Costa Rican Supreme Court Temporarily Halts Entry of US Military

[Source – Narco News]
By Jamie Way
Special to the Narco News Bulletin

July 28, 2010

The Costa Rican Supreme Court last week agreed to take a case challenging the constitutionality of a US-Costa Rican agreement that would allow for a massive US military presence. The agreement cannot go into effect until the Supreme Court rules, thus postponing the arrival of US forces.

On July 1, Costa Rica’s unicameral Legislative Assembly, with 31 votes out of 57, approved the US Embassy’s request to open the country to 46 US warships, 7,000 US soldiers, 200 helicopters and two aircraft carriers. This permission was granted through at least Dec. 31 of this year, officially justified by the necessity of fighting drug-traffickers, providing humanitarian services and providing a place for US ships to dock and refuel. While most reports have put a Dec. 31 expiration date on the agreement, the Nicaraguan media last week reported that Costa Rican Foreign Minister Rene Castro, in a meeting with Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Samuel Santos, said that the agreement is for five years.

Prior Joint Patrol bilateral agreements between the countries allowed only US Coast Guard presence with Costa Rican law enforcement aboard. The US Coast Guard was permitted to follow vessels into Costa Rican waters while in pursuit and awaiting Costa Rican officials. Thus, the new agreement represents a substantial increase in the allowance of US military presence in Costa Rica, a country that abolished its army in 1948 and has a policy of neutrality.

The legislature’s approval of the bilateral agreement has not gone unchallenged. A substantial legislative opposition has formed, including representatives from the Broad Front, Citizen Action Party and the United Social Christian Parties. The opposition has challenged the constitutionality of the agreement, citing Article 12 of the Costa Rican constitution. Article 12 restricts the reasons that military forces may form and states that they must always remain under Costa Rican civilian control. Last week, the Costa Rican Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. This is encouraging news for the opposition regardless of the outcome, because the agreement cannot go into effect until the Court issues a ruling on the constitutional question. There is no indication about when the Court may issue a ruling.

Civil society as well is organizing to oppose the US military presence in its waters and on its soil. Distrust of US motives is widespread in light of the tacit US government support for the Honduran coup, the agreement with Colombia to use seven bases there, and tensions between Colombia and Venezuela in which Venezuelan forces are on high alert in preparation for a possible attack from Colombia. Costa Ricans have reacted by holding forums and protests. Student groups as young as high school have started to form in opposition to the US military presence. Some have created Facebook pages and posted YouTube messages representing civil society’s desire for a peaceful and sovereign nation, like this one:

While Costa Rican officials and civil society have proven themselves to be a formidable force in opposition to the spread of US militarism, it is vital that we in the United States make our voices heard in support of our Costa Rican sisters and brothers.

NOTE: The Alliance for Global Justice is urging all people of goodwill to contact their member of Congress. Ask your member what justifies such a huge military presence in a country that has been demilitarized for over 60 years. Say that the size of the US military presence seems all out of proportion with the claim that it is to help Costa Rica interdict drug trafficking. Advise your member of Congress that at a time of record deficit spending and unemployment, the government should not be spending millions of taxpayer dollars further militarizing Latin America and contributing to rising tensions in the region. The Congressional Switchboard is 202-224-3121.