Tico Times: Letters to the Editor (Jan. 11, 2019)
The Tico Times is proud to be an independent, English-language news source in Costa Rica. Our readers regularly submit editorials and responses to our articles; we appreciate your opinions and feedback.
Below is a selection of editorials we have received recently.
A Two-Pronged Policy Needed To Stem The Flow Of Migrants
By Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU.
To dramatically slow the flow of illegal immigration and even end it does not rest on building walls or sending troops to the border, or by heartlessly snatching children from their mothers’ arms, or by incarceration, deportation, or prosecution. A big part of the answer lies in economic development, mainly sustainable development projects, in the migrant’s country of origin. Indeed, instead of building walls, we need to build the kind of bridges that can change the lives of other people for the better and give them hope. After all, the political destabilization in Central American countries was in part, if not to a great extent, precipitated by the United States, which makes America even more morally responsible to do something about it.
Beyond that, abject poverty and hopelessness breeds resentment and despondency and leads to gang violence and extremism, which is only the natural outcome of these subhuman conditions. Little will change unless the people, especially the youth, are given an opportunity to live a normal and productive life, develop a sense of belonging, and have vested interests in their work and self-worth.
The plight of three Central American countries tells the story behind the influx of immigrants flocking to our country from these and other countries.
Honduras is Central America’s second-poorest country. More than 60 percent of the population lives in poverty, and it has one of the highest levels of economic inequality in Latin America. Poverty in Honduras is chiefly due to rampant crime, violence, political instability, corruption, and a significant susceptibility to hurricanes and droughts.
Guatemala has the largest economy in Central America, but despite recent growth, economic inequality and poverty have increased, particularly among the rural indigenous population. Malnutrition and maternal mortality rates are among the worst in Latin America, especially in indigenous areas. More than half of the population lives below the poverty line.
El Salvador has one of the lowest economic growth rates in Central America. Since the end of the civil war in 1992, the country has made progress in terms of political and social development, but high rates of crime and violence continue to threaten these gains. El Salvador is also vulnerable to adverse natural events, which is only made worse by extreme climate change.
In these countries, rural poverty places great stress on cities and ultimately propels immigration, and as long as it does, the enormous economic and political instability that it creates will continue.
Trump’s demand of $20 billion to build a wall along the Mexican border is misguided, impractical, and a waste of precious resources that can change the lives of millions of people if invested wisely in these poverty-stricken countries. Does Trump know how cost effective it is to promote people’s projects within the country of origin?
A fraction of $20 billion would change the socio-economic conditions in these countries. One billion dollars invested in economic development projects can provide food, drinking water, jobs, self-empowerment, and hope for better life for a million poor, displaced, and despairing people.
According to Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir, President of the High Atlas Foundation in Morocco and a 20-year veteran in sustainable development, a $100,000 investment can establish a women’s co-operative of approximately 50 members benefitting approximately 300-350 people. “The outstanding investment needed ends up being a relatively small proportion of the cost the nations that receive or repel migrants incur.”
In Guatemala, for example, an organization working on family planning in 2017 alone prevented over 14,000 unwanted pregnancies, 95 child deaths, and 6 maternal deaths, all with only $880,000.
It has unequivocally been shown that would-be immigrants strongly prefer to stay in their home communities if only their basic needs are met and there exist opportunities for growth. They will work hard to ensure the sustainability of projects they choose and develop vested interests in their implementation and outcomes.
It should be noted that the principle of economic development is the same, be that in countries in South America or Africa; only the nature and the type of project differs from one country or community to another, depending on their special needs. Here is where we must invest, to give people a chance not only for their sake but ours as well, because America flourishes when other people in far lands flourish too.
Economic investments and the implementation of sustainable development projects doesn’t mean that all illegal immigration will stop. We still need a comprehensive immigration policy consistent with our tradition of receiving migrants with open arms—a sensible and companionate policy that governs all aspects of migration to America.
We should end the painful instability for DREAMers by offering a path to citizenship to the nearly one million individuals who came to the US when they were children. They are Americans in their hearts and souls; they are here to stay, and we have a solemn obligation to remove any cloud of uncertainty about their future.
We must resolve once and for all the problem of the over 12 million undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for years and have become an integral part of America’s social fabric. They should be assured that they will not be deported if they voluntarily register and will too be offered a path to citizenship – a one-time amnesty program.
We must enforce established procedures to deal with refugees and asylum seekers, not ignore or completely violate them as the Trump administration has cruelly done—a decent process that allows safety for those who are escaping the horror of violence and would face certain death if turned back.
And finally, existing programs for legal immigration, including the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, family reunification, and employment-based immigration, should be fully implemented. The Trump administration should be prevented from undermining these processes that have been in place for many years.
America has and must continue to welcome immigrants of all colors, denominations, and countries. Each and every new migrant, regardless of his or her background, brings with them the riches of their culture, talents, and skills, and ultimately is economically beneficial to the United States, not a drain.
There is something magical about America. It is a country that has opened its doors to immigrants from the world over, and the wider the door has been open, the better and greater America has become. But sadly, Trump’s racist, Islamophobic, and white supremacist DNA has made an even greater mess of the already unsavory, incoherent, and partisan policy and methods in addressing the problem of immigration.
The solution to illegal immigration must be based on a two-pronged policy: first, investing in economic development projects through private entities to alleviate poverty and substantially reduce violence, which would also encourage other countries to invest. Second, developing a comprehensive immigration policy consistent with our tradition and moral obligation to extend our hands to those whose only sin is escaping the horrors of war, violence, and starvation.
The simultaneous implementation of this two-tiered policy would, within a relatively short period of time, significantly reduce the influx of migrants to our borders while developing the socio-economic conditions to give substance and reason for the inhabitants of these countries to stay put and build a hopeful future in their homeland.
Invisible in their own land
By Sebastián Muñoz Ramírez, English major at University of Costa Rica
Dear Tico Times:
I agree thoroughly with the message behind “Lessons from indigenous communities in Limón Province”, written by Regional Peace Corps Leader Crystal about raising awareness on the lives of indigenous societies in Costa Rica. It is such a shame that these are practically invisible to the rest of the country. For this reason, the government and the media should encourage citizens to come in contact with these populations; not out of pity, but rather to realize, just as Crystal did, that they have a rich culture with traditions that are, for the most part, unknown to the rest of Costa Rica.
These communities have had a rough history ever since the Spanish conquest, and it is only fair that we, as a country, treat them as they deserve: providing them with adequate basic services and resources as well as giving them equal opportunities to thrive in society, which they so much lack.
National media should dedicate more spaces to them, just as this Peace Corps article did, with information about their traditions that we are not properly taught about in school. We learn about them from an academic standpoint, but not in a human sense. Some might say that learning about indigenous communities from an academic standpoint is necessary, and I agree. However, the absence of cultural education aimed at human nature is a reflection of the government’s attitude towards this prevalent issue. We do not learn that, according to a 2000 census done by UNICEF, 90% of them live below the poverty line and that their mortality rate is three times greater than that of the rest of the country because they lack proper medical services. They receive discrimination even when they leave their native community to look for a better job in a city, and that is unfair and unacceptable.
Peace Corps Costa Rica is doing an amazing job in changing that general attitude of indifference, but they should also try to reach out a bigger audience so more people join their cause. Personally, I had never heard of them, and I am sure that many would be willing to help in any way possible if they knew about them. Other forms of mass media have also contributed to the cause aside from the efforts of organizations like Peace Corps.
Recently, there has been more media exposure of indigenous individuals, especially in television commercials, where they mainly highlight their language. However, as cynical as it may sound, it is only an appeal to emotions and it is not accomplishing much in terms of providing these communities with a better quality of life. Television networks especially should use their influence and funds to help those in need instead of using them as an exotic accessory for people to look at without them actually helping.
The silver lining of all of this is that it is a first step on the way to visibilization of disfavored sectors of society, and perhaps in the future more groups like Peace Corps Costa Rica will arise to make that positive change needed. I encourage every company to seek ways to help not only indigenous communities but also anyone in areas of extreme social and economic risk. Let us make that social gap smaller one step at a time.
Sebastián Muñoz Ramírez
The Value of Lifeguards
By Nicole Vargas Vega, English and French major at University of Costa Rica
Dear Tico Times:
The government has always boasted about how Costa Rica is one of the best countries in the world for ecotourism mainly because of its multiple pristine beaches. Yet, how dare the government attract tourists to our shores when they do not count with the most essential element of safety and prevention? A few weeks ago, I read an article called “Lifeguards call for help in Costa Rica: support their work in Osa” where The Asociación de Guardavidas de la Zona Sur was asking for contributions to afford the continuity of lifeguards on the beaches. I thoroughly approve of this initiative; however, I believe the municipalities of the coastal communities are the ones who must procure yearly financing to lifeguards.
Apparently municipalities forget that being a lifeguard is not an easy occupation. It is not about sitting in the sun all day overseeing tourists as they enjoy their vacations. No, lifeguards patrol thousands of miles of ocean coastline each day knowing that at any moment they have to risk their lives to try to save somebody else’s. Hence, it is inadmissible that lifeguards do not count with an appropriate division within the municipalities to oversee all the logistics such as recruitment, training, equipment and salaries.
Costa Rica cannot lose its few lifeguards left. Even during rainy season, the flow of tourists that visit the beaches is rather high; nonetheless, the current number of lifeguards is not enough to ensure the protection of every individual. Most of the time, tourists are oblivious of how the weather patterns can cause hazardous conditions on the shores as there is nobody to inform them; consequently, what begins as an exciting travel could end in a devastating tragedy. Then again, if municipalities validate the importance of lifeguards and provide them with the necessary conditions, these fatal accidents might decrease to a bare minimum.
Furthermore, it is impossible not to highlight the irony of the government’s discourse towards tourists. For being a country that relies a great deal on eco-tourism to generate profits, Costa Rica presents an unfavorable image. Who will want to vacation in a country where the government does not make sure the basic security measures are met? Still, even if people decide to come to Costa Rica, the reservations might decrease considering that people might prefer to spend time in other areas like the mountains. Under those circumstances, the small businesses near the beaches might lose clients which might ensue a massive loss in revenue for the country.
Although there are several organizations that intercede for the work of lifeguards, the municipalities must take the full responsibility in guaranteeing them a stable income. Lifeguards should never be underestimated or belittled; on the contrary, their role should be appreciated and recognized by the citizens.
Every life is important, and people should be able to feel safe and comfortable when they vacation; particularly when it comes to traveling to coasts. It is shameful that lifeguards had to resort to pleading for help to preserve their jobs instead of the government willingly offering them support.
To share editorial ideas, comments or news tips, please email Katherine Stanley Obando, Editor, email@example.com
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