Controversial visit is a medical, humanitarian one
One of the U.S. Navy vessels to take advantage of Costa Rica’s approval of its visit is the USS Iwo Jima.
A spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command said that the Iwo Jima, a 257-meter (843-foot) amphibious assault ship that has been refitted with special medical equipment, plans a stop in Costa Rica. The boat, its crew and non-profit organization staffers will spend from 10 days to two weeks providing humanitarian assistance to residents of the southern Caribbean coast, the Southern Command spokesman said. The dates still are uncertain.
“The primary focus of the medical teams is to provide a range of health care services ashore. On a case-by-case basis, select patients will receive medical or dental care on the ship,” said a Southern Command release, adding:
“The medical contingent aboard USS Iwo Jima is trained to provide general and specialty surgical care, primary and consultative care for children and adults, obstetrical and gynecological consultative care, ophthalmologic services, optometric services, preventative medicine treatment, dental screenings and treatment, optometry screenings, eyewear distribution, public health training, infrastructure support and veterinary services.”
This is the fifth such visit by similar ships. The Iwo Jima was included in a list of 46 ships that the Asamblea Legislative permitted to visit Costa Rica. Such approval is required by the Costa Rican Constitution. Also cited was a 10-year-old anti-drug agreement between Costa Rica and the United States, although the mission of the Iwo Jima does not involve drug interdiction.
Although 46 boats and 7,000 crew members were mentioned in the assembly resolution, most of them will not visit Costa Rica. For example, the famous USNS Comfort, a hospital ship, is on the list but not scheduled to stop here during the next six months, said the Southern Command spokesman.
Primary opponents in the legislature were Luis Fishman Zonsinski of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana and Jose Maria Villalta Florez-Estrada of Frente Amplio, a party that has ties to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
More recently the Sindicato de Trabajadoras y Trabajadores de la Educación Costarricense published a half-page text ad in El Diario Extra in which it said its Congreso Ideológico opposed the resolution and asked the government to withdraw the permission. President Laura Chinchilla noted that similar permissions have been granted every six months for years.
A Prensa Latina news story prompted the most concern because it gave the impression that 46 ships and 7,000 service members were going to come to Costa Rica at the same time. The Cuban news service seems to be in step with Communist Party President Fidel Castro, who is promoting the idea
that the United States is about to start a nuclear war.
Some 1,600 persons will be on the Iwo Jima, the Southern Command spokesman said. The Iwo Jima left Norfolk, Virginia, July 12 to begin its four-month goodwill mission, called Continuing Promise 2010. In addition to Costa Rica, the ship will visit Haiti, Colombia, Guatemala, Guyana, Nicaragua, Panamá and Suriname.
“The mission aims to foster goodwill and demonstrate U.S. commitment and support to Latin America and the Caribbean,” said the Southern Command. The Continuing Promise medical contingent will partner with local health care providers and community officials to provide free medical care to communities with limited access to medical treatment, it said.
The medical/dental/veterinary crew includes medical professionals from the U.S. military and U.S. Public Health Service, non-governmental organizations and other international partners, all with approval from various ministries of the host nations, said the Southern Command.
A team of Navy Seabees will conduct building repairs and improvements, small construction
projects, utility system repairs and
other engineering assistance projects for local communities during the mission.. About 500 Marines from Cherry Point, North Carolina, are supporting the deployment. The Marines’ mission is to provide air, ground and logistics support to humanitarian civic assistance activities, the Southern Commands said. They will also be ready to provide relief to any natural/man-made disaster that may occur in the region, it added. The ship is carrying four Blackhawk helicopters.
The Iwo Jima now is in Miami and scheduled to leave Wednesday for Haiti, the first country on its list of stops. The crew of the Iwo Jima will be joined during the mission by medical, dental and engineering professionals from Canada, Chile, Germany, the Netherlands and Paraguay, the Southern Command said. Supplies have been donated by some 30 non-profit organizations.
Large amphibious ships, like Iwo Jima, resemble small aircraft carriers and include the ability to rapidly move personnel and cargo by
helicopter and landing craft, making it an ideal platform to support humanitarian relief missions on short notice, the Southern Command explained.
This is the fifth such deployment to the region since 2007. Prior deployments were supported by crews aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort and the amphibious ships USS Boxer and USS Kearsarge, the Southern Command said. Continuing Promise crews have treated more than 265,000 patients during previous missions, it added.U.S. service personnel have visited southeastern Costa Rica several times. They provided needed medical treatment for the largely native population there.