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‘Costa Rica thrives on peace, cooperation with East Asia’

“We have only two armies to defend our right to live in peace and democracy -- those of our teachers and diplomats.”

Across serene and pacific Costa Rica, the military has long been a thing of a bygone era. The Central American country renounced its military in 1949, and has since spearheaded a path of peace and development in a region perennially engrossed in conflict and violence.

According to Costa Rican Ambassador to Korea Rodolfo Solano Quiros, the pursuit of pacifism and dialogue as a national strategy has enabled channeling resources to education, health care and the environment instead, tangibly improving people’s lives.

As Costa Rica and Korea mark the 55th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year, the two countries can join hands in international cooperation and laws for global peace and security, the envoy said in an interview.

“We have only two armies to defend our right to live in peace and democracy -- those of our teachers and diplomats,” he told The Korea Herald last week. At a time of exacerbating tensions in and around the Korean Peninsula, “The perseverance of these common values will bring our nations closer together and forge new partnerships and collaboration in the future.” 

Costa Rican Ambassador to Korea Rodolfo Solano Quiros (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)
Costa Rican Ambassador to Korea Rodolfo Solano Quiros (Joel Lee/The Korea Herald)

At $12,000, Costa Rica has the second-highest per capita gross domestic product in Central America. Its politics, economy and society are stable by many estimates, and it is home to numerous global companies in advanced manufacturing, life sciences and agri-food industries, among others.

Dubbed the “Switzerland of Central America,” Costa Rica frequently scores high on global happiness rankings, and last year topped the Happy Planet Index that measures welfare, life expectancy, social equality, ecological environment and other factors. Oscar Arias Sanchez, Costa Rican president from 1986 to 1990 and 2006 to 2010, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his efforts to end the Central American crisis.

“One of the key factors that make us the happiest nation on earth has been our decision to abolish our military, which undoubtedly facilitated our national development,” he stressed. “The money that would otherwise go to purchasing and maintaining weapons are redirected to causes promoting people’s prosperity. For three generations since the historic decision 68 years ago, our children have not seen a single Costa Rican soldier, warplane or combat tank on our land.”

In place of the military, law enforcement agencies maintain public security, and people put their faith in democracy, the rule of law, human rights and social justice, Solano Quiros said.

Pointing to the popular expression “pura vida” -- meaning “pure life” -- he said his countrypeople live the good life of enjoying hot springs, beaches, golf, ecotourism and various healthful outdoor activities.

Costa Rica's natural landscape (PUCCI)
Costa Rica's natural landscape (PUCCI)

“Our solidarity with our future generations also extends to our commitment to nature and sustainable development,” said the ambassador, adding Costa Rica has identified ecotourism as a vital means of increasing national wealth.

Located between the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, Costa Rica is among the world’s leading ecological destinations, with more than 25 percent of its territory devoted to national parks, covering rain forests, inactive and active volcanoes, hot springs, islands, beaches, caves, river canyons and waterfalls. Over 52 percent of its land is covered by forests home to rich wildlife and vegetation.

Costa Rica is also harnessing its medical and wellness tourism by drawing on its cutting-edge medical technology, professional expertise and facilities, including 29 internationally accredited hospitals. The country received 3 million tourists last year, with some 5,000 Koreans among them. The embassy in Seoul has identified companies that will provide multidestination packages for Korean travelers, said Solano Quiros.

“Costa Rica’s transfer of knowledge and sharing of best practices in sustainable tourism constitutes one of the main areas of collaboration with Korea,” he said, citing the Certification for Sustainable Tourism introduced in 1997 by the Costa Rica Tourism Board, which awards entrepreneurs for their environment-conscious practices in tourism.

Other initiatives in conservation and sustainable development include the government’s funding of the Environmental Services Program and the recently established Environmental Bank Foundation, designed to foster public-private partnerships involving local and micro entrepreneurs. Costa Rica is a founding member of the Global Green Growth Institute and a board member of the Green Climate Fund in Songdo, Incheon.

Costa Rica's natural landscape (PUCCI)
Costa Rica's natural landscape (PUCCI)

Solano Quiros also said Costa Rica is keen to learn from Korea’s successful practices in wastewater management and public infrastructure.

By drawing on renewable energy from its rich natural resources, Costa Rica is heavily committed to being a carbon-neutral economy by 2021, the year of its 200th anniversary of independence, he said. The country produces over 95 percent of its electricity from hydroelectric, geothermal and wind power, and last year had more than 150 days powered by renewable energy sources.

Marking the bicentennial celebration, the Costa Rican government has sent 200 of the country’s best and brightest students to leading universities worldwide on scholarships. It also launched the Green Peace Spanish Learning Initiative through which 75 students are studying Spanish in Costa Rica’s ecological, peaceful environment.

Turning to bilateral relations, Solano Quiros said the high point of the last 55 years of diplomacy was Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis Rivera’s visit to Korea in October last year. His visit culminated in the Comprehensive Strategic Cooperation Partnership between the two countries, offering a road map to strengthen ties within bilateral and multilateral settings.

Key areas of cooperation in the future lie in trade and investment; environmental preservation and sustainable development; transport infrastructure; education and technical training; health care; citizen security; science, technology and innovation; good governance in public administration; gender equality; administrative decentralization; and culture, tourism and sports, according to the diplomat. 

Costa Rica's natural landscape (PUCCI)
Costa Rica's natural landscape (PUCCI)

During the eighth ministerial meeting of the Forum for East Asia-Latin American Cooperation in Busan in late August, Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez Sanz came to Korea and reiterated the importance of revitalizing the interregional organization.

“Under the slogan ‘two regions, one vision,’ we are taking a leap forward toward the institution’s 20th anniversary in 2019, and working to create synergies among our members, international organizations and financial institutions,” the envoy explained. The FEALAC Fund has been launched, and various working groups are enhancing collaboration in politics, sustainable development, commerce, tourism, small and medium-sized enterprises, culture, youth, gender and sports, science and technology and education and innovation.

Korea and Central American countries are also awaiting the formal signing of a free trade agreement after negotiations were completed on both sides. Following parliamentary or congressional ratifications, the deal will expand trade and investment manifold from current levels, the ambassador forecast.

In terms of bilateral commerce, trade between Costa Rica and Korea reached nearly $400 million last year, a 42 percent increase from the year before. Costa Rica exports to Korea electrical components, biomedical devices and components, intellectual services, coffee, pineapples, bananas and other organically grown foods.

Solano Quiros said his country offers an ideal environment for foreign investors on the back of its strategic location linking Central and South Americas and abundant ecological resources. In recent years there has been a rising interest in the country’s biomedical, aerospace, renewable energy and ecotourism sectors, he added.

By Joel Lee (joel@heraldcorp.com)
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