Western Influences on Costa Rica

Costa Rica, like many of its Central American neighbors, is a country that is extremely influenced by Western European culture due to its colonial beginnings. The state even debates many of the same human and social rights issues as many western nations due to its relatively high developed society.  Interestingly, although Costa Rica is not nearly on the same level economically as states like the United States, Germany, or the U.K., it is one of the world leaders in climate change prevention policy:


In 1502, when Christopher Columbus discovered the Central American land, he named it the Costa Rica or the “gold coast” –not because of its natural beauty, but because of the promise of gold after its indigenous people brought it to him freely.  Soon thereafter, Spanish conquistadors brutally wiped out or enslaved the indigenous people of Costa Rica (mainly the Guaymi) and began to tear apart the land searching for gold with their newly acquired slave labor.


Though it seems so inhumane in retrospect, what Christopher Columbus and the Spanish conquistadors did in the 16th century actually mirrors much of what developed countries in the world are doing today. Capitalist driven industrial countries like China, Japan, and the United States exploit countries in South East Asia and West Africa for their resources and dirt cheap labor every year.  The aftermath of this exploitation often leaves the land of less-developed countries with serious issues with pollution. The only difference between Spanish conquistadors of the past and the exploitative corporations of today is that the corporations hide their exploitation of developing countries behind a façade of “promoting human rights” by arguing that they provide jobs and infrastructure.


Costa Rica situates itself in a weird middle ground in the debate of whether or not developed countries are exploiting the human rights and the environment of less-developed countries. Yes, Costa Rica spent centuries as an agricultural colony of New Spain; the Spanish exploitation of Costa Rica destroyed the indigenous culture and destroyed much of its environment in the pursuit of gold. But on the other hand—now that Costa Rica is a truly sovereign state—it has turned those industries into its own and created one of the most developed economies in the region.  So, the question is: did eurocentrism actually aid Costa Rica in the long run?


Eurocentrism revolves around the idea of western cultures imposing their own culture on less powerful nations. The most common negative reference to this is the United States imposing its media and capitalism on the rest of the world.  In the case of Costa Rica, Spain acted as the eurocentric imposer when it conquered it and developed it into the colony of Costa Rica. Later on, during the Cold War, the United States saw Costa Rica as one of the many Central American states it needed to influence with it’s own eurocentric ideas in order to stop the spread of communism. Eventually Costa Rica evolved into a very western state as a result of this past.  The country is so developed that many of the issues it faces are not that different from those of the most developed countries in the world: gay rightsimmigrants, socialized medicine, energy reform –the list goes on.

Yet the latter of that list is one of the most interesting topics that garners Costa Rica the most international attention. Since 2007, Costa Rica has aspired to become the first state in the world to become carbon neutral. That goal is by an astonishing 2021, but the state takes it even so far as to claim that it will be zero emissions by 2075. These claims may seem far-fetched, but Costa Rica has recently backed these claims by claiming to have powered the entire country for 75 straight days on renewable energy –a headline that caught the attention of many world leaders.


So what is the point of these facts? While interesting as they are, the fact of the matter is that the modern Costa Rica of today was greatly influenced by western culture.  Eurocentrism seemed to hurt Costa Rica in the short term, but in the long term (granted, the very long, long term) it has seen advancement in both human rights and world-leading environmentalism that it might not have otherwise seen had it never been influenced by the west.  Aside from the negative imposing of culture and capitalism on developing countries, eurocentrism also brings many valuable ideas like democracy—which are in general universally valued. Though it took some time along with the delegation of sovereignty, Costa Rica developed from a poor farming colony into a economic and democratic powerhouse.  The hope is with many of the highly-developed western states of the world is that the less-developed states in regions such as West Africa and South East Asia will eventually follow in the footsteps of nations like Costa Rica that have benefitted greatly from eurocentrism.


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