|C O N F I D E N T I A L SAN JOSE 000069 |
DEPARTMENT FOR WHA/CEN, WHA/AND, S/CT, INL AND DRL
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/02/2017
TAGS: PGOV, PTER, PINR, PREF, PHUM, SNAR, CS, XK
SUBJECT: THE COLOMBIAN CONNECTION: FORMER GUERRILLAS TURNED
CRIMINALS IN COSTA RICA
Classified By: Amb. Mark Langdale for reason 1.4 (d).
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Costa Rican authorities are increasingly
worried about the criminal activities of former Colombian
guerrillas operating in Costa Rica and, as a result, have
stepped up efforts to extradite/deport them. On December 21,
FARC member Hector Orlando Martinez Quinto was delivered to
GOC authorities on San Andres Island, Colombia. Martinez was
wanted in Colombia for his suspected participation in at
least two FARC massacres. Former M-19 guerrilla Libardo
Parra Vargas was arrested in Costa Rica on March 15, 2006,
although his possible extradition to Colombia is complicated
by money laundering charges he faces in Costa Rica. As GOCR
officials become more aware of the security threat posed by
illicit traffickers, including transplanted Colombians, they
are more open to international security cooperation.
However, their efforts to address the threat are hampered by
lack of resources and often hamstrung by their own legal
system. END SUMMARY.
2. (SBU) Martinez began visiting Costa Rica in 1997. After
reportedly participating in a 1999 massacre of 47 police
officers in Jurado, Colombia, Martinez moved to Costa Rica.
In a clear case of fraud, he obtained Costa Rican residency
on May 29, 2000, just 20 days after a sham marriage, despite
his failure to present a police records-check from Colombia.
(Normal processing for residency takes a year or more after
providing all required documentation.) Five Costa Rican
immigration officials are under investigation for their
handling of the case.
3. (SBU) In addition to the Jurado massacre, Martinez was
also wanted by Colombian authorities in connection with his
alleged participation in the May 2, 2002 massacre at Bojaya
which killed a number of women and children. Martinez kept a
very low profile in Costa Rica, working as a small-scale
fisherman until his arrest in Puntarenas on August 10, 2006.
Colombian and Costa Rican authorities suspect Martinez
remained active in the FARC, while living in Costa Rica,
trafficking narcotics throughout the region to generate cash
and acquire weapons. According to news reports, Panamanian
officials also consider Martinez, who has family in Ciudad
Colon, to be the head of the "Jose Maria Cordoba Bloc" of the
FARC operating there. Costa Rican officials viewed Martinez
as a national security threat and were anxious to return him
to Colombia where he faces a lengthy prison term.
4. (C) Martinez and his lawyers easily gamed Costa Rica's
onerous extradition system until immigration officials, at
our suggestion, re-examined his claim to residency.
Considering the fraud angle as too weak a grounds for
deportation (see paragraph 12), immigration officials instead
established that Martinez had failed to renew his residency
in 2005. He was then quickly deported. Due to fears of a
possible FARC rescue attempt (see paragraph 9), Martinez was
moved under heavy guard from his maximum-security cell in the
La Reforma prison, fingerprinted in the presence of his
lawyer, a Costa Rican judge and Colombian police, then flown
to San Andres Island, where he was handed over to Colombian
authorities on December 21, 2006.
5. (SBU) News of the deportation was leaked to the press
even before planning meetings had concluded. By coincidence,
Poloff was with Vice Minister for Public Security Rafael
Gutierrez on December 19 when Colombian Embassy officials
arrived to coordinate the deportation. The Colombians had
just ended a meeting with judicial branch officials. Before
the Colombian attache finished underscoring the need for
operational security, journalists were already calling the
Vice Minister for a statement on the upcoming deportation.
6. (C) Like Martinez, Parra kept a low profile in Costa Rica,
running a small liquor import business. Parra was tried in
absentia in Colombia in 2004 and given a 24-year sentence for
his role in the 1995 kidnapping of a businessman. When
arrested in Costa Rica on March 15, 2006 by Interpol, Parra
tried to bribe the arresting officers with $40,000 in cash he
had concealed in his vehicle. Not only did the officers
refuse, but they used the attempted bribe to obtain a search
warrant for Parra's house, business, and farm. The searches
turned up $1.4 million in cash, 25 cell phones, radio
equipment, and large quantities of food and mattresses that
indicated Parra's involvement with the clandestine movement
of people. (Parra was arrested in Nicaragua in 1999 on
charges of trafficking in persons, but was released for lack
of evidence.) Drug-sniffing dogs detected traces of
narcotics on the cash seized at Parra's warehouse. V/Min.
Gutierrez believes Parra's higher level of activity and
organization indicate he was a much bigger fish than Martinez.
7. (C) Unlike Martinez, Parra did not attempt to legalize
his status in Costa Rica. Instead, he used false Guatemalan
and Nicaraguan identities (Parra owns a gas station and
another farm in Nicaragua) to avoid detection. One of
Parra's false Nicaraguan identities was positively
established during a joint U.S.-Costa Rican narcotics
investigation. Costa Rican intelligence was then able to
track Parra when he next entered the country. Parra's
business and property were registered to his Colombian
girlfriend, Ofelia Acevedo Estevez, who had moved to Costa
Rica. Like Martinez, Acevedo obtained Costa Rican residency
through a sham marriage.
8. (C) Parra's case is being handled by a team of GOCR
counter-terrorism prosecutors due to his M-19 membership and
the fact that his small business could not have reasonably
generated the amount of money seized. Parra was ordered
extradited to Colombia last July, but the order was suspended
until he is tried in Costa Rican courts on money laundering
charges. V/Min. Gutierrez is concerned that if Parra is
convicted (and the evidence appears strong), the Costa Rican
judicial system might refuse to extradite Parra until he
serves the 8 to 20-year sentence. Gutierrez is quietly, and
he believes successfully, lobbying Supreme Court Justices for
a quick extradition on grounds that Parra is too dangerous to
How to Hand Off "Hot Coals"
9. (SBU) The Ministry of Justice (which runs the prison
system) and the Ministry of Public Security have publicly
expressed concern about Costa Rica's ability to secure
high-profile Colombian detainees, especially those with ties
to narcotics trafficking. Public Security Minister Berrocal
recently compared keeping Martinez and Parra in Costa Rica to
holding "hot coals" in his hands. The Minister's fears have
some merit. In August, 2006, 10 heavily armed individuals
successfully assaulted a prison transport vehicle to free
Colombian drug trafficker Ricaurte Villasanta Restrepo. The
transport was empty only because Villasanta was not sent to
the usual hospital when he faked an illness as part of the
escape plan. Two months later, in October, a group of eight
prisoners escaped from La Reforma.
10. (C) One solution, as the Martinez case illustrates, is
to accelerate extradition or deportation of Colombian drug
traffickers being held in Costa Rica's creaky prison system.
Minister Berrocal was pleased and relieved by the successful
deportation of Martinez after efforts to extradite him had
failed. He and other officials are actively looking for
other ways to get rid of other imprisoned Colombian narcotics
11. (SBU) A better solution would be not to grant residency
to foreign criminals in the first place, but the GOCR has
found this to be a challenge. Berrocal traveled to Colombia
in September, 2006, to request assistance with screening
criminal backgrounds of Colombian refugees. Between 1998 and
2000, over 10,000 Colombians were granted refugee status in
Costa Rica with little or no scrutiny. The UNHCR and IMO
were seldom involved except for rare cases where Colombian
refugees in Costa Rica requested resettlement in a third
country. Despite visa requirements implemented in 2002, the
flow of Colombians requesting refugee status in Costa Rica
did not begin to decline until 2005. While Berrocal readily
acknowledges that the vast majority of Colombian refugees in
Costa Rica deserve their status, it is also highly likely
that many criminals took advantage of this wide open door.
The Martinez case showed that Costa Rican residency is also
too easily obtained through sham marriages.
12. (SBU) Immigration Director Mario Zamora has been fighting
an uphill battle in the judicial system to deny Costa Rican
residency claims based on such marriages. Opposing Zamora
are a number of law firms that earn tidy sums from this
practice. Since Zamora upped the ante in late November by
raiding 22 of the largest of these law firms, the courts
increasingly have ruled against sham marriages. However,
more than half of Zamora's decisions to deny residency in
these cases are still being overturned in court.
13. (C) The improving security cooperation between Costa
Rica and Coombia is a positive development and a step
forwad for the Arias Administration's security policy.
After seven months in office, Berrocal has come full circle
from advocating that Costa Rica focus oly on its domestic
narcotics problem to appreciaing that international
narcotics trafficking, an unsavory participants such as
Martinez and Parr, pose direct threats to Costa Rican
security. Callenges remain, however. The GOCR does not
kno nearly enough about the activities of other Colomians
operating in Costa Rica. Berrocal and his advisers fear that
narcotics-for-arms trafficking through Costa Rica may
increase given the election results in Nicaragua. Although
Costa Rican authorities are more inclined than ever to
cooperate against all forms of illegal trafficking, they
remain hampered by lack of resources and often hamstrung by
their own judicial system.