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Minister: Gift Is Plain Inadequate

September 12, 2008

The United States has donated a plane to Costa Rica for drug interdiction, humanitarian missions and transporting government officials.

U.S. authorities were hoping the donation would put an end to months of acrimony between the two nations.

But Public Security Minister Janina del Vecchio immediately said the donation of the 1976 Piper Seneca II two-propeller plane was nice but not enough.

“I have to add that for the battle against drug trafficking, we need much more,” she said.

In July, del Vecchio criticized the scarcity of aid the U.S. provided through Plan Merida, calling it barely enough to buy a boat (TT, July 18).

The $65 million Plan Merida, passed by the U.S. Congress in July, is intended to combat drug trafficking in Mexico and Central America. It granted $4.2 million to Costa Rica in 2008 and $9 million in 2009, but that money is not being turned over to the government directly. It is being administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and U.S. Southern Command (Southcom).

Del Vecchio’s comments reveal the strained relations between the countries in the wake of numerous recent controversies, including the granting of refugee status to U.S. citizen Chere Lyn Tomayko, who is wanted in Texas on warrants for parental kidnapping (TT, Aug. 1).

The plane donation, originally scheduled for July before the controversy erupted, was canceled and then postponed. The daily Al Día reported that the cancellation was the U.S. retaliating against Costa Rica for granting asylum to Tomayko.

The U.S. Embassy published a strongly worded press release denouncing the Tomayko decision, saying it endangered cooperation between the two nations.

During a July interview with The Tico Times, del Vecchio scoffed at the U.S. response.

“We have big disagreements but we’re all sovereign, and the government of Costa Rica will not accept retaliation,” she said.

The plane donation controversy continued for more than a month after the Tomayko decision, with del Vecchio claiming it had already been donated and embassy spokeswoman Melissa Martínez saying it hadn’t.

In addition to the Tomayko case, U.S. officials are frustrated with Costa Rica on other fronts as well. For example, although required to do so by international treaties on terrorism, Costa Rica has yet to pass a law defining terrorism as a crime (TT, April 25).

U.S. Embassy officials have declined requests to discuss the state of relations between the two countries.

Southcom consists of U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine and Coast Guard units under the leadership of a four-star general. It is responsible for “contingency planning, operations, and security cooperation for Central and South America, the Caribbean, Cuba, the Bahamas and their territorial waters.”

 

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