San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Inaction from Costa Rican legislature leaves U.S. anti-drug patrols out to sea

United States Coast Guard and Navy vessels participating in joint drug patrols are left out to sea without permission to dock in Costa Rica after the legislature failed to take up a vote on the measure before going on break, the daily La Nación reported on Tuesday.

Public Security Minister Mario Zamora said the patrols’ inability to dock weakens Costa Rica’s ability to combat drug trafficking in its territory.

“Protecting the national territory from organized crime coming from drug trafficking is a first-order duty, and the way we depend on the support of ships with patrol range beyond that of our own puts us in a position where we can’t defend ourselves,” Zamora told reporters Tuesday morning.

Carlos Ricardo Benavides, minister of the presidency, had strong words for Costa Rican lawmakers, who are currently on vacation: “This is not a result of the legislature being on break,” Benavides said, referring to the story published in La Nación. “This is a veiled attempt to impede the vote. It’s a failure of our system.” 

Under Costa Rican law, armed vessels require a permit issued by the Legislative Assembly in order to dock in Costa Rican national ports. Some lawmakers draw a distinction between U.S. Coast Guard and Navy vessels that participate in the patrols, seeing the former as law enforcement and the latter as military ships.

U.S. Coast Guard and Navy ships need to dock at ports in the region to replenish fuel, food and to transfer evidence or suspects arrested at sea to local authorities.

The U.S. Embassy in San José told The Tico Times that they consider all vessels participating in the patrols, regardless of their affiliation, to be law enforcement. 

“No matter the color of the vessel, the mission is a law enforcement mission,” said embassy press officer Eric Turner.

On Tuesday afternoon, the public security minister reported that the Costa Rican Coast Guard, with support from a U.S. P-3 maritime surveillance plane, intercepted a boat suspected of carrying drugs 80 kilometers off the coast of Matapalo at the mouth of Golfo Dulce. 

This is not the first time U.S. anti-drug patrols have been held up by legislators. In 2012, the U.S.S. CARR could not dock in the Pacific port of Caldera after legislators from the Citizen Action Party filibustered a vote on its landing permission.

Last month, The Tico Times reported that U.S. National Coast Guard cutter Sherman canceled its July 2 scheduled arrival when legislators had still not taken action on its permission to dock.

According to information from the U.S. Embassy, over 5,000 kilograms of cocaine and 2,550 kilograms of marijuana have been seized or recovered when drug traffickers threw their cargo overboard thanks to these patrols between Jan. 1 and May 31.

The Assembly goes back into session on Monday, July 22.

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