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Cablegate: Costa Rica Requests Immediate Maritime

VZCZCXYZ0001
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #0530/01 1701751
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 181751Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9862
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEABND/DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMIN HQ WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUMIAGH/COMJTF-B SIMS SOTO CANO HO PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SAN JOSE 000530

SIPDIS

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

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/13/2018
TAGS: PREL PINR MASS MCAP PINS SNAR CS
SUBJECT: COSTA RICA REQUESTS IMMEDIATE MARITIME
INTERDICTION ASSISTANCE

REF: A. STATE 03027
B. 07 SAN JOSE 2074
C. SAN JOSE 287

Classified By: ADCM David E. Henifin for reason 1.4 (b).

=======
SUMMARY
=======

1. (C) On June 12, Minister of Public Security Janina Del
Vecchio told us that Costa Rica desperately needs security
assistance, especially to reinvigorate the dilapidated Costa
Rican Coast Guard (SNGC) to help fight narcotrafficking. She
requested that all of the planned Merida Initiative funds for
Costa Rica for FY2008 ($4.3 million) be programmed to
strengthen the SNGC by purchasing boats, engines, and other
maintenance issues. Del Vecchio underscored that Costa Rica
believes that it is not being treated fairly in comparison
with other countries in the region, which are "not as close
allies of the U.S. as Costa Rica." She alluded that the
amount of assistance that Costa Rica would receive from
Merida for the SNGC was insufficient.

2. (C) Del Vecchio was open, candid and strong in her
presentation and requests. She was not griping, but
vigorously describing Costa Rica's top needs. Del Vecchio
told us her three main priorities for the next two years
were: to control Costa Rica's territorial waters and borders
with regards to drug traffickers; coordinate efforts between
the police and local communities to combat crime; and to
change the image of the police in the eyes of the general
public. We realize that re-directing all of Costa Rica's
FY2008 share of Merida funding ($4.3 million) to make the
SNGC operable and more effective is unlikely. However, we
agree with Del Vecchio that the SNGC should receive as much
assistance as possible as soon as possible. We stand ready
to work with Washington colleagues to identify funding
options for the SNGC. END SUMMARY.

=============================
DEL VECCHIO: WE NEED HELP NOW
=============================

3. (C) We planned to take advantage of Minister of Public
Security (MPS) Janina Del Vecchio's visa renewal visit to the
Embassy on June 12 to discuss ongoing/future joint
cooperation programs, such as Costa Rica's imminent
participation in the PANAMAX exercise and the imminent
signing of a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on
Search and Rescue (SAR) operations (Ref A). After a gracious
opening session thanking the Ambassador and DCM for the
continued, essential USG CN/law enforcement for Costa Rica,
however, Del Vecchio quickly turned to her own agenda: frank
and useful commentary on the Merida Initiative, the state of
domestic security in the country, and the deplorable
condition of the assets held by the SNGC.

4. (C) Del Vecchio emphasized that the SNGC needed to be
strengthened in order to accomplish its interdiction mission,
in particular by purchasing new boats and engines. She added
that the SNGC lacked appropriate equipment in all areas in
order to perform its counterdrug duties. She thus requested
that the planned FY2008 Merida Initiative of $4.3 million of
support for Costa Rica be totally dedicated to fixing the
SNGC.

5. (C) We explained that the final amount of Merida support
for the SNGC in FY2008, currently scheduled to be $1.975
million, could differ depending on Congressional actions and
that it was unlikely that there would be any substantive
changes in the amounts to be allocated for the SNGC.
However, we pointed out that FY2009 was not that far off and
the planned amount of $3.8 million of SNGC support in that
fiscal year could bring the total Merida support for the SNGC
to nearly $5.8 million over a two-year period, a significant
amount of assistance.

6. (C) Del Vecchio expressed her concern that Costa Rica's
12-mile territorial waters were not being patrolled
appropriately, allowing drug traffickers to unloading their
cargos easily, which were then picked up by local fishermen
and stored in warehouses throughout the country. She also
was worried that maritime seizures had decreased in the last
few months, showing a change in the patterns and strategies
used by the traffickers. We explained to Del Vecchio, that

in our best judgment, the main reason for the fall in
seizures in Costa Rica's territorial waters was the fact that
the SNGC did not have interceptor vessels, and that the
existing, larger patrol boats could not go faster than 10
knots and did not have operable radars to safely conduct
night operations.

7. (C) The GOCR believed, Del Vecchio underscored, that Costa
Rica was not being treated fairly in comparison with other
countries in the region, which were "not as close allies to
the U.S. as Costa Rica." She argued that Costa Rica should
be receiving as much assistance as other countries. Due to
the fact that Del Vecchio is relatively new on the job, we
reminded her that Costa Rica had been scheduled to receive
more assistance in the past but had been blocked by ASPA
sanctions for the past three years. For example, new engines
had been purchased for Costa Rica's 105-foot flagship patrol
boat, but had to be returned because of the sanctions.

============================
THE SCOURGE OF CRACK COCAINE
============================

8. (SBU) Repeating a theme echoed earlier this year by Vice
President Laura Chinchilla (Ref C), Del Vecchio underlined
that the distribution and use of crack cocaine was her number
one domestic drug concern. She requested USG assistance to
train Costa Rican police to help combat the scourge of crack.
(NOTE: We have discussed this topic with Del Vecchio before
and are exploring several assistance options. END NOTE.)

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

9. (C) Del Vecchio's increased engagement on security issues
since her assumption of duties in mid-April is an encouraging
sign and shows that she is beginning to listen to the
concerns of many of her operational commanders responsible
for counternarcotics. Up to now, she had little substantive
communication with these "front-line" commanders, who had
expressed to us privately that they were unsure what priority
she would place on issues such as counterdrug operations.

10. (C) We realize that re-programming all of the planned
$4.3 million of FY2008 Merida Initiative support for Costa
Rica to help make the SNGC operable and more effective is
unlikely; however, the SNGC should receive as much assistance
as possible as soon as possible to refurbish their fleet and
purchase more interceptor vessels in order to conduct
effective counterdrug interdiction mission. We stand ready
to work with Washington colleagues to identify funding
options for the SNGC.

11. (C) The planned amounts from Merida of $1.975 million for
FY2008 and $3.8 million for FY2009 to fix the SNGC will
do much to address maritime deficiencies. However, without
sustained maintenance support and regular upgrades to the
SNGC fleet, no amount of refurbished or new boats will
address the need to maintain long-term interdiction
capability in the strategic crossroads of the drug smuggling
routes that Costa Rica occupies. Assigning Embassy San Jose
a full-time maintenance liaison officer, similar to the
officer assigned here during the USG-funded major expansion
of the SNGC in 2000-2003, would be highly beneficial (as
noted in our 2010 MSP). The SNGC is in dire need of strong
mid-level managers and leaders who can properly care and take
ownership of their equipment. Increased funding to improve
the SNGC's leadership and professionalization training would
help ensure, and insure, the effectiveness of our
counternarcotics investment in Costa Rica.
CIANCHETTE

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