Los Moreco is a far more powerful gang than Costa Rica, the so-called “Switzerland of Central America”, is used to dealing with.
Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Agency (OIJ) has carried out several raids nationwide against them. The operation was described as a near fatal blow to the group, leading to seven arrests, the seizure of over two tons of cocaine and an array of weapons.
However, the leader of the group, José Efraín López Mendoza, known as M1, managed to escape authorities and remains at large.
He is thought to have close connections with criminal groups in the United States and is wanted by both by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). His escape also means that the group may yet be active.
The group is believed to have ties to groups in Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala and the United States
Walter Espinoza, director of the OIJ, describes Los Moreco as being a “professional and structured group, they have an ideology and a lot of internal cohesion” - and a motto: “honor, pride and loyalty.”
He adds that their organization is modeled on that of Mexico’s Zetas, down to each member being known by M for Moreco followed by a number, similar to the Zetas’ naming pattern (Z1, Z2…).
The group is believed to have ties to groups in Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala and the United States, and is responsible for moving at least 2 tons of cocaine to and from these destinations between 2018 and 2019.
Los Moreco has emerged as arguably one of the country’s most sophisticated criminal groups in recent years
Amid a scenario of relative calm in Costa Rica, Los Moreco has emerged as arguably one of the country’s most sophisticated criminal groups in recent years.
Costa Rica, which disbanded its army in 1941, had stayed away from most of the criminality and violence that has afflicted Central America.
Nonetheless, this former haven of peace has been showing some cracks. Homicide rates have increased, while areas such as the Puerto de Moin, in the Limón province, have become crucial points for international drug trafficking.
The ascent of Los Moreco fits this pattern. Although it was created in 2015, they have quickly built up their capacity and are now a reliable link along the drug trafficking chain from Colombia to Mexico and the United States.
In a recent case, they were found to be smuggling cocaine in shipments of scrap metal to Guatemala.
The speed with which Los Moreco have established themselves could mark a change in the “Switzerland” of a region where domestic criminal groups rise to become real players on the international drug scene
While the group does not have a long rap sheet, its leader does. In 2011, M1 was captured in Costa Rica in an operation against Colombian drug traffickers, whom he was helping to transport drugs through the country.
Colombian and Mexican traffickers have been in Costa Rica for years, typically making alliances with small, local gangs to ensure safe passage of drug shipments.
The presence of Los Moreco seems to change things: the group is not a smaller criminal gang controlled by international structures. It remains independent, and has a presence in crucial areas of Costa Rica, controlling important drug trafficking routes through the provinces of Limón and Alajuela.
The speed with which Los Moreco have established themselves could mark a change in the “Switzerland” of a region where domestic criminal groups rise to become real players on the international drug scene, as Costa Rica’s neighbors have witnessed.