Costa Rica has no army. Read that again. Costa Rica also has the lowest homicide rate in Central America. Now think of where Costa Rica is in relation to other countries. Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world by far and is only a little more than 400 miles from Costa Rica. Belize has the fourth highest homicide rate and is right next door to Honduras. Many of the deaths are due to drug wars. Speaking of which, Columbia, further away at 740 miles, supplies about 90% of the world’s cocaine, of which the US is the number one consumer. However, according to President Obama, on their way to the US, the drug traffickers from South America must make at least one stop in a Central American country, and one of those countries is Costa Rica, according to the 2015 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report issued by the US State Department.
But the Costa Rican Government does not want cocaine or other drugs here, where they are illegal. That does not mean they do not exist here. My gringo sources tell me that marijuana is very expensive and bad and cocaine is very cheap and good.
Since there is no army here, Costa Rica relies on its Coast Guard to attempt to stop the drug trafficking. The Government has entered into a bilateral agreement with the US where the two countries share resources such as training and US Coast Guard boats and planes to stop the shipments. According to the locals, it is not atypical to see US planes and boats chasing speed boats along the coast. The Tico Times reported that a US plane spotted a drug-loaded boat en route from Columbia passing Costa Rica, alerted the Costa Rican government and the occupants began unloading kilos of cocaine into the ocean, just as the Costa Rican Coast Guard intercepted the Columbian boat, collected the cocaine and jailed the boaters.
The police guard the borders, again, often trained by the US border patrol. But a big reason for not having a military is the obvious: Costa Rica does not start or enter other countries’s wars. Compare this to the US. Enough said. Isn’t it?
Further, Costa Rico has a very small ecological footprint of which the country is proud. I assume from all of the bicycles, motorcycles and horses I see, this country is far less dependent on gasoline than the US. There is not much reason to protect oil resources in the Middle East compared to the US.
Some resources, namely the Tico Times, credit the lack of armed conflict with drug cartels from neighboring countries with the country’s lack of a military itself. There has been no civil war or unrest since 1948. A January 14, 2015 Tico Times report states that Costa Rica is so successful combating drug trafficking due to its constant contact and cooperation with the US.
Naming Costa Rica as a major port of transit for narcotics in the 2015 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report ensures the US, along with several other countries, will continue to pour aid into Costa Rica to combat drug trafficking. But I find it hard to believe that some of the drugs do not find their way into Costa Rica for public consumption. Not a single person of the dozen of asked have heard of crystal meth, or methamphetamine. But they have heard of cocaine, marijuana and mushrooms. Moreover, in Obama’s 2015 report, he specifically mentions that synthetic drugs are not a problem in Costa Rica.
My Spanish teacher today, a Tica, told me that drugs are a very real problem in the poorer parts of the country, especially in the capital of San Jose. Twenty percent of Ticos’ income falls below the poverty line. But something is amiss here. The US is the world’s largest consumer of cocaine and drugs coming from South and Central America. The US is also the 7th richest country in the whole world. (Qatar and Luxembourg greatly outrank the US; the US closely follows Singapore, Norway, Brunei and Hong Kong.)
I’m not buying this poverty equals drug use business since the US is extraordinarily wealthy and its citizens are the biggest drug users. I think it has something to do with the phenomenon of the Costa Ricans being the happiest people on Earth. US citizens rank 16th on the happiness scale. So clearly, money and happiness are not related since Americans make four times as much as Costa Ricans. Do North Americans use drugs to feel happy? What about the factors that sociologists determined may be making Costa Ricans happy? They are greatly in touch with the beauty of nature, they leave a small ecological footprint, they are very close with their family and friends and they help others. Perhaps if US residents did these things they would not need so many drugs to change their realities. Perhaps a sunset would stave off the need for a line of coke. Perhaps coffee with a friend and strengthening relationships in the community would lessen the scourge of meth in US towns. I do not know the answer.
But it is a riddle to me that the richest country in the world also consumes the most mind-altering drugs and is one of the least happy countries in the developed world. And because of that we are responsible for the rise of drug cartels throughout South America and Mexico and the murders of thousands of people. Our military fights in South and Central America and Mexico to keep drugs out of the US. Meanwhile, the drug cartels murder each other and innocent people to keep the supply going. The best thing that is happening in the US is the legalization of marijuana. The cartels watched demand dwindle. But now the cartels are turning to heroin and Mexico is the biggest maker of crystal meth. As long as there is a demand, they will keep supplying, and people will keep fleeing from the outrageous murder rates created by the drug wars in Honduras and other Central American countries, mostly trying to get to the US.
I continue to be fascinated by a country with no military, the happiest people on earth, the lowest homicide rate in Central America and four times less the GDP than the US. As I ponder these questions, and the many ironies they pose, I am watching surfers catching waves in the aqua green water, touched by a half-moon sandy beach with palm tree hills on both ends of the moon tips. I will ride my bicycle home soon to catch the puesta del sol with the other Ticos. I cannot see the sunset from here since I am facing south towards South America. I understand I’m sure to see cat and mouse games with US helicopters and drug runners, but I haven’t seen that yet. I will be sad when I do. I never really thought about how all the drugs get into the US and how many people die. I do not use them, but I will think of illegal drugs differently. What if the drug war was one less war we had to fight? The problem is, of course, the demand.