Costa Rica's Attorney General said local criminal groups are being recruited and trained by Mexican drug cartels, further indication of the evolving relationship between drug trafficking networks in these two countries.
In an interview with El Universal, Costa Rican Attorney General Jorge Chavarría said that the cartels are recruiting local criminals and bringing them to Mexico, where they are taught cartel strategies in order to apply them back home.
While Chavarría did not specify which cartels are doing the recruiting, anti-drug authorities have confirmed that the Sinaloa Cartel and the Zetas are the most active drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) in Central America, according to El Universal. The Familia Michoacana and the Gulf Cartel also reportedly maintain a presence in the region.
Chavarría credited Costa Rica's rising homicide rate to the Mexicanization of Costa Rica's criminal groups.
"We have an increase in violence because local drug trafficking organizations are applying the Mexican strategy of controlling territory," he said.
The attorney general also noted the role of Mexican cartels in driving up the consumer demand for cocaine in drug transit nations such as Costa Rica.
"We have seen an ample expansion [in demand]... The demand is not just in the United States and Europe; there is an internal demand in all the countries in the region, which is obviously growing due to the increasing amount [of drugs] on offer, because collaboration for trafficking drugs to the United States is paid in drugs and not in dollars."
InSight Crime Analysis
While Costa Rica has long been a crucial transit zone for Mexican cartels looking to move cocaine to the United States, the recruiting and training of local gangs is a sign that a new power dynamic is emerging in the country's underworld.
Mexico's cartels have fragmented due to increased security pressure, which is enabling Costa Rican groups to step into a bigger role in the transnational drug trade. In November 2016, a local drug trafficking network linked to the Sinaloa Cartel was dismantled by Costa Rica's anti-narcotics police. The operation led to the arrest of 14 individuals, as well as the seizure of three tons of drugs and $1.7 million.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Costa Rica
Another factor strengthening Costa Rica's criminal groups is the increase in local drug consumption mentioned by Chavarría. Higher rates of cocaine use increase the profits for local drug trafficking groups, which in turn generates greater competition and the need for higher-power weaponry. Chavarría has previously noted that Mexican groups are arming Costa Rican gangs with AK-47s and grenades.
Costa Rica's underworld was historically under the influence of Colombian DTOs, but Mexican groups became the dominant foreign power following the fall of the Medellín and Cali cartels.