Costa Rica’s recognition of China led the U.S. ambassador to raise concerns over illegal Chinese immigration to Costa Rica and drug trafficking.

Shortly after Costa Rica recognized the People’s Republic of China, the first Central American country to do so, on June 1, 2007, limited immigration restrictions were on the agenda for the two countries.

One of the U.S. diplomatic cables obtained and distributed by WikiLeaks summarized a meeting between Minister of Foreign Relations of Costa Rica, Bruno Stagno Ugarte, and the U.S. ambassador. Stagno Ugarte told the ambassador that the recognition timing partly was driven by regional dynamics, and was not just about trade. The government of Costa Rica was under the impression that other Central American countries were considering recognizing China, and Costa Rica did not want to be in a position of “following Nicaragua.” The ambassador emphasized two concerns to Stagno Ugarte; first of all, normalized relations with China would likely increase the flow of Chinese trafficking in persons and secondly, he noted that the Chinese drug traffickers are active elsewhere in the region.

The government of Costa Rica was clearly not prepared to face the practical consequences of its political decision to embrace China,” a cable said.

Costa Rica and China in joint trafficking-investigation

In October 2007 the U.S. diplomats reported that the government of Costa Rica had changed its mind and decided not to provide a “businessman” status to Chinese businessmen as the Immigration Department worried it would invite fraud. Instead most Chinese visa applicants would be kept in category 4, which is the toughest Costa Rican visa category. “This is a step in the right direction,” an official from the U.S. embassy wrote.

However in May 2009 they reported that Chinese and Costa Rican authorities had broken up an apparent child-trafficking ring which tried to bring over 300 Chinese children into Costa Rica. Mafia members had applied for ‘family unification visas’ claiming their alleged parents were Costa Rican residents. In the applications there were some irregularities, and reports of attempted bribery of consular officers at the Costa Rican Embassy in Beijing triggered an investigation. Three arrests were made by Chinese authorities in China and one suspect was cooperating with the authorities.

One cable states, “While this latest incident must be viewed as a Costa Rican-Chinese success story, it should also serve as a loud wake-up call to government of Costa Rica officials.