San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Ministers, President Tighten Arms Control Amid Scandal

In an attempt by the Arias administration to put its foot down and reiterate its opposition to arms proliferation amid a highly politicized weapons scandal in Costa Rica, administration heads signed decrees tightening arms controls Wednesday.

President Oscar Arias appeared at the Casa Presidencial with members of his Cabinet to publicly sign three different decrees: one prohibiting arms manufacturing in the nation’s free zones, another that created a committee dedicated to pushing further arms controls, and an addition to a controversial Health Ministry decree that requires all arms manufacturers to seek permits through the arms and explosives department of the Public Security Ministry before they can set up shop.

Vice-President Laura Chinchilla also laid out a proposal to reform the country’s Arms Law to prohibit the manufacturing of all arms, munitions and components in Costa Rica, make it illegal for minors to use arms, limit the number of weapons each person can possess, and toughen penalties for crimes in which weapons were used.

“It’s not credible to the rest of the world that Costa Rica, a country without a military, promotes the manufacture of weapons, and especially this government, which is presenting … an international treaty to prohibit arms sales and a constitutional reform that prohibits the manufacturing of arms in the country,” Arias said.

Arias was referring to a scandal that broke last month after a decree that Arias  signed was published in La Gaceta, the official government newspaper, which updated and simplified existing regulations for business permits from the Public Health Ministry. An annex that categorizes commercial activities according to risk contains a section on the manufacture of artillery, despite the fact that Costa Rica’s Arms Law prohibits the manufacture, possession, import or sale of these weapons (TT, Sept. 22). The 1995 law does allow the manufacture of “permitted weapons” including handguns, rifles and hunting guns.

Arias’ signing of the decree drew fire from his opponents, and was politicized by opponents of the U.S.-Central American Free-Trade Agreement (CAFTA), who have said the inclusion of arms manufacturers in the decree is a bow to CAFTA. Debate over whether CAFTA would allow other countries to import illegal weapons to Costa Rica erupted in June (TT, June 16) Last week, Health Minister María Avila was grilled by the Legislative Assembly for having drafted the decree (TT, Oct. 13).

National Liberation Party (PLN) general secretary and legislator Oscar Núñez has said he plans to submit a proposal to amend the Constitution to prohibit arms manufacturing in Costa Rica. Núñez told The Tico Times that the constitutional reform is needed in case CAFTA is ratified, because in Costa Rica international agreements supersede national laws, but not the Costa Rican Constitution.


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