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Viewing cable 07SANJOSE1999, COSTA RICA: THE WHINSEC SOLUTION?

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07SANJOSE1999 2007-11-19 16:04 2011-03-07 18:06 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy San Jose
Appears in these articles:
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-06/Investigacion/NotasDestacadas/Investigacion2702320.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-06/Investigacion/NotasSecundarias/Investigacion2702325.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-06/Investigacion/NotaPrincipal/Investigacion2702324.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-06/Investigacion/NotasSecundarias/Investigacion2702326.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-06/Investigacion/NotasSecundarias/Investigacion2702327.aspx
VZCZCXYZ0011
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #1999/01 3231644
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 191644Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9217
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES 0321
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 1099
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ NOV MONTEVIDEO 0463
RHMFISS/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SAN JOSE 001999 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR WHA/CEN, WHA/PPC, PM 
SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR FPA AND WHINSEC 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/15/2017 
TAGS: PREL PGOV MASS PINR CS
SUBJECT: COSTA RICA: THE WHINSEC SOLUTION? 
 
Classified By: CDA Peter M. Brennan for reason 1.4 (d). 
 
1. (C) SUMMARY:  The GOCR appears poised to release its 
restrictions on students attending the Western Hemisphere 
Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), reversing a May 
2007 decision by President Oscar Arias.  Minister of Public 
Security Fernando Berrocal and Vice Minister of the 
Presidency Jose Torres were both favorably impressed by their 
visit to WHINSEC on November 5, accompanied by the 
Ambassador, Emboffs and a Costa Rican reporter.  Berrocal is 
to recommend to Arias that Costa Rican personnel be allowed 
to attend the full range of applicable WHINSEC courses, as 
part of an overall police professionalization program. 
Berrocal's trip, which included subsequent visits to JIATF-S 
and SOUTHCOM, capped a six-month Embassy-SOUTHCOM-WHINSEC 
effort to get GOCR security force training back on track. 
With WHINSEC critics and opposition politicians already 
counterattacking against the Berrocal visit, we will push him 
to follow through with Arias, as promised.  We will seek 
action long before Berrocal's plans (not yet made public) to 
depart the Ministry in early 2008.  END SUMMARY. 
 
----------- 
THE PROBLEM 
----------- 
 
2. (C)  This impasse began on May 16, when Arias held a 
"private" meeting with School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) 
Latin American Director Rev. Roy Bourgeois and activist Lisa 
Sullivan Rodriguez, who were traveling through the region to 
persuade governments not to send students to the "former 
School of the Americas," WHINSEC.  Berrocal attended the 
meeting, as did reporters from Reuters and Notimex, who broke 
the story. 
 
3. (C) Bourgeois was evidently as persuasive as Arias was 
uninformed.  Defaulting to his Nobel Peace Laureate role and 
without understanding the importance of future WHINSEC 
courses to Costa Rican police professionalization, Arias 
emerged from the meeting to announce that once the three 
students then at WHINSEC finished their courses (two in 
Civil-Military Operations; one in Intelligence), the GOCR 
would send no one else "to the School of the Americas."  From 
its regional headquarters in Venezuela, the SOAW declared 
Arias's position a major victory, adding Costa Rica to the 
list of countries (Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia) 
that reportedly "refused" to send students to WHINSEC. 
 
------------ 
THE REACTION 
------------ 
 
4. (C) The surprise announcement stunned senior GOCR security 
officials, once they realized that WHINSEC training for 
specialized police and intelligence units would be cut off as 
well.  Costa Rican students had long attended both School of 
the Americas (SOA) and WHINSEC.  Over 160 attended SOA during 
Arias's first term (1986-1990), including current police 
chief Col. Jose Pizarro.  Arias himself visited the WHINSEC 
campus briefly, during a speaking engagement at Columbus 
State University in 2002.  Former police chief Col. Walter 
Navarro is currently an instructor at WHINSEC. 
 
5. (C) Senior security officials pressured Berrocal to permit 
select Costa Rican students to attend WHINSEC courses, 
"quietly," despite the President's decision.  Berrocal 
(wisely) demurred.  Given the importance of Arias's actions 
for SOAW, the presence of Costa Rican students would surface 
sooner or later.  The Arias administration could ill afford 
the controversy, which would no doubt antagonize the 
political left, with the CAFTA referendum planned for later 
in the year. 
 
6. (C) Pressured by persistent Embassy lobbying in June and 
July, Berrocal realized he had a problem.  IMET- and 
SOUTHCOM-funded training at WHINSEC was essential to the 
police professionalization program he sought.  That funding 
could not be used to send Costa Ricans to civilian police 
academies, and even if so, none offered the range of 
Spanish-language courses, nor the mix of other Latin American 
students, as WHINSEC.  Emboffs (and the Ambassador, to FM 
Bruno Stagno) also stressed the wider bilateral impact of 
Arias's decision.  In effect, the President had shut the door 
on the centerpiece of U.S. security assistance for Costa Rica 
at the very time the Ambassador, Admiral Stavridis and other 
senior U.S. officials were pushing for additional security 
resources for the GOCR. 
 
------------ 
THE SOLUTION 
------------ 
 
7. (C) Berrocal reportedly had two testy meetings with Arias 
to change the President's mind.  Arias charged Berrocal with 
finding a solution, but one that would not directly undercut 
the President's well-known credentials on demilitarization 
and human rights.  In July, Berrocal proposed an exchange of 
letters with the Ambassador, which would permit Costa Rican 
students to attend only counternarcotics (CN) and 
counterterrorism (CT) training at WHINSEC.  Berrocal told 
Emboffs he could sell this to Arias, in light of the 
continued successes in joint CN activities.  Emboffs worked 
with the Minister, at his request, to clarify the details in 
the exchange of letters. 
 
8. (SBU) The Ambassador's response noted that even this 
arrangement would mean the loss of 13 course spaces, valued 
at over USD 90,000 for Costa Rican students in FY2007.  The 
lost spaces would be in uncontroversial courses on human 
rights, and needed courses on medical assistance.  The 
Ambassador's letter also highlighted the appropriateness and 
effectiveness of WHINSEC training for Costa Rica, and argued 
that any dichotomy between "acceptable" and "unacceptable" 
WHINSEC courses was inappropriate and unjustifiable. 
 
9. (SBU) The Ambassador invited Berrocal to visit WHINSEC to 
see for himself.  The week of November 4 was the first 
workable time period for a WHINSEC visit, since GOCR 
ministers could not travel during the July-October CAFTA 
referendum campaign.  (NOTE:  Copies of the Berrocal and 
Langdale letters were passed to WHA/CEN in July.)  Citing 
Arias's determination, Berrocal held firm to the CN/CT-only 
formula, even after agreeing to visit Ft. Benning.  WHINSEC 
mitigated the damage by allowing Costa Rican students to move 
into dedicated counter-drug or counter-terrorism classes.  In 
the end, only three human rights instructor course spaces 
valued at USD 15,210 were lost to the GOCR (and made 
available to other countries).  That figure, of course, does 
not cover the many man-hours lost in  the preparation and 
coordination to send those students to the courses. 
 
-------- 
THE TRIP 
-------- 
 
10. (SBU) On November 5, Minister Berrocal and Vice-Minister 
Torres, accompanied by the Ambassador, Emboffs, and a Costa 
Rican reporter, visited WHINSEC and met with its commander, 
Colonel Gilberto Perez, as well as other Institute staff. 
During an office call with Perez, Berrocal noted that the 
GOCR had been successful in counternarcotics interdiction 
with nearly 55 tons of cocaine seized since the Arias 
administration took office in May 2006.  He added, however, 
that Costa Rica urgently needed more police training that 
would "best train its public forces in the best mind of its 
public."  He thanked Perez for the CN and CT training that 
WHINSEC had provided to Costa Rica, but emphasized the need 
to professionalize about 150 mid-level police officers. 
 
11. (U) Perez underlined that WHINSEC was the ideal solution 
to Costa Rica's police training needs and said the Institute 
could offer, in addition to CN and CT, other courses such as, 
but not limited to: 
 
      -Human rights 
      -Medical assistance training 
      -Leadership training 
      -Instructor training 
      -Intelligence officer training 
 
Berrocal appreciated the offer and requested (and received) 
complete course descriptions offered by WHINSEC. 
 
12. (U) During the formal WHINSEC briefing, which emphasized 
the strong emphasis the institute's curriculum had on 
strengthening democracy and human rights, Berrocal was 
singularly impressed with the role that certain NGOs, such as 
Human Rights Watch, had played in the development of many of 
WHINSEC's courses.  He also acknowledged Amnesty 
International's positive evaluation of WHINSEC's human rights 
training as a model to be emulated.  Following the official 
briefing, Berrocal toured a mock drug lab (where students 
learn how to identify and seize such facilities); an 
"Engagement Skills Trainer," a virtual-reality simulator 
using modified but realistic weapons, to train students to 
differentiate civilians from criminals or terrorists in 
highly stressful situations; and a medical training class. 
 
13. (SBU) Prior to departing WHINSEC, the Costa Rican 
reporter interviewed both Berrocal and Torres.  In the 
interview (and in post-visit comments to us), Berrocal said 
that he would make a positive recommendation to President 
Arias that Costa Rica should lift its restrictions on student 
attendance and that they should be allowed to attend all 
applicable WHINSEC courses.  Torres echoed Berrocal's 
comments. 
 
--------- 
THE MEDIA 
--------- 
 
14. (U) The Costa Rican reporter has already run two very 
positive stories in his paper, Diario Extra, (popular daily, 
circulation 150,000).  In the first (November 9), he quoted 
favorable comments by Berrocal, Torres, the Ambassador, and 
the WHINSEC commander.  The Ambassador highlighted that the 
U.S. wanted to contribute and support the professionalization 
of Costa Rica's police forces.  Colonel Perez made it clear 
to the press that "here there are no secrets" and emphasized 
the open and transparent manner in which WHINSEC trained its 
students.  In the second article (November 12), Colonel 
Walter Navarro (a former director of the Costa Rican Fuerza 
Publica and currently an instructor at WHINSEC) emphasized 
the professional training that he had received and taught to 
other students.  Navarro said in the interview that the 
training WHINSEC offered could help fight the growing 
criminal underworld problem in Costa Rica. 
 
15. (U) The positive reports have sparked counterattacks from 
WHINSEC critics and opposition political figures.  On 
November 15, Diario Extra reported that Father Bourgeois had 
written President Arias to urge him not to renege on his 
pledge in May to end Costa Rican training at WHINSEC.  The 
opposition PAC party, meanwhile, is reportedly planning to 
invite Berrocal to testify before the legislature (probably 
the PAC-led Counternarcotics Committee) to explain his 
WHINSEC visits and comments.  (Berrocal is on leave in the 
United States.  He will return to Costa Rica the week of 
November 26.)  Additionally, the English-language Tico Times 
published an editorial urging President Arias to stick with 
his May decision not to send any more Costa Rican police to 
train at a military base. 
 
-------- 
COMMENT: 
-------- 
 
16. (C) Berrocal's WHINSEC trip and the initial accompanying 
media coverage went even better than we expected.  Our thanks 
to all those at WHINSEC and SOUTHCOM's TCA program who helped 
make it possible.  The minister now seems to have a clear 
understanding of WHINSEC's mission, and the importance of its 
contributions to his hoped-for police professionalization 
program.  Berrocal, in fact, had much of this information in 
May, and therefore should have been prepared to deal with the 
unfounded SOAW allegations then, but in this case the picture 
gained first-hand at WHINSEC was worth far more than 1000 
words.  We will follow up when he returns to Costa Rica and 
will be following up with VM Torres in coming days.  We do 
not want the SOAW counterattack to weaken Berrocal's resolve, 
or to harden the President's determination.  A CT/CN-only 
solution is a half-measure.  There is no substantive reason 
for the GOCR to restrict Costa Rican participation at 
WHINSEC.  We would also like to wrap this up quickly, if 
possible, as Berrocal shared with us on this trip, (but has 
not yet made public) his plans to depart the Ministry 
sometime between January and May of next year. 
BRENNAN