U.S. Southern Command Funds New Costa Rican Coast Guard Station
By Dialogo April 13, 2011 In the hot, rugged central Pacific beach towns of the Puntarenas province in Costa Rica, improved maritime security is a welcome thing. As Costa Rica and much of Central America amp up their efforts to combat drug-trafficking throughout the region, residents in the port city of Caldera were pleased to see some much-needed assistance had arrived. On 7 April, the Costa Rican government inaugurated a new 3,200 square meter Coast Guard station off the central port in Caldera. The station, which includes a new communications center, docking strip, ship repair station and a lengthy pier, was made possible through assistance from the U.S. Southern Command. “This was a tremendous effort we put forth to allow the Coast Guard to have this facility which will be able to support three Costa Rican 40-foot high-speed intercept boats, as well as barracks and administration facilities for operational support,” said COL Norberto Cintron, chief engineer for USSOUTHCOM. “This pier will enhance the Coast Guard’s capabilities and enable collaboration between the U.S. and Costa Rica to deter drug trafficking.” At the inauguration ceremony, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, who considers security a top priority, reminded on-lookers of some of the current criminal issues facing the nation and how the new Coast Guard station will aid in combating the problems. “My government is executing an integral citizen security policy. We are working diligently to fight drug trafficking and delinquency, and to scourge those that are attacking our society,” Chinchilla said. “I recognize the work that our police, judges and criminal courts are doing. This donation will allow us to improve the vigilance of our coasts.” In September of 2010, the U.S. government released a revised list of the world’s 20 major drug trafficking and producing countries. For the first time in its history, Costa Rica was included on the list. Since the announcement, Chinchilla’s administration has taken an assertive role to increase national security on the coasts and borders, improve national police training, and heighten screening measures at airports and seaports. Other residents of Caldera also were encouraged by the sight of a new Coast Guard station near the main port. Several citizens say that the amount of drugs that are making their way to Caldera and Puntarenas has increased dramatically during the last 10-15 years. “You can get drugs in this town in about 10 minutes if you ask the right people,” said Yolanda Arguedas, a restaurant owner about 50 meters from the central port. “It’s easy. If someone brings it in on ships, there isn’t anybody to stop them from coming in. Just walk right straight from the boat to the street and sell it in the community. Ten years ago you’d hardly hear about drugs. Now you can’t walk to the corner store without seeing people using them.” Arguedas said she was happy to see that the country is making good on their promises to increase maritime security, though she still thinks more help will be needed. “It looks great and should intimidate someone who is thinking about trying to bring drugs to this area,” she said. “But the ocean is big and there are a lot of places to dock boats around here. I think if the government really wants to try to control this like they say they do, they’d need about 10 of these stations.” Chinchilla also mentioned in her speech that the dock was “a first step” in improving maritime security on the Pacific coasts. She said that the next step needed to continue to improve coastal security was for the national Legislative Assembly to permit U.S. ships to dock in Costa Rica. Currently, the Legislative Assembly is blocking a Joint Patrol Agreement between Costa Rica and the U.S. which allows U.S. Navy vessels to enter national waters. The agreement, which was signed in 1999 to slow drug-traffic in the region, is currently being reviewed in Costa Rica’s Supreme Court. “The government of Costa Rica and the government of the U.S. must be able to collaborate to effectively fight drug-trafficking,” she said. “The U.S. is a government that is a friend of Costa Rica and is attempting to assist us in the fight against drugs. At this time, we are not allowing them to help us and have prolonged the entrance of their naval ships. If we are serious about fighting drug-trafficking, the Legislative Assembly must assist in doing so.” While the new Coast Guard station is considered a “first step”, Chinchilla and Anne Andrew, the U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica, mentioned that the two governments are already developing plans to establish more Coast Guard and security stations along the nation’s Pacific and Caribbean coast.