Costa Rican celebration lures a Cousteau expedition

Island of Peace SuperStation TBS/cable. Tomorrow, 10:15-10:45 p.m., ET; repeated Monday, 12:05-12:35 a.m. Producers: Jean-Michel Cousteau and Mose Richards. This documentary is pure propaganda - propaganda for peace.

``Island of Peace'' is a political spinoff from a typical Cousteau Society wildlife film. Jean-Michel Cousteau and the crew of the Alcyone set out to explore Costa Rica's protected wilderness island of Cocos. While they were there, however, President Oscar Arias Sanchez received the Nobel Peace Prize, and the capital city, San Jos'e, played host to a glorious celebration commemorating the 39th anniversary of the abolition of the Costa Rican army.

So, while the dramatic beauty of the country was not totally ignored, the Cousteau team decided to switch its focus and make another kind of film - one telling the story of this ``island of peace in a sea of soldiers.''

Since the army was abolished, says, Mr. Cousteau (whose voice is constantly fighting against an encroaching music track), Costa Rica has spent 10 times the money on education as on the military. The nation has the highest per capita income in Latin America and among the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. And it boasts a 95 percent literacy rate.

After just a passing reference to pockets of poverty and a high foreign debt, Cousteau indulges in a soft-edged, almost adoring interview with President Arias, in which the tough realities of the region are dealt with only superficially.

Arias sincerely spouts a series of wonderfully idealistic platitudes:

``We can prove to the world that it is much better to convince than conquer. ... We are proof that peace is possible.''

I came away thrilled at the idea of idealism as a practical way of life but wary of the film's unquestioning acceptance of it. Lacking for me was a hard-headed look at the long-range practicality of depending on the goodwill of the world and the trustworthiness of sometimes questionable neighbors.

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