San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Land-Based Drug Seizures Increase

GOLFITO – In what officials say is a parallel increasein drug trafficking and law enforcement activity, theamount of cocaine and marijuana seized in Costa Rica duringthe first six months of this year is already double thequantity seized during all of 2003.Though Drug Control Police (PCD) representatives saidearlier this year that land-based trafficking activity throughthe isthmus had remained low since a series of immenseseizures in 1998, the vast majority of the more than 2.5 metrictons of cocaine confiscated thus far this year came fromshipments intercepted on land. The entire 2.5 metric tons ofmarijuana seized by police came from land-based shipments.Despite a porous border and a lack of sufficient lawenforcement personnel to patrol the area, more than 40% ofthe drugs were seized from land-based shipments – originatingfrom Colombia – moving through the SouthernZone, near the Panamanian border, according to PublicSecurity Ministry officials.A senior-ranking official of the Narcotics Section of the Judicial Investigative Police (OIJ),whose identity is withheld for security reasons,told The Tico Times that operativeson many levels of trafficking organizationsare paid solely in drugs, as it is much morecostly to lose hard cash in the event of anarrest. The official said drug-money bustsused to be fairly common, but now the burros– those hired to move the drugs – aregiven only enough cash to cover expenses,which usually amounts to less than $500.As a result, the unremitting flow ofdrugs moving through the region has saturatedlocal communities with small-timecrack, cocaine and marijuana dealers,according to law enforcement officials andarea residents.THE poverty-ridden southern Pacificport town of Golfito has suffered particularlybadly. Known drug dealers walkfreely through the community, using atightly knit communication network andknowledge of the tactics employed by lawenforcement officials to evade capture.Just last week, police arrested threeresidents of the Southern Zone they suspectof having links to a Guatemalanbelieved to be one of Central America’sbiggest drug distributors. Authorities saidthe band may have brought some 1,200kilograms of cocaine into Costa Rica.GOLFITO Police Chief Luis ÁngelNúñez said there is so much activity surroundingillicit substances that Golfitopolice make an average of at least onedrug-related arrest per day. Police therehave only one car, and just this month weresupplied with a motorcycle, Núñez said.Núñez said the dealers are careful tocarry only small amounts of drugs, so thatif they are arrested they will face onlyminor charges related to consumption.“Five to six rocks, five to six rocks (ofcrack),” Núñez said, explaining that thedealers restock every two or three hours toensure a constant flow of business. “Thatperson doesn’t just have a consumptionproblem. That person has money to buy.”He said many of the dealers have beenarrested multiple times, but serve minimalsentences and are back on the street inshort order. Because of this catch-and releasepattern, Núñez said, the problempersists.AREA residents and police alike canall point out several well-known housesdealers use as storage and distributionpoints, primarily for crack, a highly addictive,crystallized form of cocaine.Many of those local dealers operate outof a small cluster of homes calledKilometro Tres – literally meaning “kilometerthree,” named for its distance fromGolfito. Núñez, who has lived in Golfitofor 19 years, said Kilometro Tres was oncethe gathering place for most of the community,but as the area became more developedit was forgotten.“Here, they sell drugs like it’s nothing.It’s like you’re selling pastries in thestreet,” said a 19-year-old resident ofKilometro Tres, who would not identifyhimself for fear of violent reprisals fromdrug dealers.THE young man said none of the residentsof Kilometro Tres will give out informationabout the dealers for fear of death,but pointed out one of the well-known distributionhouses.“Here, no one gives information toanybody,” he said. “They will hunt youdown and make you pay, to the point ofkilling your family members.”Jorge Morera, a taxi driver who lives inGolfito, pointed out the same house inKilometro Tres.“Everybody knows who he is,” Morerasaid. “He distributes small amounts to people,and they go around and sell it.”IN fact, every area resident questionedby The Tico Times about local drug distributionpointed out the same house.Núñez said mounting an operation toarrest the dealers is a slow process thatrequires extensive inter-institutional coordination.He said permission to conduct a bustrequires video of the suspects selling drugs,as well as purchases with marked bills.He also said information about thebusts occasionally leaks to the dealers, nullifyingmonths of investigation.“That must be eradicated,” Núñez saidof the leaks. “There’s no way to work welllike that.”THE senior-ranking OIJ official saidthe flow of drugs through the region showsno sign of slowing. He compared the collapseof the major Colombian cartels in the1990s to the fall of the Soviet Union andthe dispersion of its nuclear arsenal – theworld simply became more dangerous.“Before, where there was one business,there are now a hundred,” he said.“Business has opened up quite a bit. It’smore dangerous for society.”Officials from the PCD and the OIJNarcotics Section said that an increase inland-based busts does not necessarily indicatea shift in maritime transshipmentactivity.A recent report released by the U.S.Bureau for International Narcotics andLaw Enforcement Affairs supports theirassertion. The report states that drug traffickershave returned in recent months tolarge overland shipments – such as thosenabbed in the Southern Zone this year –but that northern-bound “go-fast” boatslikely continue to “solicit Costa Ricanflaggedfishing vessels to serve as refuelingvessels” for their journey up the coastlinebefore disembarking their payloads inGuatemala or Mexico.The Miami Herald reported last monththat U.S. federal agents had cut off majorcocaine transshipment routes in theCaribbean, reducing by 10% the flow ofthe drug into the United States.

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