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

Country encourages student to return

By April Stanley

April Stanley

Violence and conflict are daily occurrences. War, militarism, disease, discrimination, illiteracy and environmental destruction are some of the forms in which violence is exhibited. Tragically, conflict is too often measured in lives lost. Desperation, caused by conditions such as hyperinflation, massive unemployment, and poverty, is often what fuels acts of violence. Working to eradicate and prevent those desperate situations is one step in avoiding the devastation caused by violence.

Costa Rican President José Figueres was inspired by the idea that true security comes from enriching quality of life, as opposed to relying on armed forces. The enormous cost of maintaining an army was depriving the government of Costa Rica from ensuring welfare for its citizens. Figueres constitutionally disbanded the army in 1948 and transferred military funds into education and healthcare budgets. This exceptionally risky decision reputed Costa Rica as a progressive country dedicated to maintaining peace.

Decades later when Central America was engulfed in armed conflict, Costa Rica repeatedly chose to rely on negotiations rather than reestablish an army. The leaders not only relied on diplomacy but helped to spread this policy throughout the region. Costa Rican President Oscar Arias brought the leaders of the region to the negotiation table which led to the signing of the Arias Peace Plan. This agreement required each participating country to agree to call a cease-fire, begin talks with opposition groups, reduce arms, declare amnesty for political prisoners and set a calendar for democratization. In 1987, the international community recognized Arias for being a key player in the Central American peace process. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

Many students at Missouri Southern are not able to locate Costa Rica on a map, nor do they have knowledge of its achievements toward peace. When I first visited Costa Rica in the summer of 2000, I was exposed to its intriguing history. The acts of this progressive state have inspired me to learn more about what makes Costa Rica unique in the region. During my first visit in 2000, I not only desired to learn the details of Costa Rica's history for myself, but I wanted to share this story with others. I wondered how this country has maintained its tranquility in a region plagued by violence. The abolition was not only an incredibly courageous act, but I found it astounding that Costa Rica has never reestablished a standing army.