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Costa Rica — a country without an army and proud of it

The Point Is...

By TANISHIA ELLIS HAYLES

Sunday, March 02, 2014    

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Since 1948, almost 66 years ago, there has been no armed force or military regime in Costa Rica.

The Constitution abolished the army, except in the case of war, in which case the United States has offered their army for assistance. After victory in the civil war that year, the Most Honourable José Figueres Ferrer, president of The Republic of Costa Rica at the time, abolished the army.

In the dissolution of the National Army, President Figueres declared that he considered the presence of the police force to be sufficient for the security of the country. He further expressed hope for the future health of the nation and that the years to come without the military would be even stronger than before. There was now the establishment of a consciousness of peace in the absence of the military force.

As a symbolic expression marking the end of Costa Rica's military regime, Figueres demolished part of a wall with a mallet in a ceremony at the barracks of Bellavista (now the National Museum) in the presence of students, members of the diplomatic corps and other nationals.

This symbolised the beginning of a new era in which other areas, including education, would be a priority for the Government.

The abolition of the military was added to the Constitution in 1949 and as such the military no longer formed part of the national budget. The funds and resources previously set for this entity were therefore now put towards the development of education, culture and health.

The headquarters for the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the University of Peace for the United Nations are based in Costa Rica, due to the fact that there is the absence of an army.

Although Costa Rica does not have standing armed forces, it has entrusted bodies to help maintain law, internal security and foreign peacekeeping. It has subscribed to the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR for its Spanish acronym), a defence agreement which covers America and 300 miles from its coast.

According to the treaty, "any armed attack by any state against an American state will be considered as an attack against all the American states, and as a consequence, all the engaged parties promise to help to face the attack in exercising the imminent right of individual or collective legitimate defence".

Costa Rica signed the treaty in 1947 and this was one of the reasons for disbanding its army in 1948 after considering the foresight of the treaty as sufficient guarantee to ensure its national defence. The country had put its trust in this international institution and its mechanisms of defence.

Costa Rica has intervened militarily in other countries by being a part of the occupying forces of the Dominican Republic in 1965 and 1966. It was also a part of the multinational force that invaded Iraq (through diplomatic, not military, support in this instance).

Every year on December 1, Costa Ricans celebrate this historic event which was indeed a milestone for civil life in the search for peace and democracy. We feel a tremendous amount of pride that our country no longer has an army as a permanent institution of the state and so honour this in tradition.

The most honourable ex-president of The Republic of Costa Rica and 1987 Nobel Peace Prize winner for his work towards the signing of the Esquipulas Peace Agreement, Oscar Arias Sánchez, in 1985 declared December 1 as Army Abolition Day (Día de la Abolición del Ejército). Many other countries also applaud Costa Rica for this commendable feat.

Tanishia Ellis Hayles is Chargé d´affaires of the Embassy of Costa Rica in Kingston.

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