When The Tico Times celebrated our 60th Anniversary in 2016, our former Editor and Publisher Dery Dyer, daughter of Tico Times Founder Elisabeth Dyer and Publisher Richard Dyer, shared a reflection on one department that ‘vanished overnight’ when we moved to digital. (We now print quarterly; read our most recent special print edition here.)
A classmate from my U.S. prep school recently sent me the following comment after I’d thanked her for sending me photos of our 50th class reunion:
“What would have been unimaginable 50 years ago is that you saw my photos in a computer (what is that?) and that you sent me a missive from Costa Rica via a cloud of electrons that reached me within 5 minutes on a crosstown bus in New York, and that I read the missive on a telephone.”
Just as unimaginable 60 years ago — or even 10! — was that someday The Tico Times would be reaching its readers via that same cloud of electrons. So, on the TT’s 60th birthday, I’d like to offer a toast: not only to the newspaper, but also to the memory of its Circulation Department.
After making sure you received your paper week after week for so many years, this once-essential department vanished overnight — deleted as swiftly and as totally as if a key had been pressed — when The Tico Times went online-only in 2012.
It was hard to believe. Circulation had always been the department that made all the others’ work worthwhile. It got the news into the readers’ hands and spread the word about Costa Rica around the world.
It also bonded us with our readers. Every subscriber — whether in Alajuela or Afghanistan (yep, we had readers in Afghanistan!) — was a real person who had become part of our worldwide community. Our readers turned into friends: they’d write chatty little notes on their renewal notices, send us comments, photos and articles, and drop by the office to say hello.
In the beginning, there was no Circulation Department. Everybody at The Tico Times did everything. When wearing our Circulation hats, we worked with little file boxes containing each subscriber’s address and subscription status typed on index cards.
Every week we spent hours typing labels on sheets of paper, cutting them out with scissors and sticking them on the newspapers with white glue. Before long we were photocopying the sheets of paper so we didn’t have to type all the addresses each week, but we were still cutting and pasting.
Then we acquired a nifty little machine which printed address labels from metal plates that had to be laboriously engraved on another little machine, and the Circulation Department was born. It had its own staff and was required to keep track of subscriptions, sales, and press runs in order to generate the all-important Circulation Reports.
Little by little, computers arrived, making everything a lot easier. But as the paper grew, so did the circulation challenges.
Every day there were subscriptions to be processed, renewal notices to be sent out, sales points to be checked and restocked… all of it leading up to Thursday nights, the Circulation Department’s adrenaline-fueled equivalent of the newsroom’s deadline, when the team worked feverishly all night manhandling piles of freshly printed newspapers so that the world could read us.
Staffers loaded bundles of papers onto waiting trucks bound for sales points in the provinces. Then they bundled papers for the home-delivery guys waiting with their motorcycles and route lists; counted stacks of papers to give drivers for distribution to sales points around the Central Valley; and labeled, stamped and sorted piles of papers into color-coded batches for the mail subscribers. These were rushed to the Post Office to be sent all over the country and to the many different areas of the world — the Americas, Europe, Asia, Oceania — where our subscribers lived.
Over time, the number of subscribers in the United States and Canada grew so large that we started air-freighting packages of papers to Miami and mailing them in bulk from there, which meant tearing to the airport as soon as they came off the press to get them on the earliest possible flight.
Later it made more sense to print the North America-bound papers in the U.S. This required making an extra set of page negatives and another frantic airport dash on Thursday evenings to get them ASAP to our U.S. printer.
Once again, computer technology eventually speeded things up, enabling us to ship the pages electronically; however, the Thursday-night marathon in Costa Rica continued for all the papers going elsewhere.
The entire circulation routine was so tightly coordinated that the slightest glitch along the way — if we were late getting on or off the press, if a plane couldn’t land, if a holiday meant the Post Office was closed, if a delivery guy was out sick — provoked a whole chain of chaos and an avalanche of complaints the following week, each of which had to be answered with a personal letter, phone call or e-mail, as well as with replacement copies rushed out by messenger or first-class mail.
The Circulation Dept. ended up being the most dramatic casualty of The Tico Times’ switch to digital delivery because an entire busy, hard-working world went extinct without leaving a single trace of its existence. There’s simply no equivalent in the newspaper’s online incarnation to remember it by. (The dinosaurs, at least, left fossils.)
So here’s to its memory! We could never have imagined a newspaper without paper, or without a Circulation Department to circulate it. But then, can any of us imagine how people will be getting their news 60 years from now?
This piece was originally published in 2016. Become a part of The Tico Times family today by donating to support our independent journalism, podcast, weekly news video series, freelance community of young journalists, and more. Donate here.
PARIS – Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado called Wednesday for a multinational effort to help end the political crisis gripping neighbouring Nicaragua, a conflict which risks destabilizing other Latin American nations.
“For things to change we need to get involved, and this involvement needs to come from OAS [Organization of American States] countries and include the European community,” Alvarado said in an interview with AFP in Paris.
Nicaragua has spiraled into deadly chaos since April as President Daniel Ortega has cracked down on opponents. Human rights groups say that more than 300 people have been killed.
The violence has prompted a surge of people fleeing the country, with more than 20,000 crossing the southern border to seek refuge in Costa Rica in recent months.
“There is irrefutable evidence of human rights violations in this country,” said the 38-year-old Alvarado, who attended this week’s Paris Peace Forum hosted by President Emmanuel Macron.
“Clearly this worries us, from the humanitarian perspective but also the commercial perspective,” he said, citing the impact on exports as well as trade throughout Central America. “For those of us who believe in democracy, in human rights and democratic institutions, we have to not only speak out but also find ways to help this democracy [Nicaragua] provide security and confidence to its people.”
“There has been resistance from some parts of Nicaragua’s government, but we need to be persistent,” he said.‘To help change things’
Alvarado called for similar global pressure on Venezuela, where Nicolas Maduro has presided over an economic disaster that has also prompted a wave of people to leave.
An estimated 2.3 million have fled Venezuela since 2015 as runaway inflation puts even basic foodstuffs and other necessities out of reach.
“We have to keep insisting [on this] in international forums to help change things,” he said, reiterating that Costa Rica backed an initiative by six South American nations to have the International Criminal Court investigate Maduro for crimes against humanity.
“Some have called on us to disengage from our regional responsibilities, but it’s essential to bolster multilateralism, because without dialogue how are we going to solve our problems?” he said.
Alvarado also urged cooperation on fighting global warming, calling on more countries to “set an example if they can.”
The center-left leader has pledged to wean his country from fossil fuels in the medium term.
“Just as we abolished the army 70 years ago, abolishing the use of fossil fuels is the ethical obligation of our generation,” he said. “One country alone cannot solve climate change on its own. Everybody needs to be involved.”
Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado posed for a photo shoot while in France at the invitation of President Emmanuel Macron.
Alvarado participated in the Paris Peace Forum at the Villette Conference Hall, a new annual event based on international cooperation and aimed at tackling global challenges and ensuring durable peace.
Due to its location, Costa Rica is a cultural and biological bridge between North and South America, which makes it the perfect spot for diversity.
Indigenous peoples consumed corn, beans, pineapple, cacao and avocados. They fished and ate the meat of turtles, manatees, deer, tapirs and others. When the region was colonized, Europeans introduced wheat and ingredients from other parts of the world, such as rice from China and spices from India.
Over the years and, of course, with globalization, Costa Rica’s cuisine has been influenced by global trends. However, food is still one of the biggest manifestations of culture, and some ingredients and dishes have become part of enduring traditions. As an example, in Nicoya — a so-called “blue zone” with above-average life expectancy — people still rely on corn as a principal ingredient, and they prepare dishes such as tortillas, atol, and even drinks like pozol.
Procurement, storage, preparation and consumption are the four basic elements comprising the food tradition, and they are developed in a specific context of practices and knowledge. That context is constantly changing, and even more so nowadays.Each region in Costa Rica has its own food tradition, shown here at Costa Rica’s Cuisine Exhibition. María José Braddick Serrano / The Tico Times
Even though corn, rice and beans, and other foods are still very much part of the Costa Rican diet, other easy-to-prepare or procure options have earned a spot on Ticos’ tables too. When combined with physical inactivity, diets full of processed food can affect your general health and can put you at risk of heart diseases, according to the Costa Rican Social Security Fund. One of their recommendations is to avoid added sugars and to consume instead only natural sugars.
Added or hidden sugars are typically found in pastries, cakes, sugary treats and soda drinks, and they are empty calories — meaning that, unlike nutrient- and fiber-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables, they add little or no nutritional value. Even honey and maple syrup, when added to a food that would not otherwise contain them, constitute an “added sugar.” Options labeled as “healthy” or “light” can contain added sugars too; for example: cereals, energy bars, fruit juices, peanut butter, smoothies and granola.
It can be difficult to identify all sources of sugar in a food, as it appears in dozens of different ways on labels (fructose, glucose, sucrose, molasses, invert sugar, corn syrup, etc).
For those looking for additional help, social media can come in handy. Miguel Gatica runs a popular account dedicated to promoting a sugar-free lifestyle, and we met to learn more about his mission.Miguel Gatica, creator of the “Reto No Sugar.” María José Braddick Serrano / The Tico Times
First things first: The social-media page is called “Reto No Sugar,” but Gatica focuses on more than just cutting out added sweeteners.
“My goal is to help as many people as I can, help them choose a healthy lifestyle to change the alarming stats [heart disease] that we have,” he said. “I try to inspire through my real-life experiences because I almost died, and I have been there where you cannot stop eating chocolates, and you try to follow a diet, you go to the gym without eating well, and you get tricked with those products that promise quick results.
“Since I know what it’s like to be in that position, that is what I always remember when I give advice.”
Gatica started his Instagram and Facebook accounts in January, and the growth has been remarkable — the two accounts have more than 60,000 combined followers. He says he initially wanted to help some of his friends live healthier lifestyles but soon realized he could have a bigger impact.
About 500 people joined his first challenge, and he awarded $200 as prize money. And as the contest’s popularity grew, so too did his passion for the project.
“The challenge is not about losing weight,” he said. “I am not a dietician nor a coach. I am just someone who wants to inspire others to improve [their health].”
Breaking up with added sugar is not an easy task. (According to Eric Stice, a neuroscientist at the Oregon Research Institute, sugar activates the same brain regions as are activated when a person consumes drugs such as cocaine.) But I was determined to try it for myself.
Gatica said many people go through energy and mood changes when they reduce their sugar intake, and that rang true for me. I did not know what to do with all the energy I seemed to have within a few days of cutting added sugars. At the same time, my mood was awful because I could not stop thinking about processed food and candy.
Withdrawal symptoms, which can include headaches and fatigue, are common if your diet was high on sugar. However, eventually you will grow accustomed to a less-sugary lifestyle and won’t crave high-sugar snacks — at least that’s what I’m told. I am not there yet, but I plan to be soon.Costa Rica has a great variety of fruits and vegetables. María José Braddick Serrano / The Tico Times
Before changing your diet, you should consult your dietician, according to Dr. Nancy Solano Avendaño, spokeswoman for the Costa Rican Professional Association of Dieticians. Every individual is different, and so are our nutrition necessities. Solano explained that to be able to create a nutrition plan, a professional should conduct a comprehensive evaluation of your lifestyle and consumption.
The World Health Organization recommends less than 10% of an adult’s daily energy intake come from sugar.
Gatica echoed the recommendation of visiting a dietician before making dramatic lifestyle changes, then recounted his own story.
He says he had been overweight since he was child, even though he practiced tennis and soccer. As a young adult, he started smoking and drinking. When he became a professional player of a card game called “Magic: The Gathering,” he says his vices got worse. He would drink for hours, sleep and repeat the same routine day after day.Gatica before and after he decided to cut added sugars, and quit drinking and smoking. María José Braddick Serrano / The Tico Times
Gatica’s father died of a heart attack in 2014, but it was not until 2016, when endured the death of his best friend, that he chose to turn his life around. He stopped smoking, and with the support of a dietician, he began to transform his lifestyle.
“I start with mental health first, and then I introduce exercise and nutrition [when giving advice to others],” he said.
Studies have tied heavy sugar consumption with mental problems. Fortunately, in Costa Rica you can find a variety of fresh no-sugar-added fruits and vegetables — in addition to nuts and meat — at local farmers’ markets. If you’re like me and have no clue what to buy, I recommend using Gatica’s social-media posts as inspiration. Otherwise, you’ll end up like me, with half a kilo of ginger that I don’t know what to do with.Representatives from the US Embassy attended the Costa Rican Cuisine Exhibition. María José Braddick Serrano / The Tico Times
Gatica does not try to keep his advice private, nor does he hide it behind a paywall. He says he feels rewarded when he helps others — empathy-induced altruism.
Gatica’s own life experiences inspired him to follow a less-sugared lifestyle, and his guidelines continue to rise in popularity. And best of all, reducing your intake of added sugars will help you to explore the great variety of fruits, vegetables and amazing natural ingredients Costa Rica has to offer.
If you are driving from Juan Santamaría International Airport toward San José, you will pass two sets of billboards. Lettered in Spanish, the signs translate to English as:
- There are foreign boats fishing illegally in Costa Rica
- They are taking our marine resources without permits
- Together we can change this… Find out how at fecop.org
[Editor’s note: The author of this story works as the communications director for FECOP, the Costa Rican Fishing Federation.]
The campaign billboards were modeled after the ones in the award-winning film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” The signs were designed to be simple but effective. It is estimated that more than 25 percent of all tuna fished by foreign purse seine boats in Costa Rican territorial waters goes unreported or is taken by vessels not licensed to fish in Costa Rica — resulting in zero benefit to the country.
In an interview on Monumental Radio, Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, Minister of Environment and Energy, denounced that the country loses millions of dollars in the illegal fishing of tuna. Thanks to the international licenses that the country provides for tuna fishing, this sector generates legal profits of $50 million and pays only $1.3 million for it. He went on to say if more tuna were available to Costa Rica fishermen, they would target tuna rather than engaging in controversial shark fishing.
Data collected by Amigos de la Isla del Coco Foundation (FAICO) during a study called “Characterization and analysis of industrial fishing pressure in the ACMC and the adjacent Exclusive Economic Zone” found that fishing vessels entered the prohibited areas for purse seining more than 130 times during the span of the study.
An analysis by Conservation International and the Coast Guard using satellite technology determined more than 100 vessels were involved in illicit activities in 2016-17.
The yearly average legal take from these boats had been around 25,000 tons of tuna. Of this, 9,000 tons goes to the cannery in Puntarenas and most of the rest never lands in Costa Rica. A study done by Federacion Costarricense de Pesca in 2013 showed Costa Rica only benefitted $37 a ton from tuna taken by foreign vessels. This brought about the first tuna reform in 2014, which moved the tuna boats offshore 45 miles and protected other important areas like the waters around Coco Island and a total of 200,000 square kilometers from purse seine fishing. In 2017, INCOPESCA, the governing board of fishing regulations in Costa Rica, reduced the number of legal licenses from 43 to 13 and this year put limits on the capture. But with very little oversight, illegal fishing activity is bound to increase.
To better understand all this one needs to understand all the pieces of the puzzle. Not all of them see eye-to-eye on many issues. Since this campaign was started by FECOP, we start first with:
Sport fishing generates nearly $380 million for the Costa Rican economy and generates thousands of jobs for Costa Ricans. FECOP — which advocates for sport fishing as a sustainable business model as well as ocean management — represents many of them. A study recently conducted by Henry Marín, project manager for FECOP, showed that in a social-economic quality of life model study, Costa Ricans who work in sport fishing earned more than the average Costa Rican. Those who work in areas like Herradura and Quepos, where there has been a substantial investment in sport fishing infrastructure, have even higher incomes. There are also a good number of non-anglers who believe sport fishing is a senseless sport, where people torture animals for sport.
Commercial fishingA tuna fishing vessel circles dolphins off the Osa Peninsula, on Costa Rica's southern Pacific coast. Shawn Larkin/The Tico Times
This is another very important part of the Costa Rican economy that employs thousands in coastal communities. Costa Ricans consume a lot of fish and almost all the millions of tourists that come here each year want to experience fresh Costa Rican seafood. The exportation of fish products is also huge. Opponents complain about non-selective arts of fishing with a high incidental catch of non-targeted or over-exploited species.
Tuna purse seine fleet
Costa Rica does not have a purse seine vessel. The fleet consists of licenses sold to foreign-owned companies that capture tuna by circling a school with a net when closed captures everything inside. Opponents claim the bycatch — species caught other than tuna — include marlin, sailfish, dorado, wahoo, sharks, turtles and marine mammals. More than 50 different species have been documented as bycatch in the tuna fleet. By examining previous catch records, it is estimated the fleet reduction saved 25 tons of would have been marlin bycatch in 2017.
The tuna cannery in Puntarenas is a major player in the local community. It employs well over 1,000 Costa Ricans and requires 9,000 tons of tuna annually to operate. Because the demand of sustainably caught “one by one” tuna is growing so fast, the cannery is forced to import pole- and line-caught fish from other countries to fill their orders.
The government, including INCOPESCA, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of the Environment, the Coast Guard, the Ministry of Tourism, and the Legislative Assembly all have input in the fishing licenses, controls and enforcement. Some have been accused of favoring one sector over another or business over environment, or that they don’t have the budget to operate more efficiently.
There are many non-governmental nonprofits headquartered in Costa Rica that specialize in marine conservation issues. Many have done great things in Costa Rica. At times, conservation is a competitive business. Organizations compete for donor contributions. Because of this, they don’t communicate well with each other. Many times, they are working on similar projects but for fear of losing donations or credit for successes — which turn into more donations — they don’t share information. If they did a little more, positive changes could come more rapidly on smaller budgets.
Costa Rica is the most expensive country to live in in Central America. Many sectors have been on strike or protesting the proposed tax reforms since September 10. They are especially displeased with some tax breaks companies receive whose products manufactured in Costa Rica cost nearly double in Costa Rica as the same product sold by the same company in neighboring countries. Many feel it is unfair to give away Costa Rica’s resources to other countries with little benefit to the country while they are asked to pay higher taxes.
Tuna are the most prized fish on the commercial market and have a much higher market value than other species. Many people do not know how most of the tuna captured in Costa Rica are caught. A large purse seine vessel cruises the ocean looking for obvious signs that tuna is present. This could be feeding birds, tuna feeding, giant pods of dolphins, or floating objects like tree trunks. Often these boats will place artificial floating objects, which are illegal to use in Costa Rica because they attract juvenile fish.
A lot of the tuna caught here are caught under dolphins. Dolphins and tuna have a symbiotic relationship and swim together — the dolphin on the surface and tuna below. They will use speed boats to corral the dolphins into the net. If you net the dolphin, you will also catch the tuna. In the past, up to 6 million dolphins perished in tuna boat nets until there was a public outcry.
Today boats fishing legally will lower one end of the net to release the dolphin. According to data, the mortality of dolphin is now around 1,000 annually using this method, but Sierra Goodman, founder and president of the Vida Marina Foundation in Drake Bay, on the northern Pacific side of the Osa Peninsula, believes the actual number of dolphin mortality is highly underreported. Goodman’s concern is that tuna companies that fish and net dolphins are labeling their product dolphin safe.
“Ok, so this is my question: Are the dolphins still chased and encircled in the nets to get the tuna?” she asked. “Are dolphins involved in any way for tuna that is labeled dolphin-safe? Because any time free and wild dolphins are chased and entrapped, it is not dolphin-safe. I saw what happens in those nets. While I’m sure the lowering of nets helps with mortality, what about stress factors? We know that these tuna boats are out there for days in a row netting the same group of Costa Rican spinner dolphins.”
One question is whether the boats fishing illegally careful with dolphins. They have been witnessed throwing explosives from helicopters or speed boats to herd dolphin. And do they take the time to make sure the dolphin is released from the net carefully? I have never known a thief who sweeps up the glass after he has broken your window to enter your house.
Green Stick and pole & line
Green Stick is the common name for a piece of fishing equipment that was originally made from a long, green bamboo shoot that has a main line attached to a device that is designed to make a large splash on the water. It is trolled a couple hundred yards or more behind the fishing vessel. Off the main line, a half dozen or more lures are placed at intervals. This method has a 99 percent catch rate of tuna compared to catching species other than the targeted tuna.
Pole and line is basically done by chumming the water with live minnows to keep the tuna close in a feeding frenzy and catching them one a time, helping meet the growing demand for sustainably caught seafood — seafood caught without impacting the environment or other species. Green Sticks now made of fiberglass are nothing new. They have been used in Japan and in the Eastern United States for years. Innovating commercial fishermen like Robert Nunes has been using them some success in Costa Rican waters. After FECOP supplied the technical support to the government, INCOPESCA began issuing licenses to fish green sticks this year.
Adam Baske, Director of the Pole and Line Foundation based in the United Kingdom, recently visited Costa Rica and with FECOP staff met with long-line commercial fishermen in Puntarenas and Quepos to discuss the tuna industry and the market need for sustainably caught tuna. They heard the same from both groups. They explained that even though the sport fishermen are seeing a great increase in tuna catches since the Tuna Decree in 2014, there is still too much tuna being taken illegally or licensed to foreign vessels for them to successfully fish more selective gear and make a decent profit.
According to them, they would love it if they could. Tuna is a premium-value fish and would become the target species, taking pressure off sharks and billfish as bycatch in longline fishing. The incidental catch rate of other species would drop drastically. FECOP then met with six marine related NGOs to discuss the issue.
This writer has lived in Costa Rica worked in fishing going on 28 years and is a naturalized Costa Rican citizen. His wife is Tica, his kids are Tico and at many times feels as if he is at heart a Tico trapped in the body of a gringo. He has been here long enough to know if just one sector lobbies for change, nothing happens. When different sector joins on a common goal, change happens. The first tuna reform in 2014 is a good example of sport fisherman working together with longline fishermen. Giving tuna back to the Ticos would have a domino effect for all groups. Better income for struggling coastal communities, less bycatch of billfish, sharks, turtles, dolphin and other marine mammals. With more tuna available, the longliners could see the advantage of switching gear because the fish would be available to them and NGO’s protecting sharks, turtles and billfish would all benefit also.
It is not an easy task, but working together, it can be done. There is a petition to the government at www.fecop.org. The site is in English and Spanish; just click your preference.
In this week’s episode of the Weekly Digest: hunger is on the rise in Latin America, saving Costa Rica’s smallest primate and more news from ticotimes.net.
This week’s Digest was sponsored by Banana Beach in Santa Teresa.
Interested in sponsoring the Digest, with the option of a visit from our film crew? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stories from the episode:
- Both hunger and obesity increase in Latin America: http://bit.ly/2RN6UrG
- Helping save Costa Rica’s smallest primate: http://bit.ly/2z5smkJ
- An interview with Olympic hopeful Jenny Méndez: http://bit.ly/2DktHXI
- Costa Rica to face Chile and Peru in friendlies: http://bit.ly/2T6rbtW
- Teenage designers steal the show at fashion show: http://bit.ly/2QxVrfr
- Off the Eaten Path – Cordero’s Bar: http://bit.ly/2T6rnta
Thank you for helping us fund the next episode of The Tico Times Dispatch.
Thanks to readers like you, our next podcast will focus on machismo and street harassment in Costa Rica. Our intern, Alissa Grosskopf, will be reporting and producing a story that stemmed from her experience in Costa Rica.
Grosskopf recently came to Costa Rica from Germany to study journalism at the University of Costa Rica and was surprised by the level of street harassment she experienced in the country. She changed the way she dressed, felt and walked around the country due to it.
Now with your help, she’s exploring the topic and looking at different ways that women can confront it. We set a goal of $500 to help cover the equipment, production, studio and travel costs for this project and we raised the money in a week.
We’re incredibly grateful for your support. We’re hoping to keep raising money to promote the podcast once it’s produced and help fund future episodes. Producing meaningful journalism takes time and money and we’re dedicated to producing as much of it as we can for as long as we can.
With readers like you, we think we can keep producing stories, podcasts and videos that explore underreported topics in Costa Rica for a long time to come.
Once again, from the entire Tico Times staff, thank you. Click here to donate and help keep The Tico Times Dispatch going.
For many in Costa Rica, Christiana Figueres needs no introduction. The daughter of iconic revolutionary and president José “Pepe” Figueres Ferrer and his second wife, Karen Olsen, Figueres blazed her way onto the national stage as a leader in the fight against climate change, culminating in her successful coordination of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. She ran for Secretary General of the United Nations in 2016 and now helms Mission 2020, an effort to ensure that planetary carbon emissions reach their peak that year in order to attain carbon neutrality by 2050.
On Nov. 5, Figueres received the annual CRUSAder of the Year Award from the Costa Rica USA Foundation for Cooperation (CRUSA). Each year, CRUSA offers the award to one U.S. citizen and one Costa Rican for outstanding contributions to sustainable development; Figueres’ fellow awardee this year was U.S.-Costa Rican philanthropist Steve Aronson.2018 CRUSAder Award honorees Christiana Figueres and Steve Aronson. Courtesy of the CRUSA Foundation
At the CRUSAder of the Year awards dinner on Monday at the Hotel Real Intercontinental in Escazú, 210 people gathered to celebrate the honorees and raise $34,800 for nonprofits around the country represented on the Amigos of Costa Rica platform. Ahead of the event, CRUSA staff spoke with Figueres about Costa Rica’s place in the world, her plans for the future and one very special frog. Excerpts follow.
We’ve read that your decision to focus on combating climate change began in Monteverde, when you discovered that a frog you remembered from childhood was now extinct. Is that true?
There was no other place in the world where the golden frog lived, and it disappeared in 1994. I’d seen it as a child; when my daughters were about that same age, I wanted to show it to them and discovered that it didn’t exist anymore. Scientists in Monteverde told me they suspected climate change was the cause, because increased temperatures caused a skin disease.
I realized that the planet I had inherited from my parents – a planet that included the golden frog – was now a diminished planet, the one I was giving to my children. And I realized that if I’d seen a species disappear right in front of my eyes in Costa Rica, there must be many other species that had disappeared in other countries.
When I understood the breadth of the crisis, I decided to dedicate my professional life to the issue.Brought to you by the Costa Rica USA Foundation (CRUSA). Courtesy of CRUSA
Tell us about your recent work, particularly Mission 2020.
The Paris Agreement signed by the world’s countries in December 2015 establishes that the world economy must decarbonize and reach carbon neutrality in 2050 – and there are 14 countries in the world, including Costa Rica, that have set carbon neutrality goals ahead of 2050. However, science, which has continued evolving since 2015, now shows us that in order to be carbon neutral by 2050, we have to reach the maximum of emissions and begin a decrease in the year 2020. Of course, that’s practically two minutes from where we are today… There are policies and measures that all the world’s countries and companies must take the revert our tendencies starting in 2020 and begin an organized descent that allows for economic transition to carbon neutrality in 2050.
What are the areas of focus for Mission 2020 in order to reach that goal?
Reverting our emissions involves modernizing various sectors. We’re pretty far ahead in some of them: production of electricity. Costa Rica, of course, is the world leader on this, with more than 300 days with only renewable energies; that’s a great luxury that we’ve been able to develop throughout our history, and it’s not as easy to achieve for other countries. But the world’s energy matrix is now at 12 percent renewable energy, up from zero in just three or four years. If we continue this trend, we can reach 50 percent of all energy produced in the world by 2030. We’re on a good path there.
We’re also doing well with the transportation revolution, and electric vehicles – of course, as we move toward electric vehicles, we have to make sure that electricity comes from renewable energies, so those efforts go hand-in-hand. But we’re at a turning point with light transportation – cars, buses – while not with aviation or marine transport, though there are some interesting pilot programs there.
We’re doing ok with the transformation of the financial sector. Financial institutions have realized the risk of investing in goods and services high in [emissions] is much higher than the benefit. That cost-benefit analysis has changed dramatically.
Where we are not in good shape is land use – that is, putting an end to deforestation. The restoration of degraded lands, especially in Africa, is stuck, for various reasons. The big problem is that these activities would be very beneficial to vulnerable populations that do not have food security and would benefit if we could restore their degraded lands.
You emphasize the importance of optimism throughout your speeches and writings. How do you maintain that positive attitude despite all the obstacles we’re facing in this field?
I think optimism is a decision. It’s a tool in a battle, not an achievement of that battle. Optimism should be our war horse. The situation we have in front of is one that we must change, and we are going to change. The fact that we don’t know how we are going to achieve that goal cannot make us fall into pessimism. We don’t have any other option than to be what I call stubborn optimists: we will always face problems and obstacles, but this can’t turn us back. It just means we have to work harder to find a solution.
At CRUSA we are working to help Costa Rica be a laboratory for sustainable development in the world. Do you see Costa Rica playing that role?
Costa Rica is so small that it has never been a great power, but it has always been a great example for those powers. For many years we’ve been an example on many issues: in the protection of our biodiversity, or in our invention of Payments for Environmental Services, which, through the World Banks, is spreading in other countries. We invented the Certified Tradeable Offset (CTO) which was the predecessor of the clean development mechanism that we see today. We’ve reverted our deforestation in the past 20 years. Costa Rica has always had people with great vision and desire to experiment without fear.
We’ve always punched above our weight, and we continue to punch above our weight because of that attitude we have of wanting to experiment, wanting to change things and persevere until we find a solution.
What are some concrete, everyday steps you would recommend for those of us who care about climate change and sustainability?
For climate change there are four things to be done. The first is to stop eating meat. The second is to be aware of where our idle capital is invested. The third is to be much more responsible about how we transport ourselves. And the fourth is to be very vigilant about our voting, both for subnational and national leaders, and the United States is the best example of that. Those are four things that can be pretty easily done by any person who is halfway responsible about their carbon footprint.
For sustainability, because it has so many aspects, it’s a little more difficult. Are you talking about oceans, about education? But if you want to take a [30,000]-foot look at that, I think it’s all about footprint. What’s our personal footprint on the oceans, on transportation, on food, with respect to how we impact other people?
Be aware that any interaction that we have with any other human being, but also any interaction that we have with the natural world, leaves a footprint. Sometimes that footprint is memorable and is something that people really appreciate, and sometimes that footprint is one that we should be ashamed of. Inasmuch as we can become more and more aware of the footprint we are leaving on this planet, the footprint we are leaving with our lives, we will be better stewards of sustainability.
The Costa Rica USA Foundation for Cooperation (CRUSA) supports sustainable development in Costa Rica with a focus on green and blue value chains, waste management, sustainable transport, education and leadership in philanthropy. Its U.S. counterpart, Amigos of Costa Rica, connects outstanding Costa Rican nonprofits with donors who can make U.S.-tax deductible donations to the nonprofits at www.amigosofcostarica.org. The sister organizations sponsor The Tico Times’ philanthropy news section, Costa Rica Changemakers.
French President Emmanuel Macron delivered a speech ahead of the Paris Peace Forum at the Villette Conference Hall in Paris on Nov. 11, 2018 while Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado watched along.
The Paris Peace Forum is a new annual event based on international cooperation and aimed at tackling global challenges and ensuring durable peace.
What time of the year is it? It’s coffee picking season. Coffee all over Costa Rica is in full swing. In my beautiful high-altitude mountainous community along the Panamanian border, that means hundreds of indigenous Panamanians cross the border to pick coffee from September to February.
On my host family’s coffee farm, there is a house that can accommodate up to 30 people. They house indigenous families who travel from afar to pick our coffee. With the help of Icafe and UNICEF, the Casa de la Alegría (House of Joy) stays open throughout coffee picking season from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
These organizations subsidize utility costs and pay for a cook to provide all meals for free. In addition to standard lodging accommodations such as kitchens, bathrooms, and showers, La Casa de la Alegría also offers free childcare. They provide meals, snacks, nap time, and loads of toys for children. This lets both parents pick coffee and earn money while their children are safe and cared for.
My community is unique in that it is one of the only coffee-producing regions of the country that provides these resources. With a local economy dominated by coffee, it’s incredible to see the impact these services have had supporting local families during the labor-intensive, long work days of the coffee season.
People pick all day, rain or shine because. For a lot of them, this is their only source of income. With a basket strapped to their waist, workers will spend hours picking ripe red berries nonstop. Their pickings are measured using cajuelas, which are 1-foot square boxes.Casa La Alegria (Photo courtesy of Peace Corps Costa Rica)
Depending on their experience and ability, a person can usually produce 10 to 15 cajuelas during a typical eight-hour workday. Each person’s cajuela count is tracked over the course of the work week, and on Saturdays, workers are paid approximately ₡1,000 (about $1.60) per cajuela.
Filled to the brim with bright red berries, cajuelas are then transported to a beneficio (coffee mill) to be washed, dried, and sold to a roaster. There are many beneficios in the southern region of the country, including three in my community alone.
Each beneficio pays farm owners per fanega (one fanega is 20 cajuelas), the price of which can vary depending on the season, origin of the beans, and quality of the harvest. All of the coffee picked from my host family’s farm is transported to a beneficio that is in accordance with the local coffee cooperative because my host dad, Noé, is a member of the co-op. Usually, the farmers who sell to the cooperative or the cooperative’s beneficios receive more money since they pay an annual fee to be a cooperative member.
Once the picked red berries arrive at the beneficios, the outer fruit is removed to expose the bean. From there, the beans are washed, placed in a dryer, stripped of their casing, and dried once more.
The beans are constantly being tested throughout the drying process for density and taste. There is a whole number system in place that the coffee industry uses to classify beans which roasters use to buy the specific beans they like.
The cooperative’s beneficio in town even has a vibrating machine that separates beans by weight into A, B, or C quality. At the culmination of the drying and testing process, the leftover beans, also known as the golden bean, are sold by the beneficios to roasters, such as Starbucks and other coffee shops.Photo courtesy of Peace Corps Costa Rica
Besides my frequent splurges on a $5 Pumpkin Spice Latte or Dirty Chai back in Seattle, I didn’t initially know much about the coffee industry or the extensive work that allowed me to enjoy my morning cup of joe.
Peeking behind the curtain at the inner workings of the industry has been an incredibly informative aspect of my service experience. Aside from learning about the interesting nuances of local coffee production, I was also exposed to some unfortunate realities of the industry. Coffee throughout the world is in a crisis.
Prices for this season have hit an all-time low in New York. Climate change is killing farms. Many people have stopped farming coffee altogether because they continue to lose money.
In this current season, the beneficios are only paying the coffee farmers ₡1,000 (about $1.60) for each cajuela to pay the people who are picking the coffee. Last year, the price paid to farmers per cajuela was ₡4,125 (about $6.65).
Being able to view every step of the process as a Peace Corps Volunteer, from the hours workers spend out in the fields picking berries, to the intricate steps required to produce the coffee bean we have come to enjoy (and almost depend on) back home, has dramatically transformed my perception of coffee.
Coffee keeps the U.S. running, and we’ve grown accustomed to paying through the nose to satisfy our caffeine addiction. Meanwhile, people around the world, like the locals in my community, are picking baskets upon baskets of coffee for $20 a day.
It blows my mind and humbles me. My appreciation for a good cup of coffee has undoubtedly skyrocketed, and I hope by sharing these insights, you will find a new-found appreciation as well.
The Peace Corps photo series in The Tico Times Costa Rica Changemakers section is sponsored by the Costa Rica USA Foundation for Cooperation (CRUSA), a proud financial supporter of Peace Corps Volunteer projects nationwide. Learn more here. To donate to support the Peace Corps Costa Rica, visit the official donation page. Volunteers’ last names and community names are withheld from these publications, per Peace Corps policy.
The owner of Cordero’s Bar claims to have invented the legendary chifrijo.
Want to learn more about the popular Costa Rican dish’s history? Read here:
The tití monkey (Saimiri oerstedii) is a Central American primate species, which has two subspecies that are geographically isolated, one of these subspecies is endemic to Costa Rica.
The tití monkey or the grey-crowned squirrel monkey (Saimiri oerstedii citrinellus) are the smallest primate in Costa Rica, a flagship species to the Central Pacific area.
The Costa Rican tití monkey population spans from the Río Grande de Térraba to the Río Tulín at 300 to 400 meters above sea level. Thus, this subspecies is only found in Costa Rica’s Central Pacific coast in an around the towns of Quepos and Parrita in Puntarenas province.
Unfortunately, in 1996 the tití monkey was listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as a critically endangered species.
Five years later, a group of business owners within the eco-tourism industry, environmentalists and volunteers from the harbor town of Quepos, joined efforts to create the Titi Conservation Alliance in 2001It aims to protect this emblematic species, Juan Pablo Agüero, a forestry engineer and Titi Conservation Alliance’s member told The Tico Times.(Photo courtesy of Cristina Craft and Titi Conservation Alliance)
The tití monkey, a Central Pacific symbol
“The tití monkey represents biodiversity,” said Agüero. “Biodiversity is our future.”
Agüero said that the tití monkey’s habitat symbolizes the convergence point that exists between the terrestrial and marine systems.
“Ecotourism is supported in a great extent by biodiversity,” said Agüero. “If we lose our biodiversity, our fauna, our flora, we will lose everything”
Agüero said that ecotourism was Quepos’ principal economic activity. He stated that without ecotourism his community’s future would perish.
“Tourists who come from different countries and visit the Central Pacific wish to spot these primates,” stated Agüero
Their diet consists of insects, leaves and fruits. Ecologically, the tití monkey also plays an important role in seed dispersal and insect predation.
Insecticides, herbicides, power lines and illegal pet trade threaten the tití monkey. However, deforestation is the major cause of their habitat loss. The tití monkey is an indicator of environmental degradation in the Central Pacific.
Agüero said that in the last 80 years, the tití monkey’s population have gone through severe changes.
“The tití monkey’s habitat was drastically reduced in the 1930’s when the booming of banana companies established its operations in Quepos and other towns in the country’s south. Agüero.
“At that time, those forests became crops.”The Titi Conservation Alliance has planted more than 77,000 trees. (Photo courtesy of Cristina Craft and Titi Conservation Alliance)
However, Agüero said that Costa Rica began to experience philosophical, political and social changes aimed at improving the land use and natural resources management.
Agüero stated that the changes put in place sought to find a balance between activities of utmost importance, such as agriculture and tourism.
This came to positively impact Costa Rica’s Central Pacific biodiversity.
Titi Conservation Alliance’s achievements:
In 2006, there were approximately 1,500 primates of this subspecies.
In 2001, Titi Conservation Alliance through its conservation project called Naranjo’s River Biological Corridor, aimed to plant 10,000 trees alongside the Naranjo River, which sought to achieve restoration of the tití monkey’s habitat through reforestation and environmental education.
The corridor spans from Manuel Antonio National Park to the Naranjo River basin, an area of approximately 55.350 acres, a forest cover of 45 percent of primary and secondary forests.
In 2008, the organization began its environmental program Educatiti, aimed at children from the Naranjo River Biological Corridor. “We believe environmental education is the seed for the future,” said Agüero.
In 2010, Titi Conservation Alliance had already planted 40,000 trees.(Photo courtesy of Cristina Craft and Titi Conservation Alliance)
Between 2011 – 2015, its reforestation and environmental programs gained more traction and Titi Conservation Alliance’s philosophy: “We are all part of the solution,” became a reality for the Quepos community, the pioneers of Titi Conservation Alliance.
Agüero said the projects have been logistically supported by institutions like:
- The Ministry of Environment, Energy and Telecommunications (MINAET), which has been a strategic supporter of the Naranjo River Biological corridor.
- The National Electric Institute in the pacific region (ICE) that upon request adapts electrical power lines with insulating materials to prevent tití monkeys being electrocuted.
- The Education Ministry (MEP) that has supported its environmental program along with the Costa Rican Red Cross, Costa Rica’s Coast Guard and police force, which has been crucial in environmental education activities with kids.
- The University of Costa Rica (UCR) and the National University of Costa Rica (UNA), which has carried out wildlife studies.
In 2014, 14 out of 20 schools within or near the corridor were fully reached by the environmental program, amounting to more than 750 children per year.
2018, more than 77,000 trees have been reforested.
Today, according to Titi Conservation Alliance, there are approximately 2,500 individuals of this subspecies.
In 2008, thanks to the hard work of Titi Conservation Alliance the tití monkey’s category changed from critically endangered to endangered species.
Agüero said “It is important to raise awareness and support environmental conservation initiatives emphasized. “We sow to reap.”
If you would like to know more about this initiative visit www.monotiti.org.
The Tico Times Costa Rica Changemakers section is sponsored by the Costa Rica USA Foundation for Cooperation (CRUSA) and Amigos of Costa Rica.Brought to you by the Costa Rica USA Foundation (CRUSA). Brought to you by the Costa Rica USA Foundation (CRUSA). Courtesy of CRUSA
There is nothing better than a lazy – or should I say slothy – Sunday, enjoying some food in between naps.
Check out our story about the 2018 Sloth Ironman Games:
The Tico Times recently visited the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center, a non-profit with a mission to rescue, rehabilitate and release animals back into their natural habitat.
Of course, we took pictures. Check out our favorites in the gallery.
Learn more about the Animal Rescue Center here.
Teenagers Floriana Peralta and Lara Guardia created their brand, Chica Perica, about a year ago. It features accessories made from recycled materials.
Read about their first runway:
The Costa Rican men’s national team will be without its star goalkeeper, Keylor Navas, when it faces Chile and Peru in friendly matches this month, according to Thursday’s announcement from interim coach Ronald Gonzalez.
The coach explained that Navas asked not to be summoned to the team for the FIFA dates of Nov. 16 and 20 in order to focus on his club, Real Madrid, where the goalkeeper fights for the starting role with Thibaut Courtois.
“Keylor had reached a previous understanding because his situation has been unstable […] and it is a moment for him to stay at Madrid and make decisions,” the interim coach said.
In his place, Gonzalez summoned Darryl Parker, goalkeeper for the local C.S. Cartaginés, who is considered a rising star and could make his debut with the senior national team.
Parker is part of an innovative roster announced by Gonzalez to face Chile on Nov. 16 in Rancagua, and Peru on Nov. 20 in Arequipa.
Those will be the last matches during which Gonzalez will lead La Sele. In January, the Uruguayan Gustavo Matosas will assume the managerial position. Matosas has been in Costa Rica during recent weeks observing local club matches.
The novel call-ups include striker Jonathan McDonald, the dangerous Alajuelense attacker, and midfielders Dylan Flores and Deiver Vega.
Under the leadership of Gonzalez, Costa Rica has four defeats: against South Korea (2-0), Japan (3-0), Mexico (3-2) and Colombia (3-1).
The following is the list of summoned players:
Goalkeepers: Esteban Alvarado (Trabznospor, Turkey), Darryl Parker (Cartaginés), Leonel Moreira (Herediano)
Defenders: Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps, MLS), Francisco Calvo (Minnesota United, MLS), Giancarlo González (Bologna, Italy), Oscar Duarte (Espanyol, Spain), Yostin Salinas (Saprissa), Ian Smith (Norrkoping, Sweden), Ronald Matarrita (New York City, MLS), Joseph Mora (DC United, MLS).
Midfielders: José Miguel Cubero (Alajuelense), Celso Borges (Coztepe, Turkey), Allan Cruz (Herediano), Elías Aguilar (Incheon United, South Korea), Deyver Vega (SK Brann, Norway), Randall Leal (Saprissa), Bryan Ruiz (Santos, Brazil).
Strikers: Mayron George (Midtjylland, Denmark), Joel Campbell (Frosinone, Italy), Jonathan McDonald (Alajuelense).
I’ve already highlighted what I think are the top three chifrijos in Costa Rica. Doing so was one of my first orders of business when I started this column.
At the end of the day, chifrijo is the shining star of Costa Rica cuisine. My hunger for it will never be fully satisfied. The search for the best one in Costa Rica will always continue.
But this week, I might have found its origin.
Before a soccer game at the Ricardo Saprissa stadium last week in Tibas, I walked into the nearby Cordero’s Bar with my boys. It looked like my kind of place: a small hole in the wall with a dimly lit bar – or cantina as they are referred to in Spanish.
The owner, Miguel Cordero, has been the owner of this family business since the very beginning and claims to have invented the chifrijo, right there, at Cordero’s Bar.
I am not able to confirm that, but I don’t doubt the guy. The story of the alleged chifrijo invention is on the first page of the five-page menu.The history of the chifrijo according to Cordero's Bar. (William Ayre / The Tico Times)
In summary, in October of 1979 while in the kitchen at his bar, Don Miguel mixed together a little of everything that he had on hand and served it in a single bowl. He enjoyed it so much that he made a second one for a customer. Obviously, the rest is history. The name chifrijo is a combination of Chi from chicharron, chile and chimuchirri and Frijo for frijoles.
The dish is now widely popular with many versions or “imitations” across the country. Most include a base of white rice and a topping of avocado as key ingredients. At Cordero’s, their chifrijo has neither. That’s how it should be, says Don Miguel.
The chifrijo at Cordero’s Bar has perfectly cooked red beans, a generous amount of delicious fried pork, fresh tomato pico de gallo and a top-secret house sauce that they say makes all the difference.
They’re very serious about the top-secret part too. I couldn’t get a single ingredient out of them and am ashamed to admit, I was not successful in guessing either.
I literally have no idea what’s in it, but it tastes good. As always, I like to top mine off with a brave serving of the house-made hot sauce or pickled chilis. It adds a welcome touch of spice. On the side, as always, are tortilla chips.The chifrijo at Cordero's Bar. (William Ayre / The Tico Times)
Don Miguel not only claims to have invented the chifrijo, but he also owns the trademark to the word. It’s caused backlash for him after it became public knowledge that he had served a handful of other local bars with a legal notice for using it on their menus. I say if the man really did invent the dish and name it himself, then why not? More power to him.
Though this is ‘the house of the chifrijo’, the food menu at Cordero’s Bar also highlights most other local bar food staples like olla de carne, ceviche, mondongo, and dados de queso. It also has as a selection of soups, rices, pastas, salads and desserts. For the place’s small size, the menu is quite expansive. I never tried anything besides the chifrijo, I like to stick with what works.
Cordero’s Bar also has antique relics covering the walls. It could almost double as a museum. It’s been open for more than 30 years and has amassed quite a collection of old beer brand signage, as well as Coca-Cola glassware from every World Cup tournament dating back to the turn of the century.
Additionally, there are framed photos of La Sele squads from before I was born around the restaurant. There are also different black-and-white photos of the owner with various politicians. At least, I think they’re politicians. Shame on me. I didn’t recognize any of them.The inside of Cordero's Bar. (William Ayre / The Tico Times)
These collectibles give the bar a lot of charm. The dark wood finishing does too. For me, a bar like Cordero’s is of historic significance, leftover from another time, and needs to be conserved.
Prices per plate of food average around 2,500 colones (about $4), with the chifrijo surprisingly being one of the more expensive options at 3,700 colones (about $6). Drinks are cheap here too, as expected, with an Imperial beer costing 1,200 colones (about $2). Prices include all taxes. Portions are smaller, bocas style. Major credit cards are accepted.
Cordero’s Bar is open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. until midnight. They close earlier, at 8 p.m., on Sundays. The bar is located on Avenida 53, 275 meters east of Pali, in Colima de Tibas. Street parking is easily available. Search “Cordero’s Bar” in Waze or Uber to arrive conveniently.
William Ayre is a Canadian born chef and restaurateur who has spent the last half of his life doing business in Costa Rica, where he now considers to be home. Inspired by Anthony Bourdain, Ayre’s passion of experiencing different cultures through food has taken him to 35 different countries over five continents. Whether it’s a 20-course meal at a fine dining restaurant in Toronto, or cantina hopping in search for the best chifrijo here in San José, he fits in just fine.
Steve Aronson may have chosen to make his life in a country renowned for laid-back pura vida, but he’s the ultimate multitasker. As soon as he picks up the phone he’s off and running, talking about his latest of many projects – which today happens to be the premiere of “Building of the Wall” by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Schenken, which his Teatro Espressivo is bringing to Costa Rica and throughout Central America.
Over the years, Aronson’s energy has brought about big results: for Café Britt, which he led to international success, and for the dizzying array of nonprofit, philanthropic and cultural projects he’s founded, steered or supported. Aronson, who is a U.S.-Costa Rican citizen, created the Demain Foundation, which in turn supports initiatives including Proparques, which addresses the needs of the country’s national parks; ASOBITICO, which implements the prestigious International Baccalaureate curriculum in Costa Rican public schools; and the Teatro Espressivo Cultural Association, whose mission is to organize high-quality cultural events for urban and rural audiences.
On Monday, Aronson received the annual CRUSAder of the Year Award from the Costa Rica USA Foundation for Cooperation (CRUSA). Each year, CRUSA offers the award to one U.S. citizen and one Costa Rican for outstanding contributions to sustainable development; Aronson ‘s fellow awardee this year was climate change negotiator Christiana Figueres.Brought to you by the Costa Rica USA Foundation (CRUSA). Courtesy of CRUSA
At the CRUSAder of the Year awards dinner on Monday at the Hotel Real Intercontinental in Escazú, 210 people gathered to celebrate the honorees and raise $34,800 for nonprofits around the country represented on the Amigos of Costa Rica platform. Ahead of the event, CRUSA staff spoke with Aronson about how he’s seen Costa Rica change since he first arrived, why he’s optimistic for the country’s future. Excerpts follow.2018 CRUSAder Award honorees Christiana Figueres and Steve Aronson. Courtesy of the CRUSA Foundation
Tell us about the first time you came to Costa Rica.
It was in ’69 – I was studying cultural economics, so I did my graduate thesis work in Colombia and decided I would hitchhike back to Ann Arbor, Michigan. I took a plane to Panama and headed north. My mom had a best friend from high school who married a fellow from Alajuela, and the parents lived facing the cathedral… I stayed with them and went to Playa Javilla, went to Malpaís when nothing existed. And it was [during] Vietnam, so I saw this country without an army, and the cops didn’t have guns. They had screwdrivers to take the license plates off the cars.
So I had that in the back of my mind. I knew that I would be somehow working the tropics, because I was working on processing of agricultural products at that time, and value chains.
Then I spent the next seven years trying to get back.
The country has changed so drastically since that time, and is facing a lot of challenges right now, such as the fiscal crisis. Do you feel hopeful that Costa Rica can overcome it?
I live in the same village I came to when I moved here in ‘76, the same farm. So I’ve watched this happen in front of my eyes. Now I know the grandchildren of my neighbors. The most important problem that concerns me is the breakdown in the social contract, which is the most attractive part of Costa Rica, right? Because economics and politics, those are things that come and go… Foreign investment [has] slowed down, the country became more expensive, and we began to have bigger gaps between rich and poor all those things that come from having overvalued currency and a country that’s not concerned about inclusion.
But I have to be optimistic, because the essential character of people hasn’t changed. I have to think that the essential character of Costa Ricans will save us. I’ve worked in enough Latin American countries where people really hate each other, whereas here, people really listen and respect each other, mostly.
What has changed I think is this gulf between kids from public schools and kids from private schools. That’s part of what I was doing with [ASOBITICO]. If we’re going to do something that works in this country and feel optimistic about it, it has to address the social contract.
Learn more about ASOBITICO or donate to the project here.
What role can philanthropy and the private sector play in that process?
The main thing that the private sector can do is realize that they’re living in the 21st century and the government’s living in the 19th, and [we need to] transfer skills to the public sector. The good initiatives in the private sector are all with that sort of idea – the big initiative of Horizontes Positivos [an association on whose board Aronson serves] is called La Guillotina Administrativa, which is actually a technique of looking at all of the steps and trámites and what they’re for, and cutting them out. PROCOMER is working a lot with the private sector by doing the Ventanilla Única de Inversión [a platform to facilitate investment paperwork].
Back to whether I’m optimistic or pessimistic… I just don’t know. It’s much bigger than us. It’s all about climate change, it’s all about people not having jobs any more, the people having fears about their identity going away, and all the things that we all know about. What I say is what Tolstoy said: worry about your neighborhood. What I’m doing is all about the neighborhood that my grandchildren are living in. That’s about as far as we can get in a world that’s going to be so different in ten years.
Otherwise it can get overwhelming.
Yes… It isn’t that I don’t believe in philanthropy. I just don’t think that’s the right word. I don’t think there’s any such thing of anyone doing something that’s completely disinterested. Let’s start to think about what interests me: the neighborhood you live in, that your business is in, your kids are in.
So, I won’t use the word philanthropy – but what do you see as the biggest untapped opportunity for the nonprofit sector in Costa Rica?
It’s similar to what I said about the private sector and the public sector: the biggest opportunity we have is transferring best practices. It’s not only best practices technically – it’s best practices in philanthropy, in measuring impact. Are we really decarbonizing? Do we really understand how to prepare kids for the next generation where a lot of the things they learn aren’t going to be useful? It’s about low-hanging fruit and it’s about being effective. The bottom line is you have measure it. You can’t just feel good.
I come from a tradition that says, you have to leave the world better than it was when you arrived. So that’s what drives me. In general – that’s all that we can do.
The Costa Rica USA Foundation for Cooperation (CRUSA) supports sustainable development in Costa Rica with a focus on green and blue value chains, waste management, sustainable transport, education and leadership in philanthropy. Its U.S. counterpart, Amigos of Costa Rica, connects outstanding Costa Rican nonprofits with donors who can make U.S.-tax deductible donations to the nonprofits at www.amigosofcostarica.org. The sister organizations sponsor The Tico Times’ philanthropy news section, Costa Rica Changemakers.
Workers from the public sector attend a vigil at Plaza de la Democracia during a strike called by the unions to protest against a tax reform project in San Jose, Costa Rica on November 7, 2018.
Public sector unions in Costa Rica are on indefinite strike against a tax reform project aimed at curbing the country’s growing deficit.(Photo by Ezequiel BECERRA / AFP) (Photo by Ezequiel BECERRA / AFP)