Costa Rica sends new police unit to border

March 31, 2011

The Costa Rican government Wednesday activated the country’s first border police unit, a squad of 153 men who will be charged with protecting the country’s borders with Nicaragua and Panama. The unit will be dispatched to fight organized crime and protect national sovereignty.

Costa Rica President Laura Chinchilla and Public Security Minister José María Tijerino activated the new police unit during a ceremony at the rural community of Los Chiles in Costa Rica’s Northern Zone, just a few kilometers from the Nicaraguan border.

The border police’s job will be to ensure that “Costa Rica’s flag will never be lowered by foreign troops,” Chinchilla said, alluding to the ongoing border dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, which began late last year over a stretch of land on the San Juan River.

“This is about looking at ourselves with a bigger dose of national dignity. At the heart of it, that’s what this is about, a specialized, professional and civil police force, and seeing how we are capable of ensuring minimal conditions for protecting our land and for national defense,” Chinchilla said.

The creation of the border police was announced last year by the Chinchilla administration in response to the dispute with Nicaragua, which is now before the International Court of Justice.

In March, the world court ordered Nicaragua and Costa Rica not to station soldiers or police officers in the disputed border area along the San Juan River.

Security Minister Tijerino said on Wednesday that the border police now have the task of “fighting the trafficking of drugs, people, currency and weapons, as well as providing for the protection of national sovereignty.”

“Costa Rica doesn’t need an army. Costa Rica has not denounced its pacifist approach. Costa Rica doesn’t envy its neighbors. And Costa Rica is satisfied with protecting its borders, having a police force that identifies with its people and is willing to guarantee the peace and tranquility of its residents,” Tijerino said.

The 153 officers began their training last February in areas of rural policing, weapons handling, first aid, satellite tracking, cartography, combat patrol and explosives, among other areas.

Training and equipping the unit has cost an estimated $1 million, Tijerino said. A second police unit will be sent to the border in a couple months.

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