Un Rayito de Luz en Costa Rica

Costa Rica. San Josè.

Laureanda bocconiana, Roberta Mallia ha sempre voluto avvicinarsi al mondo del volontariato. E’ stato grazie all’appoggio di International Volunteer HQ, in contatto con l’associazione costaricana Maximo Nivel, che la giovane siracusana ha avuto l’opportunità di dare un aiuto concreto, di fare del bene nei confronti di chi il bene non l’ha mai ricevuto. Continue reading “Un Rayito de Luz en Costa Rica”

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The Other Face of Costa Rica

Tommaso Ribaudo is an Italian student of economics in Costa Rica, where he moved two years ago after living for one year in the United States. During his studies he had the opportunity of dealing with the problems he found in the beautiful nation he lives in, but sometimes things are not as we expect them to be.

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During the last decade of the XX century Costa Rica, one of the most stable and peaceful democracies in Latin America (the country has no standing army since 1948), started to become one of the most visited places in Central America, thanks to the huge tourism industry built mostly on foreign investments. Now Costa Rica attracts 2 million visitors each year, more than 50% of the local population.

Alongside the tourism boom, especially during the last years, another industry started booming: the strategic position of the port of Limón made it a crucial spot for drug cartels that need to bring their product from the producer (mainly Colombia) to the consumer (mostly the US and Europe). It’s estimated that 17.5 tons of cocaine pass through the port each year and, with only 4 police stations serving a population of over 15,000, the “Narcos” now rule the city.

Even though the local market is growing with more and more locals getting involved in this industry, the major cartels who oversee the safe passage for drugs through Costa Rican territories are the “Caballeros Templares de Michoacan” (the Michoacan Templar Knights) and the “Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias Colombiana” (also known as FARC, the Revolutionary armed force of Colombia), respectively a Mexican and a Colombian criminal organization. These transnational organized criminal groups use the geography and the thick vegetation to protect their interests; two rivers are mainly used to move drugs from open sea to the hinterland, and drivers are paid around 25 USD to run the boats through the streams.

For the local population, and me, this is not breaking news. It’s not unusual to hear that someone died during the night; it’s not unusual to hear gunshots in the middle of the night, we’ve learned to live with it, to accept that this problem exists and to “live and let live”. You understand that, to live in paradise, you have to accept the hell that is around you.

But, on December 3rd 2013, Costa Rican government joint with the United Nation Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) launched the “Costa Rica Situation Report 2013: Drug Trafficking and the Threat of Organized Crime”. First of its kind in this region, the report focuses on providing information on drugs and human trafficking in Costa Rica, highlighting the main routes, the effects of different international and local trends in organized crime on the country and the relation between drugs consumption and violence. Their intent is to provide this information to local authorities, so that they can act accordingly.

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And it’s working, in part at least: even though the data shows that drugs passing through Costa Rica are rising, different police operations successfully tackled down many active groups: in 2013, 1.7 tons of cocaine were confiscated in one single operation, rising the quantity of seized cocaine to 5 tons in just that year; some time later a group related to the Mexican cartel that exported cocaine to Belgium was taken down. This are just two examples of the report’s results but, as the ex-president Laura Chinchilla said:”Costa Rica is victim of its own geography”; its strategic position will always attract international drug cartels and the war on drugs will go on.

But last September the 5th Latin American Conference on Drug Policies was held in San José, CR, and, as Giselle Amador, the executive director of Costa Rican Association for Drug Study and Intervention, said that the challenge that we now face is to find alternative ways to reduce violence, increase economic development and achieve the effective protection of human rights.The data shows that the murder rate in the last decade grew by 12% in the Latin American region, and it is possibly related to the current “war on drugs” approach.

The problem of violence and the increase in the prison population are two of the most serious, eloquent examples of the violations of human rights in the solutions provided so far,” said Graciela Touzé, president of Argentina’s Intercambios Civil Association; the war on drugs has brought more problems and solved none, but it is a necessary step to a better solution for a better world.

Costa Rica vs Italy : a different awareness of social responsibility

Maria Fernanda Yglesias is a Biemf Student at Bocconi University. She moved to Milan two years ago to complete her studies in Italy. After her rich experience as a volunteer in home country she decided to start a volunteering activity in Italy as well, discovering a different reality. Here’s what she thinks. 

At sunny 26 degrees, the winter season in Costa Rica is characterized by an overall feeling of merriness, gratitude and giving back. My small Central American country, with just its 4.2 million inhabitants has a culturally distinguished attitude towards volunteering that is inculcated since a very young age. Dozens of charity efforts are evident on TV, radio, supermarkets, downtown markets and even on social media. Most of them are put forward by young people, mostly high school and university students.

Moving to Milan in the pursual of a better undergraduate education has evidenced how Italy and Costa Rica differ so clearly in topics other than economic, politic and in terms of development. Even though Italy is the eighth economy in the EU, there are several circumstances which stand out quite impressively in which I am awed by how my little paradise manages to have a developed country´s mentality and functioning, community service being one of them. By law, every Costa Rican student has to perform 150 hours of community service from seventh to eleventh grade (twelfth and thirteenth grade are not mandatory). The way in which this task is set upon students in CR plants a seed that grows to develop throughout the rest of the youngsters´ life. Working with the neighboring communities is not seen as something extraordinary or an out-of-the normal thing to do, it is natural. Because of this, those high school graduates that move on to university studies do not see the mandatory 150 hours of community service needed to be performed to graduate, as a laborious task to be carried out. It is simply another step in the undergraduate´s career.

On the other hand, it is sad to know how the Italian government has no requirements relating to community service for students at any age or any point of their studies. This naturalness with which young Costa Ricans approach charity work sets a distinct mentality for the rest of their careers. Not only are they keen on organizing their own events when needed, but as they move on through life, giving even in small doses is done volentieri. Even if it is just donating because of a lack of time to participate differently, this cultural giving back attitude is engraved from such a young age that thinking of community service being any differently seems absurd or even ridiculous.

When I moved to Milan, I was curious as to what I would find in terms of cultural attitude towards volunteering in such a culturally varied program as is the BIEMF. I can say that I was not pleasantly surprised with what I found. Even though I have heard of many people willing to help, there are few who actually participate. Also, I was surprised to see how most of the volunteers are Italian rather than from other nationalities, even if it is not something with which they all grew up with because of a general governmental directive. Needless to say I am only exposed to a fraction of the program´s people and I can only say how this is what I personally have come across in the year and a half I have been there. Over the past year I have worked on and off with Sos Bambini, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of specific orphanages in Siget, Romania. At most of the events I have been to not only have I been the only Bocconi student, but also the only young person. I know being at 8 a.m. at a Coop outside Milan on a Sunday isn’t the ideal scenario for many, but is it really not well received by all? I believe this time of the year always comes with joy and an overall change of attitude. Why not make the most of it a give a little back? From a Costa Rican grateful for her holidays under the sun, even if it is chipping in a coin at the supermarket NGO tin at the cashier’s, it is time for selfless acts to be a natural element of cultures globally.

Maria Fernanda Yglesias

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