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Rise In Homicides Linked To Drug Trafficking

A bunker erected on the side of a the street in María Reina, in Hatillo, San José. Bunkers are used to dispatch illegal drugs, also offering users a place to consume. Photo MSP.

The street sale of crack and marijuana has become such a lucrative business in Costa Rica, that controlling the streets is the cause of many of the country’s murders.

This is the determination of the Organismo de Investigacion Judicial (OIJ) analysis of the fundamental reason for the number homicides linked to drug trafficking that is increasing year by year.

In 2016, of the 578 homicides, 23% (125) were ‘settling of scores’, while another 53 are still being analyzed that could increase that figure, according to Michael Soto Rojas, interim deputy director of the OIJ.

Drug related crimes has been on the increase since 2012

Soto explained that the trend (increase) began shortly after the capture of two narco leaders: Marco Antonio Zamora Solórzano, alias Indio, and Luis Ángel Martínez Fajardo, alias Pollo. Both are imprisoned, serving long sentences for drug trafficking; Indio in La Reforma, in Alajuela; Pollo in Nicaragua.

The removal of these two criminals a power vacuum and a bloody fight for turf ensued in certain neighbourhoods.

The official explained that a simple ‘corner’ for the sale of drugs, for example, can generate between ¢700,000 and one million colones in sales per day. Controlling several ‘corners’ earns millions daily, weekends even more, as drug use and thus sales increase.

Another form of dispatching illegal drugs is by way of a ‘bunker’, temporary structures made of metal sheets and wood, erected on a vacant lot, on public land alongside roads or rivers. Sometimes abandonded structures are converted into bunkers.

Besides use as a place for the sale of crack, marijuana and cocaine, ‘bunkers’ are often used for a place for users to consume. Often buyers arrive in luxury vehicles.

The infographic by La Nacion reveals a typical narco bunker operation, that includes a gang leader, his right hand man, the seller, security and lookouts

Culture of violence. For the authorities, narco crimes was sporadic in the 1990s. Then, it is believed, conflicts were resolved with threats and beatings, a broken limb or an arm.

“Now they kill indiscriminately. We see people executed with more frequency and burning and some dismembering of bodies. It adopted a culture of violence,” said Soto.

For the OIJ chief, the message among the groups is clear: “Don’t get into our business. Don’t get into our territory or we will continue to act in this way. It is part of the narco-culture that exists in Latin America (…) it is a way of demonstrating of power, a direct message that if one falls in the hands of the enemy it means death and suffering.”

A typical narco gang organization is made up of a leader, a right hand man, accountant, in charge of logistics, sellers/messengers, triggerment and a cook. A kilo of cocaine can be turned into 10,000 hits of crack, that is produced by cooking up a mix of cocaine, bicabonate soda, acetone, gasoline and water.

One of the reasons for the invarion of ‘turf’ varies, from police action in one area or against a particular group or the imprisonment of a leader, that can result in a free for all.

Soto, explained that as narco gangs adjust, betrayal, errors, leaking of information and interpersonal problems among the gang members usually results in killings, within the same gang or in rival gangs.

The official added that to contain the wave of violence police action has to be accompanied with social policy, that includes the reclaiming of public areas and development of cultural and sports programs for the youths. Soto warns that it has to be part of long-term planning, as results will not be possible in the short-term.