By Vanessa Reis
Students who gathered in South Campus Commons last Monday night to watch the screening of “A Bold Peace: Costa Rica’s Path of Demilitarization” learned about the journey that led Costa Ricans to be some of the happiest people on the planet.
It’s true: Costa Rica ranks No. 1 in the Happy Planet Index, a site that measures how well nations are doing at achieving longitude, happiness and sustainability. According to the film, Costa Rica is also a leader in environmental policies.
Over 70 years ago, Costa Rica became one of the only nations in the world to abolish their military and redirect their resources toward education, healthcare and the environment. “We believe that education and health is a right,” a speaker said during the film.
Jose Figueres Ferrer, who many Costa Ricans call “Don Pepe,” was the main architect of modern-day Costa Rica, according to the film. Figueres Ferrer was self-taught; he studied in the libraries of Boston and New York. Figueres Ferrer was elected president of Costa Rica in 1948, and during his first term in office, he abolished the army.
“It was at once visionary and grounded in ideals as the hills,” one said in the film. Upon criticism, Figueres said that “militarism is as grave a danger as communism.” He went on to serve as president in Costa Rica for two more terms.
Oscar Arias Sanchez, elected president of Costa Rica in 1986, continued the path of demilitarization. Arias, who spoke in the film, said he “picked a course of peace” in his campaign. In 1987, Arias won the Nobel Peace Prize for his peace plan, which was an effort to end Central American unrest.
Jack Stewart, a junior economics major at the University of Maryland, said, he “didn’t realize that Costa Rica was such a peaceful place, and the fact that they don’t have an army just puts that peace movement that much farther.”
James Riker, director of Beyond the Classroom Living and Learning program at the university, organized the screening of the film.
“We’re looking where people can take action and bring about broad social change in society,” he said, “and tonight was focused on peace.”
Riker said students should consider based on the film “that there is another way to think about the world in terms of creating peace and prosperity… We’ve lost our ability to see that maybe we shouldn’t be spending all of our tax money on nuclear arms, but rather spending our money on reinvesting back into the things that are really going to make us safe, secure, and provide for future generations, by protecting the environment, providing healthcare and quality education.”