as Alajuela, Cartago, and Heredia in the country’s Central Valley, as well as farther to the eastern Caribbean port city of Limón, and in northern San Carlos.

“It’s nationwide,” Security Minister Mata stated. “It’s big business, and that’s exactly why those people are killing themselves – over the money it’s yielding.”

Drug gangs often hire enforcers to kill rivals, and conflicts between adversarial outlaw groups can spark flurries of violence. For example, in the first weekend of November, five people were fatally shot in less than 24 hours.