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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Ruthless Hitmen Expand Reach Across Costa Rica

The landscape of crime in Costa Rica is shifting as increasingly mobile hitmen relocate between regions to evade rival gangs and police. This troubling phenomenon is especially evident in the Caribbean province of Limón.

With 190 murders this year, Limón leads the country in homicides, followed by 186 in San José and 116 in Puntarenas. In response, many hitmen are temporarily fleeing Limón for the Guanacaste region to avoid reprisal killings or capture.

Recent homicides in Guanacaste towns like Nicoya and Nosara have been linked to criminal groups originating from Limón, raising concerns over the expanding networks.

“It is clear the criminal phenomenon is spreading, and our intelligence indicates the hitmen in Limón move to the North Pacific periodically to evade police and rival gangs,” said Public Security Minister Mario Zamora.

Authorities have identified over 200 active hitmen countrywide, mostly males between ages 18-35. However, women and even minors also participate in the violent trade.

Coming predominantly from marginalized backgrounds and having low education levels, these hitmen relocate between provinces to reduce their risk of being assassinated or detained.

Minister Zamora stressed the need for urgent action, with over 340 criminal groups now under police surveillance. “We have over 200 hitmen identified – it’s important to activate the judicial component because many have pending court cases. Imprisoning them could reduce homicides,” he explained.

This year, hitman activities have become so severe that legislators have introduced five bills targeting organized crime networks.

Police data shows most 2023 murders stemmed from revenge killings and score-settling, with firearms as the predominant murder weapon. Young men aged 18-29 were disproportionately targeted.

The monthlytallies reveal homicides peaked in April and August, underscoring the escalating violence. Costa Rica has already recorded 761 murders this year, a jump of 231 from 2022.

To combat the spread, authorities must disrupt the mobility that allows hitmen to evade consequences in one province by hiding in another. A coordinated judicial and law enforcement strategy is urgently needed.

Stemming the proliferation of firearms accessing criminal groups is also imperative. Ultimately, addressing the root factors that lead youth into organized crime must remain a priority.

With ruthless mobile hitmen extending their networks across Costa Rica, authorities face a challenging road ahead. But through a collaborative and sustained effort, the country can halt this deadly trend before more lives are lost.

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