When I think of Latin America, the first thing that comes to mind is the political turmoil infecting most of the continent. That’s a large step away from many of the people I know who would say they’ve never heard of Nicaragua, or my brothers who know Peru because they’re big fans of llamas. But it’s the small country between Nicaragua and Panama, surprisingly devoid of most of their neighbours’ strife, that all of us could learn a few things from – Costa Rica.
For starters, they have no standing army. It could be argued, in some cases with some success perhaps, that other countries in the region do no have that luxury, having been stained with violence for decades. All the more reason to move towards Costa Rica’s pacifist stance, as they abolished their army after the end of a civil war in the 1940’s. In much of the news and in the few books I’ve read about Latin America, Costa Rica never came up – all the focus appeared to be on the violent and corrupt aspects, and the gem amidst it all was overlooked.
It is through the abolition of the army, many have said, that the small country has been able to fund a number of social programs, such as education (which is relevant to the second point). The US, for example, has spent billions upon billions in their vicious war machine. While this is by design, it is also worth noting that bankrupting the US through unending wars was one of Osama bin Laden’s goals. Spending so much on the military has starved (in some respects, literally) the American people of so much.
Similarly, Australia has been dragging itself into increased military expenditure and weapons exports, an industry that we should be trying to avoid rather than embrace. Rather than being complicit in war crimes around the globe like the wannabe imperialist nation we are, we could instead divert that money towards services that would instead save lives here in Australia. Just think, if the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on military spending and tax cuts in the last couple of years was spent wisely on social services, well, that might just be good economic management!
Education is another aspect that is worth mentioning, but I also want to tie it in with the handling of refugees using this story from the UNHCR. In Costa Rica, primary school education is completely free for everyone. Free education on all levels, given that education is a human right, should be expected everywhere, but at the very least education should be free if you’re under the age of 18, i.e. childcare to the end of high school/TAFE.
Costa Rica has also made it available to the children of refugees fleeing Nicaragua to the north. Just under 62,000 Nicaraguan refugees have fled to Costa Rica, and they have been generously – despite a lack of resources – brought into the communities in the north of the country. It is quite easy to see here what our government could learn, both on the education and refugee issues. Our government seems intent, however, on denying refugees seeking asylum their rights, and cutting funding to the education system for the rest of us.
The last point I want to mention is the environment. With bipartisan support, the Adani coalmine slinks ever closer, and the Toondah Harbour development – which has been gaining community awareness in my area for a while now – smells of corruption, with donations and relations with both major parties. That’s just in Queensland. Scandal after scandal has been rocking New South Wales regarding the Murray-Darling, in WA there’s a uranium mine that will negatively affect Indigenous communities, and Tasmania is face logging threats alongside fires.
Meanwhile, Costa Rica plans to be 100% carbon free and even plastic free. We talk about how great it is that corporations try to cut down on single use plastic, but why not all plastic? And why does it have to be at the behest of benevolent companies looking for the next brand boost? We, as consumers, should not only be demanding it from them, but also taking it into our own hands – the government should be investing in alternatives.
It could be argued that, given Costa Rica’s small size, all of the above is much easier for them to achieve. While that may be partially true, it’s not so much an argument as it is a statement dripping with laziness and stubbornness. Maybe if we didn’t increase military spending we could provide free education to those who want to better themselves. Maybe if we didn’t subsidise the rich and fossil fuels with wealthfare, we could reach 100% renewable energy and find alternatives to products that endanger our environment.
No one said it’ll happen overnight – but the more we cling to the past, the harder it’ll be to take the first step towards progress. Australia is a large country, compared to Costa Rica. Perhaps, rather than saying it’s not possible because we’re a larger nation, we should instead be saying it is possible, even the small, poorer nations can.
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