San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Without state resources, indigenous groups turn to marijuana cultivation, says advocate

Despite the vigilance of police helicopters above and police patrols below, marijuana cultivation has become big business in the Telire indigenous reservation of the Alta Talamanca mountains, the daily La Nación reported on Monday. As Costa Rica’s role as a regional drug trafficking distributor grows, some view the Cabécar tribe’s decision to grow and sell marijuana as an act of survival in response to a neglectful state and central government. 

The newspaper reported that individuals in the reservation sell sacks of marijuana for nearly $400 each, or ₡200,000. The trade has grown to the point that locals plant more drugs than food now, said Gilberto Morales, a local Cabécar resident who received death threats after denouncing the illicit trade, according to La Nación.

Geiner Blanco, a collaborator with the Indigenous Roundtable, or Mesa Indígena in Spanish, characterized indigenous groups’ decision to grow marijuana as a response to a lack of state resources and infrastructure investment. “What people see is a drug trafficking problem but it has deeper roots than that, neglect from the state, which leads to poor living conditions and makes cultivating marijuana a means of survival,” he told La Nación. 

The newspaper added that so far this year police have eradicated just under half a million marijuana plants, a number than could rise to one million after last week.

Costa Rica, long shielded from the ravages of drug trafficking suffered by its neighbors, has become a major entrepôt for Mexican and Colombian drug cartels. Last week, police seized 1,200 kilograms of marijuana from two drug boats on a Caribbean beach where turtle conservationist Jairo Mora was killed on May 31. 

In response to rising violence, President Laura Chinchilla’s government has taken a more militaristic approach to combating drug trafficking, accepting millions of dollars worth of anti-drug training and equipment from the United States, according to The Associated Press. According to the news agency, the U.S. spent $18.4 million on security in Costa Rica last year. 

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