Though the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia have dominated much of the public security news lately, Costa Rican authorities say they are more worried about the Mexican cartels to the north than the guerrillas to the south.
“The Colombians are taking a lot of hits from law enforcement (from drug seizures), the Mexicans are losing confidence in the Colombians to deliver, and the (Mexican) cartels are moving their organizations here to secure shipments through this corridor,” said Costa Rican Drug Institute Director Mauricio Boraschi.
Busts and intelligence gathered over the last several years indicate the cartels’ presence, Boraschi said.
“They’re already here. We are always going to be completely permeated with these criminal structures.”
In a much-publicized case, Colombian gangsters Húber González and his brother, Dagoberto, allegedly contracted the assassination plot of the former Public Security Minister Fernando Berrocal and Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias last July at the behest of the Mexican cartels.
According to the Colombian daily newspaper El País, the González brothers had links to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Sinaloa, Juarez and Gulf cartels in Mexico. They allegedly controlled drug routes linking the different entities but that position didn’t keep them alive. Their bodies were found floating in a Colombian river in February.
In May 2007, Judicial Investigation Police raided a house in the western San José neighborhood of Rohrmoser. During the operation, dubbed “Operation Aztec,” seven Mexicans and one Colombian were arrested.
They were allegedly remodeling the house for the Sinaloa cartel to allow it to store and hide tons of cocaine for shipment to Mexico, according to a press release.
In April, Public Security Vice Minister Gerardo Lazcares said phone taps revealed a plan by members of the four biggest cartels to meet in San José.
Five days before that announcement, Drug Control Police raided a luxury home in Tejar de el Guarco in Cartago province, arresting two Mexicans and seizing 300 kilograms of cocaine and cash in multiple currencies.
The arrestees – last names Amézquita, 39, and Sánchez, 37 –remain in custody on charges of international drug trafficking, prosecutor’s office spokeswoman Sandra Castro said.
“What gets our attention… is the presence of Mexican structures, entrenched in the country, dedicated to drug-trafficking and using Costa Rica as a bridge,” Lazcares said after the raid.
The fact the Mexican cartels have a presence in Costa Rica shouldn’t come as a surprise.
In 2006, the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board, an advisory body, reported the Mexican cartels had displaced the Colombians and violently extended their networks throughout much of Central and South America.
“Mexico’s cartels… have become increasingly powerful in recent years with the demise of the Medellin and Cali cartels in Colombia,” states a similar report from the United States Congressional Research Service.
According to a report in the daily newspaper Al Día citing Lazcares, the cartels have divided the country into three – Arellano Félix of the Tijuana cartel controls the Pacific, the Sinaloa cartel controls land trafficking and the Cárdenas brothers of the Gulf cartel control the Caribbean.
Boraschi said the cartels are simply following a logical business model.
“They have an entrepreneurial structure and they are looking for cost reduction,” he said. “They are trying to secure the shipments and have the warehouses full to be able to supply the market. They are starting to establish enterprises here to cut their costs because buying a kilo here is much cheaper than buying a kilo in Mexico.”
Boraschi said the organizational trend is for the Mexicans to become more and more involved directly in Costa Rica.
“Before, these structures weren’t normal,” he said. “Before, it happened on a miniscule level and it was run by Ticos who historically had links with Colombians. And then it was Colombians that moved here and installed themselves running things directly.
Now, we’re in a third stage where we have Mexicans mixing with Colombians and nationals and trying to organize and secure shipments.”
Mexico’s Drug Cartels
Juarez – The biggest, with presence in 21 Mexican states. Currently allied with Sinaloa cartel in what’s known as “The Federation.” Uses the enforcer gangs known as the Zetas and Negros as their own private army. The Zetas, now numbering up to 200, were first formed in the late 1990s by Mexican Special Forces deserters. In turf war with the Gulf, Millennium and Colima cartels.
Sinaloa – Presence in 17 Mexican states. Uses the Negros and Pelones as its enforcer gangs. In a turf war with Gulf cartel.
Gulf – Present in 13 Mexican states. Allied with Tijuana cartel. Uses the Zetas and Negros. In a turf war with Juarez cartel. Headed by the Cárdenas brothers.
Tijuana – Present in 15 Mexican states. Allied with Gulf cartel. Headed by the Arellano Félix brothers.
Millennium – Controls Michoacan state. At war with Colima, Gulf and Juarez cartels.
Colima – At war with Millennium, Gulf and Juarez cartels. Formerly headed by the Amezcua brothers.
Source: U.S. Congressional Research Service Report for Congress.