Iwo Jima lands in Costa Rica; more US warships to follow

The USS Iwo Jima

The country with no army is about to get a big dose of the US military.

Last week, the USS Iwo Jima landed in the Caribbean port city of Limón, Costa Rica, the first of up to 46 U.S. war ships that may dock in Costa Rica through the end of 2010.

The Iwo Jima docked in Limón on August 20 for a 10-day humanitarian mission called “Continuing Promise 2010”. The ships to follow are meant to provide military assistance in the area’s escalating drug war.

But even the Iwo Jima may be a bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. According to the web site of the U.S. Southern Command, “mission personnel… will provide medical, dental, veterinary and engineering services,” but will also provide “training with the Costa Rican Police Force.” You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to wonder what that vague sentence portends. And even those thankful for the humanitarian aid brought by the Iwo Jima can be forgiven for wondering if this infusion of medical supplies, teddy bears, and baseball equipment is a cynical bid to make the other, more military missions more palatable to a country that abolished its own army in 1949.

the type of helicopter the Iwo Jima carries

Two days after the ship landed, according to La Nacion, three of its military helicopters flew over the Central Valley, reminding locals that when you let a warship dock, even for humanitarian aid, it brings along more than stuffed animals for the kids. The ship itself is 800 feet long and is said to have a crew of anywhere from 400 (according to La Nacion) to 2,500 (according to the Tico Times).

It was back in July that the Costa Rican legislature approved a U.S. request for permission to dock up to 46 warships (and to bring along up to 7,000 military personnel) to help Costa Rica combat escalating drug traffic within its borders and the surrounding waters.

Although the July approval is billed as a renewal of a 1998 accord with the United States known as the “Joint Patrol,” it sparked “outrage among skeptics of the global war on drugs. The critics include outspoken politicians, pacifists, student groups and everyday Ticos, who are proud of their country’s six decades without a military,” according to Alex Leff, who writes for the Global Post and the Tico Times.

Leff also writes of Costa Rica’s “painful paradox.” The country boasts of having no army and preaches that other nations should reduce their military spending and increase funding for schools and hospitals. But with no military and a small police force, Costa Rica can’t fight the country’s new role as the “storage, shipping and financial base for some of the deadliest cartels,” according to Neff.

The running joke in Costa Rica:  Why would the country need a military when Uncle Sam is so quick to loan his out?