On August 17, 2010 Costa Rican President, Laura Chinchilla, urged the United States to initiate an anti-drug aid program solely for Central America in an internview with the Associated Press. While Costa Rica, and the rest of Central America, is included in the $1.8 billion Mérida Initiative, the fight against drug trafficking in Mexico has historically received more fiscal attention from U.S. policymakers.
Although the current implementation of the Mérida Initiative is said to terminate at the end of 2010, the Obama Administration has already requested a FY2011 budget of $450 million for Mexico alone– four times the current budget for Mérida programs in all of Central America, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. The Mérida Initiative was first proposed by the Bush Administration in 2007 after the president’s trip to Latin America. In Guatemala and Mexico President George W. Bush met with Central American leaders to identify the major security threats to the region which unequivocally included gangs, drug trafficking, and illicit trafficking of arms.
The Mérida Initiative’s assessment of the ability of U.S. agencies and Central American counterparts to tackle domestic problems is overseen by the U.S. Congress who recently proposed a new Four Pillar Strategy for the initiative including the following:
1. Disrupting organized criminal groups
2. Institutionalizing the rule of law
3. Building a 21st century border
4. Building strong and resilient communities
While the first two pillars largely build upon efforts of the Bush administration, “pillars three and four broaden the scope of bilateral cooperation to include efforts to facilitate “secure flows” of people and goods through the U.S.-Mexico border and to promote social and economic development in violence-prone communities” according to Clare Ribando Seelke Specialist in Latin American Affairs with the Congressional Research Service. Security cooperation between Central American countries and the U.S. has increased in recent years on account of the Mérida Initiative, yet President Chinchilla has stressed that this cooperation is the “only alternative” Central America has and it should be “civil but not military” in nature. “I’m the first one to guarantee that the fight against drug trafficking in Costa Rica will not be militarized,” Chinchilla added.
Her comment stems from the recent criticism she received in response to the renewed bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Costa Rica ensuring that both countries would jointly patrol the country’s coastline, resulting in U.S. troop installation along Costa Rica’s shores. Costa Rica is known for its lack of military presence as it permanently abolished its army in 1949.
President Chinchilla is also pushing for Costa Rica’s legislature to approve taxes on businesses and casinos that would generate around $200 million per year for use towards anti-drug programs including the hiring of more police officers, constructing jails, and upgrading security measures and equipment.
SIF Executive Director Mauricio Vivero had the opportunity to meet with President Chinchilla last month at the CALI conference in Costa Rica. During this meeting, she emphasized the need for stronger institutions in Central American to fight the war on drugs, the key importance of social programs, strengthening the judicial system, and addressing the issue of impunity. She also explained that Central American countries may become “the final battleground” for Mexico’s war on drug gangs and organized crime.