HomeNewsPanama, Costa Rica: Major Waypoints For Cocaine to Europe

Panama, Costa Rica: Major Waypoints For Cocaine to Europe


Central American countries seized a record amount of drugs last year, underscoring how the region has become one of the top suppliers of cocaine not only to the United States but Europe.

Of the nearly 248 tons of drugs seized in 2021, some 200 were cocaine and the rest marijuana, according to government figures collected by newswire Agence France-Press (AFP). The total was an increase of nearly 70 tons from the 180 tons taken in 2020.

Panama and Costa Rica accounted for about 80 percent of the drug haul in Central America. Panama seized some 128 tons, an increase of nearly 40 tons from the previous high set in 2019.

Costa Rica seized 71 tons of cocaine, a tick below its 2020 high. 

SEE ALSO: Panama Serves as Latest Gateway for Drugs to Europe

The massive cocaine hauls came amid an increase in seizures of drugs concealed in containers on ships headed for Europe, according to AFP. Their destinations included ports in Spain, France, Croatia, the Netherlands, Italy and Belgium.

Panama’s top anti-narcotics prosecutor, Marta Barrios, told AFP that the rise in seizures on container ships is “due to the ease they present for shipments to countries on other continents.”

InSight Crime Analysis

Central America has served as a drug corridor for South American traffickers moving cocaine to the United States since the 1970s. But massive ports in both Panama and Costa Rica have made these two countries even more attractive to traffickers looking to feed the cocaine pipeline to Europe.

A glut of cocaine has been flowing from Colombia thanks to the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and record-high production. Traffickers, in turn, have been exploiting Panama and Costa Rica’s proximity to the Andean nation, Costa Rica Security Minister Michael Soto told newspaper La Nación.

Most of the cocaine moved to these countries arrives via maritime routes along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, according to the latest World Drug Report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Much of it is smuggled in go-fast boats and drug-submarines.

Container trafficking, meanwhile, has become the preferred method for moving drugs to Europe. While Panama is known for its massive port, Costa Rica also has built up its port system, which caters extensively to Europe. A common export is fruit, which has become a favored cargo for smuggling drugs to Europe, since it must be moved quickly to avoid spoiling.

SEE ALSO: Atlantic Entrance to Panama Canal Awash with Cocaine

These Central American ports have also been shown to be vulnerable to corruption, both of security officials and port workers.

In Panama, more than 50 people, including police, were recently arrested on charges that they received, stored and stashed massive amounts of cocaine for the powerful Colombian trafficking group the Urabeños, also known as the Gulf Clan (Clan del Golfo). In Costa Rica, meanwhile, drug gangs have become adept at storing and loading cocaine into cargo ships docked at its Caribbean ports.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content

BRAZIL / 13 JAN 2022

Three shipments of cocaine were caught on the same day as they were about to head to France, Spain and…

BAGDAD / 9 SEP 2021

As Panama struggles to contain an ever-growing flow of cocaine, a recent operation has revealed the extent to which officials…


In October 2021, the Venezuelan Ministry of the Interior issued an ordinary looking statement about an antinarcotics operation in the…

About InSight Crime


Escaping Barrio 18

27 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an investigation charting the story of Desafío, a 28-year-old Barrio 18 gang member who is desperate to escape gang life. But there’s one problem: he’s…


Europe Coverage Makes a Splash

20 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an analysis of the role of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as an arrival hub for cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico.  The article was picked up by…


World Looks to InSight Crime for Mexico Expertise

13 JAN 2023

Our coverage of the arrest of Chapitos’ co-founder Ovidio Guzmán López in Mexico has received worldwide attention.In the UK, outlets including The Independent and BBC…


InSight Crime Shares Expertise with US State Department

16 DEC 2022

Last week, InSight Crime Co-founder Steven Dudley took part in the International Anti-Corruption Conference organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and…


Immediate Response to US-Mexico Marijuana Investigation

9 DEC 2022

InSight Crime’s investigation into how the legalization of marijuana in many US states has changed Mexico’s criminal dynamics made a splash this week appearing on the front page of…