Saturday, February 5, 2011


Having recently returned from a visit to Costa Rica for the first time, I was amazed to learn that Costa Rica has no army, having abolished it in 1948 after a devastating war. The leader at that time Jose Figueres declared the abolition of the Army and turning over of military installations to the educational system. The 1947 Rio Treaty with the U.S. probably made this possible since the U.S. agreed to help defend any of the Central or South American countries, including Costa Rica, who were part of the pact. (see information on U.S. Department of State webpage.) Nevertheless, Costa Rica has not had to spend its resources on an army and instead has focused on education. (According to a 2009 United Nations Development Report, Costa Rica has a
95.9 Literacy rate; the U.S. has a 99% rate.)

President Oscar Arias Sanchez, president 1986-90 and 2006-2010, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his efforts to end civil wars in other neighboring nations. (Laura Chinchilla, the first female president of Costa Rica succeeded Arias last year.)

According to the State Department, Costa Rica's main exports are pineapples, bananas, ornamental plants, sugar, coffee, seafood, electronic equipment and medical equipment. The U.S. is a primary trading partner, and about half of its tourism dollars come from the U.S. Still its median income is only about $6500. On my trip, I noticed the many poor rural homes as well as areas in the cities that appeared impoverished.

One place we visited was a field station for CATIE (Centro Agronomico Tropical de Investigacion y Ensenanza) in Turrialba, established for scientific research of agricultural economy. I was surprised to see a building titled "Henry A. Wallace" and asked our guide if this was named for Henry Wallace, who was Roosevelt's Secretary of Agriculture from 1932-1940s. Yes, the guide replied, he was one of the founders.

I have since learned that CATIE was first conceived at a scientific conference in Washington, D.C. in 1940. Wallace was one of the visionaries who saw the need for research on tropical agriculture. By 1942 CATIE had been established by the Pan American Union, later the Organization of American States.

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