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Costa Rica - US Relations

The United States and Costa Rica have a history of close and friendly relations based on respect for democratic government, human freedoms, free trade, and other shared values. The country generally supports the U.S. in international fora, especially in the areas of democracy and human rights.

The United States is Costa Rica's most important trading partner. The U.S. accounts for almost half of Costa Rica's exports, imports, and tourism, and more than two-thirds of its foreign investment. The two countries share growing concern about the environment and want to preserve Costa Rica's important tropical resources and prevent environmental degradation. In October 2010, the U.S. and Costa Rican Governments, the Central Bank of Costa Rica, and The Nature Conservancy concluded agreements that will provide more than $27 million over 15 years for tropical forest conservation in Costa Rica, one of the most biologically diverse countries on earth. The agreements were made possible by the Tropical Forest Conservation Act of 1998 (TFCA). Together with a previous TFCA program established in 2007, these agreements make Costa Rica the largest beneficiary under the TFCA, with more than $50 million generated for the conservation, restoration, and protection of tropical forests.

The United States responded to Costa Rica's economic needs in the 1980s with significant economic and development assistance programs. Through provision of more than $1.1 billion in assistance, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) supported Costa Rican efforts to stabilize its economy and broaden and accelerate economic growth through policy reforms and trade liberalization. Assistance initiatives in the 1990s concentrated on democratic policies, modernizing the administration of justice, and sustainable development. Once the country had graduated from most forms of U.S. assistance, the USAID Mission in Costa Rica closed in 1996. However, USAID completed a $9 million project in 2000-2001 to support refugees of Hurricane Mitch residing in Costa Rica. Additionally, Costa Rica benefits from regional USAID development programs.

For decades, Peace Corps volunteers have provided technical assistance in the areas of environmental education, natural resources, management, small business development, microfinance, basic business education, urban youth, community education, and English as a foreign language.

Over 130,000 private American citizens, including many retirees, reside in the country and more than 700,000 American citizens visit Costa Rica annually. A few vexing expropriation and U.S. citizen investment disputes have hurt Costa Rica's investment climate and have occasionally produced bilateral friction.

The U.S. security assistance effort in Costa Rica was initiated in 1982 when the then administration of President Monge became concerned about the Marxist threat that the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua posed on Costa Ricas northern border. At that time the Costa Rica Public Security Force was ill-equipped and ill-trained, having been without an assistance program for over ten years and faced with a ?nancial inability to purchase any equipment to improve the situation as the country had been suffering a serious economic crisis.

Costa Rica thus had only a minimal self defense apparatus despite the fact that it was confronted by a variety of security challenges: a hostile neighbor on the north where several border clashes had occurred; Contra rebel camps inside her territory; an increasing number of refugees from both Nicaragua and El Salvador; terrorist incidents at home; and a skyrocketing crime rate. The ability to deploy the Public Security Force was virtually nonexistent; there was no quick reaction force, personnel were generally unfamiliar with jungle and counter terrorists operations, and many of the personnel (who also had police functions) were armed only with nightsticks.

In view of this host of potentially severe problems, Costa Rica asked for and received from the US government a push package composed of a large number of quickly available assets for transportation, communication, and air functions. These items, provided on a grant basis, were all non-standard and non-military in appearance. Standard military equipment, such as small arms, mortars, and munitions, plus some clothing and personal equipment, PRC 77 radios, and Coast Guard vessels, was also provided on a grant-funded basis. Additionally, in accordance with the total package approach (TPA), concurrent spare parts (CSP) were provided with every equipment case.

Over the next ?ve years, Costa Rica received some 35 million dollars worth of equipment and training through U.S. security assistance channels. By early 1987, the bulk of the push package and initial repair parts (much of which had been identi?ed and supplied in one or two year stockages for the non-standard items) had been delivered to Costa Rica, and the stage was set for conversion to a pull system whereby the Costa Ricans themselves would have to identify, requisition, receive, and issue repair parts.

The problem was that although a few logistics type W 75 mobile training teams (MTTs) had provided some training to Costa Rican support personnel, the Costa Rican support infrastructure was still basically geared to maintaining a limited level of equipment and was not trained and/or structured to be able to administer a pull system. To make matters worse, Costa Rica never seemed to formulate any plans or ask any questions concemtng long-term sustainment for their newly donated equipment. In short, in the mad scramble to bring in individual equipment, munitions, small arms, airplanes, helicopters, boats, jeeps, trucks, etc., Costa Rica had not prepared for sustainment under a pull system and needed to be prepared to do so before the U.S. investment would be lost.

The US Of?ce of Defense Cooperation (ODC) in Costa Rica was confronted with the challenge of maintaining tight control of limited and costly assets, while still providing full involvement, complete support, and professional assistance to the Costa Rican government. In response to this challenge, the ODC developed an ambitious plan comprised of long range multiple improvement programs in the areas of logistics, training, and staf?ng. Initially, a number of logistics, training, and staff MTIs, each of three months duration, were deployed to Costa Rica to help map out lines of command and staff, and lines of communications as a means of establishing the groundwork for follow-on U.S. Extended Technical Services Specialist (ETSS) personnel.

The ODC felt that the three key objective areas of logistics, training, and staf?ng would have to be addressed simultaneously in order to succeed in the campaign to improve and professionalize the 8,000 man Costa Rican Ministry of Public Security (MPS). These three areas are so interrelated that sufficient momentum could not be gained through dealing with only one area at a time; the resistance generated by areas which would not undergo improvement would undermine the other activities.

The US-Costa Rica Maritime Cooperation Agreement, the first of its kind in Central America, entered into force in late 1999. The agreement, which facilitates cooperation between the Coast Guard of Costa Rica and the US Coast Guard, has resulted in a growing number of narcotics seizures, illegal migrant rescues, illegal fishing seizures, and search-and-rescue missions. Bilateral Costa Rican law enforcement cooperation, particularly against narco-trafficking, has been exemplary. Ship boardings could only be conducted by authorized law enforcement personnel (USCG) aboard the USN assets, and that no member of the Department of Defense (usually Navy) could participate in boarding operations (except in a supporting role operating the small craft used for boarding), detain suspects or seize of drugs.

Any visit by an "armed" vessel must be approved in advance by the Costa Rican legislature. In 2008 the legislature debated the list of USCG and USN vessels that may visit Costa Rica or operate in Costa Rican waters on law enforcement operations in the next six months. In the past, heated debate about U.S. Navy "warships" visiting "peaceful Costa Rica" has sometimes delayed approval and canceled some joint operations (although the USCG visit list usually has been approved quickly).

The U.S.-Costa Rica bilateral maritime agreement permits "Shipriders" (Costa Rican law enforcement authorities) to be aboard U.S. ships to help conduct operations against drug trafficking suspects in Costa Rican national waters or international waters. The agreement also permits US authorities to be aboard Costa Rican vessels to advise how to approach and pursue vessels suspected of drug trafficking. When necessary, the agreement permits U.S. vessels to pursue and detain suspects while waiting for the Costa Rican authorities to arrive on the scene. The GOCR retains the sole legal authority to take suspects into custody and seize properties in its territorial waters.

In July 2016, Costa Rica announced that it would offer temporary refuge to people fleeing from the violence-plagued Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala a decision spurred by US efforts to stem illegal entries along its southern border with Mexico. As part of the program, the US Department of Homeland Security would pre-screen people seeking protection and transfer them to Costa Rica for processing before resettlement in the US or another country. THe US also agreed to expand the Central American Minors program, which allows parents living legally in the US to request refugee status for their children who are still living in one of the three designated Central American countries.

President Barack Obama met with his Costa Rican counter-part, President Luis Guillermo Sols, at the White House 23 August 2016 to finalize a deal that will send millions in military aid to the Central American country. Solis called the aid from the U.S. government the biggest assistance granted in the last 30 years" and lauded it as a sign of goodwill between the two countries.

In a bid to help curb organized crime and human trafficking, Obama, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, agreed to provide around $30 million in military supplies to Costa Rica, which includes two cargo planes, two large patrol boats and two smaller interceptor boats, air surveillance equipment and biometric software to help identify illegal immigrants in the field. The agreement also provides supplies for law enforcement, including three armored vehicles, the construction of virtual shooting ranges and communication equipment for the guards at Corcovado National Park. In addition to the equipment, the U.S. will provide Costa Rica with extensive Coast Guard training and maintenance packages for the boats.

The assistance is part of what Biden referred to as a two-track approach aimed at dealing with illegal immigration into the US The first track being expedited processing for immigrants in immediate danger, and the second being long-term solutions to combat the root causes of illegal immigration. Together, weve developed a comprehensive plan that is rooted in our commitment to improving securitythe indispensable foundation for all other progress, Biden wrote. And were going to keep working to eradicate the transnational criminal networks that drive drug smuggling, human trafficking and financial crime.

President Obama attended a meeting August 22, 2016 between the Vice President and President Luis Guillermo Solis of Costa Rica at the White House to discuss the overall situation in Central America and new steps to improve security and governance and protect vulnerable migrants. The President and Vice President commended Costa Rica for its leadership in establishing a protective transfer arrangement in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration to provide temporary safe haven for up to two hundred migrants at a time from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

The President and the Vice President underscored the United States commitment to strong bilateral ties with Costa Rica and robust cooperation and regional leadership in areas including combating global climate change, protecting the environment, promoting lawful and orderly migration, counternarcotics, and citizen security. The leaders agreed that a well-governed, prosperous, and stable Central America would contribute immeasurably to the future of the Western Hemisphere.

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