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Oscar Arias urges all at Americas summit to cut military spending

President Oscar Arias entered the world stage this morning at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, using the event as a platform to drive home his campaign to urge world leaders to slash military spending and clamp down on the global arms trade.

Costa Rica President Oscar Arias (R) greets U.S.  President Barack Obama at the opening of the Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. (Photo courtesy of the Costa Rican government)

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate, whose nation abolished its military 60 years ago, pressed the need for the Costa Rica Consensus, a call for an about-face in foreign policy that would funnel the billions of dollars spent on armament into world funds that would tackle poverty, education, health and environmental problems. Arias said governments worldwide now spend a combined $300 billion a year on defense — 13 times the amount OECD nations spend on development. Latin America puts $50 billion a year toward defense, he said.

“With little more than 8 percent of the world’s population, (Latin America’s) responsible for 42 percent of the homicides committed with a firearm each year on the planet,” he said.

In the week leading up to the summit, Arias joined in the region’s hopes of Obama’s much- anticipated debut, pondering what picture the new American leader will paint for US-Latin America relations.

“I would love it if President Obama were thinking of a ‘good neighbor policy,’” Arias said, harkening back to FDR-era diplomacy.

On the firearms count, Obama has showed some neighborly concern: He has recently upped pressure to ratify the nuclear test-ban treaty and the inter-American arms treaty, the latter of which could enable Washington to better stymie the flow of weapons south of the border.

For this Arias congratulated Obama, calling him a new “ray of hope.” At the summit there is a president “who can lean the balance in favor of peace and rationality; a president whose government possesses the power to forever transform the history of war and violence that has bloodstained the Latin American record,” he said.

Due to high travel security on Friday, the daily La Nación reported, Arias arrived just barely in time for the opening of the summit. When he did he had a coveted seat right beside President Obama.

Sunday Arias heads into a sit-down meeting between Obama and Central American and Caribbean heads of state. Check back here for further reporting.