Fighting Against the Harmful Effects of the “White Lobster” and the “Square Snapper”
By Dialogo August 17, 2011 Much has been written about the problem of psychotropic drugs in our hemisphere. Nevertheless, there are phenomena that cause grave damage on the local and international levels. These are methods like “mules,” secret compartments in vehicles and ships, and also fishing for “white lobster” and “square snapper.” These terms, used in honor of two highly profitable products of the oceans, the lobster and the snapper, refer to drugs received as payment for logistical support for the illicit transportation of cocaine, in the first instance, and also to fishing for packages of drugs cast overboard to be retrieved later by false fishermen or low-level drug sellers. Historically known as the Switzerland of the Americas, Costa Rica today is a business destination for considerable shipments of cocaine and for crack use. This creates a serious security problem, with the potential to affect international relations and cause major losses to Costa Rica’s most important economic sector, tourism. In January 2009, Commissioner Erik Lacayo, a former director of the Costa Rican Public Force, affirmed in an interview with a Costa Rican daily that this phenomenon had influenced the development of the domestic market for drugs such as cocaine and crack. Lacayo also affirmed that this plague was reaching alarming levels. National and international reports indicate that the drug cartels continue modernizing their tactics in the search for new routes, new markets, and new methods of distribution and marketing. What is unclear is whether this phenomenon could have an effect (positive or negative) on bilateral relations, especially with the United States, Costa Rica’s largest trading partner. The 1999 Joint Patrol Act, bringing together Costa Rica and the United States, is one of the strategic alternatives being used in the fight against drug trafficking. Under this agreement, the U.S. Coast Guard, together with its Colombian counterparts, is responsible for enforcing the law, with specific missions to detect, deter, and halt this threat at sea. These challenges have grown since the arrival of the “white lobster” along the coasts and its subsequent street sale. Gerardo Lascares, deputy minister of public safety in President Arias’s administration, affirmed that crack use has become epidemic. We do not know whether this was part of an expansive marketing plan or simply a fortuitous event whose collateral consequences have resulted in new markets. What we are sure of are the palpable effects evident in the jump in crimes such as robbery, theft, and murder at the national level and of transnational crimes such as money laundering and the creation of a launching pad for other destinations. These variables may also have harmful effects on tourism, on local and international trade, and still more on the national motto, “Pure Life.” Bruce Bagley, author of the book Drug Trafficking in America, indicated in an interview in Costa Rica that this phenomenon could negatively affect tourism. He based his assertions on two sets of facts. First, police and military operations in Mexico have caused major losses that the cartels desire to recover. Second, the drug traffickers are constantly seeking new launching pads. The resulting collateral effects could lead to the transformation of a country known as a paradise for surfers into an unsafe place. For that reason, it is important to urge the reader to examine the problem in greater depth than a simple technique of payment in kind. We must remember the collateral effects and the potential to undermine the societies and economies of nations like Costa Rica. The correlation between the rate of drug use (especially cocaine and crack) and the rise in crime is evident. Faced with such a panorama, what are we doing? One defense mechanism is training that draws on resources like those of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), in Georgia, in the United States. WHINSEC is among the pillars for confronting strategic, operational, and tactical challenges. From the beginning, hundreds of Costa Rican police officers have passed through the institute’s classrooms to study anti-drug operations and intelligence and take courses designed for non-commissioned, mid-ranking, and senior officers. Professionalization is key to confronting the challenges posed by a flexible, fast-moving, and well-financed enemy. “The work is still not done,” we were told by Capt. Gerald Camacho, a tactical instructor at WHINSEC. Costa Rican Deputy Security Minister Walter Navarro commented on his last visit to the institute that the police leadership is constantly lobbying for the adoption of legislation of all kinds that has the purpose of eradicating this evil.We are talking about an illicit phenomenon in Costa Rica and its repercussions. We conclude by urgently inviting social scientists and police officers to conduct further research into this topic. About the author Lt. Col. Samuel López Santana is an instructor in the Command and General Staff Officer Course at the School of Professional Military Education, Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). The correlation between the variables of drug consumption (especially cocaine and crack) I had the opportunity to meet Lieutenant Colonel Samuel LÃ³pez Santana, at a Conversation Roundtable and learn a bit more about the CTOC Support Program, I think itâ€™s an innovative program which is fundamental for the Armed Forces.