Costa Rica is one of the few Central American states that is truly looked up to in the region. With relatively high GDP of over $52 billion and impressive economic growth to back it (average of 4% per year for the past 5 years), Costa Rica has outpaced its neighbors in recent years and continued to grow as the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean have seen economic decline (-0.9% GDP growth last year). What makes this economic success particularly interesting is that Costa Rica has been subject to a lot of adversity throughout its past.
Costa Rica got off to a rough start when it was first discovered in 1502 by Christopher Columbus. Despite being deemed “Costa Rica” (Rich Coast, in Spanish), it was ironically denied the typical Spanish take over and development of infrastructure due to its lack of gold and other rare earth metals. Eventually, Costa Rica was conquered and converted into a viceroy colony of New Spain in 1561 (mostly thanks to pathogens the Spaniards brought with them). The Spaniards then forced a slave labor economy called the encomienda on the Costa Ricans based on cacao and tobacco (which are still two of its top exports today). When Costa Rica finally gained its independence from Spain in the 19th century, it evolved from a slave state to a nation of small land owners and farmers.
So what does any of this have to do with Costa Rican nationalism?
Understanding Costa Rica’s adverse history helps us understand how early globalization directly influenced the strong democracy and nationalism seen in Costa Rica today. Beginning with the Spaniards’ ruthless conquest of land which drove out and suppressed its indigenous people, followed by their lack of support after their take over, which left the country to the poor rural Spanish farmers who stayed behind and the few remaining indigenous people. When Costa Rica became completely independent from Spain in 1838, those remaining rural people created small communities that governed themselves –a step that most see as a critical to developing Costa Rica’s strong modern democracy.
Costa Rica is first-hand proof of the type of early-modern globalization (really, imperialism) that Steger talks about on pages 28-31 of his text, Globalization: A Very Short Introduction; Old World imperialistic powers taking over and wiping out indigenous populations (he states 90-95%), and establishing their own cultures and infrastructure. The difference with Costa Rica is that Spain skipped the latter and instead left a mix of its culture and the remaining indigenous people to figure it out –and yes, demographically the population of Costa Rica today is of 96% white European descent, but they consider themselves “ticos,” (a reference to when the colonial Spanish government made them pay high taxes), not of Spanish descent.
Now that it’s obvious how early globalization has greatly influenced the people of Costa Rica and their national pride in the past, where does contemporary globalization fit in to the whole equation?
Fareed Zakaria makes an interesting point about nationalism in the era of contemporary globalization; he states that despite the exponential increase in our connected economies and communication, nationalism is on the rise. His point of view is that as the world becomes smaller and smaller, people feel like they need to belong to a group that supersedes the superficial borders of their nation-states –he calls it, “the assertion of identity” (Zakaria 41). He also argues that this need to identify with a group helps promote worldwide democracy because, in a democratic society, the bigger a group, the more powerful they become.
So now, looking back at the current state of Costa Rica, it is easy to see many of Zakaria’s ideas about the increase of modern nationalism at work in the country: Costa Rica, and its booming economy with more and more foreign investors, of course brags an equally strong democracy. Costa Rica, with its influx of emigrants and refugees, is naturally raising its number of immigration policies despite pressure from the United States’ Obama Administration. Despite Costa Rica’s low rank on the scale of the global economy, its relatively powerful economic standing in Central America and the Caribbean makes it an obvious representation of what Zakaria coins, “the rise of the rest.”
Costa Rica is particularly interesting to compare to Zakaria’s philosophies because it is one of the more developed countries in its region, yet is still being bullied by some of the larger world powers. Free trade acts and other foreign trade policies are a hot topic with Costa Rica as it tries to transition from a primarily agrarian economy, to a primarily industrialized economy (not much unlike China). That’s why it will be interesting to see how Costa Rica balances its new trade ventures with China with its existing agreements with North America.