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Cablegate: Costa Rica Appreciative of Merida Plan, Despite

VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #0868/01 3082302
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 032302Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0240
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUMIAGH/COMJTF-B SIMS SOTO CANO HO PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/DIRJIATF SOUTH PRIORITY
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RUEABND/DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMIN HQ WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SAN JOSE 000868

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR WHA/CEN, WHA/PPC AND INL/LP;
PANAMA ALSO FOR LEGATT

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/30/2018
TAGS: CS PGOV PHUM PINR PREL SNAR
SUBJECT: COSTA RICA APPRECIATIVE OF MERIDA PLAN, DESPITE
PRESIDENT'S COMPLAINTS

REF: A. SAN JOSE 389
B. SAN JOSE 586
C. SAN JOSE 596

Classified By: DCM Peter M. Brennan for reason 1.4(d).

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: In our detailed briefings since October 1,
senior members of the GOCR in all three branches of
government, plus some opposition legislators, have reacted
positively and appreciatively to the Merida Initiative. This
positive private reaction has contrasted sharply to President
Arias' repeated public complaints about the paucity of USG
assistance, including Merida (septel). However, most of our
interlocutors politely suggested that far more assistance is
needed to deal with the deteriorating domestic security
environment here. As in other prospective Merida recipient
countries, they also wanted to know when the assistance would
actually start flowing. Our briefees included, among others,
former Vice-President/Minister of Justice Laura Chinchilla;
Minister of Public Security Janina Del Vecchio; President of
the Supreme Court Luis Paulino Mora; and key members of the
national legislature from the committees most interested in
Merida issues. END SUMMARY.

====================================
MERIDA BRIEFINGS WELL RECEIVED . . .
====================================

2. (U) While waiting for the Merida funding details to be
hammered out in Washington, we used the month of October to
brief all three branches of government. From the executive
branch, we briefed the Ministry of the Presidency, Ministry
of Public Security, Ministry of Justice, the Costa Rican Drug
Institute (ICD, roughly equivalent to the U.S. ONDCP), and
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From the judicial branch,
we briefed the President of the Supreme Court and the
Director of the Judicial Police. From the national
parliament, our audience was four members from the key
counternarcotics and domestic security committees.
3. (SBU) All were grateful for the assistance that Merida
would bring, but emphasized that much more was needed to
truly put domestic security on the right path in Costa Rica.
None complained about the 15 percent reporting requirement
related to human rights issues. We made a point of
assembling an inter-agency team (State, DoD or USCG and DEA)
to conduct these briefings, to underscore Merida's holistic
approach.

4. (SBU) Due to the decentralized manner in which Costa Rica
approaches law enforcement issues, we will have to sign
Letters of Agreement (LOA) with four separate ministries to
implement Merida. The Ministry of Public Security (MPS) will
receive the lion's share of funding, and will sign the
biggest LOA, covering four of the seven specific programs for
Costa Rica from FY 2008-appropriated Merida funds: Regional
Maritime Interdiction, Improved Policing/Police Equipment,
Improved Border Inspection, and OAS Stockpile Management and
Destruction. The other three LOAs will be signed with the
Supreme Court, the Ministry of the Presidency/ICD, and the
Ministry of Justice (see details below).

=======================
BY THE MINISTRIES . . .
=======================

5. (SBU) Minister Del Vecchio appreciated the briefing and
instructed her operational commanders to work with us to
develop the best spending plans possible, particularly with
the police assistance funds. We plan to concentrate that
funding on improving police communications, purchasing
vehicles with off-road capabilities, police
professionalization training, and improvement of the K-9
units. The spending plans for maritime activities are well
known and covered in Refs and the Merida documents.

6. (SBU) The Ministry of the Presidency, via the ICD, will
direct the Center for Drug Crime Intelligence (CDI). VM for
Security Issues Jose Torres told us he had received a
regional-level briefing on the Merida Initiative in Honduras
recently and thanked us for our focus on the bilateral
aspects of the plan. Torres believed the plan was "just what

Costa Rica needed," though he agreed that more assistance was
necessary. ICD will manage the CDI in coordination with the
two other major entities that will be connected to the
Center, the Drug Control Police (PCD) and the Narcotics
Section of the Judicial Police (OIJ).

7. (SBU) Although not directly involved in Merida, we briefed
Alex Solano, Deputy Director for Foreign Policy, and relevant
senior MFA officials. They also welcomed the briefing, in
particular because the other GOCR agencies involved had not
shared Merida details. We stressed to Solano and his team
that President Arias' continued public criticism of Merida
would not work in Costa Rica's favor. Our interlocutors "got
it," and Solano in particular appreciated that Costa Rica
only had limited absorptive capacity to use security
assistance productively.

8. (SBU) We also explained the 15 percent reporting
requirement, which was of particular interest to FM Bruno
Stagno (who had earlier asked the Ambassador for details).
Addressing Stagno's specific concerns, we highlighted that
Mexico did not have lighter requirements than the Central
American countries, and noted that Costa Rica, because of its
well-known record on human rights, should be able to meet the
15 percent requirement easily.

9. (SBU) We briefed then-Minister of Justice (and then-Vice
President) Chinchilla on the Merida initiative because prison
management falls under the MOJ. Speaking of CAFE, Chinchilla
stressed that Costa Rica's fingerprint network needed to be
digitized to interconnect various domestic security services,
including OIJ, Fuerza Publica (the regular cops), and the
penitentiary system. VM Fernando Ferraro explained that the
GOCR did not even have accurate fingerprints (and therefore
accurate identities) of many of the prisoners in the national
penal system. He hoped that CAFE might help address this
problem.

10. (U) NOTE: Chinchilla has since resigned from both jobs as
Minister of Justice and Vice-President to pursue her party's
nomination for President in 2010. We plan to brief the new
Minister of Justice, Viviana Martin, soon. END NOTE.

=====================
BY THE JUDICIARY. . .
=====================

11. (SBU) The Supreme Court, via the Judicial Police (OIJ; a
rough equivalent to the FBI), will be responsible for the
integration of the Central American Fingerprint Exchange
(CAFE) system. Supreme Court President Mora appreciated the
brief and instructed the Director of OIJ, Jorge Rojas, to
take the lead for the GOCR on CAFE. Along with our FBI
regional attache in Panama, we will coordinate with OIJ to
get Costa Rica on board.

============================
AND BY THE LEGISLATURE . . .
============================

12. (SBU) In a wide-ranging briefing on law enforcement and
counternarcotics issues, legislators Federico Tinoco (PLN,
Chairman of the Counternarcotics Committee), Luis Antonio
Barrantes (ML, Chairman of the Domestic Security Committee);
Marvin Rojas (PAC, ex-Chairman of the CN Committee); and
Olivier Perez (PAC, member of the Domestic Security
Committee) appreciated our transparency on Merida. Perez, a
judge by background, agreed that the 15 percent eporting
requirement was a reasonable mechanism o ensure compliance
with human rights protections in the region. Although from
opposing parties, all four legislators agreed that law
enforcement and security issues should generate multi-party
cooperation, instead of partisan bickering.

=======================
BUT, SHOW US THE MONEY!
=======================

13. (SBU) While we anticipated questions on Merida's 15
percent "reporting requirements," all interlocutors were far
more concerned to put the plan into effect as soon as

possible. All entities that would sign LOAs were anxious to
get the process moving and asked us when we could expect to
receive funding. We explained that the process was on-going
and that we expected to receive draft LOAs soon from the
INL-funded programs. Similar letters from DoD, covering the
re-started FMF program in Costa Rica (which will fund
equipment for the coast guard), may take longer to generate
and complete. (NOTE: On October 31 the Costa Rican Chief of
Police, Erick Lacayo, politely asked us again when the Merida
funding would begin. Lacayo, who will be joined by VM
Marcela Chacon and Coast Guard Director Martin Arias, will
travel to El Salvador on November 6-7 for the SICA/Merida
meeting. We expect the Costa Rica delegation to push for
speedy delivery of Merida funding as well as inquire about
future funding amounts for FY2009 and FY2010 from Merida.
END NOTE.)

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

14. (C) We have quietly but firmly pushed back against
President Oscar Arias' continued complaints that Merida is
"stingy". His sentiments have not been strongly endorsed nor
loudly echoed by the ministers and their teams who will make
Merida a reality here. Many acknowledge that the President
is following his own course, and not taking others' council
these days. However, GOCR security officials know they need
help, and for them, more help is always better, and USG help
is preferred. The best way to demonstrate our talking point
that "Merida FY08 is only a down payment," to provide the
tools Costa Rica needs to help itself, and to counter Arias'
complaints, is to start delivering the assistance as promised.
CIANCHETTE

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