On May 12, 2016, The Institute of World Politics hosted Ambassador Roman Macaya at an event entitled, “Costa Rica, a Geopolitical Crossroads: Drugs, Refugees, and Terrorism.” He discussed the major issues facing Costa Rica and how these issues relate to the geostrategic position of the country in Central America.
Amb. Macaya explained how, although Costa Rica is a relatively stable and peaceful democracy, the country still struggles with broader regional issues. Costa Rica’s position within Central America makes it vulnerable to the trafficking of drugs and refugees as they move north towards the United States. Refugee numbers have swelled in part due to the United States’ rapprochement with Cuba. The Ambassador noted that there has also been a surge of “extracontinental” refugees from Africa and Southeast Asia. In order to tackle this complex regional issue, Ambassador Macaya argued, more regional cooperation is needed in the space of security and intelligence.
In an effort to reach the United States, a majority of refugees begin their journey in South America. Central American countries like Costa Rica act as a passageway to the north. Costs of housing, feeding, and caring for refugees often fall upon Costa Rica and its neighbors. Often, refugees arrive without any sort of documentation, creating problems regarding the issuing of travel visas and determining the origins of different refugees.
Costa Rica also faces an increase in drug-related crime, caused by a spike in Colombian cocaine production and alterations in distribution methods. Ambassador Macaya argued for a strengthened Coast Guard and more intelligence-sharing with partners like the United States.
At a time when several global national security concerns dominate American discussion, it is easy to overlook the significance of the problems facing our neighbors to the South. But the problems facing Costa Rica today have a direct impact on the security and welfare of the United States. The U.S. serves as the finish line for refugees and drug smugglers alike, so it is imperative that the United States takes initiative in seeking regional cooperation on these issues with long-time partners like Costa Rica, or so the Ambassador argued. It is also imperative to examine the sources of refugees abroad and coordinate ways to limit the push factors many refugees experience.
Ambassador Roman Macaya was sworn in as Ambassador of Costa Rica to the United States in 2014. He has worked for many years in both the United States and Costa Rica and has developed a multidisciplinary career as a scientist, businessman, politician, and academic. Ambassador Macaya holds an MBA in Health Care management from the Wharton School of Business, a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from UCLA, and a B.A. in Chemistry from Middlebury College.