Nobel Laureate: Haiti pres's army plan an "error"

December 5, 2011 - 11:00 PM

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Nobel laureate Oscar Arias has advised Haitian President Michel Martelly that it would be an "error" to restore the disbanded army, according to a letter delivered to presidential offices on Monday.

In the two-page letter dated Nov. 28, the two-time president of Costa Rica tells Martelly that armed forces in the region have records of thwarting progress and quashing democratic values, and that the $25 million Martelly has proposed for the new military should be invested in education, health and strengthening other institutions.

"I seek not to show disrespect for the sovereignty of a sister nation, but simply to share advice I see written on the wall of human history," Arias wrote in the letter shared with The Associated Press. "In Latin America, most armies are enemies of development, enemies of peace and enemies of freedom."

The Haitian army was disbanded in 1995 because of its history of abuse, a move that was applauded by Arias' own foundation.

First-time politican Martelly said he wants to fulfill a campaign pledge of reviving the army in an effort to restore national pride. He also envisions a force that will patrol Haiti's porous border with the neighboring Dominican Republic, protect the environment and respond to natural disasters.

But the United States and Canada have said that the money for the military would be better spent on strengthening the police force, which has 8,000 officers in a country of 10 million. Canada added that it wouldn't help pay for the new military and that Haiti has more pressing needs as it struggles to recover from the 7.0 magnitude earthquake almost two years ago.

Martelly later conceded that Haiti had other priorities, namely improvements to the country's health care and education sectors, but that he stills sees a need for the armed force.

Martelly last month announced that he would form a commission to define the agenda of the military but that has yet to materialize.

In his letter, Arias turns to history to show why he believes Haiti doesn't need an army. He notes how Costa Rica was once bordered by two countries with dictatorships but its absence of an army, he wrote, allowed the nation to be viewed as an ally.

And since 1995, when Costa Rica's neighbor, Panama, disbanded its army, the two nations have shared "the most peaceful border in the world," wrote Arias, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his peacemaking efforts in Central America.

"It is not by chance that these two countries also have the most successful economies in Central America, because the money we once spent on our armies is (now) invested in the education of our children and the health of our citizens," Arias wrote.

He added: "To reinstall the army would be an error, and that is why I cannot keep silent."

Martelly spokesman Lucien Jura couldn't be reached for comment Monday night.