Sunday, May 27, 2012

Startling Things the Genial Guide Told Us

I need to find or ask about an equivalent word for “OK.” It doesn’t seem to work the same here (i.e. my host mom is insistent that I eat huge dinners and always have a "refresco" when I get back from school)…

While in Costa Rica, I have eaten:
Salad with fried plantains and rice, and lots of fruits (pineapple, papaya, strawberries, and watermelon)
Spaghetti with thin tomato sauce (thinner than in the U.S., but it spread out the flavor more) and salad
Gallo pinto (rice with black beans) and pineapples and mangos
Cheese burrito (that’s what my house mom called it, hehe) and a salad with lettuce, tomatoes, and avocado!
Manicotti with white cheese and a salad with super-sour lemon juice
My host mom makes such an awesome mix of food!


We went to the Poas Volcano today and I left the house at six. We waited for a student who was running on Tico Time (same thing as Asian Time, or CMU Time--i.e., late), so we ended up setting out for the volcano at 7. The fog cloud cover at the top of the volcano gets heavy pretty fast, so we had to get there as early as posible. Our tour guide talked about random things in Costa Rica, but he really surprised me with the problematic and strongly expressed opinions that he said (not only because Costa Ricans are famous for not being confrontational, according to Los Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica).
I want to address the most salient issues, and I’ll let my photos do the talking about the trip itself.

1.   1. Ninety percent of Costa Rica’s electricity is generated by hydropower plants, with some “experiments” in wind power, geothermal, solar panels, etc.

I did a project on the integration of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) in Central America, specifically projects in  Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Nicaragua (hence one can see how I formulated my class projects in preparation for this summer). The CDM oversees green energy or conservation projects in developing countries, and partners the "developing" countries (non-Annex I) with developed (Annex I) countries. I believe the division into the categories is based somewhat on level of industrialization, but China is a non-Annex I country, so the delineation seems a little strange. Bringing it back to Costa Rica, it is true that 99.2% of the electricity in Costa Rica comes from renewable sources, but if 90% really comes from hydropower, then the Guanacaste Wind Farm CDM has had almost no effect, despite what it seemed to promise or currently be doing. It’s posible that the general population doesn’t know about the existence of the CDM, especially because many of my classmates and I didn’t know about the CDM before we talked about it in Energy & Climate. I wanted to ask the guide more about what happens with electricity during the “summer” in Costa Rica (the hotter, dry season), because the Guanacaste CDM was supposed to combat the drop in electricity generation when there’s less available wáter. However, the things he said disturbed me too much, and I still have to get used to using people’s names to get their attention.

2.      Nicaraguans are “illegal immigrants”in Costa Rica, they cause many social problems (like theft and threats to security), and they have babies here to get citizenship for them and get Access to benefits like medical assistance, education, etc.

Some news articles in Costa Rica that have mentioned Nicaraguan immigrants are hugely reminiscent of the insults, denunciations,and just plain shit that people in the United States say against Mexican immigrants. There’s news about the police capturing a truck that was carrying Nicaraguans across the border, and the need to strengthen the border. There are news that say Costa Rica is full of too many immigrants and that they cause social problems. The tour guide confirmed the presence of this attitude among some Costa Ricans: he said that “Costa Rica has a problema with security (you can see this because a lot of houses have iron gates), and this is because of immigrants. They increase many social problems, especially theft, because they don’t have money because their country is very poor.”

There was so much superiority in his attitude toward Nicaraguans: “We [Costa Ricans] are not rich, but we are less poor than the Nicaraguans.” And he said in his English translation that, “There are many ‘illegals’ in Costa Rica who come and work for mínimum-wage jobs.” It is so sad that the rhetoric here is identical to what we suffer from in the U.S. There isn’t a solidarity among Central Americans (though the guide did say that “Everything is America, not just the United States” and so, he might not believe in a unity among Latin Americans versus the U.S.). People here have come to use the same dirty word for undocumented immigrants; BUT, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN “ILLEGAL” PERSON. Listen to the words of Jorge Ramos!,9171,2107507,00.html
The guide said that the Nicaraguan immigrants work in mínimum-wage jobs (USD2 per hour) in agricultura or housework, and that Costa Ricans “look for jobs that pay more than the mínimum.” The similarity in descriptions—or the echoes in the wording—of immigrants’ circumstances in the U.S. and in Costa Rica are terrible and frightening.

3.      That the justice system is “contaminated by a philosophy that says that the criminal is a victim of society (not an individual acting with his own behavior and given the correlating consequences)

He said these words verbatim: “Our system of justice is contaminated by the philosophy that the criminal is a victim of society.” He said that many judiciaries in the world suffer from this… and that the criminal is treated better than the victim.I wonder what he would say about victims of rape and sexual assault, having grown up in such a machisto culture and being indoctrinated so much. The tour guide blamed many people as if they didn’t suffer from social injustices or obstacles placed before them by society, all much bigger than one person being a criminal because of a personal failing. The only redemptive thing was when he said that there are Ticos who hire Nicaraguan immigrants illegaly and exploit them: “It’s a shame when humans are exploiting other humans.” I want him to see the situation of all immigrants in the same light, instead of kicking back and denouncing “the illegals” as an evil other that threatens his beautiful way of life.

4.      The new soccer stadium was a “poisoned” gift from the Chinese
            Costa Rica had to cut off relations with Taiwan and couldn’t allow the Dalai Lama to visit

There is a Taiwanese church (“from Formosa”) near my house, and someone told me that Costa Rica has many Asians. I’ve seen more Chinese and Japanese restaurants here than I expected, especially the “hibachi” restaurant near the university. I wonder how extensive the limitations on economic (and possibly immigration) relations with Taiwan were. I haven’t heard about local perspectives on Asians yet. But, we did meet a Canadian ping-pong champion who was Chinese or Taiwanese.

Update: One of the program directors said today that there’s a sizeable Chinese population in Costa Rica, and that there was a wave of immigration in which many people settled in the coastal towns. Sweet. I shall learn more soon.

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