Costa Rica and Colombia Reinforce Strategy against Transnational Crime

Both countries are working together to bolster the fight against international organized crime for the benefit of the entire region.
Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo | 9 March 2017

Colombian authorities learned about the drug trafficking routes used for smuggling marijuana and cocaine by sea between Colombia and Costa Rica. (Photo: Ministry of Public Security)

Costa Rican Minister of Security Gustavo Mata and Colombian Minster of Defense Luis Carlos Villegas agreed to continue exchanging experiences in the fight against transnational crime and to better cooperate to come up with initiatives for triangular security operations with Panama.

The Colombian Ministry of Defense reported in a press release that during a January 23rd-26th visit to the South American country, the Costa Rican delegation presented an initiative for greater cooperation that included their mutual neighbor, Panama, in order to form a triangle that would enable them to strengthen their operations, intelligence, and mobility, and of course, yield better results among the three countries, which are key players in the fight against illegal drug trafficking.

“It is important to take a holistic view of these different criminal phenomena that challenge us in the border zones between our countries, and develop plans for cooperation that broach these issues and take advantage of the instruments for cooperation that already exist, [in order to] focus them on this new aspect, for the benefit of the entire region,” Colombian Deputy Minister of Defense Aníbal Fernández told Diálogo. “We are negotiating the details of this triangular instrument with Panama,” he added.

“It’s important to change our reserved mentality in the region,” Minister Mata told Diálogo. “If we can manage to structure our strategic operations for combating crime syndicates, our countries will act as a naval, air, and land shield, dealing a solid blow to these groups in order to guarantee security for the people of our three nations. We hope that more nations, especially in the south of the continent, join forces with us in this security initiative that we are calling Southern Triangle.

According to Minister Mata, the three countries have been exchanging information for several months, which have resulted in air, land, and sea operations. Their exchange facilitated the seizure of more than 25 tons of cocaine in Costa Rica in 2016. That same year, Panama managed to seize nearly 40 tons, while Colombia confiscated over 300 tons of cocaine.

According to the report Organized Crime and Maras, released by the Spanish Institute for Strategic Studies, 90 percent of the drugs produced in South America pass through the Central American isthmus in their transit to the United States.

The defense and security ministers have also decided to broaden the scope of training programs for Costa Rican security forces, to keep drug trafficking groups and transnational criminal organizations from using the Central American nation as a transfer point for their criminal activities.

From 2017 to 2018, Colombian forces will train 1,500 Costa Rican civil servants. During the current administration of Colombian President Juan Manual Santos, they have trained nearly 1,600 Costa Rican security agents, 600 of whom were trained in the last two years.

Costa Rica plans to purchase more powerboats to combat drug trafficking in its Caribbean waters. (Photo: Ministry of Public Security)

“In cooperation with the United States government, Colombia is one of the countries that help to train our officers from the various police corps that make up our civil security forces,” Minister Mata stressed.

Costa Rica’s delegation took a tour of the Colombian Coast Guard station in Cartagena, where they learned about the various forms of camouflage for drug trafficking, such as semi-submersibles that are capable of transporting three or more tons in a single trip, as well as cylinders and metal boxes that look like batteries for ships or powerboats, inside which cocaine or marijuana is stored.

In March, various Colombian government units will travel to Costa Rica to assist every police station in the area of intelligence. Their visit will help security officers better track and manage the information and apply that information to the operations they conduct. “The knowledge transfer from Colombia, basing officers in our country so that they can exchange that ongoing support with us, is vital,” Minister Mata said.

After their visit to the Coast Guard station, the Costa Rican officials toured the facilities of the Science and Technology Corporation for Naval, Maritime, and Riverine Industry Development of Colombia. There they saw the advances that have been made with the Cadejos 3 powerboat, which is nearly ready. This vessel is being financed by the U.S. Department of State through its embassy in San José.

“The Costa Rican government is interested in acquiring [several] ships built in our shipyard [in Cartagena], in order to confront our [common] enemy in the Caribbean waters of Costa Rica,” Deputy Minister Fernández stated.

During their visit, the Costa Ricans reached an agreement with the National Police of Colombia for a team of 25 Colombian police officers to travel to Costa Rica in mid-March to assist the authorities in implementing a pilot project in 10 municipalities for their new civil security policy, so that it can be applied to the rest of the country later.

Costa Rica’s new civil security policy will include aspects “relating to alliances between mayors’ offices and the police corps in their fight against common crime and organized crime, as well as the use of technological tools and platforms applied to civil security. We want to share our experience in this area so that it can be used by other security institutions,” Deputy Minister Fernández stated.

International cooperation is key in the fight against drug trafficking. “We have always enjoyed a very close relationship with Costa Rica, one in which we have developed multiple instruments of cooperation. This means a lot to us. I think that’s a sentiment that both governments share; that this [is being] consolidated and will endure over time, irrespective of whatever future governments we have,” Deputy Minister Fernández concluded.


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