Solís put on the defensive as joint US-Costa Rican patrols come up for renewal

June 3, 2014
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Costa Rica, famous for having disbanded its armed forced in 1948, is once again debating a joint maritime patrol agreement with the United States.

Debates over whether or not U.S. Navy vessels should be allowed to patrol and dock in Costa Rica flared once again after Public Security Minister Celso Gamboa presented the Legislative Assembly with a list of U.S. ships that may participate in the joint patrols.

The Assembly’s wrangling over the permissions is a perennial issue for some Costa Rican political parties, including the ruling Citizen Action Party.

During a press conference Tuesday, President Luis Guillermo Solís vehemently denied statements endorsing the use of U.S. Navy vessels in the patrols attributed to him by the daily La Nación.

“As President of the Republic, I deny that I endorsed the use of military ships for joint patrols, I clarify that I have never supported the use of military ships but rather the strict adherence to the joint patrol agreement, which establishes that the ships be from the United States Coast Guard,” Solís said in a statement.

The president, however, stressed the importance of the Joint Maritime Agreement, even if naval vessels were not involved.

“I support the joint patrol agreement. I’ve always supported it because I believe it’s necessary to have the cooperation of the United States in the fight against drug trafficking,” Solís said.

Chief PAC lawmaker Emilia Molina said in a statement that the party would only support Gamboa’s proposal if it were limited to 44 ships from the U.S. Coast Guard, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, between July 1 and Dec. 31.

Current permission for Coast Guard ships to participate in joint patrols and dock in Costa Rican ports with prior approval expires at the end of June.

The 1999 agreement allows U.S. ships to cooperate with the Costa Rican Coast Guard in anti-drug trafficking operations in Costa Rican waters. The U.S. Embassy presents a list of vessels that may be near Costa Rica in six-month intervals to the Public Security Ministry and the Foreign Ministry. The list of ships is then sent to the Legislative Assembly for final approval. In May, Gamboa expressed his continued support for the joint patrols.

The United States, however, sees no difference between Navy or Coast Guard vessels that participate in law enforcement agreements, including anti-drug trafficking operations.

Eric Turner, information officer for the U.S. Embassy in San José, responded to The Tico Times’s request for comment in an email:

The United States has consistently maintained there is no difference between the Navy and Coast Guard vessels that participate in these law enforcement missions under the terms of the Joint Maritime Agreement. Boarding operations at sea are always led by Coast Guard teams, even when the U.S. vessel involved belongs to the Navy. However, we respect that some in Costa Rica have a different view and have always followed any procedures requested by the Government of Costa Rica regarding the presence of U.S. vessels, Navy or Coast Guard.

Turner added that there is no pending request to allow Navy vessels to enter Costa Rica.

In August 2013, the USS Rentz was unable to deliver three Costa Ricans suspects arrested with over 900 kilograms of cocaine in a fishing boat after the Legislative Assembly failed to approve its permission requested months earlier. The transfer of suspects and evidence was forced to take place in international waters.

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