COSTA RICA – Exposing the hidden wounds behind the facade of a prosperous and by some, considered a stable country.
If you ask a Costa Rican how he is, he will surely answer “pure life”. By asking him to describe his country, he is likely to give you the same answer.
It repeats itself like a mantra and has become the country slogan , its main letter of introduction. It is used in advertising, both to advertise beer and mattresses, and to promote ecotourism.
But does his definition respond to the reality of the Central American nation?, others tell a different story.
The seed of the ubiquitous expression in a Mexican film whose protagonist used it everywhere, entitled “Pure Life!” and premiered in the country in 1956.
Since then it has been incorporated into the dictionaries of Costa Ricans as an idiom with more than five uses (to greet, say goodbye, thank, qualify or show admiration, etc.) and refers to the art of living well .
Happy and green, but …
With a life expectancy of 79.4 years and a per capita income of US $11,683 , its economic and social indicators have nothing to do with those of its impoverished neighbours, like two of the most violent countries in the world (El Salvador and Honduras). and the second poorest in the hemisphere after Haiti (Honduras again).
In the 2017 World Happiness Report, published by the United Nations, it ranked 12 out of 155 countries evaluated, and is the leader in Latin America.
It is something that was due, according to President Luis Guillermo Solís in an interview in 2015, to a “virtuous combination” of factors such as democratic stability and the fact of not having an army since 1948 .
It is also the only Central American country free of illiteracy and one of the 20 nations with the most biodiversity in the world. A quarter of its 51,100 km² is a protected nature reserve .
In 2017, it used only renewable energies for more than 300 days and by 2021 it aims to become the first carbon-neutral country, which eliminates as much CO² from the atmosphere as it emits.
“But from there to say that we are a country of pure life “… “What we are is a country that knows how to sell very well, ” says Juan Carlos Hidalgo, public policy analyst on Latin America at the Center for Freedom and Global Prosperity of the Cato Institute, an analysis center based in Washington.
But “we have a level of poverty that is still unacceptable, the growing inequality and the high cost of living, cases of corruption that hits both the government and the opposition …”, says the expert.
These are problems that the new president will have to face, who will be elected in the second round on April 1 between two candidates with the same surname but diametrically opposed ideology, especially regarding equal marriage.
These are Fabricio Alvarado , the experiodist and preacher of an evangelical church that represents the National Restoration Party, and Carlos Alvarado, of the official Partido Acción Ciudadana, a political party accused of corruption .
Poverty and inequality
“In the second half of the twentieth century, Costa Rica achieved three things that were thought impossible to do at the same time,” Jorge Vargas Cullell, director of the NGO State of the Nation Program, tells Conspiracy Talk News.
“It grew its economy and productivity, created and expanded the welfare state and consolidated a political democracy, something considered a luxury only within the reach of developed countries (but) those rails that are basic to understanding the sociopolitical and economic advances of the country have worn away in the 21st century. “
Despite having sustained growth for 25 years, and being the country in the region that invests the most in social policies (23% of its budget), it has one fifth of its population immersed in poverty .
And 5.7% in extreme poverty, up to 7.9% in the rural area, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Census.
Against the trend registered in Latin America, inequality increased in the last decade .
The income of 10% of households with more resources in 2015 was 32 times higher than the average income of 10% of the poorest households , according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a gap greater than that of the countries that make up that forum that Costa Rica wants to access.
And that, according to Vargas Cullell, “thanks to social programs, the State manages to reduce the inequality generated by the economy by between 9 and 11 points”.
“One of the main problems,” says the director of the Nation State Program, “is that the external sector has diversified and modernised, but has not managed to pull the rest of the economy to the traditional sector.”
“Thus, those who belong to that first sector earn a lot of money, but the salaries of those dedicated to the second sector, which is the majority, from day labourers to construction workers, stagnated, only grew between 10% and 15% in 20 years”.
“The gap between the two is enormous, to make a parallel, it is as if the economy had become a locomotive, but could not hook the wagons,” he illustrates.
And the consequence is a paradox: the economy grows , but generates little employment . The unemployment rate is 9.5%, but reaches 21.9% of the poorest sector.
Two elements are added: a large fiscal deficit (the negative difference between revenues and public expenditures) and the growing public indebtedness.
The year ended with a deficit of 6.2% of GDP, the highest figure in 35 years . And the public sector debt is equivalent to 62% of the Gross Domestic Product, while the tax collection is four times lower: 13.5%.
Given this scenario, Hidalgo believes that the solution is to reduce spending. “In the same way that in the 50s he achieved three things that seemed impossible,” says Vargas Cullell, “Costa Rica now has to find a solution that seems unlikely today.”
“The most violent year in history”
There is another issue of which they see their tranquillity threatened.
Despite not being comparable with El Salvador and Honduras – which closed 2017 with rates of 60 and 42.8 violent deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, respectively – Costa Rica is ceasing to be a haven of security.
The records have been for five years indicating a constant upward trend in homicides, and the last one was described as “the most violent in history”.
Last year it closed with 603 homicides – a rate of 12.1 per 100,000 inhabitants – with 48% and another 25% to drug trafficking, according to the Judicial Investigation Organisation (OIJ).
And already in the first 22 days of 2018 there were 36 murders.
In an interview with Conspiracy Talk News in 2016, Security Minister Gustavo Mata acknowledged that drug trafficking is “the country’s main security problem . “
“But first of all, it’s a problem in the region,” he stressed.
“In addition to the strategic decisions regarding drug trafficking and seizure, there should be a greater initiative for the seizure of capital , curiously the least used to combat crime,” sociologist Carlos Sandoval, of the University of Costa Rica pointed-out.
Corruption that “splashes everyone”
To all this is added another element: corruption.
“There have always been scandals, but there is one that recently marked a before and after: cementazo, ” journalist Fernando Chaves Espinach, of La Nación newspaper, explained.
It refers to the case of Chinese cement that broke out in mid-2017 when the loan of US $31.5 million began to be questioned to the construction entrepreneur Juan Carlos Bolaños and his company Sinocem Costa Rica by state-owned Banco de Costa Rica (BCR)
The Board of Directors of the BCR was suspended for trying to hide evidence of the case.
It is investigating a possible influence peddling that would splash representatives of all powers and different parties .
“Our investigation is focused on establishing, based on evidence, the truth about the facts, so that the Public Ministry can not advance if the case will result in an accusation, or a dismissal,” he clarifies to Conspiracy Talk News. Attorney General, Emilia Navas Aparicio.
Before all this, was Costa Rica then a country of “pure life”?
“Evidently it has a facet as such”, reflects Vargas Cullell, “it has no army, people live relatively at peace, it is proposing innovative alternatives in ecology and has several success stories, but that only explains part of the reality”.
“There are two Costa Ricas : the country of ‘pure life’ but also the one that is not at all, a country of the future and another of the past, is it a facade, a story, but that is only part of it”.