Authorities in Costa Rica are worried that the dismantling of Colombia's main guerrilla group could threaten the Central American country's stability, as a new generation of criminal networks are likely to take over the drug routes formerly held by the insurgents.
Speaking before the congressional Security and Drug Trafficking Commission, Security Minister Gustavo Mata said the demobilization of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) will allow new and smaller organized crime groups to expand into Costa Rica, reported Diario Extra.
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Mata said that he expects a large number of the weapons that are supposed to be surrendered by the FARC will fall into the hands of Costa Rican gangs.
"I hope they turn them in," Mata said, referring to the FARC's weapons. "But I know that is not going to happen."
The weapons "are going to come [to Costa Rica], along with coca, for one simple reason," the security minister continued. "These organizations are going to want to position themselves in the region, they are going to give arms to the small groups in order for them to engage in internal fights that we are seeing in Costa Rica."
As evidence of this, Mata pointed to the arrest of 11 individuals and the seizure of seven firearms -- including AK-47 and M16 rifles -- on February 14, while calling for a more heavy handed approach to fighting drug trafficking. (There do not appear to be any indications that those weapons were linked to the FARC.)
Amid a trend of rising violence linked to criminal activities, Costa Rica has recently stepped up the fight against drug trafficking. The country has purchased new radars to patrol its shores and has hired and trained new police officers, Mata remarked. The United States also recently donated two anti-narcotics ships that will begin patrolling Costa Rica's coastlines by the end of 2017.
InSight Crime Analysis
While Costa Rica has long been a crucial transit spot for traffickers wishing to smuggle Colombian cocaine to the United States, the dismantling of the FARC could change the dynamics of the Central American country's security situation.
Originally used as a meeting point for Mexican and Colombian crime groups to seal deals on cocaine shipments heading to the United States, since the mid-2000s Costa Rica has turned into a major transhipment hub for Colombian drugs and now serves as a point of operations for some transnational criminal groups.
Costa Rica's Attorney General Jorge Chavarría recently said Mexican drug cartels are recruiting Costa Rican criminals and taking them to Mexico, where they are taught cartel strategies and ways to adopt them back home. The relationship between Jamaican and Costa Rican trafficking networks has also reportedly grown stronger as Costa Rican gangs are allegedly swapping cocaine for Jamaican marijuana, which authorities believe is now both sold in Costa Rica and exported abroad in large amounts. Additionally, police operations in 2015 uncovered the presence of the infamous Italian crime syndicate known as the 'Ndrangheta in the Central American country.
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For their part, the FARC have long been a key player in Costa Rica, and have reportedly used the country to evade capture, hide their assets and set up drug and arms trafficking networks. The guerrilla group's demobilization could give FARC splinter groups and other criminal networks a chance to increase their operations in the country. Not only could this lead to an increase in the quantity of drugs smuggled into Costa Rica, it could also lead to a surge in the number of weapons handled by local gangs if foreign crime groups are to arm them as Mata predicted.