Top government officials gave Costa Rica’s business community a history lesson in national security, as well as a tutorial on an immigration bill, at a recent luncheon organized by the Costa Rican-American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM).
Immigration Director Mario Zamora and Public Security Minister Fernando Berrocal made clear that the country’s borders should be selectively porous. Legal immigration is welcome, Zamora said, because it creates jobs and attracts investment. On the other hand, Berrocal stressed, Costa Rica must close entry points for illegal immigrants and drugs that fuel the country’s growing crime problem.
A bill proposed by President Oscar Arias’ administration aims to “pass from a model focused on immigration control to a model focused on the integration of immigrants not only into our society, but also into our process of economic development,” Zamora said.
The bill, now in the Legislative Assembly, would allow foreigners to apply for residency from Costa Rica instead of having to do so from their home country (TT, July 6). The bill would also crack down on corruption within the Immigration Administration, fight the trade of human beings, and charge immigrants $25 a year to fund the health and education services strained by their entry. Legal and illegal foreign residents account for more than one fifth of Costa Rica’s population of 4.4 million.
Meanwhile, Berrocal said, the administration is working to close Costa Rica’s borders to illegal immigrants and drugs which fuel crime. About 90 percent of Colombian drugs headed for the United States now pass through Central America, Berrocal estimated. “Some of the drugs stay in the country,” he said. “This… explains a qualitative change in the crime rate of the country.”
Berrocal implied that Costa Rica needs a reality check. After abolishing its army in 1948, the country prioritized health, education and infrastructure over public security. The police force steadily deteriorated.
“What was completely erased from the public agenda was the issue of security,” Berrocal said. “In a sense, Costa Ricans think that because we abolished the army… everything was resolved and there was no security problem.”
But times have changed.When Berrocal was in college, chicken theft would be noteworthy. Now delinquency is violent and includes organized crime.
“Let’s fight about (the U.S. trade pact) or let’s fight about other issues, but let’s extract from our partisan debates the issue of national security, and let’s talk with frankness and clarity about what we need,” he said.