The recent bust of a cocaine smuggling operation has uncovered the presence of the Italian mafia in Costa Rica, putting pressure on authorities to respond.
Costa Rican officials and Interpol agents from Rome recently carried out multiple raids of an international cocaine trafficking operation run by Italian mafia group 'Ndrangheta, reported CRHoy.
Authorities arrested five Costa Ricans and two Cubans in the raids. The group is accused of using two produce companies to disguise shipments of cocaine destined for Italy and the United States, La Prensa Libre said.
"This certainly shows that the Italian mafia is here," said Chief Prosector Jorge Chavarria.
The busts are reportedly part of an investigation started by Italian officials earlier this year. Authorities believe 'Ndrangheta used a family-owned pizzeria in New York as an import and distribution point in the United States. Four suspects in the US, including the pizzeria's owner and two relatives, have been arrested. An additional 13 suspects have been captured in Italy, according to the Tico Times.
Authorities have linked the operation to at least five cocaine seizures, including a 3.5 ton shipment in the Dutch city of Rotterdam and a 40 kilo shipment in New York, which led officials to the Costa Rican-based operation.
InSight Crime Analysis
The arrival of 'Ndrangheta in Costa Rica points to the increasing sophistication of the country's homegrown criminal networks, and their burgeoning role in the transnational drug trade. The Italian mafia has generally operated out of Latin American countries with a strong organized presence like Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Peru.
The growth of domestic and foreign organized crime networks has the potential to overwhelm Costa Rica, a nation with no standing army and that was once considered an oasis of peace compared to much of the rest of Central America.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Costa Rica
In recognition of these dangers, earlier this week Public Security Minister Gustavo Mata reiterated the need for an investigative unit dedicated to fighting organized crime in the country. The deputy chief of the Public Ministry, Celso Gamboa, has also recently sounded the alarm, saying criminal groups have the country "on its knees and in a blood bath, to which Costa Rica has never been accustomed."
Indeed, it appears the rise of organized crime in Costa Rica has already had a major impact on public security. The country's homicide rate in 2015 is expected to push past the 10 per 100,000 inhabitants mark, a level the World Health Organization classifies as "pandemic." Officials say more than half of these murders are linked to organized crime and local criminal groups battling over the domestic drug market.