Drug smuggling fishermen in Costa Rica owned large private properties and luxury vehicles -- riches gained from leading “transportista" groups, which are becoming increasingly common in the Central American nation.
A Nicaragua national nicknamed "Antorcha" was arrested July 3 on charges he ran fleets of drug boats along the Pacific coast, CRHoy reported. The 44-year-old man, who was only identified as Sánchez, owned two docks in the port city of Puntarenas, from which the fishing boats loaded with cocaine docked and disembarked.
Authorities said that Sánchez, his son and three other men recruited fishermen to transport the drugs. Walter Espinoza, the general director of Costa Rica’s investigations department, described the group as “well-organized” and said that it had been in operation since 2017, bringing South American cocaine to Costa Rica and then "re-exporting it” to Guatemala, Mexico and the United States, La Nación reported.
SEE ALSO: Costa Rica News and Profile
Sánchez isn’t the only fisherman to have recently been found running drugs in Costa Rica.
In January, authorities arrested a 36-year-old man identified as Alfaro Bustamante, who owned two large homes and three cars, including a Mercedes Benz and a bulletproof Volkswagen truck.
Authorities said Alfaro Bustamante led a ring that moved cocaine along the Atlantic coast in exchange for Jamaican marijuana, which the group then sold in Costa Rica.
InSight Crime Analysis
The arrests of wealthy fishermen indicate that so-called "transportista" organizations -- which receive, store and move drugs -- have dropped anchor in Costa Rica.
In the last decade, such organizations had largely been based in the Northern Triangle nations of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where large family clans dominated the smuggling business.
Recently, however, smaller groups in Costa Rica have found ways to get into the game. For example, a Costa Rica gang known as Los Morecos controlled the movement of drugs along the country’s crucial Atlantic provinces. The gang was independent from any other drug trafficking organization -- a rarity for Costa Rica-based groups.
What makes Costa Rica ideal for transportista organizations is its location as a transshipment point.
SEE ALSO: Central America's 'Transportistas'
Its Pacific coast provides open water for the movement of go-fast boats and self-propelled semi-submersible vessels loaded with Colombian cocaine. Some 80 percent of the cocaine smuggled to the United States in 2016 was trafficked via the Pacific Ocean, according to the 2018 World Drug Report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Meanwhile, Costa Rica’s Atlantic ports are feeding the European cocaine pipeline. Drugs concealed in shipments of produce have disembarked from the port of Limón to Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands.
The amount of cocaine seized in Costa Rica has also spiked. Though seizures are not a perfect proxy for drug movements, Costa Rica took in a record 33.6 tons of cocaine in 2018. During a single week in March this year, authorities seized 6.4 tons of cocaine. The largest bust in that stretch came when authorities intercepted a Colombian submarine carrying 1.5 tons of drugs.
The following month, another ton of cocaine was discovered aboard a boat disguised as a fishing vessel. It was 80 nautical miles off the coast of Puntarenas, where the drug smuggling fisherman had his docks.