San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Lawmakers’ decision opens waters to drug traffickers, says US

The failure of Costa Rican lawmakers to approve docking permits for United States military ships will limit counter-narcotics operations, according to the US Embassy in Costa Rica.

The country may become more vulnerable to trafficking and drug-related crimes as the Coast Guard does not have significant resources to patrol Costa Rican waters, which are approximately 11 times larger than its land area, the embassy said.

“US maritime patrols off Costa Rica’s coasts provide significant benefits to Costa Rica by deterring illicit trafficking, which is always accompanied by increased crime and violence,” read an embassy statement. “We regret that legislators chose not to vote on port calls by U.S. Navy ships.” 

Under the Joint Maritime Agreement, the United States has had docking and refueling privileges for pre-approved navy ships that are involved in counter narcotics operations for more than 10 years. Every six months, the Costa Rican Legislative Assembly reviews and approves the list of ships that might need to dock in Costa Rican ports.

Until July, the list of ships has always been rubber-stamped without question, but opposition began to surface in mid-2010. A handful of lawmakers were concerned the relationship with the US Navy was not having its intended effect, as drug-trafficking has seemingly worsened.

When the renewal surfaced again in December, lawmakers approved only half of the agreement, allowing only Coast Guard ships to enter ports.

“Unfortunately, the legislature’s failure to approve port calls by U.S. Navy ships will result in a reduced presence of U.S. counter-narcotics vessels in or near Costa Rican waters, since they have no assurance that they will be able to refuel and resupply here,” said the US embassy statement. “We hope that the legislators will approve port calls by U.S. Navy ships as soon as they return to session in January.”

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