HomeNewsAnalysisCosta Rica Parks Used as Drug Smuggling Haven
ANALYSIS

Costa Rica Parks Used as Drug Smuggling Haven

COSTA RICA / 31 AUG 2012 BY ELYSSA PACHICO EN

Costa Rica’s national parks are being used by drug traffickers to move cocaine, a trend seen across the region, where protected nature reserves are increasingly used to smuggle drug shipments and grow illicit crops.

One of Costa Rica’s largest drug seizures so far this year involved a ton of cocaine found on the beaches of the Palo Seco national park last January. As Costa Rican newspaper La Nacion reported at the time, the Pacific Coast beach is only accessible by boat and is surrounded by mangrove swamps, making it a convenient place for drug traffickers to stash their product. The drugs were buried in the sand in 27 sacks and would have been worth an approximate $100 million in the US.

As a recent report by Reuters points out, drug traffickers moving cocaine along the Central American coast have found convenient rest and recuperation spots in Costa Rica’s national parks:

"Drug traffickers come in, make new pathways into the park for their trucks and set up their camps, waiting for drug shipments to come in by boat," said Carlos Martinez, head of police in Quepos, a town near Costa Rica's most popular park Manuel Antonio, 80 miles (130 km) from the capital of San Jose.

"We've found gasoline containers, remains of water and food supplies and canvas used to cover up the drugs. They've even made themselves some benches to sit down and chat," he told Reuters.

Costa Rica has 28 parks, accounting for about a quarter of the country’s total territory.

InSight Crime Analysis

It is unsurprising that drug traffickers should find Costa Rica’s nature reserves to be a convenient stopover point while moving cocaine northwards. Remote, unpopulated, and difficult for law enforcement to access, the parks are natural refuge areas.

Cocaine is increasingly moved along Central America’s coasts in short trips with multiple stopover points, rather than trafficked during long journeys that cover huge amounts of ground. This makes it harder for authorities to keep track of the smugglers’ movements. Yet it also means that the smugglers need to find safe stopover points where they can refuel and not worry about arousing suspicions from the local community, if they don’t already have collaborators there. Unpopulated nature reserves like Costa Rica’s Palo Seco offer a low-risk way for smugglers to break up their journey.

Across Latin America, natural parks are also being increasingly used to grow illicit crops. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) most recent coca cultivation survey for Colombia, coca is grown in 17 of Colombia’s 56 national parks. Even while coca production in national parks decreased overall in Colombia between 2010 and 2011, some parks saw marked increases, including an Amazonian park, La Paya, which saw coca cultivations go up by 61 percent.

There is also evidence that illicit amounts of coca are being increasingly cultivated in Bolivia’s national parks, especially the Isiboro Secure National Park, an area of 1.3 million hectares just over 50 kilometers from Cochabamba. President Evo Morales recently announced the creation of manual eradication units that would focus on containing illicit coca growth in the Bolivia’s national parks.

There is also some evidence that Mexican gangs have used national parks in the US to grow marijuana, according to findings by the George Wright Society, a conservation non-profit. In 2011, rangers removed over 26,000 marjuana plants from the Whiskeytown national park in California, and six people were arrested who were believed to be linked to a Mexican drug trafficking ring, according to a 2011 report by the Society. Marijuana cultivations have also been found in national parks across California, including Yosemite.

In some ways, the fact that more criminal organizations are using nature reserves to either move drug shipments or grow illicit crops is one sign that it has become too difficult to concentrate such activities in non-protected areas. The fact that human and drug smuggling routes along the US-Mexico border have appeared in parks like Texas' Big Bend could be interpreted as one sign that routes in less remote areas have become too risky to use. 

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Tags

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

COSTA RICA / 29 NOV 2021

A new report has suggested that recent progress made in Costa Rica to protect its abundant shark and turtle populations…

COLOMBIA / 29 MAY 2021

While Latin America is home to the trafficking of all manner of species, several foundations are working to save arguably…

COSTA RICA / 6 APR 2021

With owners of expensive lots kept away from Costa Rica because of COVID-19 restrictions, organized property fraud rings have enlisted…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…

THE ORGANIZATION

Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…

THE ORGANIZATION

Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime ON AIR

4 NOV 2022

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley was interviewed for the podcast The Rosenberg Case: A Tale of Murder, Corruption, and Conspiracy in Guatemala, which explores the potential involvement of then president, Álvaro Colom,…

WORK WITH US

Work With Us: Research Internship and Editorial Internship

31 OCT 2022

InSight Crime, a think tank dedicated to the study of organized crime and citizen security in the Americas, is seeking interns and investigators to join its dynamic, multinational team.