San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Diplomat: Don’t Leave U.S. Behind

Cheering cooperation between Costa Rica and the United States on trade and crime, new U.S. Ambassador Peter Cianchette is calling for more.

As U.S. rivals like China and Venezuela reach out to Costa Rica, Cianchette said the United States must stay active here.

“We know we need to keep up with our neighbors in this hemisphere or risk being left behind,” Cianchette said at a recent luncheon hosted by the Costa Rican-North American Chamber of Commerce.

Over the past year, China has showered Costa Rica with multi-million dollar gifts, including a new soccer stadium now under construction and relief for flood victims. Meanwhile, Chávez has given away free eye surgery to hundreds of Ticos (TT, July 4) and persuaded Costa Rica to buy oil at preferential rates under his Latin American initiative PetroCaribe.

Regardless who captures the White House in the elections in November, Cianchette said, “It is clearly in our interest to remain engaged. This is a dynamic and challenging neighborhood and one that is critical to the future peace and prosperity of the United States.”

In what was perhaps a stab at leftist regimes in countries like Venezuela and Nicaragua, Cianchette added, “Given the illusion of democracy offered by some governments in this hemisphere, we know that it is increasingly important that true democracies, like Costa Rica, continue to succeed.”

For Cianchette, success includes entering the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA). The pact was approved here in a referendum last October, and lawmakers have passed 11 of 13 bills required for Costa Rica to become a full member.

“I am confident that we are indeed close,” he said. “We’ve all begun to consider a post-CAFTA life.”

The last two bills, now under consultation in the Supreme Court will likely be approved in September, just in time to meet Costa Rica’s Oct. 1 deadline for entering the treaty.

Cianchette also stressed the countries’ common interest in fighting narcotics trafficking. He estimated that 940 metric tons of Colombian cocaine reached Mexico and the United States in 2007 after traveling through Central America, including Costa Rica.

Some of the drugs remain in Costa Rica, fueling crime against Ticos and tourists, he added, echoing a common statement by former Public Security Minister Fernando Berrocal.

Costa Rican and U.S. authorities recently cooperated on spectacular drug busts off Costa Rica’s coasts. Cianchette cited the capture of nearly one metric ton of cocaine by both countries’ coast guards on July 23.

Late last month, Cianchette and current Public Security Minister Janina del Vecchio visited the U.S. Southern Command and the Joint Interagency Task Force in Florida to discuss law enforcement cooperation.

Cianchette stressed that Costa Rica stands to receive more than $4 million this year and over $9 million next year through the U.S. government’s Plan Merida, an effort to fight drug trafficking and terrorism in the Western Hemisphere.

The money would go toward Costa Rica’s Coast Guard and National Police Force, enhanced security along Costa Rica’s borders, and increased cooperation on law enforcement, Cianchette said.

Still, Del Vecchio has called the money “insufficient.” The rest of Central America plus the Dominican Republic and Haiti will receive more than $60 million, and Mexico stands to get $400 million under Plan Merida.n


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