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Cablegate: Re-Building Bridges in Costa Rica: A Three-Way

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #0071/01 0301510
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 301510Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHSJ/AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9392
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RUMIAGH/COMJTF-B SIMS SOTO CANO HO
RHMFIUU/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL

UNCLAS SAN JOSE 000071

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR WHA/CEN, WHA/PPC, WHA/EPSC, PM AND EEB,
SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR FPA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: CS EAID MASS PGOV PREL
SUBJECT: RE-BUILDING BRIDGES IN COSTA RICA: A THREE-WAY
PARTNERSHIP

REF: A. SAN JOSE 003

B. SAN JOSE 1891 (NOTAL)

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: In an unusual three-way partnership, the
GOCR, the Costa Rican private sector and the U.S. military
have embarked on a campaign to replace key bridges damaged or
washed out by flooding in the heavy 2007 rainy season. Most
of the work will be undertaken by the National Emergency
Commission (CNE) and a new business group called "Businessmen
for Solidarity" (Empresarios Solidarios), which will combine
forces to replace as many as 30 short-span and culvert
bridges. The U.S. role, begun by a SOUTHCOM technical survey
in December, will be to help the GOCR erect as many as six
Bailey-type bridges. President Arias requested USG assistance
for the initiative. Following the successful medical
exercise last month (Ref A), this is another example of a new
Costa Rican willingness to welcome U.S. military humanitarian
assistance. END SUMMARY.

==================
A BAD RAINY SEASON
==================

2. (U) The 2007 rainy season (May-December) was particularly
heavy in Costa Rica, prompting the GOCR to declare a national
disaster in October. Communities in all seven provinces were
affected by flooding, which isolated communities, damaged
homes and infrastructure, and displaced thousands (Ref B). In
light of the disaster, the Embassy made available $50,000 in
OFDA disaster assistance for emergency supplies and fuel. In
mid-November, the CNE reported that some 18,000 people had
been affected overall, with 18 killed and nearly 2,900 left
homeless. The CNE initially estimated that 124 major
stretches of road and 29 bridges had been washed away or
severely damaged. Total damages at that time were estimated
at 35 billion colones ($70 million). As revised information
became available, the CNE later raised the tally to 135-160
bridges and culverts washed out or damaged nationwide.
Infrastructure damage was so extensive, in fact, that one of
the first tangible results of Costa Rica,s newly-established
diplomatic relations with China was $20 million in disaster
relief funding from Beijing, delivered in mid-December, which
will go towards housing reconstruction (septel).

==============================
THE PRIVATE SECTOR MOVES FIRST
==============================

3. (SBU) To address the infrastructure reconstruction needs
and to highlight the Costa Rican private sector,s sense of
corporate responsibility, a group of firms joined forces to
help with the post-flooding reconstruction. Calling
themselves Empresarios Solidarios (Businessmen for
Solidarity), the loose consortium was drawn from financial,
engineering, construction, and media firms under the informal
leadership of Grupo Nacion, which owns the nation,s leading
newspaper. The group,s ambitious initial plan, as briefed
to the Ambassador and Emboffs on October 29, was to raise USD
1 million to rebuild eight bridges leading to isolated
communities around the nation. The group deliberately
targeted not only areas in need, but also zones which had
voted against CAFTA during the October 2007 national
referendum. The group also sought to distance itself from
the GOCR, partially because the businessmen believed they
could work faster than the government, and partly because
they wanted to ensure the private sector received due credit.
The preliminary USG role, according to the Empresarios,
would be to help locate, deliver or supply Bailey or ACROW
bridging material.

======================
THE GOCR ASKS FOR HELP
======================

4. (SBU) Through November and December, Emboffs were invited
to join the weekly planning meetings of the Empresarios
group. The ODR Chief and his staff, as well as Pol/C and
Poloffs, participated. Our first objective was GOCR support
for the bridges plan, which would help facilitate any formal
request for assistance. In a letter from President Arias to
the Ambassador on November 5 (copy sent to WHA/CEN and
SOUTHCOM), we received both. Arias,s letter expressed
satisfaction with and gratitude for the Empresarios,
initiative, and asked for any assistance the USG could
provide. Following a late-November call from the Ambassador
to SOUTHCOM (Adm. Stavrides), SOUTHCOM and Post ODR staff

began considering specific ways the USG could help.


=================
REFINING THE PLAN
=================

5. (SBU) Our second objective was to persuade the Empresarios
to coordinate with the CNE to ensure that any private sector
bridge reconstruction meshed with national needs. Despite
the group,s initial reluctance to work with the GOCR, they
quickly realized that CNE expertise and cooperation would be
essential. As the weekly meetings continued (with CNE
involvement), the Empresarios, plan was refined. The group
would target communities in need, financing and building
bridges which had been washed out by the rain (and not
structures the Ministry of Transport planned to improve or
replace at some point.) The group hoped the bridges would be
just the first step in a long-term private sector commitment
to infrastructure improvement.

6. (U) By the end of November, the CNE and the Empresarios
had agreed to work first on a list of 15 priority short-span
(less than 15 meters in length) bridges. All would be
constructed using local materials (concrete) and local labor.
The total cost was projected to be over USD 1 million,
exhausting what the business group had collected to that
point. The group planned to approach additional companies
(including some U.S. multinationals) for additional
contributions. The Empresarios (wisely) postponed their
original plans to spend money on a few, more impressive (but
far more costly) longer-span structures.

=================
SOUTHCOM RESPONDS
=================

7. (SBU) Our third objective was to focus and refine the USG
role. Initially, the Empresarios group had inflated
expectations about what the U.S. could provide, and how
quickly. By early December, we had re-shaped the potential
USG role to a realistic four components: a) survey the
longer-span bridge sites the CNE had already identified, b)
provide technical assistance to the CNE to erect replacement
Bailey- or ACROW-type bridges, c) actually erect a Bailey- or
ACROW-type bridge, using a deployed U.S. military unit, and
d) if necessary in the future, help locate, find the best
price and help arrange transportation for additional Bailey
or ACROW bridging materials, to be funded by the Empresarios
group. At an Embassy-hosted meeting on December 10, the CNE
and Empresarios agreed to this approach.

8. (U) December 17-21, a two-member engineering team from
SOUTHCOM (an Army engineer and a Navy Seabee) joined CNE
engineers and PolOff on a survey of six longer-span bridging
sites which may be candidates for USG technical assistance.
The six sites spanned the length and breadth of Costa Rica,
from the central Pacific to the central Caribbean, and from
the central south to near the Nicaraguan border, covering
parts of Puntarenas, Heredia and Guanacaste provinces and the
canton of Perez Zeledon. The engineers also inspected stored
bridging materials, to ensure that what was assigned to each
site would indeed function there.

9. (U) As a result of the team,s four-day, 800-mile
circuit, the U.S. engineers were able to identify and
recommend alternative sites for two of the
six bridges, as well as additional engineering work to be
performed at all sites, such as new abutments, box culverts
and improved access. The U.S. team also recommended raising
some bridges to
above flood level, to avoid future problems. Finally, one
bridge
was identified as being in need of maintenance and
improvements, but not of complete replacement. The CNE
director and his engineering staff agreed with and welcomed
the recommendations.

==========
NEXT STEPS
==========

10. (U) The Empresarios Group is to resume regular meetings
this month, with an eye to launching its initiative (and the
first one or two short-bridge construction projects) at the
end of January. For the longer-span bridges, the SOUTHCOM
survey team will identify U.S. units (e.g., from Ft. Leonard

Woord, the Army Corps of Engineers, the 416th Engineering
Company or a USN SeaBee unit) that could deploy a small team
to provide subject matter expertise to help the CNE erect new
ACROW- or Bailey-type bridges, using materials the CNE
already has on hand. The CNE must first complete its
planning, which includes preparing the bridging site(s). The
first U.S.-assisted bridge site could be the 32 meter gap
across the Pacuar River, in Perez Zeledon canton (N 09 22,
29.7" x W 084 01, 21.9"), at the end of March, if the GOCR
completes the site preparations in time.

=======
COMMENT
=======

11. (SBU) What began as an effort to highlight corporate
responsibility following the hard-fought CAFTA referendum has
become another opportunity to display USG "soft power" on
Costa Rica. The businessmen deserve credit for launching
this unusual initiative and for obtaining the letter from
President Arias. The CNE deserves kudos for being receptive
to the private sector assistance. Our goal is
capacity-building, not doing everything for the Ticos, and
the GOCR (and the Empresarios) seem to agree. Even if the
ambitious private sector plan slows, the U.S. military has an
important, high-impact (and low-cost) role to play in
providing technical assistance. Our thanks to SOUTHCOM and
the units involved for responding so quickly to this
opportunity.
BRENNAN

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