Police in Costa Rica have dismantled a network that trafficked cocaine from Colombia for sale within the country, highlighting how Costa Rica's growth as a drug transit country may increase its domestic drug market.
Authorities arrested 14 members of the gang, identifying five of them as part of its leadership, reported Noticias Primero. Among those arrested were a Colombian and a Panamanian, who were allegedly responsible for the first legs of the trafficking route, which stretched from Colombia to Costa Rica via Panama.
Once in Costa Rica, the cocaine was sold to local gangs, who would either sell it on as powder or process it into crack, according to Costa Rica's Security Minister Mario Zamora.
InSight Crime Analysis
Costa Rica has one of the lowest cocaine user rates in Central America -- above only that of Guatemala, according to the United Nations. It has a population of under 5 million, meaning that the potential domestic market is relatively small.
However, in recent years there have been concerns that the country is becoming an increasingly important trafficking route, as other more traditional routes receive heavy attention from the security forces.
Costa Rica's growing popularity as a transit route may push a growth in the domestic cocaine market. Elsewhere in Central America traffickers increasingly pay local criminal groups for services, such as providing security, in drugs instead of cash, creating more access to drugs in the country, and increasing the opportunities and incentives for local gangs to get involved in domestic drug sales.
The US State Department has warned that Costa Rica is ill-equipped to tackle the growing presence of criminal organizations in the country.