Costa Rica’s location astride the Central American isthmus makes the country vulnerable to transshipment of South American-produced cocaine and heroin destined primarily for the United States. Drug traffickers exploit Costa Rica’s dual coastline, poorly-patrolled Pan American Highway, porous southern border and lack of a military. Its Coast Guard has limited resources, and Costa Rican-flagged fishing boats are used by traffickers to smuggle multi-ton shipments of drugs and to provide fuel for go-fast boats that favor Pacific routes. Traffickers also use Costa Rica to store narcotics temporarily – often landing drugs on Costa Rican shores from go-fasts and then storing them until further land- or air-based travel can be arranged. Drug traffickers also pay for services with drugs instead of money, contributing to the problem of domestic drug use, especially of crack cocaine.
The U.S. provides support for the Government of Costa Rica’s efforts to enhance the professionalization of its law enforcement and Costa Rican Coast Guard, as well as to improve cooperation among its interdiction agencies. While land-based interdiction, especially border checkpoints, remains important to U.S. strategy, U.S. support also provides technical assistance and equipment to enable the Costa Rican Coast Guard to patrol offshore to interdict maritime-based shipments, including containerized cargo. The Ministry of Public Security (MPS) with U.S. Government assistance is continuing a container inspection program at the Caribbean port of Limon. Simultaneously, the United Nations Office of Drug Control (UNODC) signed an agreement with the Government of Costa Rica to establish a container intelligence program that should complement the container inspection program.
The interagency Mobile Enforcement Team that includes canine units, drug control police, customs police, and specialized vehicles, all supported with Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) funds, in 2009 continued its coordinated cross-border operations with authorities in Nicaragua and Panama, meeting its goal of two deployments per month.
In addition, INL supports demand reduction and education programs throughout the country that promote awareness of problems associated with drug abuse through the Prevention Unit of the Instituto Costarricense sobre Drogas (ICD). In 2009, the ICD and the Ministry of Education distributed updated demand-reduction materials to all school children, and publicized its special phone-in number (176) to encourage citizens to report drug-related activity in their neighborhoods while remaining safely anonymous. The Policia de Control de Drogas (PCD-Costa Rica’s DEA office) considers the 176 phone-in program to be an excellent source of information that is analyzed and often leads to arrests. In conjunction with ICD and Fuerzas Publicas (Civil Police Forces) the USG works together with the Country’s Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) programs and puts on a huge event for several hundred kids and area schools.
Through the Mérida Initiative, Costa Rica continues to strengthen its institutional capabilities to investigate, sanction and prevent corruption within law enforcement agencies and to facilitate the transfer of critical law enforcement investigative information within and between regional governments. The U.S. also continues to fund equipment, training, community policing and economic and social development programs, firearms tracing, gang prevention, and educational and cultural exchanges.