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Political Humor – Costa Rica Style

December 14th, 2005

I have never had the pleasure of meeting Costa Rica’s Vice President, Lineth Saborío, but it is clear she has an excellent sense of humor… or perhaps an over developed sense of loyalty… or maybe she is simply as out of touch with reality as appear to be a great number of US pols and her boss, Don Abel.

According to Sra. Saborío the low popularity of the sitting president Abel Pacheco and his government is directly related to the high cost of gasoline. Say WHAT????

This may be the most astonishingly statement made yet by a Costa Rica politician. Talk about a person being out of touch with the people! If she is one of Pacheco’s close advisors, this may explain why Don Abel simply fails to “get it”.

It is unlikely the Sra. Saborío will read this lowly blog, but I will be the one to enlighten her on a few of the reasons why this president and his government are held in such incredibly low esteem by the citizens of Costa Rica… and here is the first tidbit… it ain’t the price of gasoline.

Where to start! In no particular order…

Financial

Inflation, according to government figures, is running at 12-13%. How silly is that! Ask any Tico or any foreigner who lives in Costa Rica if that figure is even CLOSE to correct, and you will hear profound laughter. The real figure is more like 21-24%. A year of so ago, Don Abel mentioned the CR equivalent of a market basket was realistic (it isn’t), and then told Ticos that they and their family should be able to live on about $150.00 per month.

This, as you may imagine, endeared him to his people no end and served as proof just how out of touch he was with how many live in this country. Let them eat cake… or rice I guess.

Scandals have plagued the government since Don Abel was elected, and though he has not yet been touched personally (he has been accused of campaign irregularities) his political party have been decimated by wrongdoers, and a number of those in his administration HAVE had to make fast exits from their posts… and THAT has reflected heavily on the people’s opinion of Costa Rica governments in general, past AND present.

There has been a dearth of leadership in almost all areas… like solving our financial woes.

The country is functionally broke and everyone knows it, but nobody DOES anything, and in my opinion, that is the job of the president of the republic.

Instead of proposing laws (see one example below) that would likely, within a very few years, allow Costa Rica to extricate itself from this financial quagmire, Pacheco held up sending the Central America Free Trade Agreement (TLC) to the legislature as he wanted to force the legislature to act on his tax bill that was not only useless, it would have further driven funds away from Costa Rica and further burdened the low and middle classes with increase in sales taxes. Raising sales taxes ALWAYS hurts the people who can least afford it. The poor and middle classes.

Well the legislature, who are clearly not stupid, did nothing about that tax bill. Many of the members also realized that the tax bill was not going to help anyone, so it just languished. They sure didn’t care about not getting the TLC either! The TLC was and is a political hot potato in CR and the legislature absolutely didn’t want the stupid thing on their plate… so two years passed and nada. Costa Rica sinks deeper in debt.

Suggestion! Why not show REAL leadership and propose a (really unpopular) property tax? Right now, there are a zillion foreigners (baby boomers) from all over the world coming to CR and many are buying property here with the idea of living, retiring, or just having a place in paradise. Many, many more will be coming in the next 10 years. Many are and will be paying HUGE prices for land and construction, while Costa Rica sits on the sideline and watches instead of collecting their fair share off the top. Every year!

Look at Los Suenos and so many others. Million dollar properties and the owners are paying a few hundred dollars per year… if that. These people, if they move here and obtain their legal residency, will also be a drain on Costa Rica’s public services, water, police services, CAJA, etc. In the US, a million dollar property owner would pay (depending on where they live) anywhere from maybe $20,000 per year to as high as $200,000 per year. Whatta deal!

This, of course, should clearly not be limited to just foreign purchased real property. I use that only as an example. My wife and I rent a home near San Jose and it is quite large and in an excellent location. This home would sell for maybe $300,000 to $400,000. The owner (a Nicaraguan woman) pays less than $200 per year in taxes.

The answer here is NOT to make it hard for these people to live and buy property here. The answer is to get some of that money into the Costa Rica economy.

Side comment… As a recent ex-smoker, a nice tax on tabacco might also work well. It would certainly help offset some of the expenses incurred by CAJA for the increased medical costs related to smoking. cigarettes here cost a bit over $1 per pack. Lots of opportunity! Revenue tracking expenses.

In fact… speaking of taxes… another suggestion would be to just do a better job collecting those taxes already on the books. Corporations in Costa Rica would certainly be a great target for this activity.

Crime

Crime is on the rise and everyone knows it, and I am NOT just referring to domestic violence. No, it is not as bad as most large cities in the US, but it is much higher now and much more evident than it was 5-10 years ago and everyone knows it. There are more people, more tourists, and more crime but less police to handle the load. Police are underpaid here and the OIJ (sort of the CR version of the FBI, but competent) are underfunded. Criminals are NOT stupid and WILL gravitate to countries where they can ply their trade with little or no police or military interference. Crime in Costa Rica IS getting press coverage world-wide and make no mistake, if it continues, tourism WILL drop.

Right now, I do not hesitate to tell people to come visit Costa Rica because I feel it is safe if one uses caution. However, if the crime increases as it has been, I may not be able to say this in another couple of years.

Roads.

Roads have deteriorated because the money that has been earmarked for road repair has never reached the ministry whose job it is to repair the roads. THAT money is being used elsewhere in the system, and only recently have the courts ordered the government to properly fund that ministry. We shall see if that happens. The courts have been ignored before. Roads get Tico products to market, They affect tourism. They affect money flow into the country. They affect neighborhoods. They affect moral and pride in one’s country.

Foreign Investment and public image

Most foreigners who live here also feel that the Pacheco regime is distinctly xenophobic. There is more than ample proof that this is true and it is by no means limited to Nicaraguans and Columbians.

I know of few extraneros who live here who have not felt the sting in some way when dealing with various government offices (and immigration in particular). Is this administration so naive that they do not understand that people and more important, foreign investment and business will NOT come to places where they feel they, or their employees, will not be welcomed? So what happens? MORE lost revenue opportunities for a country that can ill afford that loss.

I could go on and on about this subject, but the point is that if Ticos are not thrilled with the Pacheco administration, it is because he has spend almost 4 years doing very little to help his people and has shown little in the way of true leadership. It is NOT because of the price of oil.

Crime is up. Prices are up. Public confidence is down. Scandals are everywhere. Politicians are not trusted, and graft is taken for granted even after three years of promising it will be cleaned up. People are sceptical!

Most analysts say that the 2006 Costa Rican elections will be a non-event with very low turnout… and that is a sign of a country with little hope for change and even less confidence in their government’s ability to resolve problems and to help them.

——–

I wish to say I have lived here for several years and I love Costa Rica, but I hate what is happening to her. I am married to a wonderful Costa Rican woman (Tica), and we are sad to see the current state of affairs in her (and my adopted) country. Costa Rica is a very special place, and I DO urge you to come visit our paradise soon. Hurry.


One Response to “Political Humor – Costa Rica Style”

  1. Brian on December 20, 2005 9:42 am

    You could not have hit the nail on the head any better. All the points you made are truly valid and until the central government starts listening to the populus, nothing is going to change.
    I’d like to add my two cents to a couple of points you made…

    property tax…. There definitely should be some, albeit on a gradual scale. Houses valued under a certain figure should stay as is, so as not to take money out of the impoverished hands. However, houses that have a higher value should be paying more realistic taxes. Like your house, even a tax rate of 0.5% would bring in 1500 – 2000 dollars in taxes. Still way below N. American taxes, but more realistic. This money would be in the municipality where the house is and therefore more likely to benefit the community.
    The roads suck!!! and something HAS to be done, I recently travelled down the Interamerican hgihway from Liberia to Bagaces and had to dodge potholes big enough to park the car in. A journey that should have taken maybe 15 minutes took almost 40 minutes. Whether as a tourist or on business, this is not acceptable. If these conditions continue, corporate America will turn it’s back on CR. Money is available, from machasmo (?) but it is not being used…. is this more evidence of corruption?

    Crime is on the rise…. like you said but the police are trying their best. Some communities are hiring private police to aid the local Fuerza Publica to ensure their community stays safe.

    finally, Politicians aren’t trusted anywhere!!!, How many times have you heard them say “We’ll do this when we get elected..” only to come up with some lame excuse (usually blaming the previous administration) that they can’t carry out their promises.
    However, I must admit, it seems much worse in CR.

    Even with it’s faults, CR is the most beautiful country I have been too and will one day live there.

    Just my 2 cents

    Brian

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