Raid in Costa Rica reveals presence of Italian mafia in the country

Seven people were arrested in a joint operation of Italian and Costa Rican law enforcement authorities during ten different raids in Pital de San Carlos, Rio Cuardo de Grecia, Santa Barbara de Heredia and San Jose, Costa Rica.

Over the last several years, cocaine shipments from Costa Rica have made their way to 39 different destinations on four continents and San Jose has become one of the new operative bases of the Italian mafia from Calabria, the ‘Ndrangheta, whose members manage cocaine export to Europe and United States.

The raid was part of the operation named “Columbus”, during which 13 Italian nationals were already arrested in New York on May 2014, as accused of running an international drug trafficking ring in the back of their family-owned restaurant in Queens. Since then, more than 3.2 tons of cocaine linked to this operation have been seized in the Netherlands, Belgium and USA.

After the operation in New York, thanks to the successful exchange of intelligence between the two law enforcement agencies, the investigation led to Costa Rica. This is the first time that the Italian police collaborate with prosecutors in Central America, following the confirmation of the presence of the ‘Ndrangheta in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica has become an increasingly important trans-shipment point for cocaine heading northward, ”colonised” both by nearby countries’ drug cartels and international organised crime groups. This fact has brought an increase in the level of violence in the country: the Costa Rican Judicial Investigation Department (OIJ) reported 471 homicides in 2014, a 30% increase from the 407 murders in 2012 and 2013. According to the Public Security Ministry, a total of 426 homicides were committed between January and 9 October 2015. The authorities attribute this increase to the fights between organised crime groups and bands competing for the drug market.

The growth of domestic and foreign organized crime networks has the potential to deluge Costa Rica, once considered an oasis of peace with no standing army. Acknowledging this potential danger, the deputy chief of the Public Ministry, Celso Gamboa, has recently declared that criminal groups have the country  on its knees and in a blood bath, to which Costa Rica has never been accustomed. In addition, Public Security Minister Gustavo Mata reiterated the need for an investigative unit dedicated to fight organized crime in the country.

The issues of violence, organised crime and drug trafficking affecting Costa Rica is an urgence that has to be addressed in the shortest time possible, especially given the rapid growth in the number of criminals bands and homicide rate. The implementation of programmes within the spectrum of the CRP may be a support in the establishment of those investigative units requested by Minister Mata.