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ICBUW in Costa Rica

At the end of March ICBUW representatives Damacio Lopez and US Veteran Herbert Reed visited Costa Rica for a series of high-level talks with the government of the Central American state.
19 April 2007 - ICBUW

Costa Rica and its president Oscar Arias are renowned for their pro-peace stance so ICBUW was optimistic that we would get a sympathetic hearing. ICBUW is grateful to the San José Quaker Peace Center and Dr Pablo Ortega for their assistance in setting up meetings with several government departments.

Lopez and Reed had two main objectives. The first was to arrange a meeting with President Oscar Arias and Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno, in order to introduce them to ICBUW’s Draft Resolution for a Ban on Uranium Munitions. The eventual goal was to persuade Costa Rica to sign on as a supporter for the October 2007 presentation of the draft to the United Nations.

The second objective was to film the testimonies of Damacio and Herbert for the documentary Dr Pablo Ortega is preparing in Spanish to be used as a tool to inform and denounce the use of depleted uranium, among Latin American countries.

At the start of their visit, Damacio and Herbet, accompanied by Isabel Macdonald, Coordinator of the San José, Quaker Peace Centre, met with Congressman Oscar López who represents the Party Access Without Exclusions (Partido Accesibilidad Sin Exclusión). Oscar López´s party PASE recently won one seat in Congress, and represents handicapped people.

Isabel Macdonald and Dr Pablo Ortega
Isabel Macdonald & Dr Pablo Ortega

Blind himself, Oscar López has been an ardent opponent of the signing of the Central American Free Trade Association (CAFTA) and very vocal about denouncing its arms loopholes. He recently criticised the installation of the arms manufacturer Raytheon on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. In February 2007, he presented a law for consideration, which would exclude the extraction, transport, manipulation, commercialisation, import, export and use of uranium weapons. Oscar López was instrumental in obtaining a confirmation date for ICBUW’s meeting with President Oscar Arias.

It is important to note that Costa Rica is the only Central American country that has not yet signed CAFTA. In the current text, in annex 3.3, unlike the other Central American countries, Costa Rica did not close its doors to the traffic of: “enriched uranium and its composites, enriched uranium in U235 and its composites, depleted uranium U238 and its composites”. Other omissions are: “tanks and blinded war vehicles, war ships, grenade and torpedo launchers, cañons and other arms of war. As a Nobel Peace Prize winner, President Arias, has been confronted on these issues by three minority parties who are also leading voices against the approval this year of CAFTA: PASE, Frente Amplio and the Citizen´s Action Partido (Partido Acción Ciudadana). Damacio and Herbert were able to meet these in Congress as well as members of parties who approve CAFTA (the ruling National Liberation Party and National Union Party – José Manuel Echandi).

Later that day Damacio, Herbert and Dr. Pablo Ortega, met with Lisbeth Quesada, head of Costa Rica´s Defensoría de los Habitantes - the state ombudsman’s office. The role of the ombudsman’s office is to make sure Costa Rica´s institutions comply with their mandates. Their resolutions are non-binding but very respected amongst Costa Rican society.

That evening Blake Schmidt, reporter for the English weekly newspaper Tico Times interviewed Herbert Reed at length for an article in Friday’s paper. Friday’s coverage was sympathetic and extensive and accompanied by a blistering editorial in favour of ICBUW’s aims.

The following day, Oscar López (PASE) joined Damacio, Herbert and Isabel for their meeting with President Oscar Arias and Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno. Both Arias and Stagno demonstrated interest in ICBUW’s mission and Stagno suggested changes to the Draft he thought should be considered.

Congressman Oscar Lopez, Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno, Herbert Reed, President Oscar Arias & Damacio Lopez.
(L-R)Congressman Oscar Lopez, Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno, Herbert Reed, President Oscar Arias & Damacio Lopez.

President Oscar Arias stated that Costa Rica was following up on the DU issue through lobbying - started last year - for the Draft Framework Convention on International Arms Transfers - ATT initiative led by Costa Rica, whose objective is to regulate all international arms transfers by the issuing of licenses. This draft was presented at the United Nations and last year 139 countries voted in favor, 24 countries abstained (countries that produce and allow their territories as passageways for transfer of DU) and one country the U.S. voted against.

Even though DU falls under the categories of “arms that are incapable of distinguishing between combatants and civilians or are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering” and “genocide or crimes against humanity,” Damacio expressed his concern that the ATT does not address depleted uranium by name and thus loses force in comparison with the concrete Resolution ICBUW wishes to present to the UN. Stagno, the Foreign Minister, promised a follow up meeting at the end of our week with members of his staff to go over these proposals. Both the President and Stagno said that they would support the ICBUW Resolution.

Later that day, they met with Congressman José Merino Del Rio, of Frente Amplio. After describing their meeting with the president and foreign minister, Merino pledged his support saying: “Let us know what the next steps will be and count on our total support”. As vocal as Oscar Lopez, José Merino is a well-known figure who was very involved five years ago in the fight to obstruct the privatization of Costa Rica´s energy and telecom sector and is one of the main opponents of the passage of CAFTA.

Following their meeting with Congressman Merino, they met with Dr Lesvia Villalobos Salas, president of the newly installed Congressional Human Rights Comission who also expressed interest in ICBUW’s cause. Damacio and Herbert also met with Mr. Romaric Ferraro Assessor Jurico of the International Committee of the Red Cross who is with the Delegacion Regional para Mexico and American Central y el Caribe Hispanohablante. A promise of an exchange of information on depleted uranium was agreed.

The next day was spent with Pablo Ortega and his film crew. In the afternoon, a meeting had been arranged with Citizen´s Action Party (Partido de Acción Ciudadana PAC) the runner up party in the last presidential election. PAC has 18 of 57 Congress representatives. They were very moved by Herbert Reed’s testimony and filmed him while he spoke, to share with Congressman Alberto Salom who was unable to attend due to his duties that afternoon in Plenario. PAC were very supportive and were keen to assist ICBUW.

The final day began with a meeting with Luis Alberto Cordero, Executive Director of the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress where Damacio and Herbert were accompanied by Ana Yancy Espinoza (Coordinator of the Foundation’s Area of Peace and Human Security) and Lina Barrantes.

The Arias Foundation has been instrumental in all the work behind the Arms Trade Treaty and they explained the process behind the ATT and expressed their hope that it would pass in the next 8 – 10 years; a slow process. Upon listening to Reed and Lopez and after reading ICBUW’s Draft Resolution and the supporting documents provided, Cordero declared the Arias Foundation’s support for ICBUW´s initiative.

The meeting was followed by a press conference at the Legislative Assembly, organised by Oscar López. In a room full of press representatives, Herbert and Damacio shared their reasons for being in Costa Rica: to put a face on the victims of DU as Herbert so rightly says and to present the initiative of the Draft Convention.

That afternoon they met with Alejandro Solano Subdirector de Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto de Costa Rica´s Direcccion General de Politica Exterior and Carlos Cordero Madrigal (Chief of Multilateral Policy) of the Ministry of Foreign Relations. They were very supportive of ICBUW’s proposal and expressed an interest in following up the meeting. Damacio welcomed written observations on the Draft Resolution and encouraged their garnering support at high ministry levels.

Carlos Cordero suggested ICBUW develop a road map, including a plan to garner support from the international community (States) and have the resolution completed. When asked whether Costa Rica would support ICBUW’s UN resolution they gave the affirmative – an extremely satisfying end to a very busy week.