On Celebration of Liberation: Costa Rica’s General Strike

Happy Independence Day weekend to all my friends in (and from) Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico!  It’s a particularly auspicious day in an equally dramatic time here in Costa Rica, with a large share of the labor unions on a general strike all the past week and still ongoing, with the stated intention to “paralyze the country.” This has meant no fuel deliveries, so the gas station tanks in our fairly remote area are all empty, along with the gas bottles that keep the local cooking stoves going - although I happened to be lucky enough to have just replaced our propane tank before the supply ran out.  

The situation has meant a lot of inconvenience and certainly some some hardship for many of the residents here, but I have to say that I think the strike’s intended resistance to CR President Carlos Alvarado’s recent proposal for fiscal reform that is currently advancing in congress seems to me to be a cause worth supporting. The bill includes proposed value added taxes on goods and services to replace the existing sales tax, which includes a new 1% tax on basic foods. There’s a good article in the American press on the strike and the circumstances leading up to it here:

While there appears to me to be a growing middle and upper income population here in Costa Rica - as evidenced by way too many Apple stores and fashion athletic shoe shops to be sufficiently supported by the large foreign ex-pat community - who will no doubt pay the larger share of the additional tax revenue (especially taxes on less affordable services like private schools,) most of the country’s people are still dirt poor by North American standards. Wages are very low and prices are ridiculously high overall - even for basic foods. Rice and beans as a daily diet is not only a cultural tradition, but also a means of survival for most folks here, leaving the idea of putting a tax on those vital essentials totally indefensible, in my view. 

Though I do have permanent residency status here, not being a Costa Rican citizen means that I am not able to vote or participate in politics on any level here. So I remain an observer and just try to stay informed and be a good listener, but in this case, holding my tongue feels like ignoring an obvious problem. And tonight I plan to join the local community in celebrating this country’s freedom at festivities in town and supporting the local beverage crafters at the coinciding Fourth Annual Independent Craft Beverage Brewers’ Festival, featuring the microbrews of Costa Rica. It’s hosted by local Bribri Springs Brewery owner and brewer JT Ficociello, and today happens to be his birthday, too.

Pure vida!