How Drug Trafficking is Contributing to the Increasing Homicide Rate in Costa Rica

by Gabriel Martinez
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In LIMON, Costa Rica, there is a port that cruise ship passengers go to explore jungles in Costa Rica. But local people try to get home before it gets dark since the city has a high crime rate. The police carry guns with a lot of power in order to keep things safe. Last year, Costa Rica set a record for 657 killings and Limon had five times more murders than the whole country.

In Costa Rica, which is known for being chilled out and not having an army, people are shocked by all the violence. The government of President Rodrigo Chaves is trying to figure out what’s going on. It seems like Costa Rica has become a place where traffickers store drugs from Colombia and Mexico before they take them to Europe.

In Limon, lots of unemployed young people have been the victims of huge battles over territory. Martín Arias, Deputy Security Minister and Chief of the Coast Guard in Costa Rica reckons these wars center around who handles the cocaine going to Europe or the marijuana being sold in Limon.

In January, the police stopped a group of criminals who were sneaking drugs into boats at the container port. The drugs had been hidden inside walls of containers and even mixed in with pineapples and yucca that were being sent to Spain and Holland.

Bad guys from other countries also paid local fishermen to bring gas for their smuggling boats.

The Mexican drug dealers said instead of using money, they will pay with cocaine. At first, the fishermen and their helpers only sold it in their own area as ‘crack’, but then they learned that it was worth a lot more money in Europe, so they started to smuggle it out from the port.

Drugs were being brought in from Jamaica and Colombia, which caused different gangs to fight over who had the right to sell them. Most of the people affected by this violence live in poor neighborhoods. Last year in Costa Rica, 657 people were killed and 421 of those murders were caused by this drug-related fighting. One security expert said that around 80% of all killings are due to drug trafficking.

According to the former Security Minister, Mr. Mata, gangs are now mostly led by people from Costa Rica. He says that this country has become a place where a lot of drugs are stored and shipped abroad to Europe. The port in Limon is also involved in illegal drug activities that bring lots of violence.

Randall Zúñiga, director of Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Department said that there are four gangs fighting for control of the drug business in Limon. These gangs keep fighting and often people involved in the drug trade or even just selling it die as a result. The violence from these gangs also extends to other areas, not just Limon.

The shooting of 8-year-old Samuel Arroyo on Feb. 28 caused a lot of anger among the people in the capital San Jose. Even those who were not related to his family showed up to his funeral holding white balloons.

President Chaves described Samuel’s death as something “unbelievable and wrong”, and it seems that the shooting was part of a gang conflict. A 15-year-old person was arrested for being involved with the death.

One month ago, Ingrid Muñoz organised a big protest outside the San Jose court. The protest was to demand justice for her son Keylor Gambia who died trying to defend his girlfriend from an attack.

When asked why they were doing this protest, Muñoz said: “We want people to be aware that no one should be allowed to get away with their crimes. What we’re asking for is justice and we hope that judges and prosecutors understand how dangerous the situation is right now in our country.”

Security Minister Jorge Torres said in a speech back in January that people who have been convicted of drug-related crimes often don’t even serve the full sentence. He suggested that we need to change this system and demands harsher penalties for these lawbreakers. He also added that he will come up with an improved security plan soon, however, the matter needs immediate attention and thus more police presence is necessary on the streets.

Limon is a city in Costa Rica that’s located 100 miles away from the much bigger city of San Jose. Limon is special because it’s the most important port in Costa Rica. It exports lots of stuff to the United States and Europe.

In 2018, the government privatized Limon and gave control of it to a Dutch company. This caused about 7,000 people to lose their jobs which brought social problems to Limon according to Antonio Wells, who’s part of the dockworkers union at all ports in Costa Rica.

Last year, Limon was a canton that had one of the highest murder rates with 62 people being killed for every 100,000 residents. This means that there aren’t any jobs available in this area and so some people have to become hit men/assassins to make money.

Costa Rica’s murder rate also increased each year over the last four years. In 2020 it was 12.6 per 100,000 which is still less than Honduras but is the highest number since 1990.

A scientific research conducted by Costa Rica’s Economic Sciences Group in January showed that places like Limon, where development levels are low, have higher rates of crime and violence.

David, an older resident living in the city’s central square said sadly: “This is not the same Limon I grew up in. After 9 pm it’s dangerous to walk around here.”

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