The members of Radio for Peace International (RFPI), a
radio station broadcasting "the voice of the voiceless" internationally from San
JosÚ, Costa Rica, have been occupying their station's building for the past two weeks to
protest against an eviction ordered by the University for Peace (UPeace), a United Nations
created organ. The radio station claims the eviction to be "an act of censorship for
political reasons" as a response to their alternative views and anti globalization
RFPI shut down and wrapped around barbed wire
"Everyone has the right to
freedom of opinion and expression" states the United Nations Universal Declaration of
Human Rights. This statement does not seam to apply to the United Nations-mandated
University for Peace, which silenced the voice of RFPI, Wednesday November 5th .
For the first time in 16 years, the
radio station went off the air after the university cut off the power to the transmitting
building. Not only did the radio have to deal with locked gates and armed guards for the
past 3 months, but today the University has wrapped barbed wire around the steel gates -
once used to keep cattle out and now serving as a reminder that the radio is no longer
welcome in the UPeace campus.
"At least they haven't
electrified the barbwire" told James Latham to the Tico Times. The director, along
with members and listeners, have been sleeping in the radio station for the past two
weeks, collecting water from buckets of rain water as UPeace cut off the water, the
electricity and the phone lines from the building. Latham told the press that if food were
prevented from being brought into the station by outsiders, the staff would be forced to
go on a hunger strike. At a minimum, RFPI is asking to be indemnified for the construction
of the building. RFPI self-financed the two storey building through donations, after
Rodrigo Corazo Odio, ex-president of Costa Rica and first rector of UPeace, invited them
to broadcast from the university campus in 1985.
For the UPeace representative,
Costa-rican lawyer Luis Varela, the conflict between UPeace and RFPI is purely economical.
He claims that the only reason for the eviction that the University is required to provide
is that they want to terminate the legal contract that authorized the functioning of the
radio station on the university campus in 1992. "It is like a divorce in the United
States," he added, "we don't have to give a reason."
For sixteen years, RFPI broadcast
messages of tolerance, pointing out injustices, corruption, human rights abuses and
environmental problems throughout the world, in total harmony with five consecutive
administrations of the University for Peace. Today, the new administration has decided to
silence the radio, without providing any reason.
censoring anti globalization's statements
A change in the administration of the
UPeace took place in 1999. Maurice Strong, Special Adviser to the United Nations and the
World Bank, was nominated President of the Council of UPeace. The Canadian millionaire is
criticized by some for being "a heavyweight globalist, who has risen to global
prominence largely because of his uncanny ability to manipulate people and
Strong promised that nothing would
change in the University, "except that more money would come in, since UPeace was
having financial difficulties," explains Latham. "However, there have been many
changes: Strong put his friends in top positions. At least fifteen people have been laid
off without pay, and the radio station received an eviction notice last July saying that
we had to leave, without mentioning a reason why."
For Latham, there is no doubt that the
eviction is an act of political censorship by Maurice Strong, who is "directly
responsible for shutting down the radio station." According to the RFPI director, the
eviction is directly related to anti-military and anti-globalization statements broadcast
by RFPI. "We have been very critical in our anti-globalization reports, that's
probably something Strong, working with organization such as the World Bank, may feel very
nervous about. There is also the new Human Security training."
The University's new
focus: from Peace to Security
RFPI recently started to investigate
the activities of the University, and they have found "interesting things" that
have occurred in the last years. "Since September 11th, the University has changed
its concept," mentions James Latham. "There is a new focus on security. For a
human rights organization, it is difficult to obtain funding, but for an organization
promoting security, it is easier."
Emily Morales, RFPI's operations
manager, explains that for Costa Ricans like herself, it was an honor to have a Peace
University in the country, "but when I came here, I realized that they have changed
their focus. They are money makers, not a peace making organization, and it is not
convenient to have a radio station next door saying something different from them."
RFPI's legal attorney, Arcelio
Hernandez, wrote a long letter to our reporter underlining how "important [it is] for
the press to be vigilent as for what is going on the campus of thie University for Peace.
This University has been using it's status of immunity to get away with all it's
responsibilities. Among them are the illegal lay-off of employes, about which I have much
Many people in Costa Rica claim to
have problems with the Upeace. Patricia Navarro Molina, Costa-rican journalist,
ex-coordinador of the "Peace Culture and Democracy in Central America" which was
closed for no reason by the Upeace, also wrote to our reporter that she "saw and
lived the injustices committed by Upeace management, especially since the presidency of
Maurice Strong." Among other accusations, she lists "the lay off of a pregnant
Nicaraguan lady on her return day from maternity leave," the "humiliation of
staff members who do not speak English", "the huge amount of money given away
for unnecessary services," and more.
RFPI director explains that the radio
station being located in the backyard of the University, able to "report on
them" and on what they do "probably made them very nervous", which is,
likely, the reason why they decided to evict RFPI.
UPeace collaborating with the
School of the Americas
RFPI found out that UPeace has
relationships with the School of the Americas. The US Army School of Americas (SOA), based
in the state of Georgia in the United States (now renamed WHISC) is known for training
Latin American soldiers in combat, counter-insurgency, and counter-narcotics training.
"Graduates of the SOA are responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses in
Latin America. The SOA has come to UPeace," criticizes Latham. "There is a big
plaque from the SOA thanking UPeace in the University. I thought it was hypocritical and
sad. There is also a plaque from the Honduran military. We have started to talk about all
this since the crisis started."
Latham and Morales believe that there
might be some collaboration between the University and the the Pentagon. Members of the
military might be getting masters degrees specialized in Human Rights from UPeace so that
"it gives them a green-wash effect," and they look clean in the eyes of
people" says Latham. "Maurice Strong has talked about militaries coming to
Upeace for training. We are concerned that the SOA or the new ILEA proposal (International
Law Enforcement Academy) will come back. It is an ideal location for them to be set up: on
the UN campus, they will have diplomatic immunity..."
University for Peace at
RFPI members lament the lack of
dialogue with UPeace. "The University teaches Masters courses in conflict resolution.
But, if they can't do it here, it is going to be a lot harder in the Middle East",
charges Latham. Right now, nobody is getting in or out of the radio station's building,
but the RFPI staff have no intention of leaving. "We are not moving until this whole
thing is over."
RFPI appealed this week to the
Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court to intervene in RFPI's fight against UPeace.
The director says that if nothing can be done locally, they will start legal action
against the University in the United States. When our reporter asked the UPeace's lawyer
about future actions that the University plans to take against RFPI, Luis Varela replied:
"I am not going to tell you, it would be like the US telling before they are about to
Whether both conflicts are for
ideological or economical reasons, we are hoping for less dramatic consequences than the
recent war of terror.