San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Organ trafficking, Mexican cartels are among Costa Rica's biggest criminal threats, says UN

Out of the 28 victims of human trafficking reported through October 2013 in Costa Rica, 13 fell prey to illegal organ extraction and trafficking rings, according to a new report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Police.

Sex and organ trafficking were the two most common forms of human trafficking in Costa Rica this year, but the report also highlighted the violent side effects of increasing crack consumption here and the penetration of organized crime on the isthmus.

The high number of organ trafficking cases relates to the ongoing investigation into an organ-trafficking ring run out of the public Calderón Guardia Hospital and other private clinics in San José. Doctors allegedly paid victims up to $20,000 for their kidneys, which is illegal in Costa Rica. 

UNODC representative Amado de Andrés said during the report’s presentation that cases of organ trafficking and other forms of human trafficking are increasing across Central America.

Costa Rica operates as both a launch point and a destination for vulnerable migrants entering the country without permission, especially along its border with Nicaragua.

Regionally, Costa Rica attracts labor from Nicaragua, the Caribbean and as far away as Bolivia and Venezuela, according to the report. The country is also a global transit point for Asian and African migrants, often traveling to the Untied States. 

De Andrés said that the migrant flows from Asia and Africa were of particular concern because they heralded drug trafficking routes, including heroin.

The largest drug traffickers in Costa Rica tend to be Colombian and Mexican criminal organizations. OIJ spokesman Marco Monge told The Tico Times that the Sinaloa and Knights Templar Mexican cartels are believed to be active in Costa Rica. 

Drug consumption continues to increase in Costa Rica, due in part to increased drug trafficking in the region and the Tico middle class’ disposable income, the U.N. representative said.

Marijuana remains the most popular illicit drug in Costa Rica, with consumption spiking 260 percent since 2006. Much of the country’s so-called “High Red” marijuana originates in Jamaica and enters the country through the Caribbean province of Limón. 

Costa Rican consumption of cocaine is also increasing, as is crack cocaine. The report highlighted a correlation between crack consumption and violence, noting that six of the to 10 cantons with the highest homicide rates also rank among the cantons with the highest number of crack seizures.  

Drug consumption has increaesd in Costa Rica but so have drug seizures. Costa Rica has confiscated 17 tons of cocaine per year on average between 2005 and 2012, second only to Panama, according to the report.

Public Security Vice Minister Celso Gamboa told The Tico Times that Central America must “harmonize” its drug enforcement policies to address the isthmus’ growing trade in illegal substances.

Despite violence attributed to drug trafficking and consumption, Costa Rica’s homicide rate has fallen for the last three consecutive years since 2010. In 2012, the most recent complete year, homicides decreased to 394, bringing the homicide rate to 8.9 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Partial data released by the OIJ for the first six months of 2013 showed a homicide rate of 5.4, on track to reach 8.7 by year’s end, according to calculations by The Tico Times.

The report recommended law enforcement focus on local crime structures to interrupt the flow of illicit drugs through Costa Rica. Noting that the largest drug seizures have been carried out at sea, UNODC recommended increasing resources to the Coast Guard, along with improving training for police to address cases of human trafficking. 

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