If the United States wants to improve the lives of its citizens, it needs to change its value system, says Nobel Peace Prize laureate Oscar Arias, the 70-year-old, retired, twice-elected former president of Costa Rica. “It’s not fair for the U.S. to spend, on arms and weapons, so much money and then not spend on health care the money that is needed,” he told The Denver Post prior to a banquet for Denver’s Peacejam youth program.

Americans could also have better schools if U.S. leaders would look at “the obvious” option of cutting the $500 billion military budget: “Cut it five percent, 10 percent, as much as you can. I’d be happy if it doesn’t increase, because who…are your enemies? Well, you have enemies in Afghanistan and Iraq. So, then, make more friends instead of fighting your couple of enemies.” He went on to tell about 500 peacejammers in his speech at the Denver Performing Arts Complex that much of “the human race has twittered away its existence, singing an endless song—a song of waste and hatred, where there should be progress and love.”

Arias was awarded his Nobel during the 1980s, when wars were devastating many of Costa Rica’s Central American neighbors. Today, like Switzerland, Costa Rica claims “permanent neutrality,” as well as one of the most literate populations in the world (96 percent). Tourists are drawn to Costa Rica by the ubiquitous “pura vida” promotional motto, but it’s not just a marketing gimmick. According to the U.S. State Department, “Costa Rica is known worldwide for its conservation efforts, with more than 26 percent of its land under protection, thus safeguarding more than five percent of the entire world’s biodiversity.” Politically, ticos (as locals are known) elected their first female president, Laura Chinchilla, in May on the platform of developing more “green jobs,” among other progressive issues.