By Dialogo July 14, 2015 EL Chapo is more clever than the whole Honduran Army. The U.S. training focuses on patrolling rural areas, operating border posts, providing first aid, using the latest fiber optic equipment to conduct vehicle checks, and a skill that is becoming increasingly important — swimming. Mata, along with other Costa Rican officials, took full advantage of the opportunity to consider how the U.S. Border Patrol’s approach could be adapted for their country, its 309-kilometer northern land border with Nicaragua, and its 330-kilometer southern boundary with Panama. “In order to be a Border Police officer today, you have to be able to swim, and you have to maintain certain abilities in the water,” Lacayo explained. Observing U.S. tactics to stop drug traffickers The June visit strengthened the bond between the two countries and will lead to additional cooperation, Security Minister Gustavo Mata and National Police School (ENP) Director Erick Lacayo told Diálogo. For example, in one instance, the Security Minister watched as U.S. Border Patrol agents conducted patrols on horseback — a tactic that he said could be used in Costa Rica, where “there are places that are unreachable by vehicle…even from the air.” All of these efforts to protect Costa Rica’s border pays important dividends for the country’s ecology, as well. Costa Ricans training to join the Border Police must complete a U.S. component during their training, which consists of a three-month Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) specialization course; prospects typically participate in the BORTAC training in the United States. The goal is to develop “a multifaceted, multifunctional officer,” who protects the border area and human rights, Lacayo said. “We must not only think we’re going to teach him how to use a pistol… we must also teach him he must protect natural resources, because, particularly in our border zone, we find the issue of logging, smuggling of species, meat, cheese, fish, products… which also becomes a human security issue.” The recent visit is just one example of close cooperation between Costa Rica and the U.S. on border security. Ongoing training programs “The visit was meant to observe how the [US] authorities manage the border,” said Mata, a former deputy director of the Judicial Investigation Bureau [OIJ] and former Vice Minister of Security. “I was fascinated, because I saw that they use entirely different logistics for border surveillance –- they have mounted police, they have helicopters, airplanes, they have patrol vehicles, they have all-terrain vehicles –- and this gives operational diversity to protection.” Fighting organized crime groups which engage in wildlife trafficking is one of the most important responsibilities of the Costa Rican Border Police, one of several civilian law enforcement forces that provide public security in Costa Rica since the country disbanded its Armed Forces in 1948. Protecting Costa Rica’s natural resources The Border Police was inactive for several years until Costa Rica relaunched the department on March 30, 2014, at the Costa Rican border post of Los Chiles. The Central American country has about 51,100 square kilometers of land surface and about 589,000 square kilometers of territorial waters, and is one of the 20 countries in the world with the highest biodiversity. It’s home to more than 500,000 species of animals, including marine mammals and reptiles, more than 900 species of birds, and many big cats, such as pumas, jaguarundis, margays, ocelots, and oncillas or little spotted cats. “All that experience allowed me to have a much broader criterion about how we’re going to guard our borders … and see what logistics I could count on. I bring with me a clear model, to see, to analyze whether it’s possible to adapt it,” Mata said. Top Costa Rican security officials recently studied border protection strategies during a visit to Texas installations of the United States Border Patrol, located along the border shared by Mexico and the U.S. The Costa Rican authorities observed strategies and tactics their country’s Border Police (Policía de Fronteras) could utilize.