In his famous “Cross of Iron”/ “Chance for Peace” speech in 1953, President Eisenhower critiqued the military-industrial complex while asking, “Is there no other way the world may live?” In Costa Rica today, we glimpse another way to live.
In 1948, Costa Rica dismantled their military establishment and intentionally cultivated security relationships with other nations through treaties, international laws, and international organizations. Free of the burden of military spending, they used the financial savings to invest in their people, creating strong public institutions including public higher education and universal health care. In short, Costa Ricans created a society committed to peace, solidarity, and international law. They have survived with safety and relative prosperity for over 65 years without a standing army. ‘A Bold Peace’ details the events which shook the country to its foundations, culminating in the 1948 civil war and the decision to abolish the military.
Chapter 1: Another Way
The film details Costa Rica’s relative success as indicated by its #1 ranking in several global surveys of happiness and its #1 ranking in the Happy Planet Index. Costa Rica’s “culture of peace” is explored as Costa Ricans explain their views on demilitarization, the value of social solidarity, and their perceptions of the cultural ethos of “Pura Vida.”
Chapter 2: The Abolition of the Military
In the early 1940s, an unusual coalition of the Catholic Church, labor leaders, and the Calderon administration pushed through progressive reforms which laid the foundation for a strong welfare state. Political corruption and electoral fraud led to the Civil War of 1948. The film explores the formation of Jose Figueres as a uniquely visionary leader and his rise to the national stage. Figueres’ decision to abolish the army was both pragmatic and idealistic. He was a self-taught man and a voracious reader of Tolstoy, Emerson, and other leading pacifists. As leader of the revolutionary Junta, he solidified Costa Rica’s social democracy and walked away from power in order to honor that democracy.
Chapter 3: New Challenges
Costa Rica’s peace model has been put to the test several times. In the 1980s, in the face of raging Civil Wars across Central America and intense pressure from the Reagan Administration, President Monge’s Neutrality Declaration and President Oscar Arias’ Peace Plan negotiations are highlighted as bold attempts to stand for peace during a major escalation of the Cold War. A fascinating grassroots effort to remove Costa Rica from the list of the “Coalition of the Willing” at the outset of the U.S.-led Iraq War is detailed. In 2010, in a shocking provocation, the Nicaraguan Army occupied part of Costa Rica’s territory. Rather than retreat, Nicaragua doubled their forces on the border. Costa Rica diffused the crisis by appealing to the Organization of American States and the International Court of Justice. Costa Rica’s response offers a crucial case study in international law and diplomacy.
Chapter 4: Costa Rica’s National Security Model
Costa Rican and U.S. experts reflect on Costa Rica’s 65 years without a military. Costa Rican commitments to diplomacy, international organizations, international laws and courts are detailed. The role of Oscar Arias in trying to export the Costa Rican model is also detailed. Both Panama and Haiti embraced demilitarization as a result of Arias’ efforts. Interviewees point out that the Costa Rica’s “no standing army” policy echoes Thomas Jefferson’s hope that the U.S. would have no standing army.
Chapter 5: Threats to Peace
Costa Rica is no utopia. Rising inequality in the wake of economic globalization, including neoliberal “free trade” agreements, threaten to destabilize Costa Rica’s traditions of solidarity and social democracy. And, much as in the 1980s, U.S. foreign policy – this time in the form of the Drug War – also threatens Costa Rica’s tradition of demilitarization.
Chapter 6: The Permanent Warfare State
The Costa Rican model illuminates the heavy opportunity costs and ongoing human tragedy of the U.S. military-industrial complex and permanent war economy. The U.S. defense industry, U.S. spending priorities, and U.S. diplomatic failures to support international law and UN treaties including the Arms Trade Treaty (led by the Costa Rican leader Oscar Arias) are critiqued. In the film’s conclusion, ordinary Costa Ricans read the names of 9 significant international peace and human rights treaties that Costa Rica has signed, but which the U.S. government has so far refused to sign.
A Soul Force Media Production – in Association With Spiral Pictures
Matthew Eddy – Writer, Director & Producer
Michael Dreiling – Co-Director & Producer
Teal Greyhavens – Director of Photography & Editor