BRIEF

US Aid Package Aims at Growing Criminal Threat in Costa Rica

COSTA RICA / 25 AUG 2016 BY JAMES BARGENT AND SOFIA LIEMANN EN

The United States’ announcement of a $30 million aid package to help Costa Rica confront organized crime represents a timely intervention for a country that is becoming increasingly important in the regional drug trade.

After a meeting between US President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís, the two countries announced a bilateral agreement that will see the United States donate two C-145 cargo planes, three vessels for maritime surveillance, armored vehicles and a coast guard station to aid in counter-narcotics efforts in the Central American nation.

The deal will include biometric equipment to track undocumented migrants and provide funding for scholarships for 2,000 at-risk youths.

In an opinion column for Univision, Vice President Biden said cooperation between the countries was aimed at “working to eradicate the transnational criminal networks that drive drug smuggling, human trafficking and financial crime” while also “pursuing long-term solutions to address the underlying drivers of migration.”

InSight Crime Analysis

In one sense, the aid package for Costa Rica appears to be an extension of the recent US focus on Central America, such as the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), which Costa Rica is not part of. However, it also comes at a time when there is a growing international awareness of Costa Rica’s role in the drug trade and transnational organized crime.

Costa Rica’s importance in the drug trade has grown significantly in recent years, with the country emerging as a key transshipment and storage point for drugs, and international criminal networks establishing a presence in the country. Various sources from international intelligence and security agencies have also indicated to InSight Crime that the country is emerging as a money laundering hub, as criminal networks seek to capitalize on favorable financial and social conditions.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Costa Rica

Another possible reason for US intervention in the country is to act as a bulwark against Nicaragua in a throwback to the Cold War era. Costa Rica’s concern over Nicaragua’s recent military buildup was also discussed in the meeting between the US and Costa Rican heads of state, with President Solís declaring Nicaragua’s “remilitarization” to be a “veiled threat” to Costa Rica. That claim may well fall on sympathetic ears in the United States, which is a long time antagonist of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

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