Seven police officers in Costa Rica have been sentenced to 22 years in prison for drug trafficking. Their convictions are more evidence of the increasing influence of criminal organizations on the very institutions in Costa Rica responsible for fighting trafficking.
The seven members of the federal police force were convicted of international drug trafficking and embezzlement. Another Costa Rican national who was convicted as part of the same case was a member of the Coast Guard until just a year before his arrest.
These crimes were committed in collusion with a Colombian drug trafficking organization. The same organization is suspected of trafficking several major cocaine shipments seized by authorities, including one shipment of 1,441 kilos intercepted in July 2009, 382 kilos last August, and 700 kilos last September.
InSight Crime Analysis
Costa Rica is becoming more important to smuggling operations through Central America. Authorities in May 2011 noted that land routes through Costa Rica are increasingly important as drug trafficking organizations are forced to abandon air and sea routes through Panama due to a crackdown by authorities there. The head of the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) warned last December that Costa Rica has gone from being a transit point for drug shipments to being a center of negotiation between Mexican and Colombian drug trafficking organizations.
Proof of increased smuggling operations point to this new reality of a greater criminal influence in the country. This past February, Costa Rican law enforcement seized a single shipment of two tons of cocaine, the largest bust in six years, from boats off the Pacific Coast. In the first four months of 2012, four tons of cocaine were seized at one border crossing, the same amount seized in all of the country in the last six months of 2011.
As InSight has reported, criminal organizations are building stronger relationships with security forces in Costa Rica. The amount of narcotics seized in the past year suggests that these organizations are getting more confident that these connections will facilitate large shipments and keep them from being intercepted. It is also very likely that there have been large single shipments like the one seized in February that have gone unnoticed by authorities.
Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla correctly identified the problem in an interview late last year, saying, “This has to do with the institutions, and what [drug cartels] do is corrupt institutions to disrupt the legal system and the rule of law... I don’t remember in our whole history a menace like this menace from organized crime.”