Costa Rica’s Love-Hate Relationship With Heavy US Military Footprint

Playa Dominical, Costa RicaThe Costa Rican Congress recently voted to open its country to 46 U.S. warships (with their attendant helicopters and planes) and 7,000 U.S. Marines from July through the end of the year. The U.S. military’s stated mission is to interdict drug dealers and arm merchants, as well as expedite humanitarian missions. (Thanks to Sean Paul Kelley of the Agonist for bringing this to our attention.)

The Tico Times reports:

“What seemed like normal protocol — seeking the approval of the Costa Rican Legislative Assembly for another group of Marines, with their support ships and planes, to monitor the country’s coastline for signs of drug traffickers — erupted into protests and angry comments as some Costa Ricans complained that their country’s sovereignty was being trampled upon.”

Insidecostarica.com reports:

Costa Rica’s opposition [describes] the permission as illegal and in violation of national sovereignty. … Luis Fishman . . . presidential candidate in the past elections, said the legislative approval was like handing over a ‘blank cheque.’

The Tico Times again:

The response caught the U.S. Embassy . . . by surprise. “We are not sure why there is this uproar,” U.S. Ambassador Anne S. Andrew said, explaining that the request is the same one that has been submitted each year for the last 10 years under a bilateral agreement between the two countries.

But, according to the opposition, as reported in the Insidecostarica.com article, the agreement “allowed the entry of coast guard vessels, but not war ships.” Furthermore, it “urged consideration of the geopolitical situation [which] the US [has created] in the region . . . which includes offensive actions such as the coup d’etat in Honduras and the installation of military bases in Colombia.”

Also at Insidecosta rica.com, John Holtz writes:

Limiting the attack to our oceans makes no sense for such a large scale operation. Money is not laundered on the high seas and neither are those who direct the drug trade. … Many Costa Ricans are angry, scared and certainly confused.

On the other hand, it can’t be denied that, devoid of a standing army, they feel more vulnerable than ever. The Tico Times again:

A recently released study by polling company Unimer showed that Costa Ricans’ greatest fears involve issues relating to security and crime. And few disagree the problem has arrived mostly from the outside, much of it on the backs of drug-smuggling cartels that have found room to maneuver along Costa Rica’s lightly protected coastlines and borders. … “This (protest) seems to arise at a point where there is no question that there is a serious security challenge ahead for Costa Rica,” [Ambassador] Andrew said. “In the last 10 years, the efforts of Costa Rica and the United States under the Joint Maritime Agreement have been responsible for the interception of 115,000 kilograms of cocaine and $24 million in laundered money off the coast of Costa Rica.”

From the Tico Times report again, a member of the opposition argues that “the destructive force of the ships and manpower [and] helicopters is disproportionate to the threat caused by drug traffickers.” For one year, the figures above break down to 11,500 kg of coke and $2.4 million of laundered money. Will 7,000 marines, 46 ships, and 200 helicopters and planes substantially improve on that? Oh, sorry. The deterrence inherent in the knowledge that this massive force is patrolling Costa Rica’s shores is, uh, priceless.