Friday, February 12, 2010

Costa Rica finds ton of cocaine, arrests Mexicans

San Jose, Costa Rica (Reuters) - Costa Rican police seized around a ton of cocaine and arrested two suspected Mexican traffickers on Friday in the latest sign Mexican gangs are stepping up their use of the country as a storage point.

Police found 2,139 pounds (969 kg) of cocaine stashed at a rural house near the Pacific coast northwest of San Jose, and arrested two Mexican nationals at the scene. They are believed to be members of Mexico's Juarez cartel, the public security ministry said.

President-elect Laura Chinchilla, a former security minister who won a landslide election victory on Sunday, has said combating Mexican drug gangs operating in Costa Rica will be a priority when she takes power in May.

A three-year army crackdown on drug gangs in Mexico has encouraged some traffickers to push south into Central America, setting up bases in countries like Guatemala as they seek new routes to smuggle South American cocaine to the United States.

Costa Rican authorities have seized 93 tons of cocaine between 2006 and 2009 - nearly twice the amount the country captured in the preceding decade.

Costa Rica is known for being an oasis of stability, high living standards and low crime in a region scarred by Cold War-era civil wars and plagued by violent street gangs.

But it also sits halfway between the cocaine-producing Andes and Mexico, whose smuggling gangs earn some $40 billion a year smuggling the drug north using planes, boats and trucks.

Police raided the house in Costa Rica early on Friday following a tip-off from neighbors, the ministry said.

The two suspects are from the northern Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, one of the world's most violent spots. One had a press credential from a Mexican newspaper, the ministry said.

(Reporting by Leslie Josephs; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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