Costa Rican and Panamanian officials arrested Tuesday nearly 49 people linked to an international human smuggling network that would charge migrants thousands of dollars to take them through Central America en route to the United States.
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The operation constitutes one of the largest ever launched against human smugglers in Costa Rica. Migration police and prosecutors raided 36 locations on the border with Panama and Nicaragua, arresting 37 suspected members of the network.
While in Panama, federal police arrested 12 people connected to the same network, local authorities reported. This parallel operation involved 24 operatives from the prosecutor’s office and over 50 police officers.
According to Costa Rica’s deputy director of migration police, Stephen Madden, the criminal network smuggled people from Asian and African countries, as well as from Cuba and Haiti, charging the between US$7,000 and US$20,000 to transport each migrant.
At least 249 migrants have been documented to have crossed with this busted network but Madden affirmed the figures are much higher.
Panama’s attorney general’s office said migrants paid around US$1,500 just to pass through that country. After crossing both nations, other networks picked up migrants in Guatemala to cross them into Mexico and as far as the southern border of the U.S.
The investigation opened in 2018 when Costa Rican authorities discovered two routes used by the ring: one by land, and another by sea to Honduras, via the northern port of Puerto Soley.