San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Foundation and Rock Group Unite Against Guns

THROUGH rock concerts, TV and radio ads, a documentaryand the sale of blue rubber bracelets à la LanceArmstrong, the Arias Foundation for Peace and HumanProgress hopes to raise Costa Ricans’ awareness about thedanger of firearms in their homes and country.In spreading its message, especially to youth, the foundationhas found a persuasive ally in the popular rockgroup Gandhi, which is acting as a voice for the newawareness campaign entitled “Armas? ¡No Gracias!”(Guns? No Thanks!). The rock group recently kicked off itsparticipation in the campaign with the release of a newmusic video from its latest album Ciclos, called “SeñorCaballero,” and a concert at the National Cultural Center(CENAC) that was free to anyone sporting a blue braceletbearing the campaign slogan. The bracelets cost ¢500(about $1) and help fund the campaign.Gandhi is also judging a battle-of-the-bands contestthat started May 14 and will continue for the next twoSaturdays, May 21 and 28, at the INBioParque amphitheaterin Santo Domingo de Heredia, north of San José.The winner will be announced at a concert in June, atwhich Gandhi will perform. The contest is also part of thecampaign.CAMPAIGN director Gabriela Lavagni said the AriasFoundation is working with Gandhi for different reasons,one being the group’s immense popularity in Costa Ricaand Central America. But, Lavagni explained, Gandhi wasalso very interested in getting involved with the program,and had previous ties with the foundation.“Besides having a lot of followers, they have decided tocreate awareness in people,” Lavagni said, noting the grouphas a history of speaking out against violence. It was acoincidence, Lavagni explained, that when the foundationcontacted Gandhi, the group was considering releasing“Señor Caballero,” a song dealing with domestic violence.So, they decided to combine the launch of the video withthe band’s integration into the campaign.The first of its kind that the Arias Foundation hasundertaken, according to Lavagni, the campaign began thispast December with the screening of “Las Armas de LaViolencia” (The Weapons of Violence), a documentary onfirearms and violence in Central America. The documentary,directed by Rodrigo Soto for the foundation, is a centralelement of the campaign; Lavagni plans on showing itat approximately 800 schools – mostly high schools – andsaid members of Gandhi will join the classes for a discussionof the documentary afterwards.“The idea is that they see the documentary and thenthere is some kind of feedback,” Lavagni said. “They analyzethe situation and understand that it applies to all of us.The students shouldn’t simply see the video, with it goingin one ear and out the other.”ACCORDING to the foundation, Central America isflooded with firearms – weapons left over from the civilconflicts of previous decades, and weapons being movedfrom South America to North America. The foundationcites a study showing that of the estimated 3 millionfirearms in Central America, only 18% are registered. InCosta Rica, it said, only 13.3% of the approximately323,000 firearms are registered.“Central America is a bridge between two major traffickingzones: Chiapas (Mexico) and Colombia,” Lavagniexplained. “We are being victimized because of it. Arms traffickingincites domestic, interpersonal and societal violence.”In Central America, 70% of violent deaths, excludingcar accidents, are caused by firearms, according to the foundation.Women and young people, Lavagni said, are the twosectors most affected by gun violence. In Central America,62% of women who die from violent acts are killed by guns,57% of the victims of firearms are under the age of 30, andevery week four people under the age of 18 are killed orwounded by a firearm, according to the foundation.ONE of the campaign’s main messages is that firearmsdo not make an individual safer; in fact, they increase therisk that the person will be injured by a gunshot. A studycarried out in El Salvador and quoted by the foundationfound that victims of a robbery who attempted to defendthemselves with a firearm were 45 times more likely to bekilled or injured.Lavagni places part of the blame on the media, whichshe says are saturating society with images of violence,which cause a sense of insecurity that leads more people togo out and get guns, and at the same time makes violencemore accepted within society.“People begin to see the situation as normal,” Lavagnisaid, “and it’s not a normal situation. It’s not normal thatevery day husbands kill their wives. These are things thatcan be controlled, but people have to be aware that theyhave to be controlled.”The goal of the campaign is to make people more sensitiveto the issues, Lavagni explained. The foundation hopesto achieve this first in Costa Rica, and then expand the campaignthroughout Central America, eventually leading to newlaws and treaties controlling the flow and use of firearms.“First, you have to convince the population,” Lavagnisaid. “Then you can begin with the government officials toachieve legislation and control.”

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