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After Scottish independence referendum, could Guanacaste be next?

September 21, 2014

Scotland voted Thursday to stay in the United Kingdom but the ripples of the vote were felt across Europe and perhaps even in Costa Rica. On the day of the Scottish referendum, Broad Front Party lawmaker Ronal Vargas published an op-ed titled, “A ‘Yes’ in Scotland makes us dream of another ‘yes’ in Guanacaste,” musing about what a similar debate would look like for Costa Rica’s northwestern province:

The winds of independence blow all the way to Costa Rica, where Guanacaste, the last piece of land annexed by the country three years after independence in 1821, has always looked warily as its riches flow to the Central Valley, while the government returns much less to this region, the ‘Tico Scotland.”

Vargas complained that the province, despite being the largest and “richest” in Costa Rica, received only 12 percent of the proposed 2015 budget, while Puntarenas would be allocated 21 percent, and 18 percent is set for the capital’s province of San José. The Legislative Assembly has until Nov. 30 to vote on the proposed budget.

(Via Facebook)
Broad Front Party lawmaker Ronal Vargas. (Via Facebook)

The Broad Front Party lawmaker lamented that students have to migrate to the Central Valley for education and laborers for work, saying that Guanacaste exports more labor within Costa Rica than any other province. He criticized the government’s tourism-driven development model for failing to generate sufficient employment. Guanacaste, famous for its beaches, luxury hotels and cowboy culture, is the most economically unequal province in Costa Rica. According to the 2013 State of the Nation report, a young man between 15 and 24 from the Chorotega region was twice as likely to be unemployed as someone of the same age in the Central Valley.

Could Guanacaste have an autonomous government (or semi-autonomous, like Scotland) and improve the living conditions that until now continue affecting its population? Personally, I believe the province has the sufficient resources and people capable to face the adventure to look at Costa Rica, eye to eye, as it did for so many years in centuries past.

Vargas, who was meeting with constituents in Guanacaste on Friday, according to staff, was not available for immediate comment.

Salvatore Coppola, legislative counsel to Vargas and a member of the Guanacaste Forum, told The Tico Times that autonomy was a common subject of debate in the province, whether people agreed with it or not.

“That province is abandoned; it’s been impoverished and Scotland is similar in that sense,” he said.

Coppola stressed that Vargas’ op-ed was not calling for a referendum on independence for Guanacaste, but rather tried to bring the province’s struggles into the national debate.

“He’s calling for an open-your-eyes kind of debate,” Coppola said.

The Annexation of the Partido de Nicoya, which celebrates the vote on July 25, 1824, that joined Costa Rica and most of the province together, is a regular lightening rod for the region’s gripes with its treatment by the central government in San José. In 2013, as many as 2,000 people voiced their complaints in Nicoya about a myriad issues from arsenic in the drinking water to poor road conditions to access to health care. One sign at the protest read, “Guanacaste: victim of bullying for 189 years.” There were much smaller demonstrations at this year’s celebration.

Seidy Salas, a press representative for the Broad Front Party, said Vargas’ views were his own and did not represent those of the party.

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