U.S. Embassy says transfer of pot is not that simple

U.S. Navy photo
Helicopter from ‘USS Carr’ prepares to carry off

A U.S. Embassy spokesman said Monday that delivering confiscated marijuana to Costa Rican officials is not as simple as just a transfer of contraband.

Costa Rica’s established custody procedures in these cases call for an entire legal team to visually inspect the evidence and take samples on board, the spokesman said. In addition, the team interviews the Coast Guard boarding team involved in the seizure, which makes this a much more complicated procedure than simply flying seized drugs to Costa Rica, he said.

The embassy was responding to an article Monday that showed a helicopter from the “USS Carr” picking up cargo nets of supplies from another U.S. Navy ship. The article was in reference to the attempt by U.S. Embassy officials to obtain docking rights for the “Carr.” The Costa Rican Constitution forbids the arrival of foreign warships without approval by lawmakers.

U.S. Embassy spokespersons have said the “Carr” lingered in the Caribbean with 81 packages of marijuana that its crew picked up in the wake of a smugglers’ boat that eventually was captured by a Costa Rican coast guard crew.

This and similar incidents raised the question as to why Costa Rican patrol boats did not just meet the “Carr” and load the evidence.

Such a transfer has happened in the past.

The photo of the cargo transfer was published on the U.S. Southern Command Web site. The photo shows an SH-60B helicopter from the “Carr” picking up supplies from the “USNS Sacagawea” cargo ship. The Southern Command calls this a vertical replenishment.

The embassy spokesman said Monday that the helicopter is armed, which raises again the issue of government approval to land. Clearly, the most secure and safe way to transfer evidence is through a port visit, he said.

The embassy did not address the possibility of flying a Costa Rican legal team to the “Carr” and flying the team back with the marijuana in a security ministry helicopter.

The status of the marijuana and the criminal case against three accused smugglers remains in doubt. Embassy staffers said earlier that the “Carr” had left the area with the marijuana.

The embassy statement also said the “We join with the executive branch in their call for the national assembly to vote on a request to allow limited visits of U.S. Navy ships participating in this law enforcement mission, in order to provide greater flexibility in future cases.”

Two lawmakers from the Partido Acción Ciudadana blocked a vote last week to let the “Carr” dock.

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