The Costa Rican government inaugurated Thursday a new Coast Guard station on the Pacific port of Caldera. The $3 million U.S.-funded post will assist with the country’s efforts to reduce drug trafficking and illegal fishing activities in the area. The funds were provided by the U.S. military’s Southern Command.
Speaking from the renovated 3,200 square meter platform, President Laura Chinchilla noted the benefits of the new station, which she said includes a floating dock, ship docking slip, communications center, and maintenance and repair center. Chinchilla also promised the station would bring improved security to the Pacific region.
“My government is executing an integral citizen security policy. We are working diligently to fight drug trafficking and delinquency, and to scourge those that are attacking our society,” Chinchilla said. “I recognize the work that our police, judges and criminal courts are doing. This donation will allow us to improve the vigilance of our coasts.”
In September, the U.S. government added Costa Rica to its list of the world’s 20 major drug trafficking or producing countries (TT, Sept. 15, 2010). In the last six months, the Chinchilla administration has been outspoken about increasing resources to reduce the amount of drugs transported through Costa Rican waters.
“The U.S. government has a strategic plan to partner with Costa Rica to strengthen the capacity of its Coast Guard,” U.S. Ambassador Anne Andrew told The Tico Times. “The majority of the narco-trafficking and drugs that are reaching Costa Rican shores are coming in through maritime access. The only way that Costa Rica can interject and begin the disruption of these narco-traffickers’ illicit trafficking lanes is to have an effective maritime program. We are working with Costa Rica in many different aspects in order to strengthen the capacity of the Coast Guard. This station at Caldera is one example of that.”
Andrew said that the U.S. is also considering other strategies to help Costa Rica fight the drug trade.
Andrew said the Coast Guard center would also be used to combat illegal fishing practices that have brought notoriety to the Pacific coast, and Puntarenas port specifically. Ongoing shark-finning has embarrassed Costa Rica and harmed its international reputation as an environmentally responsible travel destination.
In late December, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay of the TV show “Hell’s Kitchen” said he was doused in gasoline and held at gunpoint in Puntarenas as he filmed a show about illegal shark-finning (TT, Jan. 3, 2011). Afterward, Ramsay publicized his story in several media outlets.
Andrew also said that speeches by Chinchilla and Security Minister José Maria Tijerino would provide further incentive for the Legislative Assembly to permit the docking of U.S. naval ships in Costa Rica. Currently, a Joint Patrol Agreement between Costa Rica and the U.S., which allows U.S. naval vessels to enter Costa Rican waters to counter drug trafficking, is under review by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV). The agreement was signed in 1999 to diminish drug movements to the north (TT, Aug. 6, 2010).
“For the first time in 11 years, the legislature has not acted to allow the U.S. Navy ships that are approved under the Maritime Agreement to come to dock in Costa Rican ports. This is particularly troubling when it is shown by all of the statistics that Costa Rica is more vulnerable now than ever, particularly from a narco-traffic standpoint,” Andrew said. “We have the legislature to vote on and approve these Navy ships to be able to come to port. I was greatly encouraged today to hear both Minister Tijerino and President Chinchilla say clearly, directly, and with great emphasis that the legislature needs to address the situation. Costa Rica needs to use all of the tools that are available in order to fight narco-trafficking.”
The president’s visit to Puntarenas was also used to promote the “Puntarenas 2016” initiative to bring more businesses and investment to the Pacific port town, still a popular travel destination for many Costa Ricans.