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Costa Rica wants US anti-drug program for CentAm

Costa Rica's President Laura Chinchilla gestures during an interview with The Associated Press in San Jose, Costa Rica, Tuesday Aug. 17, 2010. Costa Rica's President Laura Chinchilla gestures during an interview with The Associated Press in San Jose, Costa Rica, Tuesday Aug. 17, 2010. (AP Photo/Mónica Quesada)
By Marianela Jimenez
Associated Press Writer / August 17, 2010

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SAN JOSE, Costa Rica—Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla said Tuesday she wants the United States to offer an anti-drug aid program just for Central America.

The region currently gets some aid to fight organized crime through the Merida Initiative, a $1.4 billion aid program pledged by President George W. Bush in 2007, but the bulk of the help goes to Mexico.

Chinchilla said in an interview with The Associated Press that she wants Washington to review Costa Rica's cooperation in anti-drug efforts and heed its concerns. She said she has a proposal that asks for more funds and for the U.S. to view Costa Rica as a "more mature partner" in the fight against drugs.

"We don't want to be seen as an appendix of the Merida Initiative. We want a plan for Central America," she said.

Last year, the U.S. Congress approved $300 million for Mexico under the Merida program, and $110 million for all of Central America as well as the Dominican Republic and Haiti in the Caribbean.

Costa Rican officials say powerful Mexican drug cartels are increasingly using the Central American country as a transshipment point for cocaine heading north from Colombia.

Last February, Costa Rican police seized more than a ton of cocaine at a house in a rural area outside the capital and detained two Mexican men allegedly working for the Juarez cartel.

Chinchilla acknowledged Costa Rica doesn't have the capacity to patrol its waters.

"The only alternative we have right now is cooperation with friendly countries," she said, but she added that the United States should work in tandem with Costa Rica, "not replace us."

Costa Rica recently renewed a bilateral agreement with the U.S. to jointly patrol the country's coastline for drug shipments. The accord, which has been in place for a decade, was sharply criticized this year by the opposition because for the first time it would allow U.S. troops to enter Costa Rica, which doesn't have an army.

Chinchilla said she will always insist the anti-drug cooperation be "civil but not military."

"I'm the first one to guarantee that the fight against drug trafficking in Costa Rica will not be militarized," she said.

She said she is pushing for Costa Rica's Congress to approve new taxes on businesses and casinos that would generate about $200 million a year for anti-drug efforts. The money would be used to hire more police officers, build jails and upgrade police equipment, she said.

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