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Costa Rica added to Obama’s 20-state drug list

Costa Rica took a blow to its “happiest nation” image this week, being included for the first time on Washington’s 20-nation list of drug transit and producing countries.

Costa Rica joins other Central American first-timers Nicaragua and Honduras; neighbors Panama and Guatemala were already on the list. The region’s remaining countries, Belize and El Salvador, managed to escape (see the 20 drug spots below).

What’s the meaning of these countries popping up on what the White House refers to as the “Majors List”? It’s another sign of what narcotics analysts are calling a shift southward from Mexico by narco cells. The shift results from a balloon effect: as clampdowns in Mexico and Colombia squeeze ever tighter, the middle – Central America – swells with cartels.

The administration of Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla frowned at the listing, but heralded it as a wake-up call.

Mauricio Boraschi, Chinchilla’s drug czar, called it “painful” but the list will act as an “incentive” for his army-less country to step up to the challenges of being caught in the region’s vicious drug corridor.

Public Security Minister José María Tijerino said the listing doesn’t carry U.S. sanctions, but agreed with Boraschi that it should help encourage regional governments to take the drug threat more seriously.

The listing came as citizens and opposition politicians here have called into question the effectiveness and legality of a U.S.-militarized war on drugs in Costa Rica, particularly after a request by Washington for permission to send over 40 warships and thousands of military personnel to monitor Costa Rica’s territory for narco traffickers.

Are you living in the Majors?

Here’s the White House’s top 20 “Major Illicit Drug Transit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries”:

• Afghanistan
• The Bahamas
• Bolivia
• Burma
• Colombia
• Costa Rica
• Dominican Republic
• Ecuador
• Guatemala
• Haiti
• Honduras
• India
• Jamaica
• Laos
• Mexico
• Nicaragua
• Pakistan
• Panama
• Peru
• Venezuela