At the top of President Oscar Arias’ agenda when he arrived for the fifth Summit of the Americas last week was convincing his peers to reduce the flow of weapons through Latin America.
He began his campaign with a statement two days prior to his arrival in Trinidad and Tobago, calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to halt all sales of arms to Latin America countries.
“Every time a country spends its resources on arms, it’s a hospital that can’t be built, it’s a lesser university, it’s a lesser highway and it’s a lesser school…” Arias said.
Coincidentally, Obama announced the next day in the company of Mexican President Felipe Calderón that he would press the U.S. Senate for ratification of a Latin American arms trafficking treaty, whose approval has been stalled since President Bill Clinton signed it in 1997.
The treaty would work to reduce the illicit sale of firearms by establishing a system for importing, exporting and transferring firearms and would increase coordination by law enforcement agencies investigating illegal arms trafficking.
“I feel very pleased with President Obama’s decision,” Arias said in response.
“Without a doubt, this goes in the right direction to recoup levels of security within Latin America and to reinforce a message of cooperation and responsibility adopted by the Obama administration.”
Bruce Bagley, chairman of international studies at the University of Miami, in a conversation with The Tico Times earlier this month, estimated that 90 percent of the weapons that make it to Latin America are sold out of the United States.
“We need to control the guns in order to improve other situations within Latin America,” he said.
Meanwhile, Arias is working on the home front to counter problems stemming from firearms. His administration is pushing a bill through the Legislative Assembly that would prohibit the manufacture of weapons within Costa Rica, establish a limit on the number of firearms someone can have and adopt measures to avoid the possession of weapons by minors.
“These controls and requirements are vital, taking into account the number of dangers and fatal risks to individuals, their families and to third party (victims) such as young people,” said Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias, explaining the proposed law. “For that reason, this bill is key for the government and, in general, for a Costa Rican society that puts security as one of its priorities.”
President Arias took his plea to curtail the sale of firearms a step further this weekend, asking fellow leaders to reduce the amount of money spent on their militaries. He said the world spends $300 billion each year to support armed forces, which is 13 times more than international development aid granted to the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
“More artillery helicopters, more combat airplanes, more rockets and more soldiers will not bring one crust of bread to our families, nor one desk for our schools, nor one (container) of medicine for our clinics …” Arias said, urging countries in the Americas to redirect state funding.
At the end of the press conference, Obama praised Costa Rica’s contributions to the summit, saying, “We recognize that other countries have good ideas, too, and we want to hear them,” adding that the fact that “a good idea comes from a small country like Costa Rica” doesn’t diminish its importance.