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Bolivia moved to squash a diplomatic row with Costa Rica this week after the South American country’s president, Evo Morales, took a jab at this Central American nation for effectively being a protectorate of the United States.
“Costa Rica doesn’t have armed forces, but it’s armed forces are those of the United States,” Morales, an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, was quoted by newswire EFE as saying.
Costa Rica’s government rebuked the remark, acknowledging that the country “has entrusted the defense of its sovereignty in the institutions and mechanisms of multilateralism and international law,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “That is what has allowed it to live without an army for 60 years.”
Without an army, Costa Rica has achieved a relative level of social development, “occupying a privileged place in the world,” the communique said. “Costa Rica will maintain its decision not to have an army and will count on the solidarity of friend nations when it is required.”
Without directly insulting Bolivia, a pinch perhaps could be felt. Compare Costa Rica’s more than $10,000 per-capita GDP to Bolivia’s $4,600.
Last month Bolivia announced a military buildup to defend itself against “poachers” from neighboring countries out to get its minerals, according to a report by UPI.
Yet, at times, Morales has sounded far closer to Costa Rica’s line of thought than observers might think. In December 2009, the Bolivian leader told a press conference, “The budget of the United States is $687 billion for defense. And for climate change, to save life, to save humanity, they only put up $10 billion. This is shameful.”
Then he sounded more like Costa Rica’s former President Oscar Arias than Hugo Chavez.
After Costa Rica’s slight disgruntlement to the protectorate jab, Morales backpedaled.
“I believe they have felt offended (by what I said),” Morales said Saturday. “At no time did I intend to offend a country like Costa Rica that doesn’t have an armed forces.”
The offense came at a sensitive time for Costa Rica. It’s mulling over whether to allow more than 40 U.S. warships to patrol its waters for drug runners. Costa Rica is a vociferous campaigner against armies and defense spending. But in recent years it’s realized that lacking a military puts it in a vulnerable position, amid ferocious gangs and drug cartels. Costa Rica, like most countries in the region, wants U.S. help to crack down on narcos.
But experts say the U.S. is in no shape to protect its little armyless friend. Michael Shifter, president of Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank, told GlobalPost that remarks like Morales’ “may have been true years ago but the United States is also not in the position to come to the rescue of any country. Its resources are really stretched and it’s already overcommitted in other parts of the world.”