The balloon expands into Costa Rica

I previously blogged about the “balloon effect” of our war on drugs.

This is in part due to the “balloon effect.” The drugs entering America used to be trafficked from Colombia through the Caribbean. Due to a nationwide crackdown on the Cali and Medellin drug cartels and to increased control of the Caribbean waters by the U.S., the balloon was squeezed and expanded in Mexico. As crackdowns in Mexico squeeze the balloon it expands southward into Central America. Already plagued by high levels of violence, their situation worsens.

The one country to escape this was Costa Rica, who is usually acknowledged as the exception to any discussions of the various plagues in Central America. That may be changing.

Today Costa Rica draws nearly a million U.S. tourists each year to its beaches and national parks. It has traffic cops who don’t expect bribes, tap water you can drink and a national motto — “pura vida” (pure life) — that serves as a greeting, a farewell and an all-around expression of tropical beatitude.

And now, with Mexican drug cartels moving in, Costa Rican exceptionalism is being challenged by the same criminal forces dragging down the rest of Central America.

Costa Rican officials and U.S. drug agents say this country of 4.6 million is one more chess piece in the traffickers’ push for control of smuggling routes through the region, now the primary conveyance for billions’ worth of South American cocaine bound for the United States. Costa Rica’s cops, courts and politicians have never confronted a test like the one they are facing from the vast corrupting powers of the cartels, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla said in an interview with The Washington Post.

“I don’t remember in our whole history a menace like this menace from organized crime,” said Chinchilla, who was elected Costa Rica’s first female president in February 2010 on a law-and-order campaign that tapped into voters’ growing security fears.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of ideology your government has, whether it’s left or right,” she said. “This has to do with the survival of our institutions.”

One institution they famously do not have is an army.

“This is a perfect location, and when you have a country with no army, that is extremely worried with people’s privacy rights, who is going to stop them?” the U.S. official said.

One thing that could stop them is the legalization of marijuana and cocaine in the United States, but don’t count on that anytime soon.

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