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Legislators OK half of U.S. maritime agreement

December 24, 2010

In one of their last sessions before the holiday break, Costa Rican lawmakers voted to extend by six months an agreement with the U.S. to allow U.S. Coast Guard ships to enter Costa Rican waters in pursuit of drug traffickers, as well as use Costa Rican docks for refueling and resupplying.

However, lawmakers struck down the other half of the agreement, which would have allowed U.S. Naval ships to enter Costa Rican waters.

Legislators partially extended the 1999 Joint Maritime Agreement, which grants access for 20 U.S. Coast Guard ships, but denies access to 26 naval warships.

The agreement has been criticized throughout the year. Opponents say Costa Rica’s non-militaristic politics should prohibit any country’s military from operating here. Costa Rican disbanded its army in 1948.

Legislator José María Villalta said the pact has done little to curb international drug trafficking in the region, which has increased significantly in the last decade.

“For Costa Rica, nothing good has come out of this joint patrol [agreement],” he said in a statement.

To address lawmakers’ concern – and to help them dispel rumors circulating among constituents – staff from the U.S. Embassy invited legislative deputies to tour a navy ship docked in the southern Pacific port of Golfito. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Phil Springer warned that without an army or U.S. presence, drug traffickers could create significant stability in Costa Rica.

“In less than a year, other cartels are going to see the opportunity to consolidate power in Costa Rica,” he said (TT, Dec. 13).

For Costa Rican drug czar Carlos Alvarado, the Joint Maritime Agreement has fostered a “fundamental” relationship between the U.S. and Costa Rica in terms of counternarcotic efforts.

“Costa Rica doesn’t, nor will it ever, have the technological or economic capability to fight drugs in the ocean,” Alvarado said. Lawmakers voted 38-4 to partially extend the agreement.

They also approved three other measures: a youth labor safety bill, a domestic labor bill and a measure to create funding for low-income housing.

The Legislative Assembly officially closed for the holidays on Monday evening. Lawmakers will return on Jan. 17. 

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