Project Costa Rica: Costa Rica's Journey to a Peaceful Society

Former president offers peace resolution insight

By April Stanley

Rodrigo Carazo
Former Costa Rican president Rodrigo Carazo helped create
the University for Peace.

For a four-year period, Señor Rodrigo Carazo Odio was the most important figure in Costa Rican politics.

Carazo served as President of Costa Rica from 1978-1982 and his most recognized accomplishment was gaining United Nations approval to create the University for Peace. Besides the creation of UPAZ, he is also recognized for establishing the Inter-American Court for Human Rights and the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights.

The institute is devoted to human rights education and research, and the court is an autonomous judicial institution which applies and interprets human rights according to the provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights.

To date, he remains outspoken in the political arena, especially on issues concerning peace and education. Carazo and his wife, Estrella, currently run a program called Project Villa Blanca. They invite children to their private rain forest reserve so they can become familiar with nature and learn respect for the environment.

I was interested in speaking with Carazo after learning about his work in the realm of peace and education. I made a call to his office, and I was informed that although Carazo was busy, he would be happy to assist a student in a peace-related project on Costa Rica.

It was an honor to set up an appointment with the former president.

As planned, I found my way to Carazo's home in Escazú via public transportation and taxis.

After exchanging pleasantries, I expressed my gratitude for being welcomed to his home. He had a quick conversation in Spanish with his secretary who then excused herself from the room. I later learned that he was asking his secretary to arrange for a driver to deliver me safely to my hotel.

Our conversation began with me inquiring about Carazo's reasons for wanting to create UPAZ. He stated that he was in pursuit of establishing peace and understanding in this war-ridden region.

According to Carazo, Costa Rica used to be a typical Latin American country in terms of finding solutions through violent means.

"Since independence, the culture of this country has been based on the concept that harmony is the best way of life, and the only way to maintain harmony or prevent conflict is to be tolerant," he said.

Carazo believes "peace is not only abolishing armies, it is not only trying to have an anti-violent community, but peace is an attitude related to mutual respect."

In 1948, when the army was constitutionally abolished, Carazo was a keen supporter of the change. During his presidency, he stood firm on the fact that his country was proud they had no army, and he was not willing to act against the constitution.

When U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Jean Kirkpatrick suggested Costa Rica should organize an army to defend itself from the communists on the continent, Señor Carazo responded, "we have no desire ... and we are obliged by our constitution not to have one." In the absence of military force with which to enforce ideas, this country has patience with the diplomatic process. Carazo is proud that his country is known for its willingness to "talk it out" when faced with conflict.

Carazo insists that despite these strides toward peace, "Costa Rica is not heaven, nor is it a utopia."

"Costa Rica has all of the problems that are usual to similar countries, and problems could arise at any moment," he said.

Carazo proudly proclaims that the Costa Rican people share a mutual motivation to seek peace.

"People here consider that the best way of life is to respect each other," he said. "We have been nurturing and practicing this tradition of respect for hundreds of years. Because of this, we are ready to work for peace."

It was due to this tradition, and the desire to spread it to other communities, that he thought his country would be a suitable host for the U.N. University for Peace.

"A country like ours could contribute a lot if we were able to transfer our way of thinking to other communities," Carazo said. "So the University for Peace was created to develop this kind of education and to try to take positive ideas to those areas where we know people need this kind of assistance."

Carazo's initiatives were not only limited to political issues. He continues to emphasize the importance of conserving and respecting the environment. Project Villa Blanca, run by him and his wife, Estrella, is located on their private rain forest reserve called Bosque de los Angeles (Forest of the Angels). They provide transportation and nature walks for school children to become exposed to and also learn from the forest. Carazo believes "you cannot respect that which you do not know." He believes respect will follow after introducing children to the importance of nature and teaching about human dependency on the environment.

"We want the children to experience the real values of creation," he said. "I have always said we must be very careful with air and water. If we want to survive, those two elements are basic. So they (the children) must understand that human life depends on a healthy environment, and once they realize that, they will respect and protect the forest in order to live.

"Children begin to understand that emotional and spiritual wealth have everything to do with the conservation of the forest. Monetary wealth is also affected by conservation. Through ecotourism we are saving nature and educating people about the real values of creation."

After a lengthy discussion with Carazo, I was driven back to my hotel in San José by his assistant. Carazo proved to be sincere and genuine by ensuring my safety. I was honored this former president would sacrifice time to assist me in my endeavor.