Port of Call
A Place Where No Children Grow Up to be Soldiers: Peace Boat visits Costa Rica, Jul 30, 2018
Peace Boat study tour participants in the Costa Rican National Congress building.
What are the basic institutions every society needs? Courts? A police force? A public education system? Many people might include "a military" on this list, but not every state has one. Costa Rica, a small Central American country with a population of about five million, has gone without a military since it was abolished by then-President José Figueres in 1948. Pointing to the fact that militaries had often served to undermine their democracies in the region, Figueres decreed that the police force would be enough to ensure the safety of the country, and wanted a state that would unable to engage in war.

Roberto Zamora speaks about his peacebuilding efforts onboard the ship.
Costa Rica's unique history has played a large role in the career of Roberto Zamora, a lawyer and guest educator whose relationship with Peace Boat dates back to 2005, when he came to Japan to research Article 9, the peace clause in Japan's constitution. Zamora attributes being raised in Costa Rica and with the values instilled in him by its history to his lifelong commitment to peace. In 2002, at the age of 22, Zamora successfully sued the Costa Rican government for supporting the Invasion of Iraq, on the grounds that it violated the 1983 Neutrality Statement and the Costa Rican people's right to peace. Four years later, he again successfully sued the government, this time for authorizing the manufacture of a nuclear reactor.

Mariela Castro Avila holds a gift from Peace Boat after giving a lecture on Costa Rican history.
Given Costa Rica's historical commitment to peacebuilding, it's natural that it would be a stop on a Peace Boat journey. When the Ocean Dream docked in the port of Puntarenas on 26 July, a group of Peace Boat participants had the chance to take a closer look at the history of the unique Central American state. The group started their day with a visit to the Supreme Electoral Court of Costa Rica, where they listened to a lecture on the formation of the Costa Rican state by Mariela Castro Avila. Following the lecture the group progressed to the National Congress building, where the Legislative Assembly of Costa Rica convenes, for another lecture, this time on the Costa Rican legal system.

Mario Grant speaks through an intepreter on the Quaker Friends for Peace Center.
After lunch, the group met with Mario Grant, a representative from the Quaker Friends for Peace Center, an organization in San José that "promotes a culture of peace and active nonviolence in Costa Rica by upholding social justice and human rights." Quakers, a pacifist religious minority from the United States, first settled in Costa Rica in the 1950s, attracted by the recent abolition of the military and the government's calls for outsiders to come settle the land. The Peace Center runs a hostel in San José, and helps people in difficult political situations find appropriate representation for their cases.

The Peace Boat study tour at the Supreme Electoral Court of Costa Rica.
Though Costa Rica may sound utopian to anyone from a country where war forms a core part of politics, Zamora is quick to say that Costa Ricans shouldn't stop seeking to better their society. He points to rising income inequality and the continued existence of poverty to remind us that Costa Rica is still not a perfect society. "We also have problems with letting people live their lives in peace," says Zamora, in reference to the ban on gay marriage. Zamora is currently embroiled in controversy as the only notary public marrying same sex couples, as he disputes the constitutionality of the ban. Costa Rica offers a model of a state that has sustained itself without the use of military force, but like every country, has a lot of room to improve.