When John Kennedy visited Costa Rica in 1963, he gave a well-received speech to thousands at the Universidad de Costa Rica.
But times have changed, and U.S. citizens have little chance of even getting a glimpse of their president when he visits May 3 and 4. They might be lucky enough to see the presidential limo in a motorcade. But probably not within four blocks of the Centro Nacional de la Cultura where the bulk of the activities will be hosted.
Costa Rican police and security officials are surveying key areas of the city now and requiring persons who live or have offices near the Centro de la Cultura to identify themselves and also provide the plate numbers of their vehicles. Although they have not said it yet, it appears that there will be a police barricade in a four or five-block radius of the facility when Barack Obama and other heads of state are there. Access will be restricted.
The Centro Nacional de la Cultura is just east of Parque España and south of the towering headquarters of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros on Avenida 7. The bulk of the public employees will be off May 3, and that building will be locked down.
Obama plans no public events while he is here, according to officials here. To say that U.S. Secret Service agents and agents of the Diplomatic Security Service are paranoid would be an understatement. The terrorist activity in Boston did not make matters any better.
When Laura Bush visited Costa Rica in 2006, expats were lucky to get a glimpse of her raincoat as she was ushered from the cultural center to a car in the rain. Her only contacts were those on the official list at official events. She was here for the inauguration of Óscar Arias Sánchez.
Obama most likely will stay at the Costa Rica Marriott in Belén. So the presidential motorcade will be a traffic stopper Friday, May 3 and May 4. Obama will leave the afternoon of Saturday, May 4.
There also is likely to be delays at Juan Santamaría airport before and during Obama’s arrival and when he is leaving. Expats have complained before about being delayed in commercial aviation when high foreign officials are on the ground. That is likely to happen with the Obama visit.
In addition to the presidential jet, there is likely to be an aircraft with U.S. and foreign reporters as well as a baggage craft. The planes will be parked under guard at a secluded spot at the airport.
Although commercial aircraft will fly, officials have announced the general aviation, that is private planes, will be diverted.
The U.S. president is here for a meeting of the Sistema de Integración Centroamericana, and top officials of many other nations will be here, too. The timing is perfect for President Laura Chinchilla, who needs a boost in her popularity after a series of tough situations. The other heads of state will have their own traffic-stopping motorcades.
There will be ample coverage of Obama and the other leaders by pool camera operators from television. These pool operators will share their video with the commercial stations. There also will be official photographers from the White House and also Casa Presidencial.
There also is a good chance that Obama will be interviewed by several pool print reporters and perhaps have one session on television.
Not much is expected at the summit meeting. Obama is mainly here to show his support for Central America. All the details are handled on a daily basis by staffers. Expats can be sure, however, that their president will be hit up for money by some of the foreign politicians.
A schedule of events has not yet been released. Much of the security arrangements are being handled by Casa Presidencial.