USS Iwo Jima arrives with marines, medics and engineers
[Translation of an article from La Jornada of Mexico City for August 23.]
Limón, August 22 – In the midst of controversy over permission the Costa Rican congress granted six weeks ago for a fleet of 46 United States warships to dock in this country for the purpose of combatting drug trafficking, the USS Iwo Jima today launched a “humanitarian mission” in one of the poorest areas of the country as the first leg of a tour including Haiti, Colombia, Guatemala, Guyana, Nicaragua, Panama and Suriname.
The Iwo Jima, a 257-meter-long helicopter carrier belonging to the United States navy and under the command of Thomas Negus, will serve as the base of operations to aid the civilian population in a program termed “Continuing Promise 2010,” which will end on August 30.
The ship carries a crew of 1,000, as well as 500 marines, 150 medics, 50 engineers and 100 volunteers, who will carry out 300 operations to relieve the work of the Limón hospital, provide outside consultations to1,200 patients a day and set up mobile clinics in Bribrí and Siquirres to attend to 250 people a day.
One hundred unarmed marines will perform land operations, according to information from the US embassy in San José. Plans are for the training of local police in accessing remote areas and in first aid. There are six H-46 helicopters on the ship for transporting supplies.
Seven thousand soldiers may stay until December
According to the Costa Rican press, the text of the bilateral agreement includes permission for United States forces to enter and to remain in Costa Rica between July 1 and December 30, with 7,000 soldiers, 46 warships, 200 armed helicopters and ten AV-8B Harrier combat aircraft, like those put to the test in the gulf war. It includes as well the United States requirement that its personnel enjoy freedom of movement in Costa Rica and the right to carry out activities they consider necessary for their mission, according to a note sent June 2 to the Costa Rican government by the State Department.
Parties that have opposed the decision by the assembly say the United Stae military presence is not proportional to its objective and criticize the conditions of full freedom to perform their mission.
The Partido Frente Amplio (Broad Front Party) has urged citizens to reflect on the importance the region has for the Untied States, which it considers its “area of influence,” and refers to the strategy of dominating the Central American region entirely following the 2009 coup d’état in Honduras and the agreement between the Untied States and Bogotá for United States troops to use seven Colombian bases.
Although Costa Rica abolished its national army in 1948, President Laura Chinchilla defended the measure through her security minister, José María Tijerino, by explaining the conditions of the agreement and reiterated that the 7,000 US troops will not all arrive at the same time and that it is a matter of “support groups in the service of the coast guard.”
Tijerino and Costa Rican anti-drug commissioner Mauricio Boraschi said there is no interest in militarizing the joint patrol the United States and Costa Rica have maintained since 1999 and emphasized that it was better to have United States soldiers traveling through the country than “paid assassins of drug traffickers.”
Statements by representatives of the US embassy affirming that the visit begun this weekend in Puerto Limón has only humanitarian purposes have not calmed local political and social organizations.
“The number 46 seems to have become famous now,” said US Ambassador [Anne Slaughter] Andrew, adding that the real number of warships from her country that might land in Costa Rica to take on fuel or food would be between 10 and 20.
The diplomat has declared that the arrival of the ships does not imply a risk for Costa Rica, the “real threat” being an increase in drugs on the isthmus.
Nevertheless, an opposition party has appealed to the constitutional court to revoke permission for the naval fleet to dock.
“Costa Rica is a peaceful country. I wouldn’t want to see warships here,” said activist Gerardo Brenes of the NGO Centro de Amigos para la Paz (Friends’ Center for Peace), while Ambassador Andrew has insisted that the only “invasion” Costa Ricans will see with the arrival of the Iwo Jima will be that of “humanitarian workers delivering aid and development to the province of Limón.”