Plan Developed to Swap Firearms for Computers Technology would go to Central America


By Tracie L. Thompson
Chronicle Correspondent

San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery and Costa Rican leaders announced plans yesterday to help bring peace and prosperity to Central America by swapping Silicon Valley computers for guns and other firearms.

McEnery said he and Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who received the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for drafting the plan that led to the recent democratic elections in Nicaragua, will lead the effort they have dubbed “Bullets to Bytes.”

The initial target of the program will be Nicaragua, where Contra rebels are supposed to turn in their weapons to the newly elected government by June 10.

Although the details have to be worked out, a committee of political and business leaders will meet within 90 days to develop the program, McEnery said. Arias is expected to visit the South Bay within a few months.

Despite the catchy name, Bullets to Bytes will not necessarily involve a direct exchange of weapons for computers, McEnery said. Nonetheless, one aspect of the plan could involve giving companies that donate computers commemorative plaques made of melted down guns.

McEnery and Arias formalized the concept last week when McEnery visited San Jose, Costa Rica, the country’s capital and sister city of San Jose in California.

While in Central America, McEnery also attended the Inauguration of Nicaraguan President Violeta Chamorro and discussed the idea with her and other leaders. According to McEnery, the leader of Nicaragua’s military forces General Humberto Ortega appeared amenable to turning over some of his country’s arsenal, including guns made in the 1800’s.

In San Jose, Calif., yesterday, Arias adviser Pablo Roberts talked about the potential of Bullets to Bytes and fifth-graders at Gardner Academy, a public school, with 170 computers donated by IBM.

Roberts told the children that the software used at Gardner Academy is also being used by schoolchildren in Costa Rica.

“Pretty soon we will have little wires going up to the satellites and we will be communicating – your children and our children,” Roberts said.

Some 35 percent of Costa Rica’s schoolchildren now have access to computers, according to Alfonso Gutierrez of the Omar Dengo Foundation, an educational improvement program initiated by Arias.

Both Arias and McEnery will soon have more time to work on Bullets to Bytes, as they are both legally barred from running again for their respective offices. Arias’ term as president ends on May 8, while McEnery leaves his post on December 31.

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