In early September, Costa Rica’s Security Minister Mario Zamora announced a multi-agency strategy involving security forces, the Public Ministry and the Judicial Investigation Organization. But he wasn’t targeting drug trafficking or violence; he was striking out at cattle theft.
The announcement came two weeks after a Nicaraguan farmer with connections to Costa Rica was murdered alongside his son near the Costa Rican border in an apparent act of revenge for cattle rustling. So far this year, Costa Rican authorities have reported dismantling four gangs dedicated to cattle theft; a crime they say has escalated in recent months.
But Costa Rican authorities are not the only ones concerned about the practice, which afflicts rural communities from northern Mexico to southern Argentina. In July, Nicaraguan National Police Commissioner Aminta Granera declared the crime was growing year on year, as she announced more than 100 cattle rustling gangs had been dismantled in the first six months of 2013.
In the absence of a comprehensive regional study on the phenomenon, it is hard to place a value on cattle rustling. In one department of Bolivia alone, $2 million of cattle is reportedly stolen each year. In Colombia, in the first half of 2013 almost 1,300 head of cattle were stolen — worth approximately $1 million, based on figures from previous years.
Meanwhile, the past year has seen reports of a growth in rustling in rural zones throughout the region, including in Colombia, Chile and Mexico.
In June, an investigation by Mexican newspaper El Universal highlighted the problem not only of rustling, but also of cattle trafficking. With beef prices almost doubling between Guatemala and Mexico, the newspaper reported an annual influx of up to $30 million of illegally trafficked cattle into the latter country.
Cattle rustling has a long history in Latin America and in the 19th century was even employed as a form of rural protest against social inequality. Today in Colombia it is still used by rural insurgents, with left-wing guerrillas stealing cattle to menace landowners, as well as to feed troops and raise funds. More....