|06SANJOSE2060||2006-09-14 23:06:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy San Jose|
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SAN JOSE 002060
1. (C) The GOCR has not decided to downgrade its
participation in the upcoming Defense Ministerial of the
Americas (DMA), according to Security Minister Fernando
Berrocal; the minister told the Ambassador on September 8
that he saw no reason not to attend at least part of the DMA.
On other issues, Berrocal was fairly upbeat about resources
for his ministry, anticipating a 35 percent increase in his
ministerial budget for next year, and some 1600 additional
police on the street over the next nine months. We view the
minister,s public complaints regarding diminished U.S.
assistance as mostly political grandstanding; we have
detected no weakening in the GOCR,s counter-narcotics
efforts at the operational level.
2. (SBU) On September 8, Ambassador and Political Counselor
called on Public Security Minister Fernando Berrocal to
discuss the October 1-5 Defense Ministerial of the Americas
(DMA) and other security-related issues. When asked if the
GOCR planned to downgrade its DMA status from full member to
observer (Ref A), Berrocal at first maintained that Costa
Rica had "always" been a DMA observer. He also asked if his
predecessor had attended the 2005 DMA. The Ambassador
pointed out that the GOCR had participated as a full member
in every DMA since 1995. Trying to be helpful, Berrocal
phoned his predecessor, Rogelio Ramos, during the meeting.
Ramos confirmed that he attended the Key Biscayne Defense
Ministerial in 2005, in which Costa Rica participated fully,
focusing mostly on disaster relief and coordination.
However, Ramos told Berrocal that the GOCR delegation had
declined to take part in a Central American working group,
because the GOCR had no military.
3. (SBU) Hanging up with Ramos, Berrocal told the Ambassador
he saw no reason not to attend at least part of the DMA,
schedule permitting. Berrocal explained that he had plans to
travel to Geneva and New York (for his daughter,s wedding)
starting on October 4 or 5. Berrocal asked that we provide
DMA schedule details for his review upon return from his
visit to Colombia the week of September 11. (NOTE: We
passed the current DMA schedule to his office on September
11. His visit to Colombia is to coordinate on immigration
and security issues.)
4. (SBU) The Ambassador stressed the importance of full DMA
membership for Costa Rica for two reasons. First, resources
provided by SOUTHCOM can help confront the security
challenges facing the region, even if these challenges
(crime, drug trafficking, etc.) were not strictly military in
nature. Second, Costa Rica remains an important voice in
DMA, and can serve as a model for others, as the only
regional government that had successfully advanced democracy
and faced security challenges without a military. Berrocal
OPTIMISM ON SECURITY FUNDING . . .
5. (SBU) Berrocal seemed fairly upbeat about resources for
his ministry, confirming media reports that Taiwan has
provided USD 2 million for the GOCR to spend on security
needs. Berrocal listed patrol cars, motorcycles and
ballistic vests among the priority items on his wish list.
He also expects significantly more resources in next year,s
budget, which is under discussion now with Hacienda.
Berrocal predicted a 35 percent increase in funding for his
ministry, the largest increase for any cabinet agency. Given
this increase, the Taiwanese aid and his plans to move more
administrative and staff police personnel to "the
streets," he hoped to have as many as 1600 more Fuerza
Publica personnel (basic street cops) available for patrol
duty within the next nine months. Berrocal reprised his
complaint that the police force and his ministry were in far
worse condition than he expected when he took office, thus
requiring more time to get in shape.
6. (SBU) NOTE: A separate meeting with Poloff on September
12 echoed Berrocal,s optimism on funding. Martin Arias (no
relation to the President), who directs the Ministry of
Public Security,s special units (K-9, riot police, EOD (Bomb
Squad), and the Special Action Unit) reported that Berrocal
is about to close a USD 5 million loan package from the BCIE
(the regional Central American Bank for Economic Integration)
that will be used to construct an entirely new (and sorely
needed) police academy. Arias expressed hope that the new
academy would be up and running within a year. END NOTE.
. . . EXCEPT FROM THE USG
7. (U) Berrocal,s muted optimism with the Ambassador
contrasted with his earlier stance in public. In a 9/4
interview with the daily business journal La Republica, he
dismissed U.S. financial assistance as "totally inadequate"
and "not worth losing sleep over," adding that the Taiwanese
and French governments provide more. Berrocal said the
substantial drop in USG counter-narcotics assistance meant
international narcotics trafficking would not be a top
priority for his ministry and he would therefore focus
instead on getting more police on the streets. He told
journalists that at any given moment, Costa Rica has only
about 2,600 police officers (Fuerza Publica) on duty to
protect a population of over four million. Berrocal also
expressed frustration with the judicial system which he said
too easily releases criminals after the police arrest them.
Berrocal said he was treating the situation as a national
emergency, but would not declare an emergency for fear of
scaring away foreign investment. He made similar comments
(without mentioning the United States) in television
interviews the week of 9/4.
8. (C) Based on this conversation, it appears that the GOCR
has not decided to downgrade its DMA participation (at least
as far as Berrocal is aware). However, "seeing no reason not
to participate" is no guarantee Berrocal will attend. At
this point, one of his vice ministers (Rafael Gutierrez) is a
likely participant; another vice minister (Ana Duran), is
tied up with immigration issues, and is only a "probable."
The GOCR,s workshop reluctance in 2005, as described by
Ramos, shows the continued Tico allergy to anything smacking
of regional defense cooperation. Berrocal, for example, sees
himself as a minister of homeland security, not of "defense."
Our challenge remains in focusing the GOCR on the substance
of the security needs here, without worrying about labels
like "defense." The NDU workshop helped, but when they think
of security issues, it is hard for Costa Ricans not to focus
on (and complain about) the shrinking USG assistance
pipeline, especially those like Berrocal who well-remember
the golden days of the 1980s. He seems intent on finding
other sources, however. This may be good for Costa Rica in
the short term, but gives the USG less influence over time.
As to his dismissive 9/4 remarks on counter-narcotics
cooperation, we view these as political rhetoric. We have
seen no indication of weaker cooperation at the operational
level, but we are watching and listening more closely,
following Berrocal's public complaint.