« Previous  
 Next »

Costa Rica's example

03/07/03 12:00AM By Madeleine M. Kunin
 MP3   Download MP3 

(Host) Commentator Madeleine Kunin share impression from a trip to Costa Rica.

(Kunin) Imagine a country that has no armed forces and devotes the money that would have been spent on the military to education and universal health care. Sound too good to be true? Almost. But it exists.

The country is Costa Rica, made up of four million people located in Central America. I recently returned from a dream vacation there, spending time in a lush rain forest, with palm trees 100 feet high, gargantuan ferns and exotic plants that we see in miniature in our small potted house plants.

This a country whose size is a fraction of 1% of the world, but has 5% of the world's biodiversity. Everywhere there are discoveries: parrots flying over head, toucans perched in a tree, iguanas sleeping lazily on a limb, monkeys playing overhead. It is a country that discovered years ago that its natural resources are its treasure. One-third of the land is protected from development. Drilling for oil and mining for gold are not allowed. Tourism is a major economic asset.

But it is not only the forests and beaches and volcanoes that make this small Central American a haven for naturalists. It is Costa Rica's priorities that make it stand out, not only in Central and South America, but in the world. The army was abolished in 1948 by a revolutionary. Military headquarters were turned into a museum. Imagine the Pentagon devoted to art? Beyond belief, I know.

The strength of its stabile democracy is based on the conviction that there a direct relationship between education and democracy. Most of their presidents were either professors or teachers. The country has a 97% literacy rate, compared to Guatemala which has roughly 50%. One room school houses are found in every small village, all studying the same national curriculum. And yes, there is testing. College entrance is based on merit, anyone who passes can afford to attend, either paying 10% of the cost, or receiving a scholarship.

Are there problems? Certainly, women head of half the households, street crime is common, illegal immigrants from neighboring Nicaragua are a burden, and the drug trade wrecks its havoc here too.

The most important lesson we can learn from Costa Rica is that a country which sets education, health care and the environment as its top priorities can be peaceful and prosperous. Unemployment is between 5-6%. Costa Rica is a model for its Central and South American neighbors. And for the United States? A great place for a vacation, and - who knows? - an example of what might be possible, if ...if...we turned even some of our military installations into museums.

Madeleine Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.
comments powered by Disqus
Supported By
Become an Underwriter | Find an Underwiter