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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Costa Rica

Challenges:  Drug traffickers take advantage of Costa Rica’s strategic location, porous borders, thinly patrolled waters, and lack of a standing military to make it a major transit country for illicit drugs. According to U.S. Department of Defense estimates, 86 percent of U.S.-bound South American cocaine passed through the Central American corridor from July 2012 to June 2013. The Costa Rican government continues to express great concern over the increased presence of illegal drugs and related crimes, including street crime and the growing influence of Mexican and South American cartels.

Costa Rica has the lowest homicide rate in Central America, so far avoiding the levels of violence experienced by its northern neighbors El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Homicides dropped in 2012 but were back on the rise in 2013; authorities blamed drug violence for an 8 percent spike in the homicide rate over the first seven months, compared to the previous year. Assaults and other violent crimes were also up. In a country proud of its pacifist nature and lack of standing military, concerns about crime — and the recognition that it is a regional problem — have helped to justify security investments.

Goals:  INL programs focus on institutional capacity building to modernize the Costa Rican Fuerza Publica (FP); strengthen the government’s law enforcement entities to combat transnational trafficking and other complex crimes; build capacity in the justice sector, including prosecution of organized crime and corruption; protect Costa Rica’s maritime and land borders to promote legal commerce across borders; institute systems/procedures to address deficiencies in the corrections sector; and to create safe communities through combating gender violence, providing forensic investigative support and programs for at-risk youth.

Accomplishments:  The Costa Rican government has increased its spending on law enforcement agencies over the past several years. To help pay for these increases it enacted a new tax on corporate entities in 2012. In 2013 the tax raised $56 million, representing about 14 percent of the Ministry of Public Security budget. The establishment of a new Border Police force and improvements to its Coast Guard are tangible examples of Costa Rica’s commitment to disrupting the flow of illicit drugs.

  • In September 2013, 191 Border Police officers graduated from a training program developed with U.S. support and expertise, bringing the total number of Border Police officers to more than 200. Most of those officers went to assignments in the North, where Costa Rica was preoccupied by growing tensions with Nicaragua over the disputed Isla Calero area. In October 2013, the Border Police uncovered a drug trafficking organization’s helicopter pad and weapons cache six kilometers from the Nicaraguan border. Further investigation uncovered seven more helipads and aviation fuel diverted from Costa Rica’s state-owned refinery. Among those arrested in association with these seizures was a local police officer, an indication that CARSI training is addressing corruption issues as well.
  • The United States actively supports the further professionalization of Costa Rican police, including updating the academy curriculum. The Ministry of Public Security continues to implement the COMPSTAT crime-tracking system, which is in the early stages but has helped the police to identify problematic neighborhoods in San José. On the judicial side, the United States has supported a range of training programs for Costa Rican investigators, prosecutors and judges, on topics ranging from money laundering to wiretaps. The United States also has donated software and computers meant to speed up backlogged case management in several key offices.

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