QCOSTARICA – Today, December 1, is a legal holiday in Costa Rica. Although the country had the day off on Monday, today there are official acts to the achievements of 72 years of the abolition of the army.
It is also the first time millions of Costa Rica celebrate historic date with a holiday, and with great pride of being born in a country without an army, as they fight their most complicated war against the deadly novel coronavirus, a pandemic that has left as much pain as that caused by the civil war of 1948.
On December 1, 1948, Costa Rica decided to turn its back on armed confrontations, put aside its military combat rifles, and definitively abolished an army that has not been necessary for 72 years.
Precisely, nine months after the confrontation of ’48 began, it was when the then president of the Founding Board of the Second Republic, José María Hipólito Figueres Ferrer, decided to put an end to the arms race.
The date has historical value because, although the abolition of the army materialized a year later (when the Constituent Assembly outlawed the institution in the Political Constitution), it was that first day of December that Figueres sealed the decision with the symbolic hammer blow to a wall of the Bellavista barracks.
Later, the incumbent Minister of Security, Edgar Cardona, handed over the keys to the barracks to the then Minister of Education, Uladislao Gámez, so that the barrack could be converted into the current National Museum.
From that moment on, a civilist culture gradually displaced the military one.
The parades of the barracks began to be assumed by the students, who until now are in charge of commemorating the national holidays throughout the width and length of the country.
Historians agree that the abolition of the army laid the foundations for a series of momentous decisions for the country during the first half of the 20th century, which allowed further progress in areas such as health and public education.
Gabriela Villalobos, a historian at the National Museum, comments that one of the positive repercussions is the strengthening of a civic dynamic, “where citizens demonstrate their differences democratically.”
She also highlights that, thanks to that decision, Costa Rica was not so affected by the Cold War between the United States and the then Soviet Union, and allowed government spending on public health and education to grow considerably between 1950 and 1975.
Likewise, a study by the University of Costa Rica (UCR), published in November 2018, revealed that the elimination of the army allowed increasing the growth of the economy and state investment in strategic sectors, starting in the 1950s.
According to the investigation, if the military body had not been abolished, the per capita income of the inhabitants of Costa Rica for 2010 would have been 40% lower than what was actually recorded: instead of ¢9.5 million colones, the indicator would have barely reached ¢5.7 million.
Maintaining an army is not a small decision, much less cheap. To activate a defensive force, it is necessary to have enough modern equipment to face external aggressions. Otherwise, there is no point even thinking about incorporating such a force.
In Central America, according to data from the Stockholm International Institute for Peace Research, for 2012 military spending was as follows:
- El Salvador, US$233 million (1%, GDP)
- Guatemala, US$205 million (0.45%, GDP)
- Honduras, US$192 million (1.1%, GDP)
- Nicaragua, US$65.4 million (0.65%, GDP)
- Panama Abolished its army in 1990
An example of military spending from a country similar to ours is Uruguay. The Uruguayan armed forces, in 2014, were made up of some 24,000 people and their budget, excluding pensions and retirements, was about US$500 million, equalling 1.1% of GDP.
Since December 1, 1948, the country considered that “the existence of a good police force is sufficient for national security,” according to Figures at that time.
The difference between a military force and a police force is that the former has working methods aimed at participating in theaters of war, and has eminently destructive power, while the latter uses civilian working methods and uses basic equipment with the in order to defend themselves against individuals before the civil authority.
Today, Costa Rica is 21 one countries with no official military forces, no standing army, but having limited military forces.
While not having an army, itt does have the Fuerza Publica (National Police) with limited military capacities, whose main role includes law enforcement, internal security and command of the Air Vigilance Service.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the United Nations’ University for Peace are headquartered in Costa Rica.