The average visitor books their vacation to Costa Rica and can’t wait to visit the happiest place on earth, explore the rainforest and relax on the beach.
The tourism board will continually pitch that image of Costa Rica, but if you’ve been in the country the last month, you’d notice a sharp departure from that narrative.
Public schools have been closed, road blockades happen daily, massive protests occur in the capital, gas shortages affect parts of the country and hospitals are canceling appointments and surgeries. These are just some of the things that have plagued the country the last month – and they’re things the tourism board would just assume not project internationally.
Many governments struggle with debt, and Costa Rica is no exception. To deal with this they are attempting to fast-track a fiscal combo package, but it shifts the load to the working class and basically exempts big business and the super wealthy from any of the cuts.
The plan is so unpopular that a national strike was declared, disrupting many functions of the country. The resistance is quite impressive, and while I don’t agree with everything on the strikers’ agenda, I support them.
What drives me crazy is I see a path to a solution, but there has been a bunch of inaction. And what I’m most disappointed in is our recently elected president, Carlos Alvarado. To me, he is the negotiator, the mediator who should unite the country to agree on a reform that works for everyone.
I’ve looked through the combo and the striker’s proposals, and they were written to be negotiated and compromised on, but the president does not want to engage. Even when they do negotiate, he doesn’t even go to the meetings.
You’d think, he’d be trying to mend things. But he seems to be a coward, hiding behind all his big-business mega-donor buddies and just waiting for the protesters to tire. He even publicly said he was intentionally ignoring the strikers.
What he doesn’t seem to realize is the longer this strike goes, the more blame will get shifted to him.
Maybe his kids go to private school, maybe he attends private hospitals and clinics, maybe he only travels by helicopter. Maybe none of this affects him directly. But what about the generation that might not graduate this December, the people that are on the public system and the road blocks?
It doesn’t seem like he cares.
He was at an event recently where a young girl presented and was politely critical of the fiscal combo. He spoke after her, and the best he could do was say he’s thinking about the Costa Rica 30 years from now and that is why he is carrying out this reform.
But 30 years from now won’t matter if you can’t get today right.
The older I get, the more I can’t help but feel deflated as similar battles go on in the vast majority of countries where the rich try to stick it to the rest and the rest fight for equality. Unfortunately, it looks like there will be very little compromise and the government will stick it to the common folk.
What’s even sadder is most economists believe this reform will not fix the deficit crisis. Not to oversimplify the problem, but the deficit is running around 8 percent and corruption and tax evasion are an estimated 8 percent of GDP. That’s not touched on much in the combo though.
Obviously, the situation is a lot more complex than what I can explained here, but the point is Costa Rica is not the Central American Switzerland many people think it is.
The international news media still seems to be sugarcoating it the most part – my dad called me after hearing about it and thought the protest was just for a day – but I think things will get worse yet before better.
I don’t think we’ll hit Venezuela or Nicaragua proportions, but we could end up in a Greece-like austerity situation if the president doesn’t govern better than this. He was the Costa Rican “Hillary Clinton” equivalent in the last election that we went for, however, if this keeps up next time we might end up rolling the dice with a “Trump” candidate.