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Viewing cable 09SANJOSE499, COSTA RICA: SHIP VISITS IN A TIME OF INFLUENZA

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09SANJOSE499 2009-06-17 19:07 2011-03-08 16:04 UNCLASSIFIED 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
VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #0499/01 1681920
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 171920Z JUN 09
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0936
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/DIRJIATF SOUTH  PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUWDQAC/COMDT COGARD WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCOWCV/CCGDSEVEN MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RUWDQAA/CCGDELEVEN ALAMEDA CA PRIORITY
RXFEAH/COMNAVSOUTH  PRIORITY
UNCLAS SAN JOSE 000499 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR WHA/CEN, WHA/PPC AND P/M 
SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR FPA 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PREL PGOV MASS MARR SNAR CS
SUBJECT: COSTA RICA: SHIP VISITS IN A TIME OF INFLUENZA 
 
REF: A. San Jose-SOUTHCOM JAG email of 6/2/2009 (NOTAL) 
     B. San Jose-WHA/CEN email of 5/22/2009 (NOTAL) 
     C. 2009 San Jose 947 (NOTAL) 
 
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: USN and USCG ship visits to Costa Rica should now 
be able to resume, thanks to an agreement reached June 2 with the 
GOCR on the use of a health questionnaire introduced to track 
possible H1N1 cases.  Starting in mid-May, the Health Ministry had 
insisted that disembarking crew members complete and sign the 
questionnaire, which is required of all visitors to Costa Rica. 
Because providing such personal information to a foreign government 
violates USN policy, Navy ship visits were suspended. 
Atlantic-based (District 7) USCG vessels followed suit.  The 
curtailed visit of the USS Kauffman (FFG 59) to Limon highlighted 
the problem, generating negative publicity and political pressure 
which may have persuaded the Health Minister to accept a compromise. 
 As of June 2, disembarking USN and USCG crew members must still 
complete the H1N1 questionnaire, but they may use a number from a 
ship's roster to identify themselves; no names or signatures will be 
required.  The GOCR will not see the roster, which would be retained 
by the CO.  As long as the Health Ministry can contact the ship or 
relevant USN and USCG authorities later, should there be H1N1 cases 
possibly related to a ship visit, then that will be sufficient for 
the GOCR.  The test case will be the next port call, but we are 
hopeful that USN and USCG ship visits, important and tangible 
examples of U.S.-Costa Rica civilian-military cooperation, will 
continue unimpeded.  END SUMMARY 
 
---------- 
BACKGROUND 
---------- 
 
2. (SBU) U.S. ship visits to Costa Rica have long been complicated 
by two factors.  The first is the strict interpretation of the 1949 
constitutional requirement that the national legislature approve 
visits in advance by "armed" vessels (including USCG cutters).  The 
second is the long-running and well-known Costa Rican sensitivity to 
foreign military presence or activities.  Since a bilateral maritime 
cooperation agreement was concluded in 1998, and the USG helped 
equip the Costa Rican coast guard in 1999-2001, we have gradually 
overcome most Costa Rica concerns about USCG visits; legislators and 
the public generally understand coast guard-to-coast guard 
cooperation. 
 
3. (SBU) Visits by USN vessels have remained more problematic, again 
due to two factors.  On the Costa Rican side, some (mostly 
opposition) legislators still complain about "warships" putting into 
Costa Rican ports.  On the USG side, USN force protection concerns 
mandate that no personal information (i.e., crew lists, crew member 
signatures or SSNs) can be provided to a foreign government. 
Because Costa Rican immigration authorities normally require such 
information, USN ship visits to Costa Rica became very rare. 
 
4. (SBU) Through steady, quiet diplomacy, we have worked through 
most of these problems.  The Embassy, NAVSOUTH and the GOCR 
(Immigration Directorate) crafted a local solution which addressed 
the immigration and force protection concerns.  Despite some 
reluctance when the peace-promoting Arias administration took office 
in 2006, VIP visits to USN and USCG vessels, regular briefings to 
senior GOCR personnel and key legislators, and two visits by GOCR 
security ministers to SOUTHCOM and JIATF-South abated most 
suspicions and misunderstandings about the Navy's role in support of 
counternarcotics and law enforcement missions.  Indicative of the 
progress, there were 23 USCG and four USN port visits to Costa Rica 
in 2008.  One of those, to Golfito in November, featured a VIP visit 
to the USS Underwood (FFG 36), replete with briefings and a boarding 
demonstration for the Minister of Public Security and key 
legislators, including members of the opposition.  The Kauffman's 
visit was the first official port call by a USN warship to Costa 
Rica in nine years (Ref C.) 
 
--------------------- 
THE KAUFFMAN "CRISIS" 
--------------------- 
 
5.  (SBU) The H1N1 crisis seemed to threaten much of that progress, 
with the first cases in Central America appearing in Costa Rica.  To 
help deal with the crisis, the Ministry of Health introduced a 
mandatory questionnaire in May for everyone arriving from abroad to 
Costa Rica; the questionnaire is intended to identify anyone who may 
be carrying/have been exposed to the influenza, and to help track 
them later, should new outbreaks occur in the country.  The 
international airports are using the questionnaire, cruise ship 
passengers are supposed to, and the Health Ministry expected the 
crews of visiting USCG or USN vessels to do the same.  The USS Gary 
(FFG-51) and the USS Carr (FFG-52) were able to visit Golfito (on 
the Pacific coast) in early May before the H1N1 questionnaire was 
fully in use, providing important training opportunities for the 
Costa Rican coast guard and conducting some community relations 
activities. 
 
6. (SBU) The visit of the USS Kauffman was a different story, 
however.  The ship was to make a long-planned stop in Limon, Costa 
Rica's major Caribbean port, May 19-23.  As one of the neediest 
areas of Costa Rica, and a development priority of the Arias 
administration, Limon was deliberately targeted for the visit, the 
first by a USN vessel to that city since 2006.  The crew was 
prepared for fairly extensive community relations activities, and 
the community was prepared to welcome them (thanks to Embassy public 
diplomacy preparations).  We were also preparing a VIP visit to the 
ship so that additional legislators could see the U.S. Navy first 
hand.  The Health Ministry insisted that the H1N1 questionnaire be 
used for this visit. 
 
7. (SBU) Despite numerous approaches to the Ministry (and up to 
Health Minister Maria Luisa Avila herself), and extensive 
behind-the-scenes discussions with SOUTHCOM, NAVSOUTH, Navy JAG reps 
and even staff in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations in 
Washington, a compromise was not reached.  Avila held firm that the 
questionnaire had to be used, signed and delivered to local GOCR 
officials for the ship's crew members, just as for any international 
traveler; no one could disembark from the Kauffman without the form. 
 With the crew unable to leave the ship because of the standoff, the 
Kauffman departed on May 21 without conducting the hoped-for 
community relations activities. 
 
8. (U) Local media gave the shortened visit prominent coverage, 
fairly accurately explaining the rules on both sides which had led 
to the impasse, but highlighting (thanks to Embassy-provided 
details) the opportunity lost for the community.  Pro-U.S. and 
pro-ship visit legislator Federico Tinoco, Chairman of the 
Counternarcotics Committee, excoriated Minister Avila for not being 
more flexible.  Until the issue could be resolved, all USN ship 
visits to Costa Rica were suspended.  Atlantic-based (District 7) 
USCG vessels followed suit. 
 
------------------------- 
HELPS GENERATE A SOLUTION 
------------------------- 
 
9. (SBU) The publicity and the political pressure may have made an 
impact.  When the DCM, Acting ODR Chief and Pol/Econ Counselor 
called on Avila June 2, she and Vice Minister Ana Cecilia Morice 
were very appreciative of on-going USG support and assistance to 
Costa Rica, including ship visits, overall counternarcotics 
cooperation and CDC help during the H1N1 crisis.  Clearly willing to 
find a ship visit solution that took into account USN security 
concerns, the Minister herself suggested a version of one of the 
options earlier suggested by SOUTHCOM JAG. Visiting USN (or USCG) 
crew members would fill-in the H1N1 health questionnaire, but they 
would use a number to identify themselves and would not have to sign 
the form.  Using an identification number would be sufficient to 
identify crew members later, if needed, and this number would not be 
anything official; SSNs or military ID numbers would not be 
required.  Instead, a visiting ship's CO would keep a simple list of 
which crew member had which number, and the GOCR would not see this 
list.  The numbering could be as basic as 1-200, if a ship's company 
numbered that many; the GOCR did not care about the format, Avila 
explained. 
 
10.  (U) Avila made clear that the following were the two most 
important issues for the GOCR: 
 
-- all disembarking crew had to fill in the health data on the 
questionnaire, in keeping with "international standards," and as a 
"self-diagnostic" to consider seriously whether or not they had 
exhibited influenza symptoms; and 
 
-- there must be some means to track the crew members later, in the 
event of an outbreak possible linked to them.  In that instance, the 
GOCR would ask the Embassy to check with the ship (or relevant USN 
and USCG authorities) to identify the crew members (using the list 
kept by the CO) who may have been infected or may have infected 
others. 
 
11.  (SBU) In response to our questions, the Minister reiterated 
that no signatures or crew lists would be required.  She suggested 
that, following the procedure used with cruise ships, any 
disembarking crew member could download the GOCR questionnaire from 
the internet and fill it out the night before leaving the ship. 
This would speed and simplify disembarking procedures.  She added 
that one questionnaire per disembarking crew member would be 
sufficient for a given visit, even if the crew member got on and off 
the ship a number of times.  Crew members that were not leaving the 
ship at all would not have to fill in the form. 
 
----------------------------------- 
GOCR EXPLANATION (AND JUSTIFICATION) 
----------------------------------- 
 
12.  (SBU) The Minister said she was in close contact with the 
Pan-American Health Organization, which was on the verge of 
upgrading its H1N1 alert, because of the continued spread of cases. 
Avila said she expected to see more cases in the United States, and 
more in Costa Rica, as the local flu season continues.  As she met 
with us, her Chilean counterpart emailed her to announce the first 
confirmed H1N1 death in Chile.  Under these circumstances, Avila 
said the GOCR was compelled to leave its H1N1 "tracking mechanism" 
(the questionnaire) in place, even for U.S. Navy and Coast Guard 
vessels, but she was hopeful the USG would accept her suggestion. 
We said we'd confer with SOUTHCOM and Washington and get back to 
her.  The Vice Minister hoped we could agree quickly enough to 
resume US ship visits before the end of June.  (NOTE: Avila's 
predictions proved correct.  The WHO upgraded the global H1N1 
outbreak to pandemic status on June 11, and as of June 15, 149 cases 
had been confirmed in Costa Rica.) 
 
------- 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
13.  (SBU) We understand that NAVSOUTH, SOUTHCOM and Coast Guard 
District 7 have all accepted Avila's compromise; this is very good 
news.  It is also well-timed, as the national legislature is about 
to vote on the slate of possible USN and USCG ship visits to Costa 
Rica scheduled from July-December.  From a distance, Avila's initial 
(stubborn) stance may have seemed like another case of Tico 
hyper-legalism.  The highly-regarded minister continues to handle 
the H1N1 crisis here well, however, and because of this no doubt 
found it difficult at first to make an exception (or to appear to 
have made an exception) for the U.S. Navy.  The test case will be 
the next port call, but we are hopeful that these important and 
tangible examples of U.S.-Costa Rica civilian-military cooperation 
will continue unimpeded.  We say "bring 'em on," with gratitude to 
all levels of the USN and USCG hierarchy which helped with this 
solution.  Our special thanks go to the crews of the Kauffman and 
her sister ships for their energetic (and flexible) support for key 
Mission objectives here. 
 
CIANCHETTE