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The United States has joined forces with Costa Rica in a multi-year campaign to combat gangs, organized crime, firearms and narcotics trafficking, from operating across international borders. The effort, known as the Merida Initiative, named for the Mexican coastal city where it was conceived, demonstrates a strong commitment by the U.S. and its neighbors in Mexico, Central America, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti to confront criminal organizations whose actions plague the region and spill over into the U.S.
On June 17, Ambassador Peter Cianchette and Costa Rican Ministry of Public Security Janina del Vecchio together signed a letter of agreement for their 2 countries to implement the campaign. Under the initiative, Costa Rica will receive more than $1.142 million to fund 3 special projects aimed at combating criminal gangs and the trafficking of narcotics and firearms. They include helping take part in a regional fingerprint exchange, improved policing and police equipment, and improved prison management. The Costa Rican government will also receive other assistance under the Merida Initiative such as support for maritime patrols to interdict smuggling, an assessment of and aid for the nation's border security, and participation in a number of training programs.
Over the years, as Central America has become a transshipment point for South American narcotics bound for sale in the U.S., organized crime groups have learned to take advantage of the different law enforcement and legal systems in the region and exploit their weaknesses. Lack of border control is also a problem, particularly in some of the remote areas straddling Guatemala and Mexico.
The U.S. recognizes its shared responsibility to address the problems that result from criminal activities and drug abuse. The Merida Initiative will provide aid for all the nations of Central America so they may better communicate and work together in partnership with the U.S. to combat a common scourge.