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Cablegate: Costa Rica: New Minister of Public Security Del

VZCZCXYZ0025
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #0287/01 1082237
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 172237Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9603
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 4230
RUEABND/DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMIN HQ WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RHMFIUU/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL

UNCLAS SAN JOSE 000287

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR WHA/CEN, WHA/PPC, INR AND INL/LP

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PINR SNAR CS
SUBJECT: COSTA RICA: NEW MINISTER OF PUBLIC SECURITY DEL
VECCHIO

REF: SAN JOSE 263

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. President Arias has appointed National
Liberation Party legislator Janina Del Vecchio as the new
Minister of Public Security. She took office on April 15,
replacing Fernando Berrocal, who was dismissed on March 30
after making controversial remarks about possible FARC
connections in Costa Rica. Although criticized for having no
previous law enforcement experience, Del Vecchio possesses
strong leadership credentials from her skillful handling of
CAFTA legislation in the National Assembly and has the full
backing of Arias, who had wanted to put a woman in the
position. In her first public appearance (as
Minister-designate), Del Vecchio told police graduates on
April 10 that Costa Rica needed to be "tough on crime." She
has softened that message in subsequent interviews, however,
suggesting that the perception of the domestic security
problem in Costa Rica is greater than reality. (We and
leading GOCR law enforcement professionals disagree.) Charge
and Emboffs will meet with Del Vecchio on April 23 to outline
our law enforcement cooperation programs and to encourage the
same close relationship we had developed with Berrocal. See
bio info (para 13). END SUMMARY.

=================
MEET THE NEW BOSS
=================

2. (U) On April 3, four days after Minister of Public
Security Fernando Berrocal resigned over the controversy
surrounding his allegations of FARC ties to the Costa Rican
political sector (reftel), President Arias named National
Liberation Party (PLN) legislator Janina Del Vecchio as the
new Minister of Public Security. Del Vecchio took charge of
the Ministry on April 15.

3. (SBU) President Arias told us on April 1, during DAS
Madison's recent visit to Costa Rica (septel), that he
preferred to name a woman as the next Minister of Public
Security. He had offered the job to Del Vecchio on March 31,
the day after Berrocal resigned, but she did not accept until
late on April 2. Del Vecchio made the president's short list
primarily because of her determined and skillful handling of
CAFTA legislation as Chair of the legislature's International
Relations Committee and her loyalty and responsiveness to
Arias. (Del Vecchio's committee sent the CAFTA ratification
legislation to the Plenary for action in December 2006, the
only completed legislative action on CAFTA until after it was
ratified by referendum in October 2007.)

======================================
LACK OF SECURITY EXPERIENCE QUESTIONED
======================================

4. (U) Del Vecchio's lack of experience in security affairs
has been highlighted by local media and "talking heads." For
instance, a local TV station interviewed a mother whose son
was recently murdered on the streets of San Jose. The mother
questioned Del Vecchio's lack of law enforcement credentials
and asked how a former school teacher could possibly be
qualified to deal with violent crime.

5. (U) However, Del Vecchio would not be the first Minister
to come into the job with little to no law enforcement
experience. Berrocal himself had no previous experience, nor
did current Vice President Laura Chinchilla when she was
Minister of Public Security in the late 1990s. President
Arias underlined her strengths in leadership, honesty,
enthusiasm for her job, character, and loyalty to serve her
country. With Del Vecchio's accession into Arias' Cabinet,
there are now six women and 12 men in cabinet-level positions.

====================
TOUGH TALK, AT FIRST
====================

6. (U) In an interview with leading daily La Nacion on April
7, Del Vecchio acknowledged the difficulties that Costa Rica
faced with the deteriorating domestic security situation and
said she understood that improving security was now the
number one issue with citizens. Highlighting the addition of
nearly 1200 new police officers to the force in the coming
weeks and days, Del Vecchio said she would continue with
Berrocal's plan to put more officers on the street. She said
the idea for successful policing was not only for cops to

walk the beat, but to talk to citizens and hear their needs
and concerns. She added that laws must be strengthened and
she would work with the Assembly to accomplish that. As
Ambassador to Switzerland, Del Vecchio said she had observed
the positive impact of strong criminal laws and respect for
the law; this could be a model for Costa Rica.

7. (U) On April 10, during a graduation ceremony of new Costa
Rican police officers, Del Vecchio (as minister-designate)
gave a strong anti-crime speech, emphasizing the fight
against narcotrafficking, TIP, sexual
exploitation of women and children, and organized crime. She
said she would support putting more resources into
fighting the root causes of crime. Above all, she stressed,
hung the challenge of addressing the public's fear of
domestic insecurity in Costa Rica.

8. (U) In a brief televised address to the nation later the
same day, President Arias highlighted how seriously he took
the security situation and threw his full support behind Del
Vecchio. He emphasized that she was capable of making tough
decisions, and had unquestionable integrity. Arias asked the
people to trust his decisions and to "trust in our women"
(alluding to other high-profile women in his cabinet, such as
VP, Minister of Justice and presidential hopeful Chinchilla).
He said that Del Vecchio had "talent, but above all
bravery."

9. (U) In interviews since taking office, however, Del
Vecchio has questioned whether the domestic security problem
is as bad as the public believes, and asserted that the
perception is worse than the reality. She has also implied
that there is little or no nexus between drug trafficking
through Costa Rican territory and rising domestic crime.
"The nation needs action and concrete decisions" she told the
media at a press conference on April 15, but "we have no
reason to be alarmed." The media (and some key law
enforcement personnel, such as Judicial Police Director Jorge
Rojas) were quick to point out that deteriorating crime
statistics, and not perception, fueled the public's concerns.

======================
NEW MINISTER, NEW TEAM
======================

10. (SBU) Del Vecchio's arrival has seen a number of seasoned
security personnel depart, with all the changes not yet
completed. Of the three vice ministers, Rafael Gutierrez
(police issues) rendered his resignation, effective May 1.
VM Gerardo Lascarez (counternarcotics issues and law
enforcement liaison) has agreed to stay on until December,
but might leave sooner. VM Ana Duran (government and
immigration) will remain. Vice Minister of the Presidency
for Security Issues, Jose Torres, will likely wear two hats,
filling in for Gutierrez in the short term while remaining in
his current position in his current ministry. Erick Lacayo
(a long-time and excellent Embassy contact) will be the new
head of the uniformed police. The current heads of the coast
guard and air unit are expected to remain (which is also good
news from our perspective).

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

11. (SBU) One of Del Vecchio's first challenges will be the
continuing saga of possible FARC ties to Costa Rica. The
resolution (or lack thereof) of this issue, which cost
Berrocal his job, could set the tone for her stewardship of
the Ministry. However, the "bread and butter" issues on
which the Costa Rican people will judge her will be the
increase or decrease of violent crime, including carjackings,
home invasions, murders and assaults.

12. (SBU) Although Del Vecchio has no previous law
enforcement or security experience, her April 10 speech
indicated that she would be "tough on crime" and not afraid
to address the ills that undermine Costa Rica's image as a
land of paradise. We hope so. Her later comments suggest
she has much to learn about the true (and worsening) security
situation here. As our Consul General puts it, "Costa Rica
may not be dangerous when compared to the rest of the region
but it is no longer safe." We anticipate that our current
level of excellent cooperation with Costa Rican law
enforcement entities will continue with Del Vecchio as

minister. We will meet with her on April 23 to engage on
important bilateral security topics, including the
long-pending CNIES agreement, the Merida Initiative, and the
activities of the FARC in Costa Rica.

========================
BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION
========================

13. (SBU) Janina Del Vecchio Ugalde was born April 4, 1946 in
San Jose, Costa Rica. Before becoming Minister, she was
a deputy (legislator) for Arias' National Liberation Party
(PLN). Her previous jobs include: Assistant Dean for
Academic Affairs at the University of Costa Rica (UCR); Chief
of Cabinet for the first Arias Administration (1986-90),
Ambassador to Spain, the Vatican, Malta, and Switzerland; and
Chairperson of the Geneva Chapter of the G-77. Del Vecchio
is a Professor of Mathematics with post-graduate degrees in
Education and Educational Management from UCR. During her
tenure as a legislator, she was the President of the National
Assembly's International Affairs Committee (equivalent to the
U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign
Relations Committee). Del Vecchio is married to Jose Manuel
Bouzon Cea (54 years old), a Spaniard, and has one son, Juan
Carlos Hidalgo del Vecchio (43 years old), from her first
marriage.
BRENNAN

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