It has been said that Costa Rica is a Third World and Underdeveloped Country, but it’s difficult to think of Costa Rica under these terms when we consider the new expressways, abundant shopping malls, modern office towers and North American style restaurants. However, in the true sense of the definition of a Third World Country, Costa Rica still fits into this category and that could be one of its best assets.
Over the past few decades, the term ‘Third World’ has been used interchangeably with the term “Underdeveloped Countries”, in order to describe poorer countries that have struggled to attain steady economic development. Included in the category of Third World countries, are most of Africa, Asia and Latin America. The Latin American Countries consist of the Spanish speaking Central and South American countries and those in the Caribbean Islands.
According to Wikipedia, the original description of Third World Countries came from the Three World Theory developed by Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong (1893–1976). He suggested that international relations consist of three political–economic worlds:
-First World Countries are the superpowers.
-Second World Countries are the superpowers’ allies.
-Third World Countries are the nations of the Non-Aligned Movement.
In addition, there’s a contrasting Western theory that:
-First World Countries are the USA and its allies.
-Second World Countries are the Soviet Union and its allies.
-Third World Countries are the neutral and nonaligned countries.
Costa Rica obviously does not fit in as a First or Second World Country and despite decades of receiving financial aid from the USA, Taiwan, and China, it has been able to rise above its former Underdeveloped Country status. The Costa Rican economy still relies on financial aid from the First World Countries and remains a Third World Country but it is definitely no longer an Underdeveloped Country.
During the 1990’s, the First and Second World Countries began realizing that their existing economic aid programs were not beneficial and that the established goals were not helping to close the gap between the rich and poor in the Third World Countries that had been receiving the financial aid. In light of the changing economic aid strategies of the First World Countries, the Ticos adjusted their global priorities.
From decades of being the beneficiaries of international economic aid, the clever Costa Rican politicians understood how to attract the financial support of wealthy First World Countries and international humanitarian and environmental organizations.
The Ticos developed a new national program in 1994 executed by the Costa Rican Office on Joint Implementation (OCIC); a cooperative effort between the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE), and the private Costa Rican Trade and Development Board, (CINDE,) which is Costa Rica’s marketing and promotion agency that specializes in attracting foreign investments.
The OCIC set the objectives, goals and parameters to evaluate and endorse new projects that were to be presented to the United States Initiative Joint Implementation (USIJI), which is a program that encourages organizations and countries to form partnerships to implement projects that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and promote sustainable development. Some of the other countries that were solicited to participate with Costa Rica included Norway, The Netherlands, Canada and Germany.
The OCIC implemented its sustainable development programs with specific guidelines that would not accept foreign funding unless the participating projects were compatible with and supportive of Costa Rica’s national environmental development strategies, in the following areas of sustainable conservation:
-Reforestation and forest conservation.
-Sustainable land use.
-Air and water pollution reduction.
-Reduction of fossil fuel consumption.
-Increased utilization of renewable resources.
-Enhanced energy efficiency.
-Mitigation of greenhouse gasses.
Costa Rica’s OCIC, created another new entity to combine sustainable development with economic efficiency called the National GHG Mitigation Program, which in 2008, enabled Costa Rica to become the first country in the world that was approved to sell Certified Emission Reductions, (CER’s) under the rules of the 2005 Clean Development Mechanism established by the Kyoto Protocol.
For decades, Costa Rican politicians have participated at global conferences organized by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), where environmentalists, philanthropists and nations meet to share ideas and fund environmental and human development projects.
Let’s take a look at how and why a small, Third World Country like Costa Rica gets to play in the wealthy international circles with movie stars, diplomats and First World leaders. Like a child born with a silver spoon in her mouth, Costa Rica seems to attract opportunities from being a natural beauty that is attractive to the First World Countries that have become polluted by industrialization and are looking to bring a beautiful protégé into their folds, to mask their ugly facades.
When it comes to peaceful negotiations and environmental conservation issues, Costa Rica is a Third World Celebrity.
Here are few reasons why Costa Rica continues to be attractive to its much wealthier global benefactors.
-Costa Rica is a stable democracy.
-Costa Rica has no military and maintains only domestic police and security forces.
-Costa Rica is the greenest and happiest country in the world, according to the Happy Planet Index, calculated by Britain’s New Economics Foundation.
-Costa Rica was ranked as the greenest and most environmentally friendly country in the world by the New Economics Foundation.
-Costa Rica pays its landowners to preserve forests and their biodiversity with funds generated from fuel taxes and the sale of environmental credits to businesses in industrialized nations.
-Costa Rica’s innovative green policies and economic incentives have transformed tendencies and resulted in a significant improvement in forest coverage, ecosystem conservation and biodiversity prospection.
-Costa Rica is home to an estimated 4% of the world’s biodiversity, despite occupying a mere .03% of the planet’s land mass.
-Costa Rica’s geographical location and topography create several microclimates that are optimal for the coexistence of a wide variety of living organisms.
-Costa Rica’s forest coverage has increased to 52%, double that of its 1983 level and the government has set the ambitious goal of further increasing this figure to 70% by 2021.
-Costa Rica’s, demilitarization, environmental protection and human development policies serve as a guide for global sustainable development.
-Costa Rica has committed to become carbon neutral by 2021.
-Costa Rica invests heavily in its environment and human development programs that contribute significantly to the well-being of its citizens.
-Costa Rica is continually developing new methods of energy production that do not have a negative impact on the natural environment and are reducing the production of global warming gases in order to protect and preserve its rich biodiversity.
-Costa Rica has consistently been among the top Latin American countries in the Human Development Index (HDI)
-Costa Rica is ranked fifth in the world, and first among the Americas, in the 2012 Environmental Performance Index.
While Costa Rica strives for financial independence and continues to grow, so does its energy demands and growing transportation sector that are currently dependent on imported fossil fuels. Costa Rica does not have the financial capacity to fund huge geothermal energy projects and the location of the volcanoes that could support such projects are inside protected national parks. Additionally, the environmental costs of constructing hydroelectric plants on Costa Rica’s many rivers may outweigh the benefits of cheaper electricity. Hopefully, new innovations with more attractive and environmentally friendly alternatives will soon be discovered before it’s too late.
Costa Rica’s decision-makers may have been born in a small, Third World country, but they continue to think outside the box in order to create innovative human and environmental development programs that attract aid, loans and donations from many First World Countries and a variety of non-profit organizations.
Since the 1960’s, more than 3,380 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Costa Rica. Peace Corp volunteers are trained in specific trades as well as taught to speak Spanish so they can communicate with the Costa Rican’s and truly help improve their lives. The Peace Corps (PC) is a U.S. government agency that enables its members to live and work in developing countries in order to bring about global change. Peace Corps’ presence in Costa Rica focuses on addressing the needs of the most vulnerable populations throughout the country, strengthening agencies and communities to serve these populations. PC volunteers serving in Costa Rica are currently facilitating projects in rural community development, microenterprise development, children, youth and families which are areas critical to Costa Rica’s sustainable development.
Since the 1980’s, the USA has provided Costa Rica with over $1.1 billion dollars in financial aid through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), for programs to stabilize its economy and broaden and accelerate economic growth through policy reforms and trade liberalization. In 1989, the USAID provided funds to create a Costa Rican natural resource conservation plan to empower the National Forestry Department so that it could begin to regulate logging and consolidate and institutionalize financial incentives for environmental services. At the program’s outset, $120 dollars were paid for every hectare of forest conserved.
To date, $230 million dollars have been paid to a variety of entities, including rural and indigenous communities as well as individual land owners. In addition, the program directly contributed to the creation of 18,000 jobs and indirectly supported an additional 30,000 jobs. Furthermore, the USA has helped Costa Rica to renegotiate its foreign debt in 1989 and again in 2007, so that money could be reinvested through the Tropical Forest Conservation Act for conservation, restoration, and protection of Costa Rica’s tropical forests. Additionally, in 2001, USAID completed a $9 million project to support Costa Rican refugees of Hurricane Mitch.
In 2010, the U.S. and Costa Rican Governments and The Nature Conservancy concluded agreements that will provide more than $27 million dollars over 15 years for tropical forest conservation in Costa Rica. The USA is Costa Rica’s most important trading partner and it accounts for almost half of Costa Rica’s exports, imports, and tourism, and more than two-thirds of its foreign investment. Clearly, the majority of the economic aid from the USA has been in the form of humanitarian and environmental programs that continue to improve the lives of the Costa Ricans.
While continuing to accept USA support and financial aid, Costa Rica maintained its relationship with Taiwan, that in recent years was damaged by conflicts of interest and outright corruption. A Costa Rican “fact-finding mission” to Taiwan included an all expenses paid trip for politicians, journalists and trade union leaders in which they were all provided with thousands of dollars of gifts and shopping vouchers. Additionally, the Taiwanese government funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to the election campaigns of the main political parties in Costa Rica. In early 2003; Taiwan donated $27 million dollars to construct the Puente de Amistad over the Tempisque River connecting the Costa Rican mainland with the Nicoya Peninsula. Again in that same year, Taiwan donated $2 million dollars for outboard motors for the Coast Guard and another $1.4 million dollars to improve the living conditions of families living in impoverished areas.
In December of 2003, Taiwan donated $2 million dollars for uniforms, bulletproof vests, bikes and motorcycles for the new tourism police and in 2011, Taiwan announced a $1 million donation to assist in building a new digital infrastructure throughout Costa Rica. Later in 2011, Taiwan donated $2 million to the national police force so they could purchase 73 new patrol cars, 124 motorcycles and four all-terrain vehicles to be used by the new tourism police. Taiwan also had promised to construct a new highway to San Carlos as well as $15 million dollars to help reconstruct the burned out section of the Hospital Calderón Guardia. Through a more dubious financial arrangement, the Taiwan-sponsored charity called the “Chinese-Costa Rican Association” made donations to increase the salaries of civil servants at Costa Rica’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Then to top it all off, a journalistic investigation found that President Abel Pacheco’s campaign had received at least $500,000 from two Taiwanese companies, defying Costa Rica’s electoral law that bans foreign contributions.
In spite of all the gifts and donations, Costa Rica’s relationship with Taiwan had suffered from corruption scandals at the heart of Costa Rica’s foreign policies, and that prompted Costa Rican politicians to approach the Chinese government.
In 2007, Costa Rica closed its embassy in Taiwan and expelled Taiwanese diplomats from the country, in exchange for China buying $300 million dollars of Costa Rican bonds. China also agreed to give $130 million in aid to Costa Rica, as well as other incentives, including 20 scholarships each year for Costa Ricans to study in China. In 2009, China donated the new national stadium that cost over $100 million dollars. Beginning in 2010 and continuing until 2012, China donated about 400 new police vehicles to Costa Rica’s national police forces. In 2011, China donated $4.6 million dollars for “cooperation projects,” which included laptop computers for Costa Rican students. China has already committed $20 million dollars for a new police academy as well. Future plans include $6.2 billion in infrastructure improvements as well as Biotechnology research, cultural exchanges, and other scientific ventures.
However, the Chinese do business differently than other benefactor countries. The donation of the new national stadium involved the stipulation that all labor and materials to complete the project come from China. Additionally, the 400 new Besturn autos that China donated from 2010 until 2012, were manufactured by Chinese automaker FAW in China and shipped on Chinese vessels and a large percentage of these vehicles are not operable and without automotive replacement parts. By completing these donations in the Chinese Communist tradition, few Costa Rican’s were directly employed or received any financial benefit from the donation transactions.
Global politics typically involves hidden agendas and fortunately, the Costa Rican Third World politicians are well seasoned at navigating and negotiating First World politics for the benefit of all Costa Rican’s.
And this is why Costa Rica’s Third World status is one of its largest assets.
Identifying countries as; ”Third World” is not derogatory. Many of the larger First and Second World Countries look upon Third World countries like supportive philanthropists; trying to help the smaller countries when possible. The truth is, that Costa Rica would still be an Underdeveloped Country without the aid of the First and Second World Countries. And their continuing aid has allowed the Costa Rican economy to grow and attract First and Second World multi-national companies to conduct business here and they have provided thousands of positions for Costa Rican citizens who are now enjoying well-paying jobs that were not available years ago. So being a Third World Celebrity has benefitted all Costa Rican’s and provided a robust economy that is growing stronger every year.
The writer, Tom Rosenberger has lived and worked in Costa Rica since 1993 and from his travels throughout the country inspecting property and construction he has acquired a wealth of knowledge about living and doing business in Costa Rica.
If you have questions and would like to contact Tom click here.