Costa Rica drug seizures increased in 2013, but the number of drug-related arrests decreased, a dynamic officials say could point to increasingly large drug shipments being moved through this rising transit nation.
In 2013, the country registered a nearly 40 percent rise in marijuana seizures compared to the previous year (from three tons to 4.2 tons), while cocaine seizures rose more than 30 percent in the same period (from 15.5 tons to 20.5 tons). Seizures of crack also increased 6.2 percent between 2012 and 2013, according to the Costa Rican Drug Institute (pdf). A rise in LSD and ecstasy seizures was also reported.
Arrests of people for drug trafficking-related offenses, meanwhile, fell 20.5 percent, from 1,636 in 2012 to 1,301 in 2013.
Andres Rodriguez of the Costa Rican Drug Institute (ICD) told CR Hoy: "Although we are seizing more drugs, we are detaining less people. This makes us think these large quantities were headed for other places; they were seized from truckers and belonged to drug cartels and not locals."
Specifically Rodriguez said the marijuana seized was largely for local consumption, while the cocaine was destined for the international market.
InSight Crime Analysis
In recent years, Costa Rica has been progressively affected by the regional drug trade. The country sits along what has become a drug trafficking superhighway, and cocaine seizures have been rising. Various transnational cartels are reported to have established a presence in the country, including Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel and, most recently, the Knights Templar. Domestic groups involved in their own transport operations have also begun to emerge.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Criminal Migration
Rising crack, ecstasy and LSD seizures indicate Costa Rica's local market is evolving along with its involvement in the transnational trade. The prevalence of cocaine use in Costa Rica is already notable: Organization of American States (OAS) figures show 1.8 percent of the general population used cocaine in 2008, a rate 50 percent higher than the regional average of 1.2 percent.
In the context of a growing domestic market and rising transit, the decrease in drug-related arrests is odd, particularly considering that 80 percent of all arrests in the first nine months of 2013 were reportedly drug-related. If, as Rodriguez suggests, this trend is because of smuggling patterns, it would suggest criminal groups are transporting drugs in increasingly large quantities through the country.