Violence No Longer Costa Ricans’ Biggest Worry as Police Score Successes
By Dialogo April 01, 2013
SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica — A year-long investigation of a 14-member drug trafficking group came to an end on March 26, when local officials arrested the gang’s five remaining members. Costa Rica’s Drug Control Police (PCD) carried out the sting in collaboration with Panamanian officials who provided key information.
Costa Rican Security Minister Mario Zamora told reporters that the group, led by a Colombian national, was shipping cocaine into the country from Panama to produce crack and selling it to locals and foreigners in Costa Rica.
“This was what we call a ‘second level’ organization, which means that it also supplied other smaller groups with crack to be later distributed in our streets and neighborhoods,” he said.
While the leader and another four members were arrested now, previous arrests of the same organized group were made in other four operations beginning in August last year. The group was made up of Nicaraguans, Costa Ricans and Panamanians. Police seized a total of 120 kilograms of cocaine and $17,000 in cash during the entire operation.
This case is the most recent in a series of busts by the government in the last few weeks. On March 12, the police seized 1.7 tons of cocaine hidden in a cigarette-style speedboat off the Caribbean port of Limón. The boat was cornered to shore by the Coast Guard, but the people inside the vessel managed to escape.
Costa Rica security budget nearly doubles since 2009
Zamora described the craft as having four motors, amounting to an approximate value of $50,000, and called it “a new resource for the ministry to combat organized crime.” Less than two weeks earlier, two boats flying Costa Rican flags were stopped at sea with half a ton of cocaine each. Seven people were arrested.
“It’s possible that a part of that shipment came from Costa Rica, but it could’ve also made a quick stop on our shores to replenish its fuel and continue on to another destiny further north of Central America,” said Anti-Drug Commissioner Mauricio Boraschi.
Despite Costa Rica’s accomplishments in tackling organized crime, the State Department’s 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report says the country’s “lack of effective patrolling of both land and sea borders all contributed to Costa Rica’s status as a drug transshipment point.” It also noted “the rising consumption of illicit narcotics, the increasing presence of Mexican drug trafficking organizations and the level of drug-related violence.”
It’s this concern that has convinced Zamora to nearly double the Security Ministry’s budget in the last four years, from $230 million in 2009 to $400 million this year.
“We’ve never had, in our history, an increase as important as this one in the public security budget,” said Zamora, a former head of police. “But it’s important to point out that education and health remain the most important elements in the budget.”
Boraschi points to 95% success rate in drug prosecutions
Boraschi said that in the three years since President Laura Chinchilla took office, her security forces have dismantled 315 drug-trafficking organizations. Forty-eight of those are international in nature and 267 are domestic; in addition, 74 are identified as “narcofamilies” who have turned their homes into drug-selling businesses.
Costa Rican officials say their strategy of containing violence and the illegal transit of drugs through the country is unlike most others in that they work to prosecute people they arrest.
“Our country characterizes itself for having a 95 percent effectiveness in the cases it prosecutes,” said Boraschi, a lawyer by training and a former prosecutor. “The fight here is very different from other places, as we face drug traffickers by focusing on the use of intelligence and the rule of law.”
A statement from Boraschi’s office said his department has seized more than 31 tons of cocaine in less than three years; if the drugs had made it to the United States, they would have generated $775 million in earnings for the cartels.
Officials agree that the investment in security has paid off, not only because of the high percentage of criminals brought to justice, but because people are actually safer than they were before.
Unimer poll: Insecurity no longer biggest concern in Costa Rica
Costa Rica, which abolished its army in 1948, is the first Central American nation to drop out of the World Health Organization’s “violence epidemic” label given to places where the homicide rate exceeds 10 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. Costa Rica’s rate last year was 8.9 — compared to its peak in 2010, when its homicide rate reached 12 per 100,000. Nearby Honduras, the world’s most violent country, has a rate of 86 per 100,000, while El Salvador registered 71 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012.
In late March, a public opinion survey by independent pollster Unimer on behalf of the newspaper La Nación showed that insecurity is no longer Costa Ricans’ biggest worry; unemployment and the rising cost of living have knocked crime off the top spot.
Security ranked third for the first time in years, Zamora said, proving there’s been an overall decrease in criminal activity and that people are starting to notice that drop.
“This is a regional success, because we see that in the piece of land from Mexico all the way down to Colombia and Venezuela, we’re the ones with the lowest crime statistics and the one that has managed to reduce it the most,” he said. “To be in Central America — the most violent region in the world — and have a public opinion survey show that in Costa Rica insecurity is no longer the No. 1 worry in people’s minds, is significant.”
Thanks Isabella. Excellent work. Juan Antonio MarÃn I walk a lot through San Jose and I've noticed a substantial improvement in safety, the information provided by this article should be posted by the respective entities in order to leave behind that bad impression about this topic, which is printed daily by mediocre media sources that don't contribute a thing to provide a vision of peace and progress for the country; the same goes with the national roads, I travel a lot and most of them are in good conditions, let's work for a better CR, no petty interests and alarming publications, they are worthless and only cause damage, they aren't sons of this homeland and only care about the salaries in their pockets. Did you not understand the report? It said that violence greatly decreased, and Costa Rica has the lowest homicide rate in Central America. My goodness, what are you talking about without knowing? You must be Brazilian because they often give opinions with no justification.