Rising Issues with Costa Rica’s Nationalism

Costa Rica is a small, yet prosperous nation in Latin America, located between Nicaragua and Panama. In the 19th century, the lands of Costa Rica belonged to many different nations. After gaining independence from Spain, they briefly became part of Mexico. This ended in 1826 when they joined the Central American Federation, before finally claiming complete independence in 1848. With independence comes the pride and patriotism of a country, which soon developed into a stronger sense of nationalism. Shortly after claiming independence, William Walker, an American who rose to power and took control of Nicaragua’s army, attacked the shores of Costa Rica. Juan Santamaria, a drummer of the Costa Rican army, was able to torch a building where Walker’s soldiers resided. This did not kill anybody, but it did scare Walker away from Costa Rica, and Santamaria now stands as the symbol of Costa Rica’s bravery and independence. This tale bolstered Costa Rica’s nationalism, yet it also manifested a hatred for Nicaraguans among the people of Costa Rica. The nationalism in Costa Rica is responsible for increased levels of xenophobia within the nation, and the absence of representation among indigenous tribes.
Since the independence of Costa Rica was claimed and to this day, xenophobia is widespread and proves to be destructive to foreigners. Nicaraguans often get the worst of Costa Rican xenophobia. There is a generalized belief around the country that all crime comes from foreigners, and Costa Ricans are socially and morally above these foreigners. James Dyde is a journalist that has spent many years in Costa Rica. He has picked up on the xenophobia since the day he set foot in the country. Dyde witnessed two police dogs maul a Nicaraguan to death in the streets while the public looked on. Dyde wrote, “As appalling as that was, I remember being more appalled by the jokes about it. People laughed about dog food quality”. Nationalism heightens tensions with foreigners; Juan Santamaria Day is a national holiday and is taught to children in school. The focus is on how Costa Rica is strong and powerful, and other countries in Latin America, specifically Nicaragua, should bow down to Costa Rica. Nationalism helps unite the people of Costa Rica together and promotes pride, but with this comes xenophobia and rejection of immigrants and foreigners.
When Costa Rica gained independence, the population rose and many Europeans, Africans, and other indigenous Americans came to Costa Rica. A government was formed and laws were passed, but ironically, the indigenous tribes of Costa Rica were not represented. They were forced to accept these new laws, and give up their rightful land to the newly formed government. Economic inequality and nationalism pushed lawmakers further into a path of ignoring the indigenous tribes. Kelsie Schrader wrote an article about the economic inequality and misrepresentation of tribes in Costa Rica. She wrote, “with increased inequality comes an increased sense of superiority from those higher in ranks. Prejudice towards the poor increases”. Most lawmakers reside in the upper economic classes, which causes them to feel above the rest of the country. There are very few indigenous tribe members that are part of the Costa Rican government, so their needs and opinions are overlooked and ignored. Overall, the combination of economic inequality and nationalism within the government causes the indigenous tribes to suffer and experience misrepresentation.
Nationalism is an incredibly useful tool to unite a country and have citizens from opposite ends of a nation feel a sense of belonging. As nationalism goes up, the pride of one’s nation goes up too, but so does the wariness and uncertainty of outside nations. In Costa Rica, nationalism fuels xenophobia and the hatred of Nicaraguans, and leaves the original indigenous tribes excluded and left to fend for themselves with stolen land and new laws that were forced to be accepted.

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