Monday, April 20, 2009

Costa Rica president's plea to curtail arms trafficking gets positive response

President Barack Obama, front left, greets Costa Rica's President Oscar Arias during the opening ceremony of the Summit of the Americas on Friday, April 17, 2009 in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)By Chrissie Long
Tico Times Staff

Top on President Oscar Arias' agenda when he arrived for the fifth Summit of the Americas on Friday was convincing his peers in neighboring countries to reduce the flow of weapons through Latin America.

He began his campaign with a statement on Wednesday, calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to halt all sales of arms to Latin American countries.

“Every time a country spends its resources on arms, it's a hospital that can't be built, it's one university fewer, one highway fewer and one school fewer …” Arias said.

As if he had been listening, Obama announced on Thursday in the company of Mexican President Felipe Calderon that he would press the U.S. Senate for a ratification of a Latin American arms trafficking treaty, which has been stalled in the senate since President Bill Clinton signed it in 1997.

The treaty would work to reduce the illicit sale of firearms by establishing a system for importing, exporting and transferring firearms and would increase coordination by law enforcement agencies investigating illegal arms trafficking.

“I feel very pleased with the decision of President Obama,” Arias said in response. “Without a doubt, this goes in the right direction to recoup levels of security within Latin America and to reinforce a message of cooperation and responsibility adopted by the Obama administration.

Bruce Bagley, chairman of international studies at the University of Miami, in a conversation with The Tico Times on Wednesday, estimated that 90 percent of the weapons in Latin America are sold through the United States.

But Arias took his plea a step further this weekend, asking fellow leaders to reduce the amount of money spent on their militaries. He said the world spends $300 billion each year to support armed forces, which is 13 times more than international development aid granted to the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

“More artillery helicopters, more combat airplanes, more rockets and more soldiers will not bring one crust of bread to our families, nor one desk for our schools, nor one (container) of medicine for our clinics…” Arias said, urging countries in the Americas to redirect state funding.

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