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For now, Costa Ricans accept US-trained rapid reaction force

A majority of Costa Ricans probably do not oppose the recent creation of a 750-man antiterrorist rapid reaction force being trained by some 22 US advisers. But behind this surface acceptance lies a disquieting sense that, as one prominent Costa Rican businessman put it, ``the [Americans] are giving us more than $1 million a day, and that has to be paid back with something.''

The deployment of US advisers and the formation of the Costa Rican force also raise fears of further involvement in the conflict with Nicaragua and of the militarization of Costa Rica.

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This is the opinion of a number of prominent Costa Ricans of different political ideologies. They cite two reasons for Costa Rican acceptance of this force:

First, a feeling of unease, engendered by a series of left-wing terrorist attacks in Costa Rica in the last few years. These attacks, although infrequent by the standards of some countries, were frequent by the standards of Costa Rica, which is generally peaceful.

Second, a general perception among a majority of Costa Ricans interviewed was that their Sandinista neighbors to the north have become a ``threat.''

At the same time, according to these observers, there is a sense of unease that Costa Rica could be drawn into the Central American conflict by the Reagan administration, to which it is financially indebted.

The question of military advisers in Costa Rica is an especially delicate one: The country has not had an army since the 1948 revolution.

One moderate Costa Rican political leader (who has not been very supportive of the Sandinistas) says the recent move could be a dangerous first step in the direction of militarization and of what he calls the ``Central Americanization'' of Costa Rica -- that is, a high military budget replacing social expenditures, and national instability brought about by the constant threat of political intervention by the military.

This leader believes the main danger is what he perceives as a US desire for Costa Rica to build an army in order to confront the Sandinistas.

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He also states that in spite of strong anti-Sandinista feeling among the Costa Rican population, opinion polls indicate that a majority of the people does not want to be driven into the Central American conflict, or have Costa Rica depart any more than it has from President Luis Alberto Monge's policy of neutrality in the conflict.

Further, this source and and other observers stress that Costa Rica does have a legitimate need to strengthen its police force in order to defend itself against terrorism, drugs, and arms traffic.

However, he states that it was not necessary for US advisers to be brought into the country. The troops, he said, could have completed their training in other Central American countries like Panama.

And the advisers did not necessarily even have to be US. Costa Rica has already received military assistance from Israel. Personnel from Israel and other Western countries such as Panama and Venezuela could have substituted for US advisers.

One potential danger emphasized by this prominent observer is that one or more of the US advisers could be killed by terrorist groups while in Costa Rica. He fears that the US could use such an incident as an excuse to further involve the country in the Central American conflict.

He also stated that although a majority of Costa Ricans probably do not currently object to the presence of the advisers, they would do so strenuously if the advisers remain in Costa Rica for more than the 30-day period that has been announced.

In Washington, US congressional analysts say the creation of a rapid deployment force is something of a legal dodge. Such a force, they say, is technically designed to combat guerrilla warfare, which does not exist in Costa Rica. The type of force designed to combat terrorism and drugs would be a police force. However, since the US Congress has specifically outlawed assistance to police forces, this observer believes that the ``dodge'' of the rapid deployment force was created.

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