President Oscar Arias this week responded to growing controversy about possible weapons manufacturing in Costa Rica by announcing plans to ban all firearms production here. His comments followed rumors that a U.S. arms manufacturing company might set up shop here, news that fanned the flames of an ongoing conflict about the future of weapons in a country known for peace.
On Monday, Oscar López, the only legislator from the Access Without Exclusion Party (PASE), took to the floor of the National Assembly, claiming he has evidence that Raytheon, a U.S. defense and aerospace systems supplier, recently bought property in Costa Rica.
“They’re not going to produce flowers or chocolates here. That’s clearer than water,” López told The Tico Times. The legislator, who is blind, said he will fight off the company “with my cane” if necessary.
At press time, it appeared that not Raytheon Company, but a Costa Rican company with the same name, had purchased the property (see sidebar). Regardless, López’s allegations prompted a quick response from the Executive Branch. Arias released a statement later that same day reiterating his opposition to the manufacture of arms in Costa Rica.
“Costa Rica should not produce arms,” Arias said in the statement. “Costa Ricans are very familiar with my political trajectory of many years and know that in this field, as in all fields, I practice what I preach, and that I would never allow Costa Rican soil to be used to manufacture instruments of war or death…
This is a government of principles, and foreign investment isn’t above my principles.”
The import, export or production of machine guns, heavy artillery and instruments of war are prohibited by Costa Rica’s Arms Law, approved in 1996. However, “permitted weapons” include non-automatic pistols and revolvers from 5.6 to 18.5 mm, semiautomatic pistols and revolvers up to 11.53 mm, rifles up to 18.5 mm, and sports and hunting guns.
The President’s brother and spokesman, Rodrigo Arias, said Wednesday that the administration is working on legislation to expand the prohibition on arms production to include all firearms. The Executive Branch will likely submit the bill to the Legislative Assembly next week, he said.
That apparently wasn’t soon enough for legislators Oscar Núnez, of Arias’ National Liberation Party (PLN), and Jorge Sánchez of the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), who each presented their own bills Wednesday to ban arms manufacturing, according to the daily Al Día.
López’s speech Monday is at least the third time since President Oscar Arias’ inauguration May 8 that the international disarmament advocate, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for authoring the Central American Peace Plan, has been accused of allowing weapons manufacturers to sneak into his own backyard. In June, controversy erupted over the fact that the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) sets tariff rates for weapons that are illegal here, such as rocket launchers (TT, June 16). And last month, the opposition Citizen Action Party (PAC) criticized Arias for signing a Public Health Ministry decree that includes illegal weapons in an annex categorizing commercial activities by risk factor (TT, Sept. 22).
Officials maintain that in the decree and CAFTA, the mention of illegal arms does not change the fact that the Arms Law prohibits their presence in the country, nor does it mean Costa Rica couldn’t enact even broader weapons bans, as Arias is proposing.
The President has been lobbying in the United Nations for both the Costa Rica Consensus, through which developed nations would revise their foreign aid schemes to reward countries that reduce their military spending, and an Arms Trade Treaty to restrict the trade of weapons.
Confusion Surrounds Claims that Raytheon’s Coming
Legislator Oscar López’s claims that multinational defense supplier Raytheon Company bought property here sparked an onslaught of confusion The Tico Times was still sorting through at press time.
The bottom line: it appears that the property was purchased not by Raytheon Company, whose representatives say they have no plans to build facilities for the production of weapons here, but rather by a Costa Rican company that – apparently coincidentally – shares the same name.
According to the National Registry, Raytheon, S.A. inscribed 40,081 square meters in the Pacific province of Puntarenas on Jan. 26. When The Tico Times contacted Raytheon Company in Washington, D.C., however, representatives denied the purchase had anything to do with them.
“Raytheon Company has no knowledge of any real estate transaction in Costa Rica as described in recent news reports there,” said a company statement prepared for The Tico Times yesterday. “If any such transaction was made using the Raytheon name, it took place without our permission or involvement, and it is not related to our company.
“Furthermore, Raytheon has no plans to build any weapons-related facilities in Costa Rica,” the statement continued.
The Tico Times called Carl Thomas del Coro, listed on registry documents as Raytheon, S.A.’s legal representative, but received no answer by press time. However, lawyer Rubén Hernández, a legal advisor to President Oscar Arias and a member of the firm Gutiérrez, Hernández and Pauly in San José, which sold the land in Puntarenas to Raytheon, S.A., said the company is Costa Rican, makes components for cell phones, and has nothing to do with the multinational firm.
Two more questions remain. Legislator López gave The Tico Times a copy of what appears to be a document patenting in Costa Rica a long list of software- and defense-related products in the name of Raytheon Company on Dec. 15, 2005. Also
yesterday, another legislator, Alberto Salom of the Citizen Action Party (PAC), told the daily Al Día Wednesday that Raytheon subsidiary Remec, Inc. has been operating in Costa Rica since 1998.
A Raytheon Company spokeswoman told The Tico Times she had no further comment on these questions yesterday but would look into them today.