The organizers of a visit to Costa Rica by the Dalai Lama claimed this week that President Oscar Arias asked them to “uninvite” the exiled Tibetan leader and iconic international peace figure because of conflicts with China.
Costa Rica established diplomatic relations with China last year after controversially cutting ties with Taiwan and officials are discussing a possible of a free-trade agreement with Beijing. Costa Rica is also planning to host Chinese president Hu Jintao later this year in his first visit to the country.
The Chinese government has called the Dalai Lama a terrorist and accused him of attempting to destabilize their country. When the U.S. Congress bestowed its highest civilian award on the Dalai Lama last year, China said the move would damage relations.
The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, preaches non-violence and has called for “real autonomy” but not independence for his homeland of Tibet, a province of China.
“This was not an official visit. We had not asked the government for anything. It was all being managed as a private visit,” said Maritza Pacheco, head of the Tibetan-Costa Rican Cultural Association, which was organizing the trip. “As a country, we are losing our sovereignty if we cannot decide who visits us.”
The association said it received a phone call from the president’s office earlier this month requesting it cancel plans to host the Dalai Lama and “uninvite” him because, among other reasons, “Hu Jintao wasn’t going to come if (the Dalai Lama) came.”
Association representatives declined to publicly name who called them or give the date of the phone call “out of consideration for the president.”
Arias this week acknowledged he wrote to the Dalai Lama requesting he postpone his trip and released a copy of the letter.
“I will be on a state visit during to various countries of Europe during that time and regret that I would not be here to welcome you,” Arias wrote in the Aug. 5 letter.
“Because I would be very disappointed to miss your visit, and because of the meeting I hope to host in 2009, I am writing to ask that you postpone your trip and honor me and the other (Nobel) Peace Laureates with your presence at our meeting next year.”
In the letter, Arias makes no mention of China. Arias spokeswoman Mishelle Mitchell said she could not officially confirm any call from the president’s office.
“Allow me to categorically deny that the visit of president Hu Jinato to Costa Rica was a consideration laid out by the president in his request that His Holiness the Dalai Lama postpone his trip to Costa Rica,” said Mitchell in a e-mail to The Tico Times.
The Dalai Lama had originally been invited to attend a meeting of Nobel Peace Prize laureates, which included both himself and Arias, organized here for early September by the Oscar Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress.
That meeting was called off earlier this year, and Arias said he hopes to reschedule it for next year.
Since the cancellation, the Tibetan association has continued with other plans for a brief visit from the Dalai Lama that will include a meeting with Buddhist practitioners here and a speaking event open to the public.
The association hosted a visit from the Dalai Lama in 2004, during which he was received by then-president Abel Pacheco, lawmakers and all of Costa Rica’s Roman Catholic bishops. The Dalai Lama also visited Costa Rica in 1989, the same year he was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize, during Arias’ first administration. Arias was awarded the same prize in 1987.
Tashi Wangdi, the Dalai Lama’s representative to the Americas, told The Tico Times from New York City that the Buddhist leader would “respect the request of the president” and postpone his trip.