San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rican security forces receive prisoners, cocaine in international waters

Costa Rican law enforcement plans on Monday to accept in international waters three prisoners and more than 900 kilograms of cocaine seized last week, after the Legislative Assembly failed to authorize the arresting U.S. Naval vessel to dock in Tico territory.

As the prisoner hand-off takes place, lawmakers scrambled to blame someone for the legislature dragging its feet on the approval.  

The USS Rentz arrested three Costa Rican suspects and one Nicaraguan citizen, and seized 963 kilograms (2,123 pounds) of cocaine from the fishing boat “Capitán Erson” on Aug. 11 off the coast of Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands. The U.S. Navy estimated the value of the seizure at $78 million, according to a press release. 

The Erson was later deemed unseaworthy and sunk, according to a statement from the U.S. Embassy in San José.

The U.S. vessel requested permission to dock in Costa Rica to deliver the prisoners and the evidence against them, but lawmakers did not act on the request in a timely manner.

Public Security Minister Mario Zamora told reporters last week that the Public Security Ministry (MSP) originally requested permission for the USS Rentz to dock in Costa Rica on June 10.

According to Costa Rican law, the Legislative Assembly must approve a list provided by the MSP of U.S. ships participating in joint U.S.-Costa Rican drug patrols for six-month terms.

Capt Erson

The USS Rentz seized 963 kilograms of cocaine from the fishing boat “Capitán Erson,” pictured above, and arrested three suspects on Aug. 11, 2013. Courtesy of U.S. Department of Defense   

On July 22, the Assembly approved 41 U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships to come ashore as part of the joint patrols. The USS Rentz was not on that list.

During the last several years, Costa Rica has become an increasingly trafficked route for Colombian cocaine and other drugs moving north, principally to the United States.

“Sadly, the legislature’s inaction is becoming an obstacle to law enforcement,” Zamora told reporters on Aug. 14.

“We’re asking the U.S. authorities to understand the situation in the country and for it not to appear as a slight or that our country is not participating in the international fight against drugs,” the minister said, echoing his concerns from July.

Left with no other option, the MSP, the Prosecutor’s Office and the U.S. Navy decided to deliver the prisoners and evidence in international waters.

Earlier this summer, The Tico Times reported that the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Sherman canceled its planned July 2 landing when the legislature’s approval of U.S. ships lapsed. 

Meanwhile, lawmakers point the finger.

Last Wednesday, Juan Carlos Mendoza of the Citizen Action Party (PAC) and Rodolfo Sotomayor of the Social Christian Unity Party told that they had not heard of any request to authorize the ship to dock. Lawmaker Fabio Molina of the ruling National Liberation Party (PLN) blamed the PAC and the Broad Front Party for the delay.

PAC lawmakers told the news website that Assembly President Luis Fernando Mendoza of the PLN sets the legislative agenda, and he is to blame for the boat’s delayed authorization.

Mendoza completed the circle, claiming that opposition parties were unwilling to vote on the measure, reported last week. 

Correction: This post mistakenly reported the date of the arrests and seizure as Aug. 12. The events took place on Sunday, Aug. 11, according to statements from the Public Security Ministry. 

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