In 1990, even before Hugo Chavez had stumbled into the world of Venezuelan politics, I was advocating the eliminations of the country’s Armed Forces, with only a corps like the National Guard remaining, overseen by civilians, not Generals, in order to maintain internal security. Last night, I used the hashtag #sinmilitares in Tweeter to send messages about this topic. Today, I had decided not to write about the grotesque spectacle of today as Hugo Chavez showed his military might, as Venezuelans live in the same squalor as when he got to power.
But then fate put the letter that I translate below in my Inbox, which expresses more eloquently that I could ever expect to express why Venezuela and all Latin American countries should get rid of their respective Armed Forces. Chavez’ toys and his own presence, in military custome, showed today more than ever why this should become a rallying cry for a post-Chavez Venezuela. Once again Oscar Arias shows why development is a state of mind, not something that depends on wealth. Kudos to the President of Costa Rica, let Venezuela get a guiding light like his sometime in what is left of my life!
San Jose, March 26, 2010
José Alberto Mujica Cordano
President of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay
Dear Mr. Chairman:
I do not write today to Don Jose Alberto Mujica Cordano, but to “Pepe” the revolutionary , that man who in the midst of the mud of horror, always kept intact the flower of justice, that dreamer who never turned off the light of utopia, not even in the darkest corner of his overlooked cell , that idealist who championed , despite insults and threats, an abiding faith in a better future for Uruguay and Latin America. I write to “Pepe” to say that there is still, in the backpack of time, a final utopia: the abolition of the Uruguayan army.
My words emerge from affection and from goodwill. I know that I have no mandate on the fate of your people. I do not mean to disrespect the sovereignty of a sister nation. I just want to give an advice that I see written on the wall of the history of mankind: armies are the enemies of development, the enemies of peace, the enemies of freedom and the enemies of joy.
In much of the world, and especially in Latin America, the armed forces have been the source of the most thankless collective memory. It was the military boot that trampled human rights in our region. It was the general’s voice that issued the most violent arrest warrants for students and artists. It was the hand of the soldier who fired into the back of innocent people. In the best of scenarios, the Latin American armies have meant a prohibitive expense for our economies. And in the worst one they have been a permanent trap for our democracies.
Uruguay does not need an army. Its internal security can be handled by the police, and its national security gains nothing from a military that will never be more powerful than its neighbors, which are also democracies. No matter how much it invests in its armed forces, Uruguay can not win an arms race against Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Venezuela. In the present circumstances, helplessness is a better national security policy for your people, than a military apparatus below that of your neighbors.
I speak from experience. Costa Rica was the first country in history to abolish its army and declare world peace. More than sixty years ago, another revolutionary Pepe, Commander José Figueres, decided to banish forever the armed forces from my country. Since then, Costa Ricans have never had to live in a war. They have not shed their blood again in a civil war. They have feared a coup, a dictatorship or a regime of political persecution. My people live in peace because they bet on life, they live in peace because they trusted the power of reason to govern the impulses of violence.
You will tell me, my dear friend, that Costa Rica lives in the middle of peaceful countries. But that was not always so. There was a time when my people bordered to the north and south with a dictatorship. There was a time when the whistle of shrapnel sounded very close to our borders. Instead of taking up arms, Costa Rica came out to fight for peace in Central America. We did not need the army. On the contrary, being demilitarized allowed us to be perceived as allies of all parties to the conflict. In truth I tell you that there has been no decision that has strengthened the Costa Rican national security more, than to eliminate the army.
Two other Latin American countries have followed our example, Panama and Haiti. In 1994, the Panamanian Congress approved through a constitutional reform, the abolition of the armed forces. Since then, Costa Rica and Panama have shared the most peaceful border in the world. And not coincidentally, they are also the two most successful economies in Central America. Because the money we used to destine to our armies, we now destine for the education of our children, the health of our citizens and the competitiveness of our industries and businesses. We have reaped the dividends of peace, also garnered to a lesser extent, by the people of Haiti, that with the abolition of their army ended an eternal string of coups.
There are so many martyrs in history against military tutelage! You who suffered under the yoke of oppression, now have the opportunity to rid forever from that yoke the children of tomorrow. When the future comes, in the words of Mario Benedetti, “With its sharp blade and its scales, asking firstly about the dreams, and then about the homelands, the memories and the newborns” We must know what we will say. We need to know what we have been. Let us hope that future will recognize in you, my friend the President, “Pepe” the revolutionary, who declared peace to the world and decreed life to be holy in Uruguay.
A fraternal embrace,
Oscar Arias Sanchez
President of the Republic of Costa Rica