My daughter fell in love with the Nicaraguan people after nearly a year teaching at orphanages in the capital city and in the rural mountain areas of this Central American country. These orphanages were filled with children the government had taken from parents in this desperately poor nation—you can only imagine the abuse and neglect they had endured. Today she has a master’s degree in Latin American literature—an unusual subject perhaps—but it has given her a deep understanding of these people, their history, and aspects of the modern culture created by circumstances beyond their control. She has provided much wisdom but nothing is as educational as first hand knowledge.
I was blessed to find myself back in Central America a few weeks ago, on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in northern Costa Rica. In just a few days my husband and I felt at home with this country, the location we’d found on a lark, and the wonderful folks who took care of us there. I didn’t know much about the history of Costa Rica (meaning Rich Coast) other than it had been relatively stable in this century and the last—unlike neighbors Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Panama. I wanted to know why, and I wanted to hear this explanation from a Costa Rican. The simple answer is that the country is democratic, free of the dictators that have persecuted and torched neighboring countries to maintain power. People own homes, they take pride in the natural beauty of their surroundings and are able to get along with one another in spite of a wide-ranging mix of cultures and skin tones. Costa Rica exports power to other Central American countries, has maintained a high level of foreign investment and includes a wide range of ex pats who live there permanently. It has no military—a fact I found fascinating. The downside of this interesting dynamic is that they have no border security. Panama routinely dumps Venezuelan and African refugees into the southern border of Coast Rica and many Nicaraguans cross the border in the north seeking work. Columbian drug lords have used the lush jungles of the Eastern Caribbean coast as a safe haven for their drug shipments like pirates of old. This is a problem the young man I was speaking with illustrated for me by pointing to a wire cattle fence and saying, “that’s what we have at our border”.
Human beings need safety and work in order to have hope and pride. They need to believe that if they work hard, start a business and invest their time, talent, and treasure that they might improve their future and the future of their children. It is also unfortunately a fact that no one works hard when they have no hope. We don’t seek solutions and we don’t take care of things when we don’t have some level of ownership. I would like to see Costa Rica export hope to their neighbors, rather than having their borders trampled by people fleeing places of desolation. Venezuela and Nicaragua were once, not very long ago, wealthy countries by every economic indicator. Nicaragua was the breadbasket of Central America and Venezuela rich with oil. Now both lay in ruins, the power most assuredly not with the people.
Governments do not create jobs—investment capital does. While a common manipulation tactic of governments seeking to control its increasingly hopeless masses is spinning stories and campaigns of utopian fantasies it promises to create, the truth is that human nature is the seed of destruction for communism and the inevitable dictator that it births. What governments can do is support the safety and sovereignty of their people. My prayer is that Costa Rica’s government is able to continue working to do both, and that it will hopefully serve as an example of the power of true democracy at work for its Central American neighbors.