U.S. increases security aid to Costa Rica

September 25, 2009

Costa Rica will receive an additional $1 million to improve its police force and prevent money laundering under the United States´ Merida Initiative.

The allocation is in addition to the $4.3 million Costa Rica received earlier this year, and a small fraction of the $465 million handed to the region and Mexico as part of the overall plan.

“The United States understands Costa Rica,” said Janina del Vecchio, security minister, praising the additional allocation. “They understand that (preventing drug-trafficking) isn´t just a fight on the seas, it´s also a fight in the streets … and that this is a joint task.”

In the first phase of the initiative in 2008, the U.S. Congress approved a $465 million allocation to the region with the hope of stemming drug trafficking, trans-national crime and money laundering. But the division of the funds – $400 million going to Mexico and $65 million to Central America – drew sharp criticism from some government officials in Costa Rica, who said the lopsided allocation was leaving Central America vulnerable to drug cartels, especially in their country, which lacks an army.

Asked whether the additional $1 million was sufficient, Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno shook his head.

“In … fighting drug trafficking, no amount is sufficient,” Stagno said. “Drug cartels have many financial and human resources.”

“But,” he added, “it certainly helps…. We hope there is money for a higher allocation in the future.”

According to U.S. officials, Costa Rica should receive an additional $8.3 million next year (including humanitarian aid), which would increase security spending to at least $12 million, while Merida aid to Mexico is expected to decrease by $20 million.

“We know this is a concern of many citizens, and it´s also a concern for us,” said Peter Brennan, chargé d´affaires at the U.S. Embassy. “Costa Rica is a country that needs more help in security,” he said. “The idea is to attack this in an integral way.”

The announcement comes on the heels of a study by polling company Unimer, which revealed Costa Ricans´ No. 1 concern is security, with 25 percent of the population saying, “insecurity is the issue that most worries (them),” according to the daily La Nación, which commissioned the study.

Four years ago, only 2 percent of the population indicated security was their top concern.

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