dichotomies for empire: inverse relationships of political autonomy within nicaragua and costa rica
Costa Rica is lauded by the West as the “Switzerland of Central America” despiteits legacy of human rights abuses attributed to a neoliberal government. Thedeliberate media manipulation serves various purposes; while Costa Rica suffersunder the weight of neocolonialism, neighboring Nicaragua is dishonestlyrepresented as a repressive dictatorship. With the aim of manufacturing apolitical analysis that is both ahistorical and violent, disingenuous evaluations of Nicaragua omit the ongoing development of public services and reformsspearheaded by its democratically elected revolutionary government. Here, wesee a clear foil relationship molded by imperialist institutions and core countries, propped up by an inaccurate coverage broadcasted by corporate mainstreammedia. It primes Costa Rica to a continuous subservient neocolonial reality andNicaragua to a series of criminal economic sanctions, ultimately resulting in aneedless suffering that transcends borders but is always traced back toWashington’s greed.
Contrasting the political arenas of Costa Rica and Nicaragua runs the gamut concerning livedmaterial realities, electoral processes, and surrounding international media coverage. On Sunday, April 3, Costa Rica held its runoff election, yet it hardly represents a participatory democracy, as both candidates signified the continuity of the same neoliberal, discriminativepolitical model.
Incarnate of elite foreign interests, former President Jose Maria Figueres (1994-1998), whosefather founded the PLN and served as president in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1970s, encapsulates aCosta Rica etched with the whims of neocolonial oligarchs. A West Point grad who later went on to study at Harvard JFK School of Government, Figueres is recognized for his scandalous money laundering schemes outed in the 2017 Paradise Papers. Detailing secretive actions nowtransformed into open secrets, the documents revealed that as CEO of the World EconomicForum (2000-2004), Figueres received $900,000 in consulting fees from the Frenchtelecommunications firm Alcatel in order to bribe several Costa Rican politicians in various governments.
Despite belonging to an elite political family, it was former World Bank official Rodrigo Chaveswho garnered the most votes on election day. Hand in hand with his opponent, bothcampaigned not on the behalf of poor and working-class Costa Ricans, but rather for theamplification of austerity measures that aim to privatize an array of institutions, curating aplayground for external investors.
Neither candidate provided specific proposals that contend with an ongoing tax evasion and taxavoidance crisis, majority which conceal people’s fortunes. Pura vida, but only for some, CostaRica has the highest income inequality out of all OECD member countries, and certainly theprolongation of austerity measures continues to widen the wealth gap. This is the directconsequence of a political-economic system that centers multinational and imperialist capital,plundering the country’s resources through foreign debt and the exploitation of thousands infree-trade zones and agro-industry.
Obscured with a façade accentuating diverse wildlife, sun-kissed beaches, and a bustling urbancenter to promote tourism, a closer look reveals a wide array of social inequality and politicalrepression coincidentally ignored by international institutions such as the UN. With a povertylevel reaching 23% of households, Costa Ricans have been stifled by imperialist, anti-workerpolicies that only enrich affluent foreign investors. Although there have been acts of resistanceand labor organizing, the Costa Rican government has done everything possible to maintaincapitalist profits.
What is to be said for the 2018 teacher strike, representative of a historic culmination thatmarks an unrecognized but ongoing class struggle. 93 days discerned by the threat of aregressive fiscal plan by former President Carlos Alvarado, teachers mobilized panoramicsectors of workers and youth, becoming the bête noire of Costa Rica’s comprador class. Thelongest strike in all of Costa Rican history, its enervation was characterized by dozens of arrests,the police killing of 17-year-old Antuán Serrano, and the passage of Law 9635, whichcriminalizes blocking a street for protest.
A contrived political reality dictated by the suzerainty of the United States, workers arecognizant of their forced juxtaposition against the puppeteers of finance capital. Although massmobilization is yet to be cultivated, confidence towards the ballot is dismal, best reflected withthe recent 42% abstentionism rate. Concomitant with the prevailing neoliberal economicmythology, President-elect Chaves will stifle workers with heavy privatization of key industriessuch as RECOPE (Costa Rican Petroleum Refinerary) and FANAL (National Liquor Factory), thus increasing the rate of informal labor ineligible for Social Security services.
Diminishing the role of nationalized productions generates an ambit of social inequality,particularly due to the blatant denial of union representation both in informal and privatizedarenas of the labor force. Upon close examination, for instance, of the 2018 teachers’ strike, labor organizers could maintain momentum by virtue of belonging to the public sector, consequentially resulting in the support of three major trade unions – SEC, ANDE, and APSE.
As worker rights are under attack, proletarian women are subject to an insurmountableviolence that can only be toppled through a militant mobilization against neocolonial agendas.While rates of informal work remain at a steady rise, poor and migrant women face the bruntof the lingering unemployment crisis, further pushed into margins of violence as many findthemselves entering the sex trade.
Neocolonialism is the conquest of land and women. Here, the wretched atrocities propelledthrough the expropriation of territory and labor by the US government and its imperialistinstitutions consequentially subjugate local populations to an economic structuring that favorsthe demands of a North American tourist population. In 2007, it was reported that 80% of sextourists come from the US, and up to 10% of tourists are sex buyers.
The Costa Rican state has legalized prostitution; in other words, it has legalized the rape of itsvulnerable women by wealthy, privileged white men. Cities like San José, Jacó, and Tamarindorun rampant with sex buyers, and popular establishments such as bars, hotels, and massageparlors frequent up to 400 foreigners a day. The global feminization of poverty, furthered byimperialism, upholds a sex trade industry that preys on colonized women through sexualcoercion and violence. The realities of prostituted women within a neocolonial country are notdivorced from class exploitation; imperialism and patriarchy are responsible for the rape andgendered violence of thousands of women. Representative of the ongoing assault on women’sself-determination, indisputable evidence detailing years of sexual abuse and harm could notstop Chaves from becoming President-elect. Costa Rica, a paradise for Johns and privatebusiness, is by no means the country the prevailing hegemonic discourse wishes us to believe.
Amidst an electoral system legitimized by phony establishments such as the OAS, a perpetualquelling of labor movements, and a wealth gap adjuvant in materializing the desires oftransnational corporations, Costa Rica’s manufactured reality is also incapable of adhering to itsenvironmentally friendly label upon further investigation. The remnants of the exploitativebanana republic model are illustrated through nefarious agro-industrial rituals, therebyresulting in the highest intensity of pesticide use in the world, as demonstrated in a reportpublished by the Regional Institute of Studies of Toxic Substances (IRET) of the National University of Costa Rica (UNA). Averaging over 25 kg applied per hectare of cultivated land,according to the Pesticide Action Network, the use of pesticides in monoculture plantations areby no means a novelty. Banana republics, for instance, have been utilizing harmful chemicalslike Dibromo-chloropropane (DBCP) since the 1940s.
Masquerading through the vines of a handful of wildlife refuge sites, corporeal Costa Ricapersists in its expansion of monoculture farming, resulting in a cluster of environmental andpublic health concerns. Take, for instance, the development of pineapple monocultures, whichwere of course financed by the World Bank and USAID. There is a significant effort to obscurethe ways in which the land use directly threatens forests and wetlands, and how agrochemicalspollute surface and underground waters, putting at risk the health and well-being of ruralpeoples. Since 2007, Costa Rica is the main exporter of pineapple, with North America and theEuropean Union set as main destinations. Transnational corporations like Del Monte and PINDECO have 50% of Costa Rica’s pineapple output, squandering any possibility for agriculturalworkers to own their land, labor, and production.