TLC National Referendum Tomorrow!

Tomorrow is the national referendum on the TLC – the free trade agreement between Costa Rica, the other Central American countries and the US. While I was very much on the ‘NO’ side from the minute I heard about the TLC three weeks ago, the day I arrived, but now I´m on both sides. Like many Ticos I was viewing the TLC more in ideological than economic terms, seeing the national referendum as an opportunity for the Ticos to choose whether to maintain their rather socialist system or embrace capitalism and in many ways I still believe this is the case.

There are several reasons the government failed to ratify the TLC, calling for the first national referendum in the history of Costa Rica. President Arias was elected into office by only a 0.5% margin and the governmental structure recently changed from a bipartisan to a multiparty system. The divided nature of the government and the disputed legitimacy of the president made a naional referendum seem like a feasible way out of an institutional deadlock. Then again, the President and some highlevel politicians are determined in passing the ‘SI’ and rumors around that the vote tomorrow will be rigged or ignored in the case of ‘NO’. Before I arrived there was this big scandal because some high level politican had been threathening regional governors that if the ‘SI’ didn´t pass in their regions they would lose much of their government funding. The ‘SI’ campaign here is also a lot better financed than the ‘NO’ with an overload of advertisements and emotional rhetoric.

Also adding to my negativity is US history of meddling with Latin American politics, creating puppet governments and exploiting Latin American labor and resources. As far as I know NAFTA was bad for Mexico but then again the Canadians seem to believe NAFTA is working out well for Canada. I am moving towards the ‘SI’ side little by little. The government here has monopolies on health care, education, social security, insurance, and telecommunications among other services. I think some of these services really need to be opened up to competition, especially insurance and telecommunication services that are offered at some ridiculous prices here… I was going to buy a cell phone despite the ridiculous prices at which they sell them but when I asked how much buying a line was, they replied that there were none available… I could maybe get a sim card sometime in January or buy it on the black market. When it comes to the free trade of goods, Costa Rica already has a sort of a free trade agreement with the US so this one hardly changes much – it´s more like an ideological statement.

Yesterday I went to the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights for an informational meeting for the Transparency International Observers of the election. I am not signed up as an official observer as the students signed up some 2 weeks before I arrived but I´m still going with them filming our whole adventure… starting at 6:45 tomorrow morning.

On my hostfamily in Ciudad Colón

Mohit and UPeace helped me find a family and I couldn´t have been luckier as the family is absolutely adorable.

My first weekend my hostmother’s son Gerardo gave me lots of his favorite latin music and took me and Mari (his sister’s daughter) to see a nearby Indian reserve and eat at a bar with a swimming pool up in the mountains. Then my hostmother Dona Marta and her daughter Nancy brought me to a beauty saloon with the intention of getting me some tattooed eyebrows. Dona Marta and Mari, her 11 year old granddaughter (Nancy´s daughter), are my favourites as we can spend hours just talking and laughing. Strangely enough los Ticos (Costa Ricans) and I share exactly the same sense of humour.

To my big confusion Marta (and the guys in the gym and the people at the store) kept on telling me that they were going to accompany me wherever I was going, to the university, to the gym, to the store, absolutely everywhere… so I would tell everyone “no thanks” and try to explain why I didn’t think this was a good idea. With Marta I would wait a little… looking at her all confused… and she would just sit or stand looking back at me without showing any intention of joining me. Mari explained to me after the first week that they were actually saying “May God accompany you”… and didn’t understand why I was so against it.

I’ve also started to walk the dog Orejitas that had never gone out walking since he was a puppy and they’ve had him for seven years now. It’s actually quite challenging… all the stray dogs in the neighborhood come running and try to kill poor little Orejitas and I stand there shouting and kicking at them… the Ticos (Costa Ricans) come running to help me. It’s actually quite entertaining… and exhilarating when the dogs get especially mean. Mari sometimes comes with me but she’s the first one to run away when the dogs attack.

One day my hostmother asks me about the food at UPeace. “It´s great” I say but then add “But Dona Marta… you know nothing compares to your cooking”. While I just wanted to fit in a well-deserved compliment, she decided it would be best if she would prepare for me lunch to bring every day. She´s determined to take very good care of me… within the first ten minutes of me meeting her she had already started her search for a suitable arranged marriage so I would not feel like leaving Costa Rica ever but feel at home. While she´s teaching me about Costa Rican cooking, I plan to make her my speciality chocolate cheesecake this weekend.

We´re also planning a trip to the Panama border where the Costa Ricans go to buy all their electronics and other commodities that are insanely expensive here due to high tariffs and numerous monopolies. I will be discussing the Costa Rican economy in a lot more detail in the coming days. On Sunday there´s the national referendum on whether Costa Rica should adopt the TLC (a free-trade agreement between Central America and the States)… the debate is intense and I plan to spend Sunday in San José observing people´s reactions to the results.

A beautiful landing in Costa Rica

This blog is inspired by my wonderful experience here in Costa Rica, powered by my need to share it all and made possible by my admin genius back in Iceland. I will have to outline the setting of my stay here and risk boring all my friends and family who´ve been receiving long e-eulogies of the Costa Rican people, UPeace students and staff.

I am interning the Centre of Executive and Professional Education located at the UN sponsored University for Peace (UPeace) in San José, Costa Rica. I am working under the guidance of Mohit Mukherjee, the director of the Centre, on marketing and fundraising. My stay here is sponsored by the World Leadership Corps (the WLC), a nonprofit service/ learning organization based on the idea that international volunteer service and cross-cultural living cna provide life-changing experiences for future global leaders. Beginning next week I will also be working through the UPeace Human Rights Centre with Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) as a legal intern collaborating with attorneys on cases before the Inter-American Court of Justice. There are at least hundred other projects here I would like to become part of but can´t because of time constraints.

The WLC is sponsoring me for the next six months but I am liking it so much I will probably want to stay longer than that… so I will be actively on the look out for opportunities to extend my stay… say maybe possibly finding a paying job or applying to UPeace for my masters. I do want to begin my masters studies next fall, although I am still quite uncertain as to where to focus academically or where in the world to continue my studies. There are way to many things I want to be a part of right now – I see endless possibilities around and don´t want to be limited in any way. The last two weeks in Costa Rica have left me up in the skies… but what goes up has to come down at some point… or does it?