Central American integration —and militarization

Representatives of the governments of Mexico and the Central American countries wrapped up a fifth round of talks on a regional free trade agreement last week. The negotiations took place in Mexico City, with the next round of talks to be held in August in El Salvador. The aim of the talks is to create a single free trade agreement that consolidates Mexico’s 1995 pact with Costa Rica, its 1998 agreement with Nicaragua and its 2001 accord with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador into a single deal. Mexico’s trade with Costa Rica has soared by 2,100% since the signing of the trade agreement, while trade with the other Central American republics has increased by between 200 and 300%. (EFE, June 1)

Both Mexico and the Central American states have their own trade pacts with the US—NAFTA and CAFTA, respectively. Costa Rica has also entered into a free trade agreement with China. Also last week, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo and ousted ex-president Manuel Zelaya signed a pact in Caracas officially putting an end to that country’s internal political crisis, which has been outstanding since the coup d’etat of two years ago. The pact clears the way for Nicaragua to restore relations with neighboring Honduras, and for Honduras to rejoin the Organization of American States (OAS).

Last month, Costa Rica and Nicaragua signed an agreement to work together to fight drug trafficking and organized crime—despite an ongoing border dispute. In addition to pledging to coordinate law enforcement and intelligence work, the two governments also agreed that police from either country can cross the border when chasing criminals, without this being defined as a violation of sovereignty. Costa Rican drug czar Mauricio Boraschi said that the San Juan River Basin, the disputed area, is a key route for cocaine trafficking. (Inside Costa Rica, May 10)

The International Court of Justice at The Hague in March ordered both Costa Rica and Nicaragua to keep all military, police and civilian personnel out of the disputed border region. Costa Rica had asked the court to issue an emergency ruling to bar Nicaraguan troops from the disputed region and order it to halt dredging and tree felling in the zone. Instead, the court on ordered both Costa Rican and Nicaraguan forces out, and told both countries to “refrain from any actions which might aggravate or extend the dispute.” The ruling said Nicaragua’s dredging of the river could continue, but that Costa Rica may send civilian staff to monitor any potential damage to internationally protected wetlands in the disputed area. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his Costa Rican counterpart Laura Chinchilla said they would respect the ruling. Nicaragua especially praised the ruling, which only dealt with Costa Rica’s request for emergency measures and not with the merits of the territorial dispute. “The court has totally sided with us in ratifying our right to continue dredging the river,” said Managua’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Carlos Arguello Gómez. “The Costa Ricans should quiet their tongues now.” (AP, MSNBC, March 8)

Costa Rica officially has no army, but its national police force, the Civil Guard, is rapidly militarizing. In November, Costa Rica and Colombia signed an agreement for the Colombian National Police to train and advise Costa Rican police forces for fighting drug trafficking. Colombian forces will assist in formation of a Special Intervention Unit. President Chinchilla insisted that the police force is not being militarized. She emphasized to the press that “the Colombian police are a civilian police; we are not asking for assistance from the Colombian army, or from any Central American army.” (Eurasia Review, June 4)

In fact, the Colombian National Police force is heavily militarized, a de facto adjunct of the Colombian army, and has been widely accused of collaboration with illegal right-wing paramilitaries. Colombia has entered into similar police training programs with Mexico.

See our last post on Central America.

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