San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Country Celebrates Abolition of Army

COSTA Rica commemorated its 56 year withoutarmed forces in a curtain of sparks falling off .38revolvers being chopped in half, official speeches andprotest of the administration’s support for the U.S.-ledinvasion of Iraq.Rogelio Ramos, Minister of Public Security, andGuido Sáenz, Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports,sliced the barrels and grips off several pistols with twochop saws set up for the occasion at an anniversary ceremonyat the National Museum in San José Wednesday.BEHIND them was a large, clear acrylic cube full ofgun parts, a monument to disarmament and the 1,500guns police destroyed this month. They were among theapproximately 16,000 guns police have confiscated since2000.“This is another demonstration of the commitment that we have to civility and the struggle todefend our social and political achievementswithout resorting to military meansas a shield,” Ramos said in his address.Costa Rica abolished its military afterthe 1948 civil war, a rebellion fomented byJosé “Pepe” Figueres against the governmentcontrolled by former President RafaelÁngel Calderón Guardia. In his bid for asecond term, Calderón refused to yield tohis opponent Otilio Ulate after the 1948presidential election, alleging fraud whenUlate won.Figueres mustered an army from thesouthern Caribbean region and routed thenational army in 40 days. He took powerafter promising to hand over the reins in 18months, exiled Calderón, banned theCommunist Party that had lent Calderón itssupport, converted his “National LiberationArmy” into the “National LiberationParty,” and disbanded the armed forces.THE move was hailed as visionary bysupporters and criticized as self-serving byhis enemies. Regardless, analysts nowagree it probably kept Costa Rican governmentout of the hands of the kinds of militarydictatorships that have plagued LatinAmerican countries in the last fewdecades.In spite of his violent reaction toCalderón, Figueres’ new Constitution,which went into effect on Dec. 1, 1949,retained most of Calderón’s radicalreforms including socialized health care,housing and child welfare programs, minimumwage laws, the public university systemand the right for workers to unionize.IN his commemorative speech thisweek, President Abel Pacheco lauded thoseprograms as the fruits of the country’sdemilitarization.“If we had to spend the resources thattoday finance social development programson planes, machine guns, tanks andother military equipment, we simply wouldnot have the school system we have today,”he said. “We would also not have the tensof thousands of subsidized homes we haveconstructed, or the ability to bring healthservices to even the most distant corners ofthe country.”BRITISH Ambassador to Costa Rica Georgina Butler was heckled by membersof the Quakers for Peace Center throughouther speech, for her country’s involvementin the U.S.-led war against Iraq.Representatives of the center distributedflyers asking forgiveness from Iraqis forCosta Rica’s inclusion on the list of countriesthat form “Coalition of the Willing”that invaded Iraq (TT, Nov. 5).They held aloft signs apologizing to thechildren of Iraq and yelled before and duringButler’s speech that she had no right tospeak about peace as the representative ofa country that invaded a sovereign nation.Rather than speak, protesters said, sheshould offer a moment of silence for theIraqi civilians who have died in battle. Inresponse, Butler prefaced her remarks sayingshe values freedom of speech, somethingthe Iraqis did not have before the war.JUAN José Castro, Secretary Generalof the Association of Ex-Combatants, toldThe Tico Times he believes every countrycould follow in Costa Rica’s footsteps andabolish their militaries.He fought for “don Pepe,” as Figueresis popularly called, in the north againstNicaragua’s Anastasio Somoza, who hadoffered to help the national army “pacify”Costa Rica in the fear that Figueres’Caribbean Legion wouldn’t stop at SanJosé.“The memories are ugly,” Castro said.“It’s not very pleasant to remember thosethings.”That’s why he and other veterans annuallycelebrate the decision to abolish thearmy and reroute military funds towardsocial programs (TT, Nov. 26).THE destruction of handguns is part ofa campaign against unregistered gun ownership,backed by the ministries of Justice,Public Security and Health.Organizers of the campaign will sign aproclamation for the disarmament of CostaRican civilians in the Cinema Magaly nextweek, where former President and NobelPeace Prize winner Oscar Arias’Foundation for Peace will show invitedguests the documentary “The Arms ofViolence.”

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