Two presidents outline similar approaches on drug

White House photo
Presidents Obama and Chinchilla at a press conference talk about their earlier chat.

Presidents of the United States and Costa Rica outlined their broader approach to attacking drug trafficking at a press conference here Friday.

Both Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla and U.S. President Barack Obama said they saw a successful anti-drug effort with one that is coupled with the economy and education. Ms. Chinchilla said that promoting trade would help mitigate the problem.

The press conference at the Centro Nacional de Cultura was the most public event of the day for the visiting U.S. president.

Ordinary Costa Ricans poured out by the thousands Friday to welcome Obama to Costa Rica.

Police and other security forces had cleared the downtown, but crowds gathered the full length of Obama’s route on the General Cañas autopista.

Some even arrived early at Juan Santamaría to picnic simply to catch a glimpse of Air Force One as it arrived from México.

The Obama aircraft arrived at 1:50 p.m. He was greeted by Enrique Castillo, the foreign minster, and the Costa Rican-U.S. citizen Franklin Chang Diaz, the former astronaut. Also there were four students who had won scholarships named for Chang to study next year in the United States.

As the presidential motorcade, led by nine officers on motorcycles, left the airport, Costa Ricans pressed against the fences to wave. Traffic police had stopped the flow on the General Cañas but they could not stop Costa Ricans on foot from lining the route, sometimes shoulder to shoulder and sometimes several persons deep.

The first stop was the Hotel Intercontinental in Escazú where Obama stopped for 15 minutes. Then he headed to the Casa Amarilla. That route along Paseo Colón and Avenida Secunda, too, was lined with Costa Ricans waving flags and banners. Many had the day off.

When Obama arrived at the foreign ministry, Casa Amarilla, about 3 p.m., he was greeted by Castillo again and then President Chinchilla, who shook his hand as he ascended the front steps. They both posed with school children waving U.S. and Costa Rican flags.

Then Obama, Ms. Chinchilla and Castillo went inside for a private meeting to discuss, security, economic development and investments. The average Costa Ricans on the street expressed their high expectations for the meeting. They said they hoped for more tourism, more investment generating jobs and special considerations from the north. Costa Ricans do not show the political polarization present among citizens in the United States.

Casa Presidencial said that Ms. Chinchilla would ask Obama for support to become members of international trade groups, including the Trans Pacific Association Agreement. Later at the press conference, Obama praised Costa Rican’s stature in the world community but stopped just short of saying his country would endorse the membership. Borrowing a tourism promotion term he said that Costa Rica does not have any artificial ingredients.

At the press conference, Ms. Chinchilla outlined six themes that had been addressed with her private meeting with Obama. They included the U.N. Arms Control Treaty that Costa Rica promotes. She also mentioned green energy, the Central American Free Trade Agreement and governmental transparency. She also outlined her approach to drug control by stressing education and the economy. She asked that the United States increase the investment in Peace Corps volunteers to help train Costa Rican youngsters in English so they can be more competitive in adult life. She spoke in Spanish.

Obama, speaking in English noted the long standing ties between the United States and Costa Rica and praised the benefit of free and fair trade. He also noted his support for clean energy and immigration reform in the United States, which he noted was important to all of Central America.

Three of the four questions that followed touched on drugs in some way. A fourth question for the Washington press asked the president his plans for the Syrian civil war. Obama spoke at length on the complexities presented by the immigration bill that has been introduced in the U.S. Senate, and he said he doubted everyone would get what they wanted.

He also said that regardless of other efforts, drug trafficking still would require law enforcement. He noted that the United States has invested a half billion dollars in Central America to stem the drug trade. But he rejected militarizaiton of the effort.

The two presidents then adjourned for an evening meeting with other heads of state in the Teatro Nacional.

The nation’s television stations starting covering the visit at noon, and on-air personalities had a lot of time to fill. There were historical sequences on the other presidents who had visited Costa Rica, and Channel 9 had a panel including Frank McNeil, who served as U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica in the early 1980s. Some stations even played sequences of Obama’s humorous presentation to the White House Correspondents dinner April 27.

Many other heads of state arrived Friday for the summit of the Sistema de Integración Centroamericana here with minimal television coverage. Daniel Ortega and his wife from Nicaragua got the most air time at the airport. He is one of the six Central American heads of state who are visiting. Ortega was the last to arrive about 4:30 p.m.

As promised, about 30 members of the Nuevo Partido Socialista mounted a protest at Parque Central. They had planned to march on Avenida Secunda, but the Fuerza Pública changed their minds.

They spent several minutes shouting anti-Obama slogans for the benefit of television cameras.

Fuerza Pública officers earlier had detained one man they claimed presented false press credentials. The city was monitored by 150 cameras operated by the municipality.

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