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Costa Rica: US warships cause unease

Costa Rica is wary of plans to allow US Naval ships to dock on its shores.

The Joint Patrol deal hits that point square on the head. Its text speaks directly to Costa Rica’s unpreparedness “to assume an active and crucial role in the fight against international narco activity.”

“It’s a very difficult dilemma because there clearly is a real serious problem that (Costa Rica) may not be fully equipped to deal with,” Michael Shifter, president of Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank in Washington, said.

A running joke about Costa Rica is that it lacks an army – and doesn’t need one with the pals it has up in Washington.

What happened to Costa Rica’s own army? President José “don Pepe” Figueres abolished the military in 1948, following a civil war that claimed an estimated 2,000 and is widely considered to be the country’s bloodiest event of the 20th century.

Don Pepe, founder of Chinchilla’s centrist National Liberation Party, could not have predicted the bloodshed to come. Central America saw more than 33 homicides per 100,000 people in 2008, the world’s highest rate of non-political killings, according to the United Nations Development Program. Costa Rica, low on the region’s murder tally, saw it’s homicide rate nearly double from six per 100,000 in 2000 to 11 in 2008. Security analysts say the drug trade fuels the problem.

Deepening the paradox, antinarcotics officials and drug-war opponents here agree on one thing: hard-fought military crackdowns in other Latin American countries have forced cartels to bringing the ruckus here.

Peace activists say it’s unwise to treat the drug problem with guns. Violence engenders more violence, they say.

“Military action has been tried in Mexico and Colombia and hasn’t given results. So the solution is of a social nature. We need employment,” said Gerardo Brenes, a School of the Americas-trained Costa Rican policeman turned pacifist. “Don’t bring us weapons, don’t bring us death and desolation. Costa Rica is accustomed to living in peace and liberty, not war.”

The Navy’s Iwo Jima might not help unemployed civilians find jobs, but its army files are stacked with relief. According to a Navy news release, the Iwo Jima is carrying a mixture of international military staff and nongovernmental organizations on a four-month tour of Central America and the Caribbean.

After reaching earthquake-torn Haiti’s Port-au-Prince late last month, Iwo Jima will likely be welcomed in Costa Rica, one of Latin America’s most socially developed nations.
However, it’s the other amphibious assault ships the Ticos are worried about.