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Costa Rica and Panama Arrest Dozens of “People Smugglers”

I’ve been hitting the news wire hard for reports of human trafficking, and I’m sickened by the fact that it happens much more often than you’d like to hear about.  I read on the New York Times a report of the nations of Costa Rica and Panama collaborating to catch almost 50 people who had connections to an international network of people suspected of smuggling migrants from Asia and Africa, and even the Caribbean, through Central America and ending up in the USA, according to the prosecutors.

Major Human Trafficking Operation Busted in Costa Rica

This operation was among the largest ever done in Costa Rica, a country known for prostitution, but not with any strong connections to forced prostitution via human trafficking, and the local migration police stormed 36 locations that were near the borders of both neighboring countries, Nicaragua, and Panama, and they netted 37 suspected network members.

Local authorities in Panama reported that the federal police arrested 12 people who were assumed to be in connection with the same network.  Panama, unlike Costa Rica, does have a reputation for having women trafficked for sex who work blatantly in prostitution in a place called Habanos.  Most of these women are from Colombia.

human traffickers caught
Photo Credit: Reuters via the NY Times.

With the number of migrants crossing the region every year to get to the USA, there have been tensions between the Trump administration and the Central American countries, and even Mexico.

The deputy director of Costa Rica’s migration police, Stephen Madden, commented that the network of criminals charges prices starting at $7,000 and upwards of $20,000 to chaperone each migrant.  He also added that the smugglers moved people from countries in Africa and Asia, as well as from Haiti and Cuba.

My take is that none of these smuggled women were attempting to become prostitutes in Nicaragua, or even the known prostitution destination of Costa Rica, they were just passing through there on their way to the USA.

The Panama Human Trafficking Stats

With 24 operatives from the prosecutor’s office joining over 50 federal police members, the reports were that the migrants were paying the smugglers upwards of $1,500 to get through Panama and on to Costa Rica.

So far, 249 migrants have been documented that passed through Costa Rica, and Madded added that “there have been many more.”

Additionally, Madden added that a leader of the network was a Costa Rican man who worked in the health ministry as well as two women of Nicaraguan descent.

Perhaps the sickest part is that a woman who went under the name of “Mama Africa,” had a housing network for the migrants that was referred to as “underground.”  Having been through La Cruz myself, I can say that it’s an unpretentious, somewhat remote town that borders Nicaragua, making it a good place to get intel on the border operations and perhaps take advantage of people via bribes given that they most likely know people working the border.

This investigation opened in 2018 and there were two known routes being used.  One was by land, and the other was by sea to the neighboring country of Honduras.  From there, the migrants were taken by other organizations in Guatemala to get into Mexico and get into the USA via the Southern border.


To me, it’s crazy that this type of stuff happens.  The USA is the best country on Earth, a land of opportunity, and I get that people want to leave poverty for a better life, but some of this seems a bit like drastic measures, or am I off base?

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