Police News

Isolation of Beaches and Hidden Estates Make Guanacaste a Bridge for Narcos

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In the past two years, narco activity has increased in the Guanacaste coasts, specifically the transportation of cocaine. Some examples of the narco presence in the area are cases like the small plane loaded with cocaine that crashed after taking off from an estate in Barco Quebrado this year in March, or another small plane also loaded with drugs that took off from Corozalito Beach in Nandayure in January.

Just along the Pacific coast, the Ministry of Security recently found 33 clandestine landings strips, eight of them in Guanacaste. In addition to air transportation, a press release published by the Public Force reported that “drug trafficking by sea has skyrocketed, mainly via the Pacific Ocean, using small boats with powerful engines that are supplied by local fishermen, who receive drugs in exchange.”


The clandestine landings strips are marked in red. Map by Ministry of Security.

But what is it that makes the Guanacaste Pacific side so appealing to the narco? According to former Minister of Security of Costa Rica and crime expert Alvaro Ramos, the Achilles heel is its lack of road infrastructure and the large presence of secluded beaches.

Ramos indicated that there are dozens of beaches whose access roads are in horrible condition and are difficult for local authorities conducting patrols to access.

“I would note that one of the most important weaknesses that the Guanacaste coast has is that since the beaches are isolated from each other, there is no national roadway connecting the entire coast. That prevents authorities from controlling it better,” commented Ramos.

In addition to the isolated beaches, there are also large estates that have poor supervision from their owners or employees.

According to Gustavo Mata, Minister of Public Safety, making a rustic but functional landing strip takes about two weeks of work. Most of these landing strips are cloistered in mountainous places and are away from population centers, allowing the narco network to build small, rustic and discreet landing strips in order to circumvent security.

According to Mata, “the drugs come from Colombia and Ecuador by means of speedboats that unload in the Costa Rican Pacific. Once the shipment reaches land, there are people who work with the land transportation and they move it to Guatemala or Mexico by means of small aircraft, usually with Mexican or American registrations.”

Mata believes there is a complete narco logistics that coordinates the sea, land and air transport with people of different nationalities who work with fishing boats, land vehicles, places that serve as hideouts and aircraft arrival and departure fields.

Is Guanacaste a Market for These Drugs?

Ramos said the large narco structures operating in South America and Mexico are not interested in the Costa Rican market. The nation’s territory is used only as a crossing bridge or “storage shed” since the final destination for these drugs is the United States or Europe. However, this activity generates payment for services to small-scale criminals in the area.

According to the expert, the small drug markets in the coastal areas of Guanacaste are not linked with the large drug trafficking structures. The drugs that come to the Guanacaste coast come from small groups operating in the Greater Metropolitan Area who have some areas of influence, including beaches, due to tourism.

In this way, the drug niches are those entertainment places, bars where high quantities of alcohol are consumed, with casual sex for sale. The presence of sex tourism, narco tourism and control groups is a reality in Guanacaste, although it could be considered “mild” for the moment. 

Drug control police seized 350 kilos of cocaine in the early morning on July 24th, 2015, in Santa Cruz. Photo contributed by the Ministry of Public Security.

Despite the presence of these small criminal groups, Ramos said the province of Guanacaste is one of the safest in the country historically and currently the authorities exercise “good control” generally speaking. He alleges that the authorities have a certain measure of control over small criminal groups operating in the area, which have already been identified, since people with extensive criminal records are involved.

However, some incidents have shown that the province of Guanacaste is losing its tranquility.

In October of 2015, some neighbors observed the strange movement of vehicles in the area of the old airstrip in Puerto Carrillo and the subsequent takeoff of a plane whose whereabouts was never known, although the authorities were tracking clues. On January 13, 2016, a small airplane with the registration TI-ATR with 89 kilos of cocaine took off from a clandestine airstrip in Corozalito in Nandayure and crashed a few hours later northwest of Nicaragua.

The most recent case occurred on March 7 in the area of Las Delicias of Garza in Nosara, where a single-engine plane carrying cocaine crashed into a forest just one kilometer from the airfield from which it had taken off minutes earlier. The two occupants were killed. At the site, an abandoned vehicle, containers of fuel and firearms were found.

Guardhouse at the property where this illegal runway is and the black Toyota Hilux. Photo by Betsy Chavarria.

Ramos affirmed that the weakness of Costa Rican security in general is that the police fulfill their role in apprehending criminals, but the courts fail by releasing them or impose sentences that are too short, so a little while later, they are committing the same crimes.