U.S. SOUTHCOM and Costa Rica are working together to combat the trafficking of narcotics and weapons, among other crimes.
Costa Rica’s National Coast Guard Service (SNG) and U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) are strengthening their joint efforts in the fight against drug trafficking, with the United States financing and installing new law enforcement posts along the Caribbean and Pacific coasts.
A new station in the port town of Golfito, the expansion of the checkpoint at Kilometer 35, and a new base in the suburb of Cieneguita, Puerto Limón “are part of the strategic five-year growth plan for SNG stations,” National Coast Guard Commissioner Martin Arias told Diálogo
. Authorities are coordinating the construction work through an interagency agreement between the Ministry of Public Security (MSP, for its Spanish acronym), the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, and the Board of Port Administration and Economic Development of the Atlantic Coast.
“Thanks to the cooperation of the U.S. Southern Command, in 2017 the SNG of the Ministry of Public Security will be able to rely on the new Coast Guard Station in Golfito, Puntarenas, on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, as part of its effort to ensure security in the region,” Commissioner Arias explained. “The project, which cost $2.5 million, includes two additional projects: a floating dock and an aviation hangar.”
The addition of a floating dock to the Golfito station will enable Maritime Officers to provide logistical support to the SNG’s interceptor boats. The hangar is for the Air Surveillance Service in Coto 47, in the Corredores division of the province of Puntarenas. Both facilities will be completed in 2017.
Workers laid the cornerstone for the Golfito station on March 31st. Among those on hand for the event were Public Security Minister Gustavo Mata, U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica S. Fitzgerald Haney, Golfito Mayor Elberth Barrantes, students, members of the country’s security forces, and representatives of the Fire Department.
The Costa Rican Institute of Pacific Ports donated the land where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in collaboration with a private company, will build the Coast Guard station. The station will have all the necessary amenities for security forces to do their work. The project will include an operations office, a communications center, an armory, a warehouse to store spare parts and maintenance materials, a perimeter fence, and a highly efficient, environmentally friendly septic system.
The Bureau of International narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) contributed more than $960,000 for a secondary inspection site at the checkpoint known as Kilometer 35, located on the Pan-American Highway, in the district of Guaycará de Golfito. The checkpoint’s expansion was carried out by the Costa Rican company Industrias Bendig. In July 2014, SOUTHCOM constructed the $1.2 million building for the initial Kilometer 35 checkpoint, which has been the point where authorities consistently have seized drugs, contraband, and captured suspects, according to the MSP. The secondary checkpoint will allow Cost Rican authorities to inspect trucks more thoroughly as they can be unloaded and reloaded in this facility.
Joint security agreement
SOUTHCOM’s assistance to bolster Costa Rica’s infrastructure began in 2001 as part of the countries’ Joint Patrol Agreement, according to Commissioner Arias. The initiative, which was signed in 1999, allows for rescues, the enforcement of Costa Rican maritime law, the combating of drug trafficking and illegal fishing, and the prevention of the trafficking of people and weapons. “[The agreement] has had a major impact on the fight against organized transnational crime,” Commissioner Arias explained.
SOUTHCOM has also contributed about $3.4 million to the construction of the Coast Guard Station in Caldera, Puntarenas, which is the largest station along Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast. The station, which has technologically advanced equipment to combat illicit trafficking, is also home to SNG’s central maintenance shop. SOUTHCOM has also contributed to the building of stations in the towns of Quepos and Flamingo, which Costa Rican authorities use as bases to fight crime.
The SNG is also carrying out security operations in other areas along the Caribbean coast through its stations in Moín, Barra de Pacuare, and Barra del Colorado. These and other stations are a key component of Costa Rica’s strategy to fight drug trafficking, illegal fishing, and environmental crime. On March 18th, the SNG launched operations at a Coast Guard station that will facilitate surveillance in the area of Río Cieneguita, in Limón province. The station will feature a floating dock and an interceptor boat.
“We have seized drugs, weapons, and even turtles [being illegally trafficked] in this strategic area. This location is used for drug trafficking and environmental crimes,” Carlos Hidalgo, an MSP spokesperson, told the website Monumental
. “The Cieneguita post will maintain the police presence and control over everything that enters and leaves the area surrounding this locality.”
Thanks in part to security posts, Costa Rican authorities have confiscated large amounts of drugs from January through the end of March. In the first quarter of 2016, security forces have seized more than five tons of drugs, three of which were cocaine, according to Commissioner Arias.
In 2015, Costa Rican security authorities seized more than 17,000 kilograms of cocaine and dismantled 134 criminal organizations, 34 of which operated internationally, according to the Costa Rican Drug Institute.
The joint effort underscores the importance of international cooperation in the fight against transnational crime. “The Southern Command has made a valuable contribution to the National Coast Guard with these facilities,” Commissioner Arias stated. “We have the appropriate facilities to carry out our enforcement operations with an appropriate response to environmental threats, transnational crime, maritime emergencies, and natural disasters in our territorial waters.”
“The SNG works shoulder to shoulder with the U.S. Southern Command and the Police who patrol on land, in the air, and along borders. [We also work] with the Criminal Investigation Police and the Drug Enforcement Police of Costa Rica to be one common front in the fight against international drug trafficking. The joint patrol with the United States has been extremely important in seizing drug shipments,” the Commissioner added. In both 2014 and 2015 Costa Rica has had the highest maritime cocaine seizures in Central America.
Costa Rica and SOUTHCOM have “an excellent relationship, in an optimal state. In addition to the support we receive with the building of bases, they provide us with training here and in the United States. They also support us with the mobile training teams that they bring into the country,” Commissioner Arias added.
The Costa Rican government will continue to boost its infrastructure in the coming years with support from SOUTHCOM. The SNG and SOUTHCOM are currently in talks regarding the construction of a Coast Guard Station in Sixaloa, Limón. Planned for 2017, the project, which will be along the border with Panama in the southern Caribbean, will increase security and control over the Sixaola River.
The SNG is also planning to build a new Coast Guard Academy with SOUTHCOM’s support. “We are very optimistic about the issue of vocational training for our staff and officers,” Commissioner Arias said. “I know that the Southern Command will support us. Soon, we will have a modern academy financed by the U.S. government.”