HomeNewsBriefArrest Uncovers Costa Rica Drug Boss’ Sinaloa Cartel Links
BRIEF

Arrest Uncovers Costa Rica Drug Boss’ Sinaloa Cartel Links

COSTA RICA / 16 AUG 2019 BY YURI NEVES EN

Authorities have taken down the boss of the Moreco gang — a uniquely powerful Costa Rica-based drug trafficking group with apparent ties to Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel.

José Efraín López Mendoza, alias “M-1,” was arrested on August 13 while traveling in a vehicle on a San Jose highway, La Nación reported. Authorities say Mendoza, who died his hair blonde and grew a beard to disguise himself from police, was the leader of the Revolutionary Movement of Organized Crime (Movimiento Revolucionario de Crimen Organizado — Moreco), a Costa Rican trafficking group formed in 2015.

SEE ALSO: Costa Rica’s Port of Limón Feeds European Cocaine Pipeline

Mendoza’s arrest comes four months after he managed to elude capture during several nationwide raids targeting his organization.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had Mendoza on their most wanted lists after he was accused of trafficking more than two tons of cocaine to the United States. Los Moreco used its connections to groups in Colombia to import cocaine before then shipping it out to Guatemala, Mexico and the United States.

Costa Rican authorities say Mendoza was in direct contact with Mexican kingpin Ismael Zambada García, alias “El Mayo,” who has served as the head of the Sinaloa Cartel following the arrest and later conviction of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias “El Chapo.”

InSight Crime Analysis

Authorities may have dismantled Los Moreco with Mendoza’s arrest, but the group represents a new type of threat for Costa Rica.

The Central American nation has long served as a transit point for drugs trafficked to North America, with local organizations playing a supporting role in their movement. Los Moreco functioned differently, carrying out sophisticated and independent smuggling operations, while its leader also maintained ties with one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal organizations.

Los Moreco’s ascendance likely stems from the fact that homegrown criminal groups in Costa Rica have for years sought to cement their role in the drug trade, partly by learning from Mexico’s cartels. Former Attorney General Jorge Chavarría referred to this as the “Mexicanization” of Costa Rican criminal groups.

In 2015, for example, Costa Rican hitmen traveled to Mexico to train with cartel assassins.  Costa Rican groups also adopted the brutal methods of Mexican cartels, leading to an uptick in violence in 2017 and 2018, Chavarría said.

SEE ALSO: Costa Rica Sees Growing Demand for Ketamine, Synthetic Drugs

In fact, Mendoza was so committed to having Los Moreco emulate Mexico’s cartels that he fashioned the group after the murderous Zetas, using the same naming pattern as the group. Walter Espinoza, director of the Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Agency (Organismo de Investigación Judicial – OIJ) , described Los Moreco as being a “professional and structured” group, with an “ideology and a lot of internal cohesion.”

The group even had its own motto: “honor, pride and loyalty,” he said.

Los Moreco isn’t the first group in Costa Rica to have ties to the Sinaloa Cartel. In 2016, authorities took down a drug trafficking network that imported cocaine from Ecuador and Colombia before shipping it to Mexico. The group had a smuggling system that included clandestine warehouses, docks, safe houses and airstrips.

With the continued fragmentation of Mexico’s dominant criminal organizations, groups like Los Moreco have more space to maneuver, allowing them to serve not just as facilitators but also partner organizations.

Compartir icon icon icon

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.

Related Content

MEXICO / 15 MAY 2012

A former top police official, jailed for alleged ties to drug traffickers, was reportedly tortured in prison. This could be…

BARRIO 18 / 24 JUN 2016

A new report says an increasing number of Central Americans are fleeing south to escape gang violence and seeking asylum…

COLOMBIA / 9 FEB 2018

A new analysis suggests the US congress is poised to push back against President Donald Trump’s proposals for massive cuts…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…