U.S. security agents who are crafting the protective net that will surround President Barack Obama Friday and Saturday know that their effort is not just symbolic.
U.S. presidents through the years have been targets of plots, angry individual citizens and just plain nuts.
Someone would need a program to see all that might want to do harm to Obama. The list starts with the Iranians, Saudi terrorists and white supremacists. Even in Costa Rica there are political extremists.
Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy leap to mind when the topic is danger to the president. But history shows that every occupant of the White House has faced attacks or at least serious threats. Obama last month was the presumed target of a letter containing poison.
Costa Rica’s intelligence agencies are not among the best in the world, and U.S. agents realize this. There are pockets of possible plotters, be they from Venezuela, Cuba, Colombia, Sinaloa or the Middle East.
Such attackers can be creative, as agents found when Bill Clinton nearly faced death from a bomb hidden under a bridge in Manila in 1996. The plot was attributed to Osama Bin Laden.
Harry Truman was the target of a plot mounted by Puerto Rican independence seekers when he was president. Many sources attribute the death of John Kennedy to a plot and not to the lone gunman outlined by the Warren Commission.
When Kennedy was in Costa Rica in 1963, he rode in an open vehicle down Paseo Colón and mixed freely with Costa Ricans in front of the Teatro Nacional. He also spoke to thousands at the Universidad de Costa Rica. That type of free access no longer exists.
Even in Costa Rica, presidential security has tightened. Abel Pacheo would leave his vehicle in front of the Teatro Nacional and stroll without escorts to a function in Plaza de la Cultura. He would meet and greet citizens en route. Still, his security agents were fixated with the idea that expats who lost their investments with the Villalobos brothers high interest scheme wanted to do him harm. In fact, many investors blamed the government for shutting down the operation and some expats had issued threats..
The controversy over the free trade treaty with the United States caused a tightening of security for Óscar Arias Sánchez. He has generated true hatred among some factions.
Protection services for the U.S. president have had their moments. Truman won the 1948 election by barnstorming the country, giving speeches nearly everywhere.
The speeches usually were preceded by a motorcade down the center of the town he was visiting. Each community was a security challenge.
In 1974 then-president Gerald Ford chose to visit western Colorado to promote the reelection of a Republican senator. Secret Service advance teams arrived to find that the deer hunting season was in full swing.
Every second pickup had a high-powered rifle with scope hanging from a back window rack.
Ford, of course, was the victim of two attempts in the next year, and they were only 17 days apart. One of the would-be assassins was the Charles Manson association Squeeky Fromme. Ronald Reagan was not so lucky and suffered a chest wound from the gun of John Hinckley, Jr.. Both Hinckley and Ms. Fromme were in the deranged category.
The threats and attempts do not end when a president leaves office, Iraqi agents tried to blow up George H. W. Bush when he visited Kuwait. Vice presidents have their problems, too. A limo containing Richard Nixon suffered heavy damage from a crowd when he visited Caracas, Venezuela, in 1958
With such a history of dangers to the president, the tight
security net for Obama is understandable, and the average citizen or expat will not be able to approach him on his short visit here. More than 1,000 Fuerza Pública officers and nearly 200 traffic officers will be blocking public access to much of the downtown and to the General Cañas highway between Juan Santamaría airport and San José. Obama is expected to arrive shortly after noon Friday and leave Saturday at noon. Television will provide full coverage.