The price thousands of South Americans paid to be smuggled across borders, hidden in homes and transported clandestinely in trucks to the United States: $7,000.
Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) Director Jorge Rojas on Tuesday detailed a human smuggling ring spanning from South America to the United States that police broke up by raiding nine homes and hotels and arresting seven people.
People from Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru paid $7,000 to make the illegal journey to the United States, and the Costa Rican branch of the operation earned $1,700 per person, Rojas said.
“We’re talking about a very significant amount of money,” he said, explaining that olice believe the operation ran about 30 people through Costa Rica per week.
Those originating in Bolivia flew to JuanSantamaríaInternationalAirport, just outside San José, where they were able to enter the country legally on tourist visas. Those coming from Peru and Ecuador – countries from which special visas are required – traveled by land through Panama and were smuggled into Costa Rica at the Paso Canoas border crossing.
They all met up in San José, where they were housed overnight in homes and hotels, Rojas said. The owner of one of these homes who is believed to be the head of the Costa Rican operation, a woman identified by the last name Pineda, was arrested Tuesday in the northern suburb of Tibás.
Two others, women identified as Mena, a Nicaraguan, and Valle, a Costa Rican, were also arrested there, and a man, identified as Chávez, was arrested in San José.
Police believe the South Americans were driven in trucks from San José to the northwestern Guanacaste province, where they were hidden in houses until they were smuggled across the Peñas Blancas border crossing into Nicaragua.
Two accused of aiding in the smuggling from Guanacaste were arrested Tuesday, a man identified as Rivas in the town of La Cruz and a woman identified as Ruiz in nearby Liberia. In the Southern Zone’s Ciudad Neilly, police took in a man identified as Rugama. All face international human trafficking charges.
The OIJ had been investigating this case for about a year in conjunction with U.S. and South and Central American authorities, Rojas said. Police believe similar smuggling networks were operating in other Central American and South American countries to move the South Americans north to the United States.