Costa Rica doesn’t ‘officially’ have an army – but apparently it will be home to one for the rest of 2010.
A flotilla of 46 United States Navy warships capable of carrying 200 helicopters, along with 10 Harrier vertical take-off and landing fighter jets, and 7,000 combat ready marines available for land based operations is on its way to this Central American country with no standing army.
On July 1, 2010 the Costa Rica Legislative Assembly voted 31-8 to grant the U.S. military full in-country access through the end of 2010 to help fight drug trafficking.
As of this writing the new administration of President Laura Chinchilla -- who was previously Costa Rica’s Vice-President, Justice Minister and Minister of Public Security -- has not commented in great detail as to what the U.S. troops will be trying to accomplish with their new right of entry other than to say there will be a combination of anti-drug and humanitarian operations.
This type of deal is a growing trend in Latin American countries.
Columbia has for the last decade been increasing its commitment to full-time anti-narcotic U.S. support.
In September 2009, ten years after the last U.S. troops had ‘officially’ left Panama soil due to the canal treaties, the United States entered into a new agreement to open 2 new U.S. military bases on their Pacific coast in exchange for $7 million to fight organized crime associated with illicit drugs.
April 2009 Honduras opened a new Navy base near the border of Nicaragua with $2 million from the U.S. and most recently announced July 10, 2010 another new military base will be constructed on the Caribbean with U.S. funding to help fight drug trafficking.
The Switzerland of Central America
As for Costa Rica, it has prided itself as the first country in the world to formally abolish military forces while being known for its stability in a region where other countries often struggle both politically and economically.
And although Costa Rica continues to earn high rankings both regionally and worldwide in areas of health care, education, public safety and equality; the geographic location that makes it so uniquely beautiful is also causing some major security concerns – often from outside sources.
Illicit drug producers from South America seeking paths of least resistance have found running shipments of cocaine along un-enforced or under-patrolled shorelines, air and land routes of sovereign Central American nations very effective in getting shipments through to their North American customers.
The spread of these drug-trafficking cartels has affected all of the Americas in terms of increased violent crime. In Costa Rica, the murder rate nearly doubled between 2004 and 2008 with mostly foreign drug gangs being attributed to a majority of this increase.
During the 2009-2010 presidential campaign ‘security’ consistently polled as the number one concern of the Costa Rica people. Then candidate Laura Chinchilla ran on a platform of being tough on crime proposing the hiring of more police, professionalizing the various law enforcement agencies with improved training and increased salaries, and eradicating corruption throughout all levels of government. In one of her first acts, then President-elect Chinchilla created the first Costa Rica anti-drug czar as part of her incoming cabinet.
Show Me the Money
But it takes money to fight a war on drugs, gangs, violence and corruption.
With a large debt burden due to previous president Oscar Arias’ borrowing heavily to insulate Costa Rica from a worldwide recession, tourism revenues being down due to reduced discretionary spending by potential travelers and the fruition of aggressive free-trade agreements that exchanged immediate import tariff income for supposed longer-term benefits … Costa Rica finds itself cash-strapped for even the most necessary of infrastructure improvements, let alone another country’s “war on drugs”.
In 1999 a U.S.-Costa Rica Counter-Narcotics Maritime Agreement or “Joint Patrol” accord began the alliance between the two countries in anti-drug enforcement efforts. As part of the arrangement the U.S. donated a retiring Coast Guard ship to the Costa Rica Ministry of Security toward formally establishing the Costa Rica Coast Guard in the year 2000.
Since then both the U.S. Coast Guard and Costa Rica Coast Guard (Guardacostas de Costa Rica) have been publicly working together to patrol Costa Rica waters and airways. Pacific and Caribbean international waters off the coast of Costa Rica have less formally been under the supervision of the United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM).
Operational funds for the various Costa Rica law enforcement agencies involved in fighting drug trafficking and its associated organized crime come from a variety of sources, with the largest contributor being the United States via direct funding for Costa Rica’s Public Security Ministry (Ministerio Seguridad Pública – MSP) who in-turn reallocates funds as needed to its divisions of Coast Guard, Drug Control Police (Policía de Control de Drogas - PCD) and National Public Police (Fuerza Pública ).
Other funds provided to the Costa Rica Judiciary (Poder Judicial) are allocated to investigate drug related crimes by the Judicial Investigation Organization (Organismo de Investigación Judicial – OIJ) and prosecute alleged criminals within the judicial system.
Annual, semi-annual and special need requests for additional monies are made by Costa Rica to the U.S. for continued and increased police narcotics interdiction activities. Although regular requests are made openly, it would be naive to think all resources asked for and received are a matter of public record.
Fact, Conspiracy, or Just Plain Bitching
News of this very public vote by the Costa Rica legislature to invite the United States military into its territory was a bomb unto itself for many, prompting viral Internet coverage and even an anti-military rally or "Gran Manifestación contra la Presencia Militar en Costa Rica" in front of the former San José military fortress (Cuartel Bellavista) that is now the National Museum (Museo Nacional de Costa Rica).
By Costa Rica Blogger , Global Blogger
Published: July 12, 2010 10:29 ET