Sunday, January 13, 2008

Costa Rica II: Free of military costs, threatened by economic pressures

Costa Rica has no army, navy or air force. Strange, I felt perfectly secure during a week’s tour there that spanned the old and new year.

No one I met in the defenseless country seemed particularly nervous about invasion. Nor about a military coup for that matter. It’s no coincidence that without a military, Costa Rica is one of the most politically stable countries in Latin America.

Which isn’t to say there isn’t violence. Costa Rica’s gun laws are lax, and drug-related murders are common, some would say rampant. Between Christmas and New Years there were five, and that’s normal.

Last year, Costa Rica, with a population of 4.25 million, had 311 reported murders. The general director of the National Police calls them “Colombia-style crime,” often stemming from drug deal debts.

For comparison, Oregon, with 3.8 million residents, had 86 murders in 2006.

So while Costa Rica has no army, the government wants to increase the size of the police force by 4,000 to 11,000. It’s still a lot cheaper than having an armed-to-the-teeth military on land, air and sea.

With the money Costa Rica saves, it has universal health insurance for its citizens and a conspicuous lack of insurance company lobbyists. With education available to all, its literacy rate is 96 percent.

The greatest threat of ”invasion” is economic, stemming from the so-called “free trade” of the proposed Central American Free-Trade Agreement. CAFTA is attracting strong opposition in Costa Rica. Many fear that heavily government-subsidized US crops will flood the Costa Rican market, destroying local agriculture, as has happened in other poor countries. Critics also worry that nationalized utilities will be forced to privatize by foreigners.

And then there is the matter of environmental “black mail” of the kind the Ethyl Corporation perpetrated on Canada over for the nation’s ban on an Ethyl produced fuel additive.

Such threats aren’t idle speculation in Costa Rica. For three years Costa Rica has lived with the threat of a $57 billion (that’s right, billion, with a “B”) international lawsuit brought against it by George W. Bush’s old oil-patch company, Harken Energy. Harken claims Costa Rica reneged on its off-shore oil drilling rights in the Caribbean. The suit stemmed from a Costa Rican national board’s ruling that Harken’s drilling plans violated Costa Rica’s environmental laws.

To put the size of the suit in perspective, in 2006 Costa Rica’s annual Gross Domestic Product was $51 billion. In short, George Bush and Dick Cheney’s buddies are willing to bankrupt an entire country for the right to put the fragile Costa Rican Caribbean coast at environmental risk.

Five hundred years ago, Columbus dubbed this same coast, “Costa Rica,” a place of riches. Its treasures remain, and new ones such as the country’s rich biodiversity, have been discovered. Now new “discoverers” threaten to exploit Costa Rica’s energy riches at the expense of its irreplaceable environmental ones.

Certainly the people of Costa Rica must decide how their nation’s riches are used or preserved.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope the US of Israel gets nuked off tha map.

3:08 AM  

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