By Luis Roberto Zamora Bolaños
On July 1, 2010, Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly authorized the U.S. military to undertake policing duties in Costa Rica, based on an expired “Cooperation Agreement.” Just one small problem: Costa Rica abolished its army in 1949 and since then has had no national military forces.
Costa Rica is world-renowned for its natural environment, its political and democratic stability in a region of conflict, it’s commitment to protecting human rights, and its peaceful and unarmed neutrality in foreign affairs.
Throughout ithe country’s history since independence, Costa Rica has distanced itself from the power struggles in the region, with only occasional exceptions, including the U.S. invasion in 1856. The country has grown alongside increasing indices of human development, which by the 1980s had nearly reached First World levels.
In 1949, after its last internal conflicts, Costa Rica established a new republic. The Constitution prohibited an army and delegated the power to “monitor and maintain public order” exclusively to civilian police forces. The country became a leader in promoting human rights and the American Convention on Human Rights was signed in San Jose, Costa Rica in 1969.
Later the Cold War turned hot in Central America and spread throughout the isthmus. In the middle of pressure from the Nicaraguan Sandinistas and the contras (counter-revolutionary forces) trained by the CIA, then-President Luis Alberto Monge proceeded in November of 1983 to declare the permanent, unarmed neutrality of Costa Rica vis a vis the violent conflicts of other nations. This enabled the country to maintain peace in the midst of the wars and conflicts of its neighbors, and to continue to develop within a region that was collapsing.
Recently, Costa Rica became the first country in the world to recognize and declare the Right to Peace. Remarkably, this happened in the midst of a process of destruction of the judicial apparatus that the government of Oscar Arias put into practice, for which Costa Rica has been reported to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights under charges of judicial bias in favor of former President Arias, his families and policies. The Right to Peace declaration was the result of two cases brought by the author before the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice.
The first case challenged the Costa Rican government’s support for the coalition that invaded Iraq in 2003. In this case, the Court annulled the support, stating it violated the commitment to neutrality because it was a unilateral act. It also declared that support for the U.S. invasion violated the United Nations Charter and contradicted a fundamental principle of “the Costa Rican identity”, which is peace as a fundamental value. Never before had the court annulled the support of a government for an invasion.
The second case filed in October of 2008 concerns a decree issued by Oscar Arias–a Nobel Peace Prize recipient–that authorized the extraction of thorium and uranium, nuclear fuel development and the manufacture of nuclear reactors “for all purposes.” The Court annulled the contested decree, recognizing the existence of a Right to Peace, which had been violated by the decree due to the fact that it contained elements directly related to the “anti-value” of war.
The “Right to Peace” imposes both positive and negative obligations on the State. Positively, the State must promote international peace; negatively, the State must refrain from authorizing war-related activities, including entry, production, purchase, sale, storage, import, export, etc., of items, goods or services made or intended to be used in a war. The Constitutional Court of Costa Rica issued this decision.
Apart from the Costa Rican history, the world has been affected by multiple problems, among them drug trafficking. Unfortunately, in today’s world with today’s politicians and their way of conducting what Plato called “the art of governing,” drug trafficking has become a convenient “security excuse” for achieving their own economic or hegemonic imperialist purposes.
Despite its legal obligations to peace, Costa Rica has not been an exception to the rule. It simply needed a few servile puppet governments willing to do anything for their own interests and that of their boss, to trample and destroy the achievements of the sovereign people won through democratic struggles and within the institutional framework.
The permission granted by the legislature to the United States military is based on an agreement for joint maritime patrols between the U.S. and Costa Rica that expired in October 2009. This permit that ended in 2009 only allow for Coast Guard patrols and never authorized the entry of the United States military personnel and only covered coast guard missions.
However, the Legislature has now authorized the entry of 12,207 U.S. soldiers and 46 military vessels, 45 armed with artillery. Forty-three of these are warships similar to the “Oliver Hazard Perry.” The ships carry 180 Sikorsky Blackhawk helicopters in the SH-60 and MH-60 categories designed primarily for anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, naval special warfare, combat search and rescue, among others.
In addition to the exorbitant sum of 180 helicopters, the entry of ten McDonnell Douglas (Boeing) AV-8B Harrier II aircraft carriers was authorized. These are land attack planes (for supposed sea operations?) that can carry on board 25 mm. Equalizer GAU-12 machine guns, four 70 mm. LAU-5003 rocket launchers with a capacity of 19 CRV7 rockets, and six AGM-65 Maverick missiles or two AGM-84 Harpoon or two AGM-88 HARM. These ships may also carry CDU-100 cluster bombs, Mark 80 unguided bombs, Paveway laser-guided bombs or Mark 77 napalm bombs.
The agreement also grants permission for aircraft carriers such as the “Wasp amphibious attack,” which are specifically assault ships.
Everything on the list of ships, aircraft, helicopters and troops detailed above is designed and intended to be used in a war. Therefore, they cannot be deployed in our country because the negative obligation requires the State to reject them as elements that are counter to and in violation of the Right to Peace.
The U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica says there is no problem because the United States will not send all the equipment authorized. Two points are important here. First, I do not believe the U.S. ambassador’s word on this. Second, the problem is not what the U.S. sends; the problem is a domestic one, lying in what was authorized to enter and operate within the country.
Despite the legal limitations in the country, and despite a constitutional obligation to invest only civilian police with the duties of monitoring and enforcing our public order, the submissive legislative assembly–dominated by the ruling parties–is allowing the U.S. military to play war games on our sovereign land as if it were a game of chess.
As a Costa Rican, the saddest part of this situation, besides the destruction of our history, is that we’re going to militarize the country with foreign armies to protect the Colombian drugs and Venezuelan oil that the United States consumes. If the U.S. government’s purpose was really to eliminate the drug problem, it would attack the problem where drugs are grown or in countries closer to production. The “war on drugs” is nothing more than an excuse for ulterior motives. If there is a battle, the free soil of this country of peace—a nation with no army and a pledge to neutrality—will enable and facilitate the return of the Cold War that the United States so badly needs for its survival.
The whole situation is grotesque, to me the lowest form of military aggression in modern times.
Luis Roberto Zamora Bolaños is a trial lawyer in his hometown Heredia, Costa Rica. He received his degree in Law from the University of Costa Rica, has litigated in promoting the Right to Peace, achieving constitutional recognition in 2008. Prior to that, he successfully went to the Supreme Court to force his country to withdraw the support given to the coalition invasion of Iraq. Since 2005 he has participated in forums and conferences in promoting the Right to Peace, including the World Peace Forum in Vancouver 2005, the World Social Forum 2007 in Nairobi, the 62 UN DPI Conference on Disarmament, in Mexico in 2009, the Conference on the 60th anniversary of the Stockholm Declaration of 2010 on nuclear disarmament in Paris, among others. Parallel to his work as a trial lawyer, Zamora works pro-bono for peace related issues. Currently he is involved as an expert on the right to peace and nuclear disarmament in international forums.
Translator: Verona Fonte
Editor: Laura Carlsen