Corrupt NGOs

Non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, are typically regarded in the public limelight as some of the purest, most philanthropic, and most impactful institutions in the world. Whether it’s promoting education in developing countries or providing relief to victims of war zones or natural disasters—there’s sure to be some kind of NGO providing aid.  Whenever a crisis breaks out, there seems to be a flood of aid that pours into the afflicted zones. In more recent memory, countries like Haiti which was ravaged by hurricane Matthew or war-torn Syria with all of its refugees, have all received aid after a wave of news reports crashed into the American main stream media and a flurry of NGOs stormed into action. This response seems like the “right thing to do” –the typical humanitarian course of action that should warrant praise, but if one delves deeper into where all of that aid goes, it reveals a much more sinister reality.  This reality is what Linda Polman tries to reveal in her book, The Crises Caravan: What’s Wrong With Humanitarian Aid?, in which she exposes the terrible truth behind the exploitation of foreign aid by both the receivers of aid and the NGOs themselves.

Often the foreign aid that is collected by international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), like the Red Cross, is perceived to do exactly as it’s advertised: help the victims of disaster and the impoverished. Too often do Americans fall victim to donating to the organizations that invoke their empathy through pity commercials and new stories without questioning where exactly their donations are going.  Polman explicitly reveals the cost of providing aid to war zones in her book. She explains that even if the NGOs aren’t corrupt, typically the countries that they are handing aid out to are.  Warlords and dictators, like Charles Taylor of Liberia, often charge entrance fees of 15-80% of the aid that NGOs are trying to provide just to let them into the country.  On top of the entrance fee, Polman states that often these corrupt leaders will even charge “taxes for the ‘use’ of INGOs of children for vaccination and casualties for rehabilitation” (Polman 99).  Of course, all of the funds that these corrupt leaders take are either poured into their own bank accounts or used to further fuel the conflict that NGOs are trying to provide relief from.

Often the case is that the less developed countries receiving foreign aid are corrupt, but almost as frequently there are NGOs that are just as corrupt (or completely negligent) as the countries they provide the aid.  Polman recounts her experience in Sierra Leone with members of prominent INGOs providing aid there; while they are at dinner, she marvels at the fact that the steaks they are eating cost a half month’s salary of each waiter and she asks how the citizens manage to live there. A member of the European Commission that she is with replies, “Juju! (sorcery)… Come on, let’s pop another bottle of wine, guys” (Polman 50).  It’s from that point on no surprise when Polman reveals that many of the government officials that work with or for INGOs often redirect aid funds to supplement their own salaries.

Of course, there are wealthy individuals who recognize this corruption—or at least believe the bureaucratic mess of huge INGOs is too slow to respond—and take matters into their own hands. These people often create “my own non-governmental organizations” or MONGOs. While it may seem that what these individuals and the organizations they are create are doing is great, the reality is that many of these MONGOs are completely negligent in the aid that they give. Essentially, what this means is that the aid that they are giving out is either completely useless to the people they are trying to help, or even inadvertently harmful to those victims.  Polman describes MONGOs plainly as organizations that give “well-intended but unwanted gifts that clog up airfields and logistical hubs” –which can be detrimental when they are needed in real crises.  She gives the example of the Greek Orthodox Church organization that donated Christmas costumes, fur coats, and skimpy women’s underwear to victims of the Indonesian tsunami back in 2004.  She also describes the horrifying story of Lonny Houk, who created a MONGO to provide medical aid to LDCs, but who essentially treated it as a hobby and was not at all qualified to perform some of the procedures he was performing.  Polman implies that MONGOs have increased in number due to the advent of new communication technology and media that spread the news of a crisis quicker than ever before.  The issue is that many people in developed countries that create these MONGOS do not understand the gravity of the situation or care to do research into the actual needs of the people they are trying to aid.

Polman creates a very pessimistic view of NGOs in general in her book. That said, she does not imply that people should completely stop creating and supporting NGOs.  In the Afterwords section of her book, Polman explains why NGOs have essentially become “businesses dressed up like Mother Teresa” (Polman 177). She blames corrupt governments who exploit foreign aid, journalists who take advantage of the access NGOs provide them into restricted countries, and finally the individuals who turn a blind to where their billions in foreign aid go.  Polman suggest that the only way to ensure that NGOs shed their competitive and corrupt nature to become the true benefactors that everyone assumes they are is if  people “demand they explain what they think they’re going to achieve and how they’re going to do it” (Polman 179).


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.

The Politics of Climate Change

By Alex Wagoner

Climate change is a sore topic for most Americans.  It got off to a rough start in the late 1990s when then vice president Al Gore first brought it to the main stream media’s attention and later used it as a scare tactic when he ran for president in the election of 2000. The fear of climate change or “global warming” was immediately put on the backburner as a result of 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. The Great Recession of 2007-2009 also managed to keep the issue of climate change far back in the minds of the American public until it resurfaced in 2010 with the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill of 2010.  For many who were finally beginning to recover from the recession, this environmental catastrophe really made an impact on the “eco-consciousness” of the American public and influenced them to become more “green.” Today, there is a serious push coming from younger generations and the left to develop a power grid based on alternative energy, cut emissions, and restore natural habitats (made evident by the Obama-Biden energy plan and the UN’s Paris Agreement).


So, why then is it such a “sore topic” for most Americans?


There really are two sides that support this argument:

The first party that is skeptical of climate change is the conservative group of America –generally speaking, the republicans.  They typically tend to dismiss claims of imminent climate change catastrophe and they especially despise the idea that climate change is caused by humans.  There is a reason for some of the ridiculous claims that republican politicians make to discredit the idea of climate change: money.  The U.S. economy (and really the world economy) is driven by fossil fuel energy companies.  Six of the top 10 largest revenue generating companies are energy companies. From a conservative economist’s viewpoint, it’s difficult to reconcile in the short-term cutting down on an industry that drives the world economy and dumping funds into R&D of relatively inefficient systems of energy production.


That said, the evidence really is conclusive; it’s hard to ignore the facts, and many believe something must be done.


Which leads into the second party skeptical of climate change: the democrats. Though this seems completely contradictory –democrats push for climate change action and believe that it’s absolutely real—the fact is that many are skeptical as to how much governments will actually stick to their word on their goals to cut back on emissions. Another side to this skepticism is that many believe that even if the world was to cut emissions to zero by the end of this year, the damage we have done is irreparable for the foreseeable future.

Both sides obviously have their own justified skepticism; the republicans are skeptical of the science behind climate change (and really, the money), and the democrats are skeptical of how willing the government is to support the necessary change. The sad part of the pessimistic view that Americans share is that they are the least affected by climate change.


In the past climate change was most closely associated with the loss of habitats for animals.  It was a consequence that few but PETA-loving ultra-liberal conservationists sincerely felt impacted (especially when saving natural habitats comes at the sacrifice of human comfort). In states like Costa Rica, the loss of biodiversity as a result of climate change has more precedence because it has a major impact on its economy which is dependent on tourism. This pressure has even pushed Costa Rica to shoot for an unrealistic zero carbon emissions and zero emissions state by the years 2021 and 2085. Unfortunately, the U.S. hasn’t been pressured to commit to climate change reform in the past –until recently.


Within the past decade, there have been news stories emerging of small, third-world nations that are being drastically affected by climate change.  Nations like the Pacific island state of Kiribati –which is literally sinking as a result of rising sea levels—or the Inuit tribes of North America whose ground is melting beneath them, starving, drowning, and forcing them to eventually relocate. The dire situations for these indigenous people are forcing the U.S. and many other world powers to take a look at the impact emissions and climate change have on human rights of indigenous people.


The recent uptick in stories of cultures being uprooted by climate change has made it clear; climate change is no longer some theory that is made up to disrupt the economy. It’s not a political tool used for debate among parties. It’s not even something that solely affects wildlife anymore. Climate change is a serious issue that is affecting people in less-developed countries right now and will soon affect everyone if nothing is done to inhibit it. Countries like Costa Rica and starting to lead the way, and hopefully greater world powers are soon to follow.




Post #3 The Evolution of Costa Rican Nationalism

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_gdp_graph.jpg


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.

Post #1—What about Costa Rica?

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.costa-rica-map

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