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Costa Rica sets example to be followed in Latin America

. May 25, 2020
Costa Rica sets example to be followed in Latin America Photo: Dmitrijs Kaminskis/Shutterstock

Despite having just the 76th highest GDP in the world, Costa Rica has one of the best health, social, and economic outlooks in the whole of Latin America. Wedged between Nicaragua and Panama, the nation of 5 million inhabitants can boast not only the region’s lowest Covid-19 mortality rate of 0.8 percent and just two deaths per 1 million people, but it is also celebrating entry to the exclusive Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) — a membership that Brazil’s government has sought for years.

</p> <p>Accession was possible after the 37 members of the so-called “club of (mostly) rich countries” approved Costa Rica’s entrance, allowing the nation to become the fourth Latin American in the group and the first in all of Central America. OECD <a href="https://twitter.com/A_Gurria/status/1261366059690491904">Secretary-General Angel Gurría</a> said Costa Rica&#8217;s entry was only possible “after years of intense work.” His compliments were followed by several <a href="https://twitter.com/Seynabou_Sakho/status/1261342836630474754">global authorities</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>In Brasília, around 4,900 kilometers to the south-east, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro would be wise to take notes. Unlike his Costa Rican counterpart Carlos Alvorado, Mr. Bolsonaro would love to have both low Covid-19 numbers and a ticket into the OECD.&nbsp;</p> <p>With over <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/">360,000 confirmed coronavirus cases</a> and little more than a <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/01/15/donald-trump-oecd-promise-bolsonaro-brazil/">promise of OECD support</a> from the U.S., Brazil’s regional authority is dwindling like never before. The country has become a bad example among its neighbors, facing closed borders as <a href="https://brazilian.report/latin-america/2020/05/14/covid-19-crisis-latin-america-three-months-on/">Paraguay and Argentina voice fears of Brazilians “exporting” the virus</a>. The U.S., in turn, ordered a <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/05/24/donald-trump-white-house-slaps-coronavirus-travel-restrictions-brazil/">ban on the entry of non-citizens coming from Brazil</a>.</p> <p>The difference between Costa Rica and Brazil can be summed up by the words of the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. The high authority <a href="https://twitter.com/DrTedros/status/1261411485340876813">praised Mr. Alvarado’s presence</a> in a press briefing that showed how “health technologies” can be used against the pandemic.&nbsp;</p> <p>President Bolsonaro, meanwhile, used a televised speech to<a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/03/31/in-televised-speech-bolsonaro-spreads-falsehoods-about-who-head/"> twist Dr. Adhanom’s words</a> to suggest the doctor “practically” said informal workers “must be allowed to work” and violate social isolation, while what the Director-General actually said was that he merely “understood” the reality of these laborers.</p> <p>In March, authorities from San José were invited to a meeting promoted by the WHO to discuss new treatments and strategies against the outbreak. Brazil, on the other hand, was not even invited.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="1000" height="668" src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/shutterstock_1137331649.jpg" alt="Central avenue at Costa Rica capital San Jose. Photo: Luis Alvarado Alvarado/Shutterstock" class="wp-image-40389" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/shutterstock_1137331649.jpg 1000w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/shutterstock_1137331649-300x200.jpg 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/shutterstock_1137331649-768x513.jpg 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/shutterstock_1137331649-610x407.jpg 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><figcaption>Central avenue at Costa Rican capital San Jose. Photo: Luis Alvarado Alvarado/Shutterstock</figcaption></figure> <h2>No to the army, yes to the future&nbsp;</h2> <p>According to Jorge E. Cuéllar, professor of Central America studies at Dartmouth College, Costa Rica’s development project is related to the events of December 1, 1948, when it became the first and only Latin American country to abolish its Armed Forces.</p> <p>“Costa Rica has a more robust economy than many of its Central American neighbors. They have been able to reduce their spending on the military, for example, and put those resources into social spending, encouraging the arts, and community development. This is a fundamental part of what has made Costa Rica a ‘developed’ nation,” Mr. Cuellar told <strong>The Brazilian Report.</strong></p> <p>In the first half of the 20th century, Costa Rica in a similar situation to most of its neighbors: economic instability and civil war, as the region was celebrating 100 years since its independence.&nbsp;</p> <p>At the end of the war, President José Figueres extinguished the Army, taking a chance on changing the country, with more money spent on the construction of a welfare state.</p> <p>“Education is an important aspect for observing emergency regulations, and a strong educational system is clearly decisive. Similarly, they’ve put a lot of money towards upgrading their health system, which now boasts a comprehensive social security system, a kind of universal coverage,” the expert explained.</p> <p>“This has been key for Costa Rica to weather the pandemic better than the rest of Latin America. It is becoming increasingly clear that a developed healthcare system is pivotal for surviving Covid-19. Furthermore, their emergency leadership has not been politicized, but rather President Carlos Alvarado has ceded leadership to his Health Minister, Daniel Salas.&#8221; The opposite has been seen in Brazil, with Jair Bolsonaro <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/05/15/brazil-goes-through-second-health-minister-in-under-a-month/">firing two Health Ministers in the space of a month</a>.</p> <p>The seed Costa Rica planted in 1948 continued to germinate and grow roots. As something of an oasis of democracy in Central America, Costa Rica has gone 70 years without a coup d&#8217;etat, despite a failed attempt in 1955. In comparison, Latin America has seen at least 100 such maneuvers in the same period.&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, besides its good performance in the pandemic, Costa Rica seeks to play a leading economic role in the region, underlined by its accession to the OECD. The country showed interest in becoming a member of the “rich countries club” in 2012, starting a detailed plan to gain approval. Just as Colombia did to be officially recognized as the OECD’s 37th member in April 2020, Costa Rica had to fulfill a list of requirements related to politics, data transparency, strengthening democracy, the environment, and human rights.

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Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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