The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) works to keep Americans safe at home by countering international crime, illegal drugs, and instability abroad. INL helps countries deliver justice and fairness by strengthening their police, courts, and corrections systems. These efforts reduce the amount of crime and illegal drugs reaching U.S. shores.
In 2018, Costa Rica ranked third in the Western Hemisphere by tonnage as the first stop for transshipment of cocaine to the United States. Once a problem mostly confined to fast boats operating miles off shore, the drug trade in Costa Rica has morphed into a proliferation of illegal air tracks, warehousing operations, land smuggling networks, tainted fishing vessels, and suspect shipping container traffic. Crime in the country, which correlates with drug activity, has seen a marked uptick. Between 2013 and 2017, the homicide rate per 100,000 individuals rose from 8.7 to 12.1. While the homicide rate decreased in 2018 to 11.6 per 100,000, in large part due to the focused and effective efforts of the Costa Rican government, the percentage of homicides related to drug trafficking activity increased. The Alvarado administration is combatting these trends, with the National Assembly shifting significant funding to the Ministry of Public Security to increase personnel, upgrade infrastructure, and better equip the Costa Rican Coast Guard, counter-narcotics police, and other security forces. While the capacity of the Costa Rican security forces and judicial institutions is high, and levels of corruption are low, the corrosive effects of the drug trade and associated transnational crime threaten to erode the integrity of these institutions. In Costa Rica, INL seeks to stem the flow of illegal drugs transiting the country en route to the United States, decrease associated violence, support citizen security, and enhance institutional resilience against transnational crime by building law enforcement and judicial capacity. INL also works closely with Costa Rica on border security and migration issues. These efforts are consistent with security and governance priorities of the U.S. Strategy for Central America and the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI).
Borders and Ports/Counter-Narcotics – INL has invested heavily in Costa Rica’s ability to secure its borders, including building up a dedicated Border Police. INL has also supported the Costa Rican Coast Guard’s capacity to control its maritime domain and help with U.S. interdiction efforts in the heavily trafficked Pacific maritime zone and the Caribbean through intensive training and the donation of boats and equipment. In April 2018, INL, working with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), donated three former USCG Island-class 110-foot cutters, establishing Costa Rica’s first blue water capability. The Costa Rican Coast Guard is now able to patrol the full extent of Costa Rica’s Exclusive Economic Zone, which extends 550 nautical miles into the Pacific. INL also supports a 20-person Maritime Interdiction Unit that uses intelligence to support drug seizures along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and claimed 20 percent of all interdictions in 2018.
In 2018, Costa Rica seized 33.5 metric tons of cocaine, the majority via maritime interdictions, setting a new record and bolstering its claim as one of the region’s most responsive and effective U.S. partners, in spite of its relative size. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) advisors, with INL support, operate with the Costa Rican Border Police and Customs to improve port security protocols to meet international standards. Costa Rica leads the world in registering extra-regional migrants in the INL-sponsored, DHS-administered BITMAP biometric program, adding over 23,000 migrants to its roles. This resulted in the identification, detention, and deportation of criminals. INL is transforming the capabilities of the small but impressive Costa Rican Aviation Service, donating four twin-engine multi-mission helicopters to its fleet in 2019, providing training to double the number of advanced mechanics and increase the number of pilots by one third. INL significantly expanded a multi-service Costa Rican police canine program that accounted for 75 percent of Costa Rica’s land-based drug seizures since 2017.
Community Security and Crime Reduction – In August 2018, President Alvarado announced the launch of “Sembremos Seguridad,” officially establishing the INL collaborative community security (CCS) program as Costa Rica’s central crime prevention and reduction initiative. At its core, the CCS program seeks to establish a whole-of-government, whole-of-community security model that emphasizes coordinated effort to tackle both the symptoms and root causes of crime. CCS draws heavily from the Colombian National Police intelligence-based community security program and draws from the talented INL-sponsored Colombian Police advisors who helped initiate the program in Costa Rica. “Sembremos Seguridad” is now active in 17 of Costa Rica’s municipal areas, with a national expansion to all 82 administrative districts planned by 2021. Initial results from pilot areas demonstrate impressive measurable reductions in violent crime, juvenile delinquency, and drug-related crimes.
Combating Transnational Crime – INL established a judicial wire intercept program (JWIP) in Costa Rica in 2015 and expanded the center to the highest capacity of any JWIP in Central America. The wire intercept program has been a key tool for increased investigations of transnational criminal organizations and directly contributed to Costa Rica dismantling 146 organized criminal groups in 2018. The Costa Rican National Forensics lab in 2018 was the first lab in Latin America to achieve international accreditation in ballistics. In October 2017, Costa Rica earned accreditation in DNA testing, chemical analysis, toxicology, and biochemistry. INL also helped establish and train a dedicated Judicial Investigative Police (Costa Rica’s FBI-equivalent) Organized Crime Unit and is assisting the judiciary to form special tribunals for organized crime.
Police Training – INL helped establish Costa Rica’s first police dive team, assists in the modernization of police training in support of Costa Rica’s new multi-service National Law Enforcement Training Center, and works with the National Park Police to improve patrol.
INL will continue to work strategically with Costa Rica to help a long-standing partner address new and significant security threats, bolstering one of the most vibrant, stable, and high-functioning democracies in Latin America.