Weapons of war have no place in a country of peace, according to Public Security Minister Fernando Berrocal, who announced Monday he plans to destroy all semi-automatic military weapons such as M-16 rifles that have been in Costa Rica since the 1960s.
This statement followed his announcement that a police officer was arrested on suspicion of stealing two-dozen high-caliber weapons from the police station in the Caribbean-slope town of Guácimo. Seventeen of the weapons were discovered buried in a hole outside the nearby town of Siquirres Monday morning.
Meanwhile, the Chief Prosecutor’s Office is investigating who might be responsible for the disappearance of a “significant” amount of guns, ammunition and explosives from the ministry’s main arsenal (TT, June 2). Assault-style weapons are designed for war, can perforate bulletproof vests and are not necessary for a civilian police force, the Public Security Ministry’s press chief Ricardo González told The Tico Times.
“In a peaceful country, these weapons are good for nothing,” González said. “As part of President Oscar Arias’ policy of peace, we will be taking an inventory of all the country’s weapons and destroying these high-caliber guns.” He estimated the inventory would take at least a year.
Arias, a longtime advocate of peace through disarmament, this week urged other countries to reduce gun use by supporting the proposed anti-arms trade treaty (see separate article).
Private security guards – of whom there are an estimated 25,000 in Costa Rica, more than double the size of the police force (TT, May 19) – are not authorized to use assault style weapons, González added, with the exception of those in high-risk circumstances, such as bank guards.
The demolition of weapons is key to protecting public security and minimizing gunshot victims, said Ana Yancy Espinoza, from the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress, founded by President Arias with funds from the Nobel Peace Prize he earned during his first administration (1986-1990).
“We know that guns are made to kill, not for defense. Having a gun means that you’re going to use it,” she said, adding that a police force with more guns doesn’t necessarily protect society better. “Security is established by other means, such as creating professionalism in the police force, not with weapons that kill.”
Costa Rica has been demolishing weapons seized by the Public Security Ministry, as well as the ministry’s old weapons, for several years – four destruction processes have been carried out since 2001, Espinoza told The Tico Times.
In October 2001, the Public Health Ministry, Public Education Ministry, Justice Ministry and Public Security Ministry, with the support of the Arias Foundation, destroyed 521 guns by cutting them into small pieces. Their remnants form the monument to peace that stands in San José’s Parque de la Paz.
In November 2004, officials destroyed 1,560 more weapons, some seized from owners who had not registered them (TT, Dec. 3, 2004), and another 3,614 guns were destroyed in December 2005. Both ceremonies were held in honor of Dec. 1, 1948, the date Costa Rica abolished its military, Espinoza said.
The 17 weapons discovered Monday by the Public Security Ministry are among 24 high-caliber weapons and 1,500 bullets that disappeared from the Guácimo police station May 29 (TT, June 2). The ministry searched for them throughout the Carribean Limón province using metal detectors and specially trained dogs, Berrocal explained.
The search led police to a farm outside of nearby Siquirres late Sunday night, where early Monday morning they discovered 15 M-16 rifles, two 45-caliber pistols and “various types of ammunition” buried in a onemeter-deep hole.
Seven small revolvers remain missing, and the ministry suspects they have been sold, Berrocal said. The minister said he is very satisfied with the results of the extensive search, which led to the discovery of most of the missing weapons within a week. Still, he called the fact that the weapons were allegedly stolen by a police officer “very sad.”
“This is a slap in the face to the police force,” Berrocal said, adding that within the next couple of weeks he plans to name an internal inspector who will be in charge of the “fight against corruption” within the Public Security Ministry.
The officer arrested has been identified by the last name Díaz and ordered to three months preventive detention. Police are still investigating the theft, and Berrocal said he suspects others, possibly police officers, could have been involved.
The case of missing weapons in Guácimo followed recent reports by Berrocal that a “significant” amount of guns, ammunition and explosives have disappeared from the ministry’s arsenal (TT, June 2). Berrocal submitted a report from an internal audit of the ministry’s stockpiles to Chief Prosecutor Francisco Dall’Anese, and the Prosecutor’s Office is investigating the disappearance.