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Costa Rica asks EU for help to fight surging drug trafficking and violence in the country

After seeing an upsurge in homicide rates over the past decade, with most of them linked to drug trafficking, Costa Rica is now asking the European Union for help fighting narco activity in the country.

According to the latest official figures, murders have increased by 66% between 2013 and 2023, with more than 70% of them being related to drug trafficking, forcing the once-peaceful nation to increase police presence in its streets.

But the government’s efforts have done little to rein in the activity of international drug traffickers in the country, which has turned Costa Rica into a major hub for drugs headed to Europe and the US.

Cocaine and fentanyl have swamped the outskirts of the country’s capital, where police are hunting for gang leaders. In Pavas, one of Costa Rica’s most dangerous drug districts, almost every day police go searching for cartel bosses suspected to be in hiding.

“These people who are the leaders of some of these criminal organisations, if they were found to have weapons or drugs, then yes, we would continue with the arrest immediately,” Rodrigo Alfaro, police officer told Euronews.

A San José resident, Francisco Mora, told Euronews that “at night it is advisable not to go out.” Another, Lucia Arias, spoke of “drug trafficking, assassinations, robberies and assaults” in the area.

Last year alone, gang warfare over territory saw Costa Rica’s murder rate soaring by 40% to a record high. Having abolished its army 70 years ago and being one of the few countries in the world without an army, the peaceful country has little means to suppress the violence.

“We were not prepared to deal with such a violent drug trade that kills so many people,” Mario Zamora, Costa Rica’s minister of public security, told Euronews. “There is a big difference between the resources available to the police and the huge resources available to drug traffickers today.”

Costa Rica and the EU now want to cooperate more closely on security issues - especially as what happens in the Central American country has an immediate influence on Europe. Tougher intervention in Central America, in fact, would also reduce the record amount of cocaine reaching Europe.

“We are ready to help also in terms of sharing good practices in what is being done in Europe,” said Pierre-Louis Lempereur, EU ambassador to Costa Rica. “So there will be experts which will help the port authorities on the police side and also on the legal aspects.”

In 2023, Belgian authorities said that they seized a record amount of cocaine at the port of Antwerp, for a total of 116 tonnes of the drugs, a 5% increase from the year before.

Meanwhile, Costa Rica’s government plans to increase the number of police officers by 10%. For those who fear the country will fall under narco control within just months, that’s too little too late.