U.S. Southern Command Funds New Costa Rican Coast Guard Station

By Dialogo
April 13, 2011

In the hot, rugged central Pacific beach towns of the Puntarenas province in
Costa Rica, improved maritime security is a welcome thing. As Costa Rica and much of
Central America amp up their efforts to combat drug-trafficking throughout the
region, residents in the port city of Caldera were pleased to see some much-needed
assistance had arrived.

On 7 April, the Costa Rican government inaugurated a new 3,200 square meter
Coast Guard station off the central port in Caldera. The station, which includes a
new communications center, docking strip, ship repair station and a lengthy pier,
was made possible through assistance from the U.S. Southern Command.

“This was a tremendous effort we put forth to allow the Coast Guard to have
this facility which will be able to support three Costa Rican 40-foot high-speed
intercept boats, as well as barracks and administration facilities for operational
support,” said COL Norberto Cintron, chief engineer for USSOUTHCOM.

“This pier will enhance the Coast Guard’s capabilities and enable
collaboration between the U.S. and Costa Rica to deter drug

At the inauguration ceremony, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, who
considers security a top priority, reminded on-lookers of some of the current
criminal issues facing the nation and how the new Coast Guard station will aid in
combating the problems.

“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 of 2010, the U.S. government released a revised list of the
world’s 20 major drug trafficking and producing countries. For the first time in its
history, Costa Rica was included on the list. Since the announcement, Chinchilla’s
administration has taken an assertive role to increase national security on the
coasts and borders, improve national police training, and heighten screening
measures at airports and seaports.

Other residents of Caldera also were encouraged by the sight of a new Coast
Guard station near the main port. Several citizens say that the amount of drugs that
are making their way to Caldera and Puntarenas has increased dramatically during the
last 10-15 years.

“You can get drugs in this town in about 10 minutes if you ask the right
people,” said Yolanda Arguedas, a restaurant owner about 50 meters from the central
port. “It’s easy. If someone brings it in on ships, there isn’t anybody to stop them
from coming in. Just walk right straight from the boat to the street and sell it in
the community. Ten years ago you’d hardly hear about drugs. Now you can’t walk to
the corner store without seeing people using them.”

Arguedas said she was happy to see that the country is making good on their
promises to increase maritime security, though she still thinks more help will be

“It looks great and should intimidate someone who is thinking about trying to
bring drugs to this area,” she said. “But the ocean is big and there are a lot of
places to dock boats around here. I think if the government really wants to try to
control this like they say they do, they’d need about 10 of these stations.”

Chinchilla also mentioned in her speech that the dock was “a first step” in
improving maritime security on the Pacific coasts. She said that the next step
needed to continue to improve coastal security was for the national Legislative
Assembly to permit U.S. ships to dock in Costa Rica. Currently, the Legislative
Assembly is blocking a Joint Patrol Agreement between Costa Rica and the U.S. which
allows U.S. Navy vessels to enter national waters. The agreement, which was signed
in 1999 to slow drug-traffic in the region, is currently being reviewed in Costa
Rica’s Supreme Court.

“The government of Costa Rica and the government of the U.S. must be able to
collaborate to effectively fight drug-trafficking,” she said. “The U.S. is a
government that is a friend of Costa Rica and is attempting to assist us in the
fight against drugs. At this time, we are not allowing them to help us and have
prolonged the entrance of their naval ships. If we are serious about fighting
drug-trafficking, the Legislative Assembly must assist in doing so.”

While the new Coast Guard station is considered a “first step”, Chinchilla
and Anne Andrew, the U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica, mentioned that the two
governments are already developing plans to establish more Coast Guard and security
stations along the nation’s Pacific and Caribbean coast.