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Opinion

How Big An Issue Is Xenophobia In Costa Rica?

I’m gonna go right out on a limb and say this. Costa Rica is a xenophobic country and has a major issue with this.

It’s not the only xenophobic country by a long shot. One could look and find examples of xenophobia everywhere, and Lord knows my country of birth isn’t perfect. Neither is yours, I’m sure.

But for a country priding itself on “pura vida”, when xenophobia raises its ugly head, it looks worse. In fact, it looks downright hypocritical. I mean, look. When you have a country relying on tourism and talking about how peaceful and happy it is, hating on foreigners is ridiculous.

Even if those foreigners are from Nicaragua.

There’s always been a lot of Nicaraguans in Costa Rica, at least since I arrived here back at the turn of the millennium.

And since I arrived there’s always been tension because of this. One of my first culture shock moments in Costa Rica was the casual, shameless xenophobia displayed towards Nicaraguans.

I remember my shock at seeing a crowd of grown men shouting “fuera Nicas” (get out Nicas) at a woman and her daughter while I was waiting for a bus to San Francisco Dos Rios in that plaza behind the CCSS building in San Jose back in around 2002 or 2003. I remember this so well because I was – and still am – ashamed I did nothing to help that poor woman. Neither did anyone else, but that doesn’t excuse my inaction.

Then there was the time a year or two later police dogs mauled a Nicaraguan to death while the handlers stood around and watched, doing nothing.  

As appalling as that incident was I remember being more appalled by the jokes at the time about it. People laughed about dog food quality.

And yes, anyone who remembers this incident will say the Nicaraguan was breaking into a property. But does that deserve the Ramsay Bolton treatment?

Especially in a country notorious for letting its criminals go free at the drop of a hat? I’m positive if that was a Costa Rican thief there would have been far greater outrage.

Except there are no Costa Rican thieves in the mind of the Costa Rican. All criminals here are foreigners and all Costa Ricans are precious innocent flowers. Even the press pushes this narrative every chance it gets.

Over the years I guess I’ve become numb to this.

I’ve heard this narrative from countless people. Taxi drivers (taxi drivers are the most bigoted assholes in any city in the world) and shop assistants and colleagues and social media and even personal friends. All talking smack about Nicaraguans. Hating on Nicas is normal in Costa Rica, Tico like gallo pinto.

Let’s not give the Nicas all the hate, though. They get most, sure. But Colombians come a close second. All Colombians are narcos. Costa Rica has no Tico drug dealers. The Costa Rican youth is a noble species corrupted by evil Colombians and now the Mexicans and Venezuelans too.

And remember, before you say it’s the same in the US or wherever, it’s worth repeating that the US (or wherever) doesn’t claim to be the Happiest Country In The World with a pura vida lifestyle. That is a major difference right there. It’s about walking the walk not talking the talk. It’s about the hypocrisy.

So now we come to this weekend and some of the most disgraceful scenes I’ve observed in my almost two decades in Costa Rica.    

The center of San Jose, our capital city, got taken over by a bunch of bigoted neanderthals shouting “fuera Nicas” at Nicaraguan refugees who’d escaped from the murderous regime of Daniel Ortega.

The same thing a previous, but smaller, bunch of bigoted neanderthals yelled at a mother and her daughter all those years ago behind the CCSS building while I watched in disgust doing nothing.

I guess the more things change the more they stay the same, right?

Anyway, these latest bigoted neanderthals, in a display reminiscent of Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, went nuts in the center of San Jose.  

It was more insults and chants than physical violence but so what? It was the most shameful thing I’ve ever heard of here.

There was nothing spontaneous about this incident. We’re talking a planned action fueled by lies and rabble-rousers on social media. There were arrests and police found knives, baseball bats, and Molotov cocktails.

More shameful still is the support these animals are getting.      

I already mentioned xenophobia against Nicaraguans is normal in Costa Rica so I guess it’s natural many people support them.

Social media is calling these scumbags “patriots” and “heroes”. There is a denial of xenophobia and a robust defense that these protests are against crime, nada mas. Which is xenophobic in itself, you morons. Because all Nicaraguans are criminals, even those who have escaped from Ortega’s death cult of a regime in search of refuge and safety.

Costa Rican president Carlos Alvarado called for peace over the weekend, saying most immigrants into Costa Rica are good people.    

I wish he’d apologized on behalf of all decent people who live in Costa Rica for what happened. I would have done. And yes, there are many decent people here who abhor what is going on.

But Carlos Alvarado is about the last person many of these people would listen to. Another audible chant this weekend from the xenophobes was “fuera Alvarado”. It’s safe to say if you’re in a march to intimidate and make refugees unwelcome you won’t like Carlos Alvarado much.  You’ll probably like Fabricio more.

Since Daniel Ortega started murdering his people in April, over twenty thousand Nicaraguans have sought asylum in Costa Rica.  

I admit that’s a lot, especially when added to those already here doing the jobs many Ticos think is beneath them.

But if Costa Rica is truly the Happiest Country In The World or the Switzerland Of Central America or the Land Of Eternal Pura Vida like it sells itself to the world to be, then surely part of that is compassion and a welcoming spirit?

Surely it’s wrong to see displays of aggression and hatred in our capital city against those less fortunate? Where is the pura vida in that?

Many people saw Carlos Alvarado’s election victory as proof positive that Costa Rica is a tolerant, progressive society. Alvarado beat a bigoted religious fanatic whose only platform was his hatred of the LGBT community.

Carlos Alvarado prevailed because people realized Fabricio Alvarado was a one-trick pony with nothing else than same-sex marriage to talk about. He was a joke.

But the joke is on us if we think Fabricio’s defeat proved Costa Rica’s tolerance.    

This weekend is proof of that.

People are still as homophobic as ever before. And people are still as xenophobic as before. Having a nice guy as the president doesn’t mean the dark side has gone and you’re naïve if you think so. All it means is the sane person won the election. This time.

Next time around the bigots and the xenophobes might well put up someone smarter and better prepared than Fabricio Alvarado. Someone who’s comfortable across all talking points. And after seeing the scenes this weekend, it’s possible that person might win.

Pura vida.

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James Dyde is the editor of CentralAmerica.com. He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.



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