Costa Rican authorities on Saturday shipped nearly 24 tons of cocaine and heroin to the United States on a U.S. military plane for the drugs’ destruction.
The Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) of Costa Rica made the announcement on Monday, having secretly shipped the illicit drugs to Miami, Florida, in a former U.S. Air Force cargo plane.
The Spanish-language online daily CRHoy.com first reported the story on Monday, with comments from OIJ.
“No, it’s not normal,” CRHoy.com quoted an OIJ official as saying. “It’s something extraordinary. Right now we do not have a place to destroy the drugs, particularly considering the amount that was shipped.”
OIJ said Costa Rican authorities typically destroy drugs with the assistance of a cement plant, Holcim. In a Tuesday statement, OIJ said they feared the destruction would contaminate the environment. OIJ said the drugs were destroyed on Monday, in a five-hour process. The exact amount was 23 tons and 780 kilograms.
OIJ and the U.S. Embassy said Costa Rica coordinated the operation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
“The removal of this much cocaine for destruction demonstrates the successful joint operations the U.S. and Costa Rica undertake in the fight against organized criminal networks as well as our ongoing co-operation,” U.S. Embassy spokesman Eric Turner said in a statement.
Costa Rica has become one of the major transit countries for cocaine shipped from South America to North America, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
“According to Costa Rican authorities, in recent years, there has been a significant increase in the quantities of cocaine seized on the sea route, involving Costa Rican nationals mostly working in the fishing industry and operating under the direction of Colombian nationals, using fishing boats with Costa Rican flags to transport illicit drugs,” a 2011 UNODC report said.
Twenty-three tons and 780 kilograms of cocaine would have a wholesale value in the U.S. of between $297 million and $773 million, according to UNODC estimates. That same amount would fetch approximately $5 billion when sold in retail amounts on U.S. streets. UNODC estimated the global cocaine market between $75 billion to $100 billion in 2009.
Heroin fetches an even larger sum, by the gram.