Tuesday, May 19, 2009

More Reflections on Costa Rica

I began this series on Costa Rica by labeling it a land of contradictions, and while it may seem presumptuous of me, having spent only a total of three weeks in the country, to render any kind of assessment of it, here it is anyway. On the one hand, it has a reputation as an eco paradise, yet on the other, it reputedly uses more agricultural chemicals, many of which have long been banned in North America because of their toxicity, than any other country in Central America, and overdevelopment is leading to increasing amounts of raw sewage being dumped into the ocean. As well, recycling programs are in their infancy there. The Country has a 93% literacy rate and universal access to education, yet the majority of rural schools don’t even have libraries. In terms of international relations, Costa Rica has been called the Switzerland of Central America, owing to its abolition of a standing army in 1948, yet within the country, crime is on the increase, petty theft is rampant, and the police are underpaid and ineffectual. It has forward-looking social policy, devoting a significant amount of its GNP to the provision of medical care for all, yet at the same time prostitution, a waste of human potential and threat to health, is legal.

If you will indulge the English teacher in me (alive and well despite being retired for almost three years now!), Costa Rica seems like a metaphor for human nature, representing both the best and the worst, the most generous and the most selfish impulses that reside within us all, and while that observation may be applied to many countries, it is in Costa Rica that I feel it most acutely. It is a country that very much beckons to me as it strives to preserve its remaining natural heritage, waste not its financial resources on military expenditures but spend them constructively on its people through progressive social policies, and promote a way of life that stresses living in the moment and savoring the small yet priceless delights the world has to offer. Yet, as in human nature, there is the dark side, a side where greed, lust and general selfishness are also very much at work, a side that sees drugs becoming increasingly prevalent, overdevelopment at the expense of environmental degradation, and crimes of opportunity, now frequently augmented by violence, becoming more common, (security guards and barred entrances to houses abound) while the government is seemingly unable or unwilling to properly train and finance its police forces to stem this rising tide. As well, according to blogs and on-line Costa Rican newspapers I have read, the judiciary is strangely reluctant to mete out the kinds of punishments that are usually seen as deterrents in North America.

Many of these aspects of Costa Rican life became known to me during and subsequent to our second Costa Rican visit in March, a two-week stay at Jaco Beach, located in the province of Punterenas, which I will be writing about in upcoming posts.

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