Costa Rica’s Limón Province is currently the country’s homicide capital as surging cocaine flows have renewed fighting for its port, a major point of departure for drugs out of the country. 

On May 19, around 150 police officers were deployed in Puerto Limón – the province’s capital – to maintain order and protect the local population. This came two days after a well-known crime boss in the area, Ronny Dobrovsky Rojas, was gunned down while dropping his daughter off at school in the center of the city.

Dobrovsky Rojas’ murder has raised the total number of killings in Limón, which is located on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, to 54 this year. Up to 90 percent are due to clashes between organized crime groups, reported news outlet La Nación, citing a press conference by the Judicial Investigation Department (Organismo de Investigación Judicial – OIJ.)

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So far in 2022, Limón accounts for nearly one quarter of all murders nationwide and suffers from a homicide rate triple the national average, according to OIJ Director General Walter Espinoza, speaking at a press conference last week.

A principal cause of that violence is Limón’s container port of Moín, which is struggling to stop cocaine flows. Most recently, on May 19, authorities seized 37 bricks of cocaine destined for the United Kingdom. Moín continues to be the main cocaine trafficking hub in Costa Rica and one of the largest in Central America.

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Homicides in both Costa Rica and Limón peaked in 2017, yet violence nonetheless remains high, with sporadic flashes illuminating an increasingly entrenched security crisis in which microtrafficking and mid-level distribution groups compete for drug rents.

Dobrovsky Rojas was an archetype of the problems Limón has faced. He was first investigated in 2013 after being caught with over $200,000 worth of suspected drug money, before being arrested in 2017 for supposedly leading a local gang that smuggled cocaine and marijuana by boat from Jamaica.

His group was also accused of murdering five people and trafficking firearms, whose accessibility has long been a factor in Limón’s homicide problem. However, Dobrovsky Rojas was only placed under house arrest, which was then commuted to biweekly court sign-ins earlier this year.

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It remains unclear whether his assassination is connected to the broader gang conflict in Limón, between the rival Diablo and Pechuga groups. With over 150 killed over five years, the feud has been a major factor driving violence and supposed Diablo gang members continue to be detained in the province for drug trafficking.

While cracking down on visible criminal groups is an essential component to re-establishing security in Limón, authorities must also address structural issues underlying the crisis, including the rampant poverty and unemployment that allows gangs to recruit with ease.

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