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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 6/4/15

Film: Costa Rica Abolished its Military, Never Regretted it

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The forthcoming film, A Bold Peace: Costa Rica's Path of Demilitarization, should be given every possible means of support and promotion. After all, it documents the blatant violation of laws of physics, human nature, and economics, as understood in the United States -- and the violators seem positively gleeful about it.

In 1948 Costa Rica abolished its military, something widely deemed impossible in the United States. This film documents how that was done and what the results have been. I don't want to give away the ending but let me just say this: there has not been a hostile Muslim takeover of Costa Rica, the Costa Rican economy has not collapsed, and Costa Rican women still seem to find a certain attraction in Costa Rican men.

How is this possible? Wait, it gets stranger.

Costa Rica provides free, high-quality education, including free college, as well as free healthcare, and social security. Costa Ricans are better educated than Americans, live longer, are reported as happier (in fact, happiest in the world in various studies), and lead the world in the use of renewable energy (100% renewable energy lately in Costa Rica). Costa Rica even has a stable, functioning democracy with far greater (required) participation, ballot access, diversity of platforms, and popular support than the gerrymandered, Citizen-United, Diebolded, home of widely tuned-out Bush v. Clinton reruns.

How is it that U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders only ever mentions Scandinavia as a place to learn from, and usually not military-free Iceland either? Could it be that military abolition is just not an acceptable topic in U.S. politics?

Costa Rica has developed a culture of peace, including an educational system that teaches children nonviolent conflict resolution. As someone who grew up being told that we should not use violence, while simultaneously noticing that my society's biggest public project was the U.S. military, I can only imagine the power of consistency found in an educational curriculum that walks its own talk. Costa Rica has built up a society of low violence and of, as one speaker in the film describes it, "an attitude of non-aggression toward the poor." The Ticos describe support for the welfare state and for cooperative businesses as "solidarity" and "love."

How did this come to be? The film provides more context than I was previously aware of. Rafael Calderà n Guardia, president from 1940 to 1944, began the welfare state in a major way through a unique pre-Cold War coalition of support that included the Catholic church and the communist party. In 1948 Calderà n ran for president again, lost, and refused to recognize the results. A remarkable man named Jose Figueres Ferrer, also known as "Don Pepe," who had educated himself at Boston Public Library and returned to Costa Rica to start a collective farm, led a violent revolution and won.

Figueres made a pact with the communists to protect the welfare state, and they disbanded their army. And after his own troops threatened a rightwing coup, he disbanded his own army, that of the nation of Costa Rica, saying:

"Los hombres que ensangrentamos recientemente a un pas de paz, comprendemos la gravedad que pueden asumir estas heridas en la America Latina, y la urgencia de que dejen de sangrar. No esgrimimos el puà al del asesino sino el bistur del cirujano. Como cirujanos nos interesa ahora, mas que la operacià n practicada, la futura salud de la Nacià n, que exige que esa herida cierre pronto, y que sobre ella se forme cicatriz màs sana y màs fuerte que el tejido original.

"Somos sostenedores definidos del ideal de un nuevo mundo en America. A esa patria de Washington, Lincoln, Bolvar y Mart, queremos hoy decirle: Oh, America! Otros pueblos, hijos tuyos tambien, te ofrendan sus grandezas. La pequeà a Costa Rica desea ofrecerte siempre, como ahora, junto con su corazà n, su amor a la civilidad, a la democracia."

Of course Costa Rica could abolish its army only because it had no enemies!

So you might think, if such a mental process can be called thinking. In reality, Costa Rica was surrounded by enemies, hostile dictatorships all around, not to mention the longstanding Monroe Doctrine U.S. dominance of any Latin American nation that stepped out of line. On top of which Calderà n and friends plotted a counter-revolution from Nicaragua and attempted it in 1949 and again in 1955, with the support of U.S.-backed Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio "Tacho" Somoza Garca.

What did Costa Rica do? On the model that Jefferson and Madison envisioned for the United States, Figueres maintained the ban on any standing army but called up a temporary citizens' militia to fight off the invasion successfully twice.

But what if a more powerful invasion had come? I think there are two answers to that. First, Costa Rica is not occupying nations all over the globe, blowing up families with drones, torturing people in secret prisons, arming dictatorships, defending Israel's acts of genocide, etc. -- that is to say, Costa Rica is not creating enemies. Secondly, if the United States were to attack Costa Rica, no military might on the Costa Rican side could possibly prevail. The best defense against such an attack is, in fact, to possess no military that might be blamed for some incident as grounds for war.

Figueres used a citizens militia and then disbanded it. He expanded the welfare state, extended the right to vote to women and Afro-Caribbeans, and nationalized banks and electricity. Then he retired peacefully, later to be elected president twice more, in 1953 and 1970. He lived until 1990, the victorious general who did what Eisenhower never dared: abolished the military industrial complex.

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at and and works for the online (more...)
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