One common criticism of United States’ role in Costa Rica is that it is not doing enough to stem the growing tide of organized crime.
Costa Ricans see the United States as a driving force in the illegal drug trade because of the country’s high demand and prohibitionist laws. Some claim that because the U.S. has pumped so much money into Mexico in recent years to decrease the drug trade there, traffickers are using Central America as part of their new routes. Traffickers bring all the side effects of the drug trade to their transit countries, including increased crime and addiction rates.
When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Costa Rica in March, local media pressed her and President-elect Laura Chinchilla for answers as to how the United States was going to help with the security problem. At the time, the two women explained that more money would be coming to Costa Rica under the Central America Regional Security Initiative, also known as the Merida Initiative, and that all actions would be coordinated between the region’s governments and the U.S.
With Clinton based in WashingtonD.C., and focused on other priorities, U.S. commitments to Costa Rica fall under the oversight of newly-appointed U.S. ambassador Anne Andrew.
For Andrew, the security problem requires an approach that draws on local, regional and bi-national resources. According to Andrew, the U.S. is focusing its support in Costa Rica on police training programs, equipment donations, and offering alternatives for young people through scholarships. Regionally, support is channeled through the $83 million Merida Initiative (TT, Sept. 25, 2009).
“When you look at the holistic engagement that the U.S. has with Costa Rica, it’s both a substantial and strategic partnership that we believe has great promise of success,” Andrew said in a recent interview with The Tico Times.
She recognizes that many of the other issues Costa Rica is facing – such as money laundering, arms and human trafficking, and crime – are increasingly related directly to drug trafficking.
“Our goal is to interrupt that business,” she said.
Responding to the accusation that the United States isn’t doing enough in Costa Rica, Andrew said her country is taking action in a sustainable manner and in a way she thinks will have the most impact in the end.
“The people who raise that question are usually focused on the concern that the United States is ‘not doing enough for my country’,” she said. “My response to that is the U.S. maintains a goal of working with the Central American countries to address drug trafficking and related security concerns. That can only be addressed at a regional, bilateral and local level.
“If the US could put all the money in the world into Costa Rica, what will happen is the drug trade would go around Costa Rica. It would infect Panama and Nicaragua,” she continued. “And as soon as U.S. money disappears, they would be back in Costa Rica. This is not a sustainable solution.” Her efforts are thus focused on a combination of approaches that includes a collaborative regional response and strengthening local institutions.
“I know that President Chinchilla is very committed to making the investments necessary to address the security concerns in Costa Rica, and I know the United States is looking forward to working with her,” Andrew said. “With combined efforts, there is the opportunity that Costa Rica can enjoy much greater security.”