Costa Rica's export sector is suffering profoundly from the effects of drug traffickers as the use of shipments of fresh produce to transport drugs overseas hits both the image and the profits of legitimate businesses, say industry representatives.
According to Betsabe Alvarez, head of international commerce for the Chamber of Costa Rican Exporters (Cadexco), the common employment of consignment of pineapples, yucca and ornamental flowers has caused "serious damage" to the image of the companies dealing with such products.
Alvarez told Crhoy it has also created economic difficulty because drug traffickers then sell the legal products used to hide illicit cargos for abnormally low prices so legitimate business cannot compete.
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Tellingly, Alvarez's statements essentially suggest that the trade is facilitated by people from within the fresh produce export industry who are complicit in the smuggling, saying "they establish their illegal business parallel to a formal and legal sector."
The statements came in the wake of a major Romanian-led drug trafficking ring based in Costa Rica being broken up that sent cocaine to Europe hidden in loads of pineapples.
InSight Crime Analysis
The use of consignments of food and fresh produce to hide drug shipments is a noted pattern throughout the region, with large quantities of drugs recently found in such shipments in both Ecuador and Colombia.
The practice takes considerable coordination and often involves corrupt officials at both ends of the route. In an example of how it can go wrong, in 2013 large quantities of cocaine were found hidden among bananas sent to a German supermarket chain after a reported "logistical error" by traffickers.
While the complicity among producers or exporters may be one way to facilitate the practice, a recent case in Colombia underscored how coercion from drug traffickers is also often used. Meanwhile, in Ecuador's principal port of Guayaquil, so-called "gancho ciego" (rip on – rip off) -- whereby container seals are removed and replaced with false ones -- is commonly reported.
While Alvarez gave no figures in talking to Crhoy, the detrimental economic effect of the use of shipping containers -- which Americas police body Ameripol has said is on the rise -- is just another example of how the multi-billion dollar drug trade warps the economies of producer and transit nations and adversely affects their business sectors.