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Court rejects challenge to U.S. ships docking in Costa Rica

December 31, 2010

Costa Rica’s Constitutional Court dismissed a challenge to the Joint Maritime Agreement, making way for the United States military to continue to use Costa Rican waters for the purpose of counternarcotics operations.

The Joint Maritime Agreement enables the United States to bring a preapproved number of ships into Costa Rican territory for counter-drug trafficking purposes and permits the ships to dock and restock as needed. The United States has similar agreements with other Central American countries.

The agreement is renewed every six months as legislators must approve (or reject) the list of ships for docking.

In July, for the first time in its 11-year history, legislators questioned the ongoing legality of the agreement and whether the relationship was fulfilling its directive. Drug trafficking was seemingly becoming more prevalent, they argued.

There was also concern about the presence of United States military in an anti-militaristic country.

A challenge was submitted by former first lady and legislator Gloria Berarano Almada, along with legislators Luis Fishman, Rodolfo Sotomayor and Walter Cespedes. The group questioned the constitutionality of the Joint Maritime Agreement. They argued the agreement had expired in 2009, as it was originally approved in 1999 for a period of ten years.

In a ruling handed down on Christmas Eve, judges said the challenge was “without place”, making way for the continued use of Costa Rican waters by United States counternarcotics operations.

However, before they broke for the holidays, lawmakers approved only half of the permit, allowing just non-warships, such as coast guard, to dock in Costa Rican ports.  

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