An anti-terrorism bill in Costa Rica is inching forward. The bill, which defines terrorism as a crime, made its way out of a subcommittee of the Drug Trafficking Commission of the Legislative Assembly.
The next step is for the commission to approve it and pass it on for debate and a vote before the entire assembly.
The bill has been in the works for almost six years. If passed, it would bring Costa Rica into compliance with its obligations under United Nations conventions against terrorism.
The absence of the law has handicapped law enforcement here. In March, police seized $480,000 from the home of Tico academics Cruz Prado and Francisco Gutiérrez. The money is believed to be tied to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a guerrilla organization considered by the United States and the European Union as a terrorist group.
At the time, however, Chief Prosecutor Francisco Dall’Anese said he couldn’t prosecute the couple because terrorism financing isn’t illegal here.
The Egmont Group, an organization of 108 member countries that share intelligence on money laundering and terrorism, also threatened to expel Costa Rica by this past May 30 if the bill wasn’t passed. But in May, Public Security Vice Minister José Torrez secured an extension until March 2009.
Mauricio Boraski, the director of the Costa Rican Drug Institute (ICD) has been pushing legislators for years without success to pass the bill. The bill would define terrorism as a crime and allow authorities to prosecute for aiding and abetting, as well as financing terrorists, with penalties of up to 20 years in prison.
“The bill is absolutely necessary,” Boraski said. “Right now, we have no way to go after groups that aid and abet terrorists such as FARC here in the country.”