San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

As tensions with Iran grow, Costa Rica residents raise awareness

Jim Scarborough never cared much for protests, until recent movements stirred him. On Saturday afternoon, the Vietnam War veteran stood in the Plaza de la Cultura in downtown San José with his wife, Carmen, and a half-dozen other demonstrators to raise awareness in this armyless nation about the threat of a war with Iran.

“They’re giving us high fives. They’re smiling. They’re waving. Quite a few people have stopped for several minutes. A lot people are taking pictures,” Scarborough said. “I’ve never stood on a street corner and done something like this.”

They joined protesters and pacifist groups in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, India and other countries in a “Day of Mass Action” against a possible war with Iran.

The Costa Rican group engaged with passers-by on the crowded sidewalk. Old expats gave peace signs. A couple of clowns in a passing parade flashed thumbs-ups. Others stated that a war with Iran is the last thing the Western world wants. They also answered unrelated questions.

One tourist asked for directions to a souvenir handicrafts store. Costa Rican Carlos Arredondo pointed her in the direction of a nearby art shop. Arredondo, who lives in the U.S. city of Boston, lost his oldest son in the Iraq War, and his second son committed suicide near the end of the conflict. Arredondo’s wife, Melida, stood nearby explaining what happened to several Costa Ricans during the Iraq War. (Read their story in this Friday’s edition of The Tico Times.)

These demonstrations came as Europe and the United States slapped tough new sanctions on Iran, and Israel this week launched new threats of military intervention if the Islamic republic fails to rein in its suspected nuclear development program.

There is heightened speculation that Israel is contemplating air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities, fueled in part by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s comments to The Washington Post in which he said he believes there is a “strong possibility” that Israel will launch such air strikes this spring. On Sunday, U.S. President Barack Obama commented that diplomacy remains the “preferred solution” for dealing with Iran.

Iran admits it has a nuclear program but insists it is for peaceful purposes like generating electricity.

“The actions of the Iranian government in no way justify a U.S. war on Iran,” Debra Sweet, director of the organization The World Can’t Wait, told AFP at the New York march, where she was joined by hundreds of other activists.

A leaflet distributed at the New York demonstration said “in many ways, U.S. war on Iran has already begun,” citing as examples “harsh economic sanctions” against Tehran, “killing Iranian scientists in car bombings” and that “U.S. aircraft carriers are right off Iran’s shore.”

Near the end of the demonstration in Costa Rica, Charles Dulansky joined in a conversation with the Arredondos about Iran. They did not see entirely eye to eye on the situation. But the Belgian economist agreed that the world needs more diplomacy, even from an economical perspective, as the “war gives money to a specialized industry” and a crisis like that is not what countries like Europe and the U.S. need.

“I think it’s good raising a voice like this,” he said.

Scarborough, 64, moved from the U.S. to Costa Rica in 2000, in part to escape the administration of newly elected President George W. Bush. However, last year he was invited by the Occupy Boston movement to speak about his service in Vietnam. There, he saw an organization called Veterans for Peace create a barrier between protesters and the police. He saw one 70-year-old war veteran knocked to the ground. Scarborough became involved with the organization the next day.

“I’ve since developed a little more of a heart for activism,” Scarborough said.

AFP contributed to this story.

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