Costa Rica's largest coffee exporters' association has claimed that a spike in robberies of coffee shipments is proof that the industry is being preyed upon by "organized crime," but a lack of evidence suggests this may be an exaggeration, playing to fears of increased criminal presence in the country.
On December 11, National Chamber of Coffee Exporters President Eric Thormaehlen held a press conference to address a recent rise in theft and hijacking of coffee shipments, EFE reports. Since October 2011, at least 18 shipping containers -- each carrying about 19 tons of coffee -- have been been stolen while being transported on the country's roads and at ports. This is estimated to have cost the industry some $3 million in lost profits.
According to Thormaehlen, this is the work of organized crime. As proof he pointed to the high degree of planning and organization necessary to steal shipping containers, noting that it requires connections with customs officials and individuals in the companies themselves to pull off.
InSight Crime Analysis
But while this crime appears to be well-organized, it is not necessarily the work of organized crime in the traditional sense. It is unlikely that criminal networks in Costa Rica are deeply involved in coffee theft. When compared to the profit margin of drug trafficking, the returns on stolen coffee sold on the black market are insignificant.
Instead, the announcement could be an attempt to elicit a response from the government. In linking coffee theft to organized crime, coffee exporters are touching on a hot-button issue. While Costa Rica has largely been spared the high rates of violent crimes seen in other Central American countries, Mexican drug trafficking organizations have deepened their influence in the country in recent years. This has fueled concern among officials that the security climate in Costa Rica could be about to worsen dramatically. In January, President Laura Chinchilla said that organized crime is one of the biggest threats to stability that the country has ever faced.