Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Costa Rica the Land of Happiness

Costa Rica, one of the poorest countries, continues to lead the world with the highest happiness index. A diocesan priest, reflecting on this curious fact after reading an article last year that perked his curiosity, and  wanting to learn more, read a book about Costa Rica that prompted him to collect his reflections on this small Central American country in a monthly bulletin for priests. The Japanese author of the book felt the same as he did about this unusual country that had dismantled its army in 1983, despite numerous wars and civil insurrections.

That it has no army comes as a surprise to many, but by working closely with the United Nations and its diplomatic corp, with peace, human rights and democratic organizations, the country hopes to avoid getting entangled in international disputes.

The Central American countries are probably nervously watching the US, one of the largest manufacturers and distributors of weapons worldwide, and thinking, says the priest, that the US cannot be pleased with Costa Rica's decision not to have an army. Though the US considers itself a peacemaker, promoting freedom and democracy in the world, the priest reminds us that it continues to get involved in wars. 

Like the  United States, Costa Rica promotes itself as a country advocating for peace and freedom, a fact which probably enabled them to overcome the opposition of the States to their disbanding the army. To Costa Ricans, not to have war does not mean having peace.  What is peace to Costa Ricans?  When you have a person in a village who is not able to go to the hospital when sick because of the expense,  there is no peace in that village,  When a child in a home is not able to go to school because of the expense, there is no peace in that home. Peace is not a one-time thing but a never-ending condition.

The country recently had an election and during the election year, the whole country celebrated.  Everyone can speak up for their candidate regardless of the many party programs available. Before the election, children are allowed to fill out straw ballots to prepare them for future voting. The straw ballots do not of course influence the election, but the results are made public a few days ahead of the national election.

Democracy in Costa Rica allows everyone, even the most marginalized, the foreigners, to have a voice in any public debate. In comparison, the priest feels that in Korea, the role of the media and the freedom to express oneself is more restrictive. When the United States went to war against Iraq, Korea and some of the countries of Central America sent troops. The president of Costa Rica, though the head of a country without an army, declared support for the Americans, which led one college student to file a petition against the president for not abiding by the country's constitution. The college student won his case at the constitutional court, and the president withdrew the country's support for the war. At the next election, his party, the government in power, lost badly and became a minority party.

Costa Rica is setting an enviable standard for the democracies of the world. A democracy that would allow that much influence in the political sphere to those not generally recognized as having influence, such as a college student, is by any standard living up to its name: a democracy with "government of the people, by the people, for the people." And should be the model  for other democracies who consistently fall short of the Costa Rican example.

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