San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

U.S. to back National Security Plan

From the print edition

Representatives of the Costa Rican government and the U.S. Embassy met at the U.S. ambassador’s residence Tuesday to discuss security and anti-drug trafficking strategies.

Afterward, Ambassador Anne S. Andrew, with Costa Rican officials making a half-circle behind her, announced that the United States had given approximately $2.5 million to Costa Rica as part of the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). 

The money comes in addition to the millions of dollars that CARSI grants to Costa Rica and the rest of Central America (with the exception of Belize) each year. The majority of funds go to the northern triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. 

According to the U.S. Embassy, the U.S. freed up another $20 million for the region in 2011, and decided to divvy up the money among the countries that made the best proposals for how to use the funds. Costa Rica’s proposal centered on programs to strengthen the judiciary.

The relationship between Costa Rica and the U.S. in the drug war has received ample attention, particularly after Tico lawmakers blocked a vote to approve a docking permit for U.S. Navy ship U.S.S. CARR. The ship was supposed to deliver 4,134 pounds of  marijuana seized in the Caribbean Sea to be used as evidence against drug traffickers. 

Andrew briefly addressed the situation at the press conference Tuesday, saying she believes that the legislators who filibustered the vote, all members of the Citizens Action Party, represent a minority.

“I believe the circumstances of the last few weeks have shown that the interest is with the Costa Ricans to see that those ships can come to port,” Andrew said.

The ambassador then asked Public Security Minister Mario Zamora to speak on what happened. Zamora said the ministry is watching a bill before the Legislative Assembly that will expedite the process for U.S. Navy ships that want to dock in Costa Rica to drop off drug evidence. 

Zamora called it an “international responsibility” to permit those ships, which work with the Costa Rican Coast Guard, to come to port. 

“This help is essential, is necessary, is strategic for maintaining the fight against drug traffickers,” Zamora said.

Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla also discussed the issue during her weekly media address on Tuesday. Chinchilla said lawmakers are sending “an erroneous message to the drug cartels of the world” by not allowing the evidence against the alleged drug traffickers to come to shore. She said legislators appear to the rest of the world to be protecting the two Costa Rican suspects from the United States.

 “If that is the message that we are going to send due to the ideological itch of a few lawmakers in the Legislative Assembly, then our seas are going to be infested with drug traffickers, navigating boats with Costa Rican flags because they know there is a safe haven here,” Chinchilla said.

Lawmakers will look at the legislation for easing the process for U.S. Navy ships to come to port next week. Back at the U.S. ambassador’s residence, members of Chinchilla’s Cabinet praised the CARSI donation and the programs the money will fund. 

According to the ambassador, the $2.5 million will be divided evenly between five programs aimed at making the judiciary system more efficient. Four of the projects began receiving funding on July 1. One approved proposal called for an evaluation of the Judicial Branch and how it operates in the investigation, indictment and prosecution of drug traffickers and organized crime members.

Other proposals ask to train judges, prosecutors and other judiciary officials in charge of handling drug trafficking and organized crime cases. Another project will support the design and implementation of an anti-corruption plan for the Judicial Branch.  

The creation of a database of intelligence on organized crime, under the leadership of the Judicial Investigation Police, will begin on Jan. 1, 2013.

Supreme Court President Luis Paulino Mora spoke about the importance of the initiatives at the press conference. Chief Prosecutor Jorge Chavarría, drug czar Mauricio Boraschi and Chinchilla’s chief of staff, Carlos Ricardo Benavides, among others, also attended the event.

“There’s no question there is a rise of organized crime and drug trafficking in Costa Rica,” Andrew said. “The United States is committed to work in partnership with Costa Rica and the other Central American countries to address these situations. But if it’s success that the country is after, then Costa Rica has to invest itself and make strategic decisions that lead to success.”

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