Famously lauded as an exception to trends of overall political instability in Central America, Costa Rica has presented an enduring model of socially democratic peace for the region. The country is the area’s longest-standing democracy since it famously decided to abolish its military under the 1949 Constitution to invest in social services such as universal education and healthcare. Since then, it has come to be seen as a landmark of environmental stewardship, a beacon of prosperity to neighboring immigrants, and – with its Pura Vida (pure life) mentality – one of the happiest countries on earth. It is because of this tradition of remarkable democracy, peace, and social wellbeing that many have referred to Costa Rica as politically exceptional, especially in comparison to its neighbors’ history of civil unrest.
But the country’s recent history reveals quite the opposite. In recent years, Costa Rica has become just as prone to divisive political and economic trends as the rest of the world.
Food, water, and energy insecurity, as well as economic and social inequality, form a “nexus” of issues that create an environment that breeds violent extremism, according to a senior US State Department official.
“Cities are drivers, byproducts, and stabilizers of security,” said Nancy Stetson, US special representative for global food security.
“But without the right resources, they can be threat multipliers,” she added.
Stetson spoke at the Atlantic Council in Washington on June 22 at an event hosted by the Brent Scowcroft Center for International Security. The event was the latest in a series on urban-focused security challenges. Eric Rosand, nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; Judith Hermanson, president and CEO of the Global Coalition for Inclusive Housing and Sustainable Cities; and Ian Klaus, senior adviser for global cities at the US State Department, also spoke at the event. Peter Engelke, senior fellow at the Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center moderated the discussion.