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Militarism in Costa Rica

Militarism in the world is definitely expanding. In 2012, military expenses totaled $1.7 trillion and growing. Every day we see news about armed conflicts, police actions and threats between countries. And although some countries, the United States among them, have reduced military expenses, the overall amount has increased.

In Turkey, Venezuela, the Ukraine, several African countries, and Egypt, police forces use weapons, tear gas and bullets to control demonstrations even if they are peaceful so that civilian police forces become mini-armies. Countries in conflict issue threats and warnings, making it clear that “the military option is on the table” or that defense forces are ready to intervene.

With the conflicts in the Ukraine, NATO countries, and especially the United States, have sent military force to the borders of Russia and naval fleets to the Black Sea. At the same time, Russia is preparing for war with their fleet in Sevastopol, clearly putting the military option ahead of dialogue.

China is planning to increase its military by 12 percent, a clear threat to Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and the United States, as if they are planning to invade or attack.

In Syria, after three years of a war that has destroyed the whole country, killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and made refugees of a million more, the conflict continues without a thought of the consequences for the country or the people. Which side in this conflict really represents the voice of the people?

France has recently completed a trillion-dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia that will be shared with neighboring countries in the region. Commerce takes precedence over life. Superiority takes precedence over life. Power takes precedence over life.

Costa Rica is no exception. Although the army was abolished in 1948 and the Fuerza Pública is a civilian force, it appears to be more like an army. Police use military style weapons and camouflage uniforms like soldiers. And since the 1980s, Costa Rican police officials have received training at the School of the Americas (now renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, or WHINSEC), a U.S. Army school on a U.S. Army base at Ft. Benning, Georgia, where they learn tactics to fight terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime, military style. Army officials from Guatemala, Argentina, El Salvador and other countries, including Efraín Ríos Montt, Roberto D’Aubuisson and Jorge Videla, who have been found guilty of torture, mass killings and genocides, are among the alumni of this notorious school.

During his second administration, Nobel laureate President Óscar Arias declared that Costa Rica would no longer send police officials to a United States Army base for training. However, he changed his mind and the government has continued the connection with the U.S. Army. Now we are seeing police here using strong-arm actions against civilians engaged in peaceful, nonviolent demonstrations. In recent months, anti-riot police used excessive force and tear gas against Costa Ricans in Chomes, Guanacaste, during a peaceful protest against the lack of government response in gaining titles to coastal land and to ensure water access for their community. In that action the police went into a restaurant and a gas station to pull demonstrators out, even though there had been no provocation by protesters.

In a second recent case, police used tear gas to break up a scuffle inside the women’s prison, El Buen Pastor. The women were demonstrating for and against a recent ruling at the prison. Residents and staff were forced to suffer tear gas and fear. They had no place to escape. In both cases, these were not terrorists, drug traffickers or organized criminals. They were civilians claiming their right to be heard.

When the government, here or in another country, depends on the use of force against its own people, one cannot say that there is peace. When a government uses force against its own population there is no democracy.

With a new government on the horizon, there is hope that Costa Rica will return to the peace that we seek, and that perhaps there will be an end to military training and ideology for the civilian police here. As people who espouse peace, we are aware of the problems facing the country and the need for capable police training – training that provides protection without violating civil rights.

The people voted and called for change. Our new president has an exceptional background in education and foreign policy. Hopefully he can bring about an alignment of Costa Rican values to police training and present practices so that peace in our country will prevail at every level.

This opinion piece is written by Mitzi Stark in collaboration with other members of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Costa Rican section. Contact us at, or visit

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