by Alex Wagoner
For most, Central America is seen as the awkward middle ground between the most southern tip of North America and the beginning of South America. Many of the countries that occupy the region are those that sound familiar when brought up in conversation (Panama, Guatemala, Honduras, etc.), but few could actually name them on their own –much less point them out on a map. Despite this lack of knowledge surrounding Central America, Costa Rica emerges as a household name due to its beautiful beaches, tropical climate, and booming tourism industry.
But besides its ideal climate, what else is there to Costa Rica?
On the map, Costa Rica is a relatively small Central American country with a landmass of about 19,700mi² (less than a third of the size of the state of Missouri), and its biggest city, the capital of San José, has a population of a mere 288,054 (A little over 2 times that of Columbia, MO). It’s wedged in between Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south, as well as the Pacific Ocean on its west coast and Caribbean Sea to its east. Costa Rica is also known for its luscious forests which make it a hotspot for biodiversity. In a world faced with climate change and an exponentially increasing amount of endangered species, Costa Rica draws many from another form of tourism: ecotourism.
Despite its size, Costa Rica is regarded as one of the most stable and progressive countries in its region. Costa Rica’s balanced democratic government and constitution –which were established in 1949—provided civil and educational rights (e.g. women have the right to vote), as well as economic stability towards the end of the 20th century. Instead of being in a state of constant violence like some of its neighbors, Costa Rica was able to engage itself in diplomacy. This, combined with foreign investment, helped transition Costa Rica from a poor country that primarily relied on agriculture, to an international state that prides itself on its economy of robust services and technology industries.
Though it seems like Costa Rica, has it all figured out, there are many issues the country faces –just as any other developed country does in the world:
First and foremost, Costa Rica has not been immune to the influx of immigrants that many developing countries around the world have been experiencing. Like the United States, Costa Rica has seen a rise in immigrants –6,500 in the past 4 months to be exact—which is a rise equivalent to the number of immigrants entering the United States each year (relative to population). Though the migrants are not directly correlated to Syrian refugee crisis like in the United States and many other countries, many of them are simply using Costa Rica as a passageway to the United States. Interestingly, a majority of the refugees say they are migrating from the Congo, but many are believed to actually be Haitians who were forced to leave Brazil after their labor used in constructing facilities for the Olympics in Rio was no longer needed. Other than the Haitians, Costa Rica has become home to thousands of migrants from neighboring countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Cuba due to its Protection Transfer Agreement with the United States’ Obama Administration.
While Costa Rica seems to have enough issues from forces outside of its own borders, it –like the United States—is facing social unrest among its higher education students. Much like the situation at the University of Missouri last year, Students at the University of Costa Rica (UCR) are protesting against and asking for the abdication of their president, Hening Jensen, who they claim has misused the university’s budget to place his daughter, Elena Jensen Villalobos, as the head psychologist at The Children’s Center Laboratory. The students marched in protest on August 16th, 2016, and are still protesting. Though the issue isn’t racially charged like the epidemic that swept universities across the United States last year, the students’ protest strikes a chord with all students who feel they have been cheated by a corrupt administrative system.
Though people may seem to give Costa Rica its biggest headaches, Mother Nature –its greatest benefactor—has also been supplying her healthy dose of issues in the form of the Turrialba Volcano. Costa Rica is blessed with beautiful beaches and tropical rainforests, but its real estate also comes at the price of high volcanic activity from the Turrialba Volcano which sits 50 kilometers east of the capital of San José. Since the fall of 2014, the volcano has been sporadically erupting, spewing ash, soot, and sulfur over the Central Valley. Luckily, up until recently the eruptions have been moderate, but the largest eruption in over 150 years of more than 3,000 meters (1.86 miles) high, caused the country to have to respond by sending out supplies to help farmers and others who were affected by the eruption.
by Alex Wagoner