Alfredo Molano: “Consolidation, Inc.” “At Ubérrimo’s Gates”
Dec 092008

A U.S. Black Hawk helicopter on a May 2008 humanitarian training mission in Costa Rica. More Costa Rica exercise pictures are on our “Just the Facts” site.

Costa Rica has enjoyed uninterrupted democracy since 1948. Most Costa Ricans speak with pride of this stability, and of the decision that year – taken after a brief civil war – to abolish the country’s military. Costa Rica has a civilian police force that protects citizens and the country’s borders.

The U.S. government has respected that decision, and has consistently maintained cordial relations with Costa Rica.

Which is why I was surprised this morning, when going through a recent Defense Department required report to Congress on its overseas military-aid programs (PDF), to find this on page 67, in a listing of Pentagon-funded humanitarian-assistance programs in 2007:

Country: Costa Rica

Dollar Amount: $920,971

Type of Support Provided: Infrastructure – Rehabilitate or repair – School renovation/construction, Clinic construction, 4 Minimal Cost projects

Purpose: Improves U.S. image with a government with anti-military sentiment. Project showcases U.S. Military multi-mission capabilities. Promoting democracy, regional prosperity, and stability.

There is something troubling about the notion that

(1) the U.S. image in a traditionally friendly country like Costa Rica is so low today that improving it is a reason given for a nearly $1 million military deployment; and

(2) it is seen as somehow in the U.S. interest to counteract “anti-military sentiment” in armyless Costa Rica.

10 Responses to “Overcoming “anti-military sentiment””

  1. Montserrat Nicolas Says:

    Plan Puebla Panama, anyone?

  2. El Común Says:

    So the U.S. military helped build a couple of schools and clinics in Costa Rica. Isn’t this type of humanitarian aid what the CIP has been urging the U.S. government to do more of? I suppose we should also have objected to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers repairing the damaged levees in New Orleans.

  3. lfm Says:

    Adam’s point was pretty clear, no need to obfuscate: he’s not objecting to the project themselves. He’s simply saying that the motivations behind it are quite remarkable.

  4. El Común Says:

    “Purpose: Improves U.S. image “….very remarkable indeed.

  5. Randy Paul Says:

    El Común misses the boat. It’s not just to improve the US’s image; it’s to promote the military in a country that eliminated its military and has been a beacon of peace in a region in which the military has often been a source of abuse against the citizens they’re supporsed to protect.

    This is not the first time the US has attempted something like this: President Pacheco caved to pressure to become a member of the coalition of the willilling against the wishes of his countrymen. Oscar Arias predecessor in the 1980’s caved to pressure from the Reagan administration to provide some support for the Contras. There are are other non-military methods to promote the US and do good within Costa Rica. It is a sovereign nation, however, and in Latin America, a nation that is not beholden to an expensive military apparatus should be a cause for celebration.

  6. lfm Says:

    Ahhh! Reading skills, reading skills…

  7. El Común Says:

    OK, so please tell me who get’s hurt by this? Costa Rica could have rejected the aid, but they didn’t. Did anyone within Costa Rica feel threatened or insulted by this (non-military) military aid? Is it my reading skills, or is the lens through which I have read the post just different than yours? I am not finding the same sinister motives that Adam, lfm, and Randy Paul are seeing…sorry. And frankly, that also applies to the critique, in the previous post, of the Colombian military administering humanitarian aid in what was until very recently a war zone controlled by irregular armed groups.

    If your vision of the future for the region is one that does not include any military, then congratulations…keep dreaming. On the other hand, if you would like to see military institutions play a more helpful role in promoting stability, peace, social justice, and human rights, then these sorts of humanitarian endeavors are useful, in my view.

  8. Randy Paul Says:

    On the other hand, if you would like to see military institutions play a more helpful role in promoting stability, peace, social justice, and human rights, then these sorts of humanitarian endeavors are useful, in my view.

    I’d rather see civilian institutions play a more helpful role in promoting stability, peace, social justice, and human rights, then these sorts of humanitarian endeavors are useful, in my view, especially in latin America and there’s absolutely no reason why they weren’t being used in this situation except to stick an upraised middle finger to Costa Rica’s decision to abolish its military.

  9. Adam Isacson Says:

    El Común, the more interesting question is why the U.S. military had to play any role in delivering development aid. Why did this $1 million not go through USAID (which, unlike what DOD is famous for, makes sure that the school will actually have teachers after the builders leave)?

    The U.S. military is not a development agency, and need not be building schools unless conditions are too unsafe/unstable for civilian school-builders to be present. I’ve been led to believe that these programs are happening through DOD simply because the Defense budget is the only place where it’s politically possible to appropriate development aid. That’s not a recipe for good policymaking.

  10. Harry Says:

    Wow, lot’s of smart people here, this is important. And it is possible not only to comment, but to get involved. One could contact their congress member and mention this item of concern, and also that the Merida Initiative, aka Plan Mexico, ought to be stopped, so the US does not fund violence and impunity. It is a fascinating and rewarding step to go from compiling information and discussing it online, to trying to act on it in the political forums, ie congress, where the decisions to send or not send these resources, are made.

    The Merida Initiative targets not only Mexico, but, see

    Assistance for Countries of Central America – Subtitle A: Law Enforcement and Security Assistance – (Sec. 212) Authorizes the President to provide assistance to the countries of Central America (Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic) for: (1) counternarcotics, countertrafficking, and related security to combat narcotics trafficking and bulk currency smuggling; and (2) public security and law enforcement to combat transnational gangs.

    It is a proposal to project greater us military presence throughout the region. CONTACT YOUR CONGRESSMEMBER TODAY! It does make a difference. Tell them Stop the Merida Initiative. See our website for more.

    Also, with respect, but USAID resources are being used to destabilize countries and are no guarantee of beneficial resources. From Bolivia to the country of Georgia this is evidenced. So this is a very wrong approach to suggest more resources in those channels!

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