I’m leaning back into the blue canvas of a camping chair, watching the the mix of locals and tourists weave through the weekly Atenas farmers market. My friend, fondly known as “The Sausage Guy” for his deliciously blended meats, sits next to me with a light smile on his fedora-shadowed face. Our discussion dips into the reason why Costa Ricans are so happy. ”I think it’s more than the pleasant weather and slow pace,” I muse, watching a young Tica interact with the crowd from behind her elegantly displayed table of baked goods. She gently places a poppy seed bagel into a paper bag sporting their fresh, cursive logo. She notices me and sends me a warm nod while I unwrap a fluffy croissant, purchased from her moments before.
I’ve been chatting with a Nicaraguan neighbor recently about the revolution that haunted her childhood. So I suggest, “Do you think it’s because Costa Rica has no military?” He pauses to think before responding, “You know, Emily, that has had a huge impact on us. Our old president, Óscar Arias [who won a Nobel Peace Prize] pointed out that the countries around us were burying their sons, instead of their fathers. That is not the way it is supposed to be.”
Since the abolition of the military in 1948, Costa Rica has maintained a climate of ongoing peace. The budget once used for military purposes has been filtered into the country’s education, culture and general security (a police force is here to enforce the law, protect the borders and so on). This is in stark contrast to the neighboring governments in Central America. Wounds are still healing from recent wars in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and from a US invasion in Panama. Costa Rica has produced SIXTY-FIVE years of stability and safety for it’s citizens. This is something to celebrate.
One might feel that dissolving the armed forces of an entire country would be interpreted as weakness, and could even invite attack. However, our very own “Sausage Guy” and his fellow brothers and sisters of Costa Rica have no fear. They are undoubtably proud of their commitment to respectful interaction with the rest of the world, and to raising the next generation of peace-keepers.
Costa Rica has something special to teach the nations of the world. The funds that could be used to support an army are poured into the preservation of it’s natural and human resources. Costa Rica ranks first in the Americas for environmental sustainability (ranked 5th in the world, whereas the US ranks 49th). In regards to economic growth, the World Bank calls Costa Rica, “A development success story in many respects.” People thrive here, soaking up a life of healthy eating and exercising along jungle, mountain and beach paths. The oldest man in the world is reportedly 113 years old and you guessed it–he’s Tico. This place has a low violent crime rate as well. Children dribble balls along the dimly lit streets, families fill the city parks, and all can interact free of fear. ”Pura Vida” means “Pure Life,” and I do believe political peace has something to do with it.
My stylish friend tilts his hat back and rises to greet a customer, closing with, “My father never had to fight, I never had to fight, and my children never had to fight. We have been left to enjoy life and love one another. It is what we have been taught. We cherish our Pura Vida.”