-No army? No way!

-Yes, that’s true.

-But…I don’t understand…What about if another country wants to take over you? What would you do then?

This was a typical question I heard while being an exchange student in the United States. Before that, I never thought of the fact that an army could be so “necessary”. It also made me realize how blessed I am for being Costa Rican.

Located in Central America, Costa Rica is bordered by Nicaragua and Panama and is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. On December 1st, 1948, President José Figueres Ferrer abolished the country’s army after victory in the civil war that year. Since then, the budget previously dedicated to the military is now devoted to security, education and culture.

-We do have the Police Guard force.

-And you think that’s enough?

-Well, thank God we’ve never needed anything else.

Costa Rican Independence is celebrated on September 15th, which commemorates independence of the entire Central America from Spanish rule in 1821. The national holiday, celebrated with much fun and merriment, is marked by hoisting of the National Flag, patriotic parades and performances by students in all towns and cities. The colors of the flag, blue, white and red, are common during the whole month, and especially this day.

On September 14th, a torch is brought running from Nicaragua by schoolchildren in relays, arriving at 6 p.m., time when all “ticos” (Costa Ricans) stop and sing the National Anthem. The torch represents the news of independence arriving to Costa Rica, a full month after Central America’s independence was actually declared in Guatemala. There is a light parade by schoolchildren holding lanterns and singing songs. Of course no celebration would be complete without fireworks.

The fact that there are more teachers than soldiers might be one of the reasons why this army-free country ranks first in the Happy Planet Index (2009), don’t you think?

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About the author

My name is Nuria Villalobos and I'm Costa Rican. I am a current professor of English as a Foreign Language at Universidad Nacional, Costa Rica, and a former ISEP (International Student Exchange Program) student in the United States. I speak Portuguese and I am currently studying the Teaching of Spanish as a Second Language. I'm passionate about languages, cultures, photography and meeting people from different places.