For most of my life, I have lived in two countries, the United States, which was always considered the First World with riches, democracy, freedom, welcoming of immigrants and offering access to the American dream to those of the right gender and color, of course. It was never a perfect place, but offered much more possibility to many than did most other countries.
The second country, Costa Rica, also a democracy modeled in many ways upon that of the United States, but considered by most immigrants (known as expats as most are privileged and white) a vacation or retirement destination because of its natural beauty and reasonable cost of living. It is called derisively by many a “Banana Republic,” because colonizers from the United States of centuries past intoduced a one crop culture by importing banana trees to Costa Rica. Due to this economic arrangement, Costa Rica’s development was limited, while that of the United States advanced. Without a doubt, Costa Rica has the distinction of being the longest existing democracy in Latin America and additionally of having abolished its army in 1948. It has been the star and the envy of the region for many years. However, enforced production of only coffee and bananas has limited economic growth severely.
I now find more similarities than differences between the first and third worlds, as Donald Trump, under the aegis of Vladimir Putin, has taken control of the United States. He and his not-so-merry band of thieves have stolen enough to be close to bankrupting the country. Bridges and roads are collapsing under the weight of disrepair and the people are collapsing psychologically under the weight of terror and despair. Education and safety are being underfunded or unfunded, the money directed toward the military show of force and the enhancement of Trump’s fragile ego. There are organized protests in the streets, but protesters are more might to be shot or jailed than heeded by the government representatives. There is blood in the streets instead of the practice of democratic protest. In those same streets live thousands of mentally ill and war veterans without services or treatment.
In Costa Rica, I have not seen as much change yet, but there is about to be an election that is likely to bring the same sort of fascist control to this country. Currently there are fewer people sleeping in the streets, more people selling fruit and vegetables than begging. These are the Nicaraguans who can not find work, the equivalent of Mexicans in the United States. However, Costa Rica is not organized enough to try to eject them, so they remain in the streets hawking papayas and mamones. Costa Rica does not have the separation of Church and State that the United States, which has revealed itself to be a Christian country, also does not have. Costa Rica’s infrastructure has always been precarious due to the same corruption that is now sweeping the U.S. Costa Ricans are accustomed to corruption and to living with less money than the United States. They have a sense of irony about these issues that Americans still have not developed. They have former diplomats in prison and, in that way, are also temporarily ahead of the former First World.
For example, rather than naming the the streets themselves, Costa Ricans name the ubiquitous potholes that are never repaired and sometimes even plant trees in them as a warning to motorists. One huge pothole was named for the wife of the President of the Republic in hopes that he might then be shamed into doing the repair. He was not. The United States has not developed the sense of irony and perhaps fatalism of the Costa Ricans, still believing in the disappeared democracy and still in severe traumatic stress about the rapidity of the takeover. Perhaps, instead ofthe bankrupt Trump Towers, we should begin naming the street encampments Ivanka Trump Tent City and the slums of South Chicago Meliana Village. Alas, this would probably not motivate this president any more than those of Costa Rica.