SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica – Security Minister Mario Zamora said officials are teaching military strategies to its police officers to strengthen the fight against narco-traffickers using the Central American nation as a hub in the drug trade.
“These strategies, based on ‘total war’ criteria used in the military field, are being transferred to the field of security,” he said. “The concept implies that all resources and missions of the organization are working toward fighting crime.”
The results have been impressive. Authorities have confiscated more than four tons of cocaine tied to international narco-traffickers this year, Zamora said, adding the partnerships Costa Rica has made with other nations, including the U.S., have been invaluable in its narcotics fight.
The year’s first bust occurred on Jan. 4, when police arrested a 28-year-old Costa Rican at the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua after they found 793 pounds of cocaine stashed in his truck carrying scrap metal, officials said.
But what officials found in the truck, which they said was destined for Guatemala, paled in comparison to what they found 27 days later, when the National Coast Guard Service (SNG) stopped three boats in Costa Rican waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Authorities, acting on information received from the United States Coast Guard, pursued three boats that stopped near the coast after they’d been pursued by SNG agents. Crew members jumped into the water and swam to shore, where five suspects – three Colombians and two Costa Ricans – were taken into custody and jailed as they await trial, said Martín Arias, the director of the SNG.
Though two of the boats were transporting fuel, the other was loaded with more than two tons of cocaine, making it the largest shipment of cocaine seized in Costa Rican waters in the past five years, according to the Drug Control Police (PCD).
The bust came a week after the Air Unit of the Ministry of Security agents found nearly a ton of cocaine buried in the sands of Matapalo beach along the Pacific coast.
“In the past, criminal activity passed by but never affected us internally,” Zamora said. “These partnerships between international drug trafficking groups and local criminals started with the latter providing logistic support, and ultimately, they were co-opted by the logic of international crime.”
Costa Rica’s Container Control Unit (UCC) in Moín, the main Costa Rican port in the Caribbean, and the PCD partnered to make a major bust on Feb. 24 while inspecting 198 containers aboard the “Endeavor Star,” a merchant ship destined for Europe.
A total of 761 pounds of cocaine was stashed in two of the containers, Zamora said.
“Through an agreement with the UCC, they gave us permission to open all the containers, even if they were sealed,” Zamora said.
This agreement is just one of three major joint support agreements signed by the Ministry of Security to strengthen the fight against narco-trafficking.
“We understand that this multipronged strategy has been giving us good results,” Zamora said. “We have achieved historic coordination between the forces we have on land, sea, and air.”
The Ministry of Security has also entered into a cooperation agreement with environmental protection NGOs.
“Thanks to them, we will have access to a radar system that is valued at US$6 million,” Zamora said. “These radars that help protect national parks from illegal fishing will also be used to stop drug trafficking.”
The NGO Mar Viva donated a boat to the SNG valued at US$500,000, he added.
The Ministry of Security has also signed an agreement with the National Bank of Costa Rica (BNCR) to issue debit and credit cards in which 1% of balances will go toward the fight against crime.
“The money will be used to purchase vehicles and motorcycles for the police,” Zamora said. “The card will be made available to the average citizen, and the percentage that is deducted will be taken from the bank’s and merchant’s side. This is a way in which we can promote, through responsible consumption, sending fresh resources to the field of security.”
Zamora also said it’s imperative Costa Rica continue to strengthen its international partnerships if it’s to continue to be successful in its fight against narco-trafficking.
“We understand this is an effort of multinational collaboration, which is why what we receive from the United States, Colombia, and Mexico is very important,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mauricio Boraschi, Costa Rica’s national anti-drug commissioner, stressed the importance of the Joint Patrol Treaty signed with the United States.
“This clearly shows drug trafficking is a dangerous option that leads only to two roads for sure: jail or death,” he said.
The United States gave Costa Rica US$7 million and two boats valued at US$200,000 apiece last year to strengthen its security forces, Zamora said.
“The physical support we receive from the United States has proved to be vital. But they also collaborate a lot with information and training,” Arias said. “Our Coast Guard receives specialized training in Colombia, Mexico, and the United States.”
Arias added the US Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) has pledged to fund the construction of a US$1 million building in the city of Flamingo to serve as a hub for the country’s counter-narcotics operations.
“When crime trespasses your border and delivers insecurity to third-party states, it seems to me that we have to rethink the concept of sovereignty and national jurisdiction,” Zamora said. “The new understanding of sovereignty is in the joint support among countries. The more we do this, the more we can contain the narco-trafficking phenomenon.”