San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

U.K. minister wraps up Latin America tour

British Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne stopped in Costa Rica last week as part of a goodwill tour of Latin America.  

The minister’s visit, his first to Costa Rica, included promoting a new film produced in Costa Rica and aimed at getting kids involved in the fight against climate change, as well as – and apparently without irony – attending the unveiling of the new Range Rover Evoque as part of celebrations of the 20th anniversary of British Motors’ presence in Costa Rica. 

Browne said engagement is the cornerstone of his tour, which is seen as a run-up to the United Nations World Climate Change Summit, to be held next month in Durban, South Africa.

“We’re making a determined effort to increase the level of engagement Britain has with Latin America,” Browne said. “We recognize it’s a part of the world we’ve neglected for several decades. We realize we’re behind where we want to be in terms of not just government relationships, but we feel like there’s more potential commercially and in areas like education and security.”

At the British Motors showroom in Santa Ana, southwest of San José, for the unveiling of the Evoque last Friday, Browne pointed to Land Rover as an example of a successful commercial relationship between Costa Rica and the United Kingdom. Land Rover  first arrived in Costa Rica in the late 1940s when coffee farmers began trading in their ox-drawn carts for the boxy SUVs. British Motors has had facilities in Costa Rica since 1991. Today, according to information provided by British Motors, Costa Rica has the highest number of Land Rovers per capita of any country in the world. 

But Browne warned that rising levels of crime and security risks could affect social and economic partnerships in other parts of the region.

“The biggest concern that overrides everything is around security and violent organized crime,” said Browne. “Murder rates in places like Guatemala and Honduras have reached epidemic proportions, and it’s a severe reputational problem for Mexico as well. It is a barrier to trade and investment that harms the country as a whole.”

Browne said the British government is “having quite a high level of involvement” in countries wrestling with rising crime and narcotics trafficking. That involvement, he said, includes supplying equipment, training and community-level policing advice to governments fighting the effects of organized crime.

Asked about upcoming elections in Guatemala and Nicaragua, Browne said that though the British government doesn’t want to tell any people how to vote, it does want to see “democracy functioning properly.”

“What we want to see is consistent around the world: the will of the people being expressed and beyond just democracy, in terms of the physical manifestation of people voting, it’s also a wider civic society where people’s freedoms are observed,” Browne said.

Before the Land Rover event on Friday, Browne attended the promotional screening of a Costa Rica-produced film on climate change, Odyssey 2050. The project, orchestrated by Bruce Callow, is an effort on the part of the British and Costa Rican governments to get kids involved in the fight against global climate change. Children in Costa Rica were invited to submit ideas, inventions and scripts to be used in the film, which will premiere next July. 

“Odyssey 2050 is an example of what can be accomplished when ideas are put into action,” Callow said. “Odyssey 2050 is helping the voices of young people be heard on climate change and shows that the challenge of climate change can be met with a sense of fun. We need to listen to what young people are telling us, and feed this back to the decision makers of today. Only by doing this can we really affect the future.”

Climate change mitigation is a major aspect of the minister’s Latin American tour. Browne pointed out that the British Embassy is the only embassy in Costa Rica to receive a four-star Blue Flag award for climate change mitigation. He touted the fact that British embassies in Central America reduced their carbon emissions by 42 percent in the last year. Browne said that besides promoting conservation and the use of renewable energy sources, the British government is also eyeing Central America as a developing market for green-sector jobs and products.

Browne said last Friday in a column in The Tico Times that Odyssey 2050 “shows that the U.K. can be Costa Rica’s partner of choice in developing its growing digital animation and film sectors.”

Between engagements, Browne met with the family of Michael Dixon, a British citizen who disappeared from Playa Tamarindo on the northern Pacific coast in 2009 (TT, Oct. 21). Dixon’s family has asked that British law enforcement be allowed to look into the case, which remains unsolved. British law enforcement agencies have said they would participate only if invited to join the investigation by Costa Rican authorities. 

 “I’m not aware that [Costa Rican authorities] have any objections to the British police being involved,” said Browne, who spoke to Costa Rican officials about the disappearance. “My understanding is that there hasn’t been a formal invitation, but that the government here sees no issue with there being a formal invitation.”

If the Costa Rican government sees no problem issuing a formal invitation to British investigative units, however, it has yet to extend one.

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