Congress OKs US Warships

Costa Rica´s National Assembly on July 1 gave the green light to allow 46 US warships and 7,000 marines to enter the country´s waters to monitor for drug trafficking. Opposition immediately said they would challenge the measure.

Military presence in Costa Rica, which abolished its army in 1948, is a thorny issue, and opposition lawmakers and activists said allowing the United States into the country would threaten Costa Rica´s sovereignty.

But President Laura Chinchilla, a former public security minister who promised to increase funding for anti-drug and crime programs and took office on May 8, said that it is necessary to fight drug traffickers, who are increasingly using Costa Rica as a storage and shipping point to for cocaine from the Andes northward to Mexico and ultimately, to the United States.

With 39 of 57 lawmakers present, the measure passed 31-8.

The permission is based on a decade-old bilateral counter-drug trafficking agreement between the United States and Costa Rica, but criticism against the US military presence in recent years led to sending the agreement to lawmakers for approval.

The agreement will be valid from July 1 to Dec. 31 of this year.

Less than a week after the measure was passed, the opposition Social Christian Unity Party, or PUSC, issued a complaint with the Constitutional Court to declare the it unconstitutional.

“By having US military forces in joint-patrol activities, based on what the agreement expressly establishes, the Assembly is authorizing foreign military participation in police actions, which is expressly prohibited by the constitution,” said the PUSC in a statement.

A current of opposition US military presence in Latin America has grown in recent years as that country seeks alternatives to step up its counter-drug operations, especially in the eastern Pacific.

Ecuador´s President Rafael Correa has refused to renew a 10-year agreement that expired last year allowing the United States to operate anti-drug surveillance from the Manta Air Base.

Costa Rica´s southern neighbor Panama, last year said the US could set up operations in two of its military bases. Last year, Colombia, the world´s largest producer of cocaine and the top recipient of US military aid in Latin America, agreed to let the United States military use seven of its bases.




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