The dismantling, for the second time in two years, of a drug trafficking organization in Costa Rica led by a man held in a maximum security prison is a worrying sign of the ease with which criminal groups operate in a country with a growing role in the international drug trade.
On May 16, police in Costa Rica arrested 13 individuals accused of belonging to a microtrafficking ring operating across the capital, San José, and in various other parts of the country, reported CRHoy.
The group moved drugs from the Caribbean port of Limón to be sold in San José and its surroundings, and was managed from the La Reforma maximum security prison by Leonel Mora Núñez, alias “Gordo Leo,” according to authorities.
Mora Núñez, who was sentenced in 2009 to ten years in prison on drug trafficking charges, gave orders to his second-in-command via telephone, according to La Nación.
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The organization is suspected of controling dozens of sales points across the capital that grossed around 35 million colones (approximately $60,000) per day. These sales points were divided between street corner vendors and “bunkers,” a term that generally describes highly secure places with street access.
Authorities also accuse Gordo Leo’s structure of having carried out a series of murders, including one, in 2007, in which the victim was abducted and tortured. In another, last June, the victim’s house was riddled with more than 200 bullets, suggesting the structure possessed a considerable arsenal and firepower.
This is not the first time authorities announce having dismantled an orgaization led by Gordo Leo. In 2015, around 40 individuals were arrested for drug trafficking under the maximum security inmate’s orders.
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The ability of a maximum security inmate to rebuild a microtrafficking structure and generate nearly $2 million a month in less than three years points to deep flaws within the penitentiary system in Costa Rica, including the authorities’ inability to control prisoners’ communications with the outside world. In a bizarre event last month, penitentiary guards in La Reforma prison found cell phones smuggled into the facility using cats.
The fact that the group is accused of controlling dozens of sales point across San José also points to possible collusion with local law enforcement.
These bunkers often hold much more drugs and cash than a simple street vendor and are an immobile target for police, meaning their success often relies on corrupting local law enforcement.
These issues are particularly worrying given Costa Rica’s expanding role within the international drug trade. Evidence already points to a correlated sophistication of local groups and a growing presence of foreign transnational organizations in the country.