Costa Rica
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Social & Environmental Issues


Social Issues

One of the major social issues in Costa Rica today is xenophobia. As of 2010 the country was sheltering 12,000 refugees with over 40 different nationalities and accepting 80 additional asylum seekers a month. Eighty percent of these refugees are from Colombia. There have been migratory movements from groups of people from African and Asian countries trying to reach North America. In addition to the growing number of refugees, Costa Rica’s growing economy and high standard of living have increased immigration to the country, particularly from Nicaragua.

This influx of people has created tension in the country and the problem of xenophobia has become widespread. Forty percent of young refugees have reported some kind of physical or emotional abuse from their peers or teachers. Nicaraguans are generally seen as second class citizens. There have been reports of police brutality and when Nicaraguans are victims of a crime, the police have refused to help.

Illegal immigration from Nicaragua continues to be an ongoing problem in Costa Rica. Costa Ricans claim the loss of jobs and a growing feeling of insecurity in their country but the fallout from bigotry this has caused has the potential to be equally as damaging. While both the countries’ governments have tried to resolve the conflicts that have arisen from this, no effective measures have been taken.

Racism, particularly based on skin color, has is serious issue in Costa Rica. Whiteness has become a big part of the country’s national identity. In the early 19th century men of African of indigenous ancestry tried to marry poor Spanish women to make it possible for their children to be successful. Today 95% of the populations consider themselves white. The majority of the upper-middle class families are decedents from Spanish conquistadors. The correlation between income and skin color is still very prevalent.

Gender roles in Costa Rica are similar to other Latin American countries. Women are generally relied on for domestic work while men are relied upon for hard labor. Men hold a fast majority of the jobs in government and politics. Although, with women increasingly seeking work and education outside of the home, the balance of power is shifting. The most obvious example of this is the election of the first woman president in 2010.

Although Costa Rica is widely considered to be a more progressive country than its Central American counterparts, machismo is and male dominance is still a large part of the culture and domestic abuse is widespread.


Environmental Issues

Costa Rica, a country that was once entirely covered in virgin rainforest, has lost a large percentage of its natural forests due to agriculture, logging and cattle ranching. The country does have an impressive amount of protected space for a tropical rainforest country—a little over 25% is protected—however, its biggest environmental threat is still deforestation.

Between the years of 1973 and 1989, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that Costa Rican rainforests were being cut down by 2.3%, on average, per year. That’s 36% in total over the 16 year period. That rate rose to 3% in 1990 and lasted until 1995 creating a further loss of 15% over those five years. Since then, the rate has decreased due to the development of things like tree plantations, which ease pressure to log forests, but deforestation still continues to threaten Costa Rica’s rainforests.

Although the entire country was once covered in forests, today there is very little virgin habitat outside of the protected national parks. Even these areas are not untouchable; illegal logging is taking place in remote areas of protected lands because there is not adequate security to keep loggers out.

Because of this intense disforestation, soil erosion has become a huge environmental concern. The land that is used for agriculture, or has been deforested for logging, is experiencing a dramatic rate of erosion which results in loss of fertile soil. The UN estimates that an area of fertile soil the size of Ukraine is lost to human-caused erosion every year worldwide. This is a problem for Costa Rica because it is rapidly losing farmland.

Another major problem that the country faces is contamination of the soil due to over fertilization and the use of pesticides. Costa Rica uses more pesticides that all of the other countries in Central America combined. As a result, the coasts are threatened with contamination as are lowlands that often flood in the rainy season.

Ecotourism in Costa Rica

More than anything, Costa Rica is known as a pioneer in Ecotourism and they draw tourists in with promises of guilt-free vacations in the rainforest. Although green washing as marketing tactic has only become popular with major corporations in the last few years, the tourists industry in Costa Rica has fully embraced this method for appearing earth friendly for decades.

While ecotourism as a concept and business practice seems ideal for land conservation and economic growth, many environmentalists and economists are dubious. They question whether or not an economy based on tourism can be sustainable. The goal of ecotourism is to preserve the countries precious resources while profiting off of them. However, there is speculation that in Costa Rica’s quest for profits, they have allowed their ecotourism industry to exploit the land in a way that is ecologically damaging. By not restricting the number of tourists that visit national parks and nature reserves and by encouraging the development of large scale hotels and restores in areas that cannot support that level of tourism, the country might, in fact, be destroying its natural habitats under the guise of protecting them.

Today, ecotourism is the fasted growing sector of the tourism industry and it’s growing at a rate of 20-30% each year. Tourism in Costa Rica has become its number one profit generating industry, exceeding even banana and coffee exportation. Thirty-nine percent of visitors from the United States claim nature as their number one reason for visiting. Because of the growing popularity of eco-resorts and nature based tourism, companies have increasingly adopted the term eco-friendly or biologically sustainable while marketing their business. This trend of green washing has its consequences. Companies that are not taking measures to become sustainable are just as apt to call themselves ecologically responsible than those who are, making it hard to distinguish between the two. In 1998 the Costa Rican Tourist Board enacted the Certificate for Sustainable Tourism. This is a measure taken by the board to ensure all companies claiming to be sustainable are really following sustainable practices. The certificate rates companies on their practices based on a scale from one to five. Accreditations like these do help to promote real sustainability in tourism but in the end it’s up to tourists to choose accommodation and tour agencies that are ecologically responsible.




Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Costa Rica: Economy and Politics.

04 Nov 2010

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