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Cablegate: Costa Rica's Close Relations with Colombia

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RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #0812/01 2671802
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 241802Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1236
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 4546
RUEABND/DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMIN HQ WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL

UNCLAS SAN JOSE 000812

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR WHA/CEN

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM PREL PINR ASEC PTER SNAR PREF CO CS
SUBJECT: COSTA RICA'S CLOSE RELATIONS WITH COLOMBIA

REF: A. 08 SANJOSE 263
B. 07 SANJOSE 069
C. SANJOSE 478
D. SANJOSE 532

1. (SBU) Summary: Costa Rica has an expanding political and
economic relationship with Colombia, which it currently sees
as its second closest partner in Latin America, behind
Panama. Politically, Presidents Arias and Uribe share a warm
relationship, and the two countries coordinate closely on law
enforcement issues. Economically, bilateral trade has
increased nearly 350 percent over the past ten years, though
the trade gap is clearly in Colombia's favor. However
average Costa Ricans often express dislike of Colombians,
primarily due to an increase in crime and drug use (both seen
to be related to Colombian narco-trafficking) in recent
years. And while Uribe and Arias have discussed the need for
a "united front" between themselves and Panama against Hugo
Chavez and his followers, for now the GOCR is hesitant to
formalize a more-robust partnership with Colombia. Yet as
Costa Rica seeks friends with compatible points of view,
continued close ties between the two countries can be
expected. End Summary.

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A POLITICAL PARTNERSHIP
-----------------------

2. (SBU) Costa Rican-Colombian bilateral relations have
traditionally been strong, and close ties between the two
countries have persisted through various Costa Rican
administrations, largely due to common interests. While the
GOCR and the GOC do not agree on all points, both governments
have positioned themselves in opposition to the rise of
populists/Chavistas in Central and South America. Colombian
Ambassador to Costa Rica Luis Fernandez recently told us that
Arias and Uribe, while attending El Salvadoran President
Mauricio Funes' June 1 inauguration, spoke of the "need for a
united front among Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia against
the socialists." Another source, who was present at
Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli's swearing in
ceremony, said that Martinelli told Arias and Uribe of the
need for a "C-P-C block against the Chavistas" at the
inauguration.

3. (SBU) On the other hand, the GOCR has some concerns over
the possibility of an even closer relationship with Colombia.
Alejandro Solano, Director of Foreign Policy for Costa
Rica's MFA, told us that they will sign an agreement with
Panama in October which will, among other things, permit
border crossings between the two countries with only a
national identification card (instead of a passport).
However, due to concerns about Colombia's security situation
and the possibility for transit of narcotraffickers, the GOCR
was not prepared to formalize a similar relationship with
Colombia at this time. Solano said that after concluding
their wider agreement with Panama, they will begin to look at
areas where Costa Rica and Colombia could formalize tighter
relations in specific sectors, excluding border security and
immigration issues.

--------------------------------
SECURITY AND DISASTER ASSISTANCE
--------------------------------

4. (U) Costa Rica's deteriorating domestic security situation
is clearly linked with the relatively recent rise in
narco-trafficking related crime. FARC or narco-related
Colombians have often sought refuge in Costa Rica, which has
generally had a soft-on-crime reputation in practice and
deed. Recently, the GOCR has sought to bolster its law
enforcement capabilities, including strengthening its law
enforcement relationship with Colombia.

5. (SBU) Costa Rica has worked with the Colombian government
to find, prosecute or deport criminals wanted by the
Colombian government (Ref B). One particularly high-profile
case came in March 2008, when Costa Rican authorities, using
Colombian information obtained during a GOC raid on FARC
commander Raul Reyes' camp, confiscated $480,000 in FARC
funds at the home of a retired Costa Rican university
professor (Ref A). The GOC has trained Costa Rican police in
courses in Colombia, as well as brought Colombian trainers to
Costa Rica to conduct in-country police training. (Note:
Post has also sent Costa Rican SWAT-like police officers to
the USG-sponsored Jungla commando course in Colombia. End
note.)

6. (SBU) Additionally, Colombia assisted Costa Rica with
disaster assistance following the January 2009 earthquake,
when the GOC sent a helicopter team (flying a UH-60 Blackhawk
with a US military-trained crew) to Costa Rica to assist with
rescue operations. As a result of an Arias request to Uribe,
in May of 2009 the GOC also brought in a team of seven
high-level Colombian disaster relief experts to consult with
their Costa Rican counterparts on disaster preparedness.

-------------------------------------
ECONOMIC LINKS, BUT NO FTA ON HORIZON
-------------------------------------

7. (U) Costa Rica and Colombia have a robust economic
relationship, which has shown enormous growth over the past
ten years as trade between the two countries has increased by
nearly 350 percent. Trade products include fuel (bunker to
Colombia; petroleum to Costa Rica), textiles, medical
supplies, and insecticides. However, there exists a wide
trade deficit between the two partners, as Costa Rica's
imports ($471 million in 2008) dwarf its exports ($68 million
in 2008) to Colombia.

8. (SBU) To address this trade imbalance, the GOCR is
currently conducting an analysis of its trade relationship
with Colombia to identify potential markets for Costa Rican
businesses. While there has long been discussion of a
potential free trade agreement (FTA) between the two
countries, Costa Rican MFA Chief of Staff Elaine White
recently told us that the idea was currently a non-starter.
She said that while the Colombian business community was
strongly in favor of an FTA, the Costa Rican private sector
was dead-set against an agreement because of significant
overlaps in the two countries' major products.

--------
REFUGEES
--------

9. (SBU) Between 1998 and 2000 the GOCR granted over 10,000
Colombians refugee status with little scrutiny. The UNHCR
and International Organization on Migration were seldom
involved in this process, except for rare cases when
Colombian refugees in Costa Rica requested resettlement in a
third country. While this flood has lessened and Costa Rican
procedures have improved, Colombians still top the list of
those granted refugee status each year. Refugees currently
account for approximately one-third of all Colombians (est.
30,000) in Costa Rica.

-------------------------
TICOS WARY OF COLOMBIANOS
-------------------------

10. (SBU) While political/economic links might be strong,
average Costa Ricans often blame Colombians for the
relatively recent rise in crime and drug use in the country.
In a recent public opinion poll on attitudes towards minority
groups, 34 percent of those polled named Colombians as the
group they most "distrusted", almost double the next highest
group (Nicaraguans) and well ahead of all other groups (such
as "other foreigners", Muslims or homosexuals). Colombian
Ambassador Fernandez says he believes there is significant
discrimination against Colombians due to some "bad elements"
that have come to Costa Rica and received major media
attention. Additionally, Fernandez believes there is some
jealousy towards Colombians, who are generally very
enterprising and have had good success in business ventures
in Costa Rica.

-----------------------------
COMMENT: A STRONG PARTNERSHIP
-----------------------------

11. (SBU) Though Costa Rica has traditionally had a strong
relationship with Colombia, this partnership has become more
important with the disappearance of other allies in the
hemisphere. Beyond Panama, Costa Rica sees Colombia as its
strongest political and economic partner in the region. And
while Costa Rica might not be ready to formalize a
comprehensive relationship with Colombia just yet, we expect
the political partnership between the two countries to
continue to deepen in the coming years.
BRENNAN

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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