Letter to “Pepe” Mujica (President of Uruguay)

from Oscar Arias (President of Costa Rica)

Dear Mr. President,

I am not writing today to Jose Alberto Mujica Cordano, but to "Pepe" revolutionary, the man who in the mud of horror, always kept intact the flower of justice, to that dreamer who did not put out the light of Utopia, not even in the darkest corner of his forgotten cell, to that idealist who defended, against insults and threats, an abiding faith in a better future for Uruguay and Latin America. I am writing to "Pepe" to say that there is still, in this time, a final utopia: the abolition of the Uruguayan army.

My words are based on affection and goodwill. I know that I have no mandate on the fate of his people. I do not mean to disrespect the sovereignty of a sister nation. I just want to give advice 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 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 jackboot that trampled on human rights in our region. It was the general's voice that spoke 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 case scenario, the Latin American armies have been prohibitively expensive for our economies. And at worst they have meant a permanent trap for our democracies.

Uruguay does not need an army. Its internal security can be handled by the police, and national security gains nothing from a military that will never be more powerful than its neighbors, which are also democracies. No matter how much is invested in its armed forces, Uruguay can not win an arms race against Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Venezuela. In the present circumstances, defencelessness is the better national security policy for its people than a military establishment which is weaker than that of its 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 of my country. Since then, Costa-Ricans have never experienced war. They have not shed their blood again in a civil war. They have not had to fear a coup de etat, a dictatorship or a regime of political persecution. My people live in peace because they have bet on life; they live in peace because they trust the power of reason to govern the impulses of violence.

You will say, dear friend, that Costa Rica is surrounded by peaceful countries. But that was not always so. There was a time when dictatorships surrounded us on the north and the south. There was a time when the whistle of shrapnel sounded very close to our borders. Instead of taking up arms, Costa Rica fought 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. Truthfully I say to you that no decision has strengthened Costa Rica's national security more than that of eliminating the army.

Two other Latin American countries, Panamá y Haití,have followed our example. In 1994, the Panamanian Congress approved, through a constitutional reform, the abolition of the armed forces. Since then, Costa Rica and Panama share the most peaceful border in the world. And it is no coincidence that they are also the two most successful economies in Central America. Because the money previously invested in our armies is now invested in 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, and has also, to a lesser extent, the people of Haiti, that with the abolition of the army has ended an eternal history of coups.

There are so many martyrs in history against military oppression! You who suffered under the yoke of oppression, now have the opportunity to liberate the children of tomorrow forever from that yoke. When the future comes, in the words of Mario Benedetti, "with its sharp blade and balance, primarily by asking for the dreams, and then for the homelands, the memories and the newly born," we must know what to tell them. We need to know what we have been. Hopefully that future will recognize in you, friend President, the "Pepe" revolutionary who declared peace to the world and decreed life to be sacred in Uruguay.

A fraternal embrace,

Oscar Arias Sanchez

President of the Republic of Costa Rica