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Viewing cable 08SANJOSE947, COSTA RICA: FIRST U.S. NAVY OFFICIAL SHIP VISIT IN

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08SANJOSE947 2008-12-04 22:10 2011-03-08 16:04 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY 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/NotaPrincipal/Investigacion2702324.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-06/Investigacion/NotasSecundarias/Investigacion2702325.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-06/Investigacion/NotasSecundarias/Investigacion2702326.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-06/Investigacion/NotasSecundarias/Investigacion2702327.aspx
VZCZCXYZ0009
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #0947/01 3392208
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 042208Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0327
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RHBVGWU/USS UNDERWOOD
RXFEAH/COMNAVSOUTH
RHMFISS/DIRJIATF SOUTH
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEABND/DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMIN HQ WASHINGTON DC
RUENAAA/SECNAV WASHDC
RHMFIUU/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUMIAGH/COMJTF-B SIMS SOTO CANO HO
UNCLAS SAN JOSE 000947 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR WHA/CEN, WHA/PPC, WHA/PDA, INL/LP AND PM 
SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR FPA 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PREL PHUM PGOV MASS SOCI CS
SUBJECT: COSTA RICA: FIRST U.S. NAVY OFFICIAL SHIP VISIT IN 
NINE YEARS HIGHLIGHTS IMPORTANCE OF JOINT MARITIME EFFORTS 
 
REF: A. SAN JOSE 003 
     B. SAN JOSE 800 
 
======== 
SUMMARY: 
======== 
 
1. (SBU) From November 19-22, the USS Underwood (FFG-36) 
visited the Pacific coast port of Golfito, making the first 
official port call by a USN warship to Costa Rica in nine 
years.  The Ambassador led an Embassy-supported VIP visit to 
the ship on November 21, which included members of the 
national legislature, officials from the Ministry of Public 
Security, and local politicians.  Our goal with the VIPs, 
which included some legislators critical of U.S. ship visits 
and CN operations, was to clarify that U.S. vessels, whether 
Coast Guard or Navy, perform similar law enforcement missions 
under the bilateral maritime agreement with Costa Rica. 
 
2. (SBU) This highly successful visit should smooth the way 
for similar ship visits and operations in the future, since 
any visit by an "armed" vessel must be approved in advance by 
the Costa Rican legislature.  The test will come over the 
next two weeks as the legislature debates (and hopefully 
approves quickly) the list of USCG and USN vessels that may 
visit Costa Rica or operate in Costa Rican waters on law 
enforcement operations in the next six months.  In the past, 
heated debate about U.S. Navy "warships" visiting "peaceful 
Costa Rica" has sometimes delayed approval and canceled some 
joint operations (although the USCG visit list usually has 
been approved quickly).  Meanwhile, joint maritime 
cooperation between the U.S. and Costa Rica in 2008 thus far 
has interdicted more than 12 tons of cocaine.  The positive 
political and public relations value of this type of visit 
cannot be overstated.  The Embassy is deeply appreciative of 
the outstanding work of the Underwood and her crew in support 
of Mission and USG objectives. END SUMMARY. 
 
============================= 
FIRST, WIN OVER THE COMMUNITY 
============================= 
 
3. (U) On November 19, the USS Underwood docked at the 
Pacific port of Golfito, Costa Rica, to begin a 3-day 
official port call.  The ship, with a crew of over 200, is an 
Oliver Hazard Perry Class frigate that is conducting joint 
law enforcement operations in the eastern Pacific under the 
terms of the U.S.-Costa Rica Joint Maritime Agreement. 
 
4. (U) As part of the official visit by the USS Underwood, 25 
officers and crew members volunteered their liberty time on 
November 20 to do community service in the Golfito area. 
They made carpentry repairs to a classroom at a local 
elementary school; repainted the interior of the municipal 
library; and delivered hygienic products to residents at an 
elder hospice.  The Golfito community was genuinely grateful 
for the assistance, with some residents of the hospice 
tearing up with joy as a result of the sailors' help. 
 
=========================== 
THEN, EDUCATE THE LAWMAKERS 
=========================== 
 
5. (U) As part of the November 21 VIP visit, nine legislators 
from Costa Rica's national assembly toured the USS Underwood 
and were encouraged to ask questions about the unique law 
enforcement aspects of its mission in Costa Rican waters. 
(Post used SOUTHCOM Traditional Commander's Activities (TCA) 
funding to charter the aircraft to bring the legislators from 
San Jose to Golfito.)  The ship's captain, Commander Wesley 
Smith, and Embassy personnel explained to the legislators the 
strict law enforcement mission of the USN ship and its 
embarked USCG Law Enforcement Detachment while it was 
patrolling in Costa Rican waters.  Visitors also viewed a 
mock boarding of a small fishing vessel by the USCG boarding 
team, which including a Shiprider from the Costa Rica coast 
guard, who was onboard for counternarcotics and law 
enforcement purposes. 
 
6. (SBU) After the ship tour, Post's Office of Defense 
Representative (ODR) staff, led by USCG Commander Mark 
Camacho, gave a detailed briefing on the U.S.-Costa Rica 
bilateral maritime agreement highlighting that: 
 
 -- the agreement permits "Shipriders" (Costa Rican law 
enforcement authorities) to be aboard U.S. ships to help 
conduct operations against drug trafficking suspects in Costa 
Rican national waters or international waters.  (A former 
Shiprider actually gave the GOCR portion of the presentation 
to the legislators); 
 
 -- the agreement also permits U.S. authorities to be aboard 
Costa Rican vessels to advise how to approach and pursue 
vessels suspected of drug trafficking; and 
 
 -- when necessary, the agreement permits U.S. vessels to 
pursue and detain suspects while waiting for the Costa Rican 
authorities to arrive on the scene.  The GOCR retains the 
sole legal authority to take suspects into custody and seize 
properties in its territorial waters. 
 
7. (SBU) To clarify further for the legislators, we briefed 
that ship boardings could only be conducted by authorized law 
enforcement personnel (USCG) aboard the USN assets, and that 
no member of the Department of Defense (usually Navy) could 
participate in boarding operations (except in a supporting 
role operating the small craft used for boarding), detain 
suspects or seize of drugs.  To simplify the issue for the 
legislators, we described USN assets as essentially "taxis" 
for our USCG teams to use, since our Coast Guard does not 
have enough cutters to conduct all of the international law 
enforcement missions required of them. 
 
8. (SBU) Finally, we highlighted to the legislators the 
current relevance of getting the next ship list approved as 
soon as possible, since the existing six-month permission 
expired November 30.  We also noted that last year, four 
ships were not able to conduct port visits due to delayed 
permission from the legislature, which meant a million 
dollars of lost revenue to the local economy (including fuel 
and tourism purchases, port fees, etc.).  Fuel purchases 
alone total nearly $150,000 of each ship visit, and there 
have been 8-9 such visits annually (up to now only by the 
USCG), over the last two years. 
 
9. (SBU) All of the legislators (listed in para 14 below) 
thanked us for the detailed briefing and asked several 
questions.  Most questions and comments focused on concerns 
that every boarding operation should include a Costa Rican 
Shiprider.  We agreed that this was preferable, but 
logistically speaking it is nearly impossible due to the 
Costa Rican coast guard's limited manpower.  Also, the 
bilateral maritime agreement allows USCG-only boarding, as 
noted in paragraph five above.  (NOTE: A few days after the 
VIP visit, we received a letter from Federico Tinoco, one of 
the legislators in attendance and Chairman of the 
Counternarcotics Committee, underlining this Costa Rican 
concern.  The letter charged the GOCR with "redoubling its 
efforts" to participate with the U.S. so more Costa Rican 
shipriders could be trained.  END NOTE) 
 
====================== 
DON'T FORGET THE MEDIA 
====================== 
 
10. (U) Since nine years had passed since the last official 
USN ship visit, there was significant media interest in the 
USS Underwood.  Local correspondents spent two full days 
providing coverage of all activities that took place during 
the visit.  Reporters also participated in the tour of the 
ship given to legislators and members of the Ministry of 
Public Security. 
 
11. (U) Media coverage came from various print, radio, and TV 
stations, including: Radio Colosal (a local Golfito station); 
Costa Rica's most-read daily Diario Extra; and TV channels 6 
and 42.  Radio Colosal interviewed Post's Information Officer 
and ODR representative, focusing on the purpose of the ship 
 
visit and details of the community service projects.  Channel 
6 broadcast a two-minute report on their Saturday (November 
22) evening news, featuring the details and structure of the 
USS Underwood as well as the significance of the bilateral 
maritime agreement.  They also reported on the Shiprider 
program and how law enforcement boardings are conducted. 
 
======= 
COMMENT 
======= 
 
12. (SBU) The positive political implications of this visit 
cannot be overstated.  It was 18 months in the making (since 
a similar, highly-publicized VIP visit to a USCG cutter in 
Golfito in January 2007), and capped a number of briefings to 
anti-US legislators (and quiet collusion with their pro-US 
counterparts).  Costa Rica's hyper-legalistic political 
system and the anti-military, pro-disarmament views of the 
government and society often made it very difficult to 
provide military assistance here in the past.  As Reftels 
illustrate, challenges remain, even when providing 
humanitarian assistance, and we should proceed carefully, but 
the Underwood's visit illustrates how far we have come. The 
willing participation of skeptical, often-critical 
legislators from the main opposition party (the PAC) was 
critical to provide them a clear understanding of the USN's 
"role" in law enforcement.  We believe they now grasp the 
nuance that whether from a USCG cutter or a USN warship, it 
is always a law enforcement team that conducts boardings and 
the actual hands on searches, seizures and arrests under the 
bilateral maritime agreement with Costa Rica. 
 
13. (U) We would like to sincerely thank the captain and crew 
of the USS Underwood, who made this landmark visit so 
successful.  Their community work and patient "education" of 
key Costa Rican legislators reflected great credit upon 
themselves and the United States Navy.  This was an 
outstanding example of "haze gray diplomacy."  Well done! 
END COMMENT. 
 
============================= 
THE PARTICIPATING LEGISLATORS 
============================= 
 
14. (U) The following members of the National Assembly joined 
the Ambassador and Minister of Public Security Del Vecchio 
for the VIP visit to the Underwood.  We were careful to 
invite all the Assembly's leadership and head of factions. 
Notably, the loudest and most radical US critics declined. 
Those participating included: 
 
-- Evita Arguedas (Independent), member of the International 
Relations Committee; 
-- Jose Manuel Echandi (Independent),,member of the CN 
Committee; 
-- Saturnino Fonseca (PLN); member of the CN Committee; 
-- Olivier Jimenez (National Liberation Party-PLN), local 
member for Golfito; 
-- Guyon Massey (National Restoration Party), 2nd Secretary 
of the Assembly 
-- Olivier Perez (Citizen Action Party-PAC), member of the CN 
Committee; 
-- Sandra Quesada (PLN), 1st Assistant Secretary of the 
Assembly and member of the CN Committee (who had never 
visited Golfito before, another fringe benefit of this event); 
-- Marvin Rojas (PAC), member and former Chairman of the CN 
Committee; and 
-- Federico Tinoco (PLN), Chairman of the CN Committee. 
BRENNAN