Thursday, March 08, 2007

Are you afraid of the Big, Bad Costa Rica?

You may (or may not) recall the story about the old geezer (reportedly a Green Beret in Vietnam) who, while taking a shore trip during a port stop on a Carnival cruise to Costa Rica, put a choke hold on a guy in Limon trying to rob their tour bus, killing said thief from Limon in the process. This has apparently made some people wary of visiting the country; however, others say not to fear. Personally, I take the middle ground and say to keep yourself safe by being aware of your surroundings, not carrying flashy objects on you (thereby making yourself a target of thieves), and not leaving objects of value in your car (I don't, and I would sure hope tourists don't either). Still, things happen. Tim Leffel asks, would you feel safer in West Virginia, Kentucky or Costa Rica? (And answers his own question: Costa Rica.) Personally, I'm not sure. Since I first started visiting esposo here back in 1998, things have really changed and not for the better. There are more Gringos than ever, more development, more drug addicts (witness how the once-lovely beach town of Tamarindo has turned into a crack junkies' paradise), and certainly more theft. Though when I see the uber-rich driving around in their Hummers, it makes me sick to my stomach. How many poor people could they feed, give an education to, help get a job with that money? What is the point of such ostentatiousness? Perhaps the rise in crime is proportional to the rise in the filthy rich taking advantage of this small country and its people. I think Costa Rica is primed for a showdown with itself -- when we begin to lose the almighty tourist dollar because people are afraid (often rightly so) to come here and choose safer destinations instead, something may be done about the situation. I, for one, am sick to death of living behind bars. They do nothing to make me feel safe; in fact, it is just the opposite. I feel like if there was a fire in my house, I might be unable to get myself and my son out in time, and we certainly couldn't climb through a window covered in iron bars, now could we? Bars are not going to stop anyone from breaking into my house if that's what they really want to do. There are not enough police officers to go around (a friend told me last night there is ONE police officer for all of La Carpio, arguably one of the most notorious gang-infested neighborhoods in all of San Jose), and there are not enough opportunities for young people and families to envision a better life for themselves. How are children to escape the circle of poverty when it surrounds them every day, when no one takes them seriously, when the "education" they receive is so badly lacking in so many, many ways? Here's a glimpse into the lives of the poor, as reported in yesterday's La Nacion: 37% of Costa Rican families say they do not have enough money to cover basic household expenses. That's serious poverty, my friends. They cannot make enough to feed and clothe their children, let alone do things many of the rest of us take for granted (go see a movie once in a while, have dinner out once in a while). Yet there are those who just don't give a shit, driving around in their Hummers, polluting and wasting money that could be put to better use (and please don't even attempt to argue with me on this one; NO ONE needs a Hummer!). We are at a crossroads, and I will be very interested to see where we land in the next ten years.

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