Costa Rica Could Be Losing Its Political Example

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Street Vendors in San José, Costa Rica. Inequality has increased rapidly in the country throughout the past decade. Wikimedia Commons.

      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.

       For one, income inequality has increased drastically in the last decade, due in part to the country’s semi-recent free trade policies adopted during the 1990s. While the economy continues to grow with global markets, it is not benefiting all Ticos (Costa Ricans) equally, leaving behind coastal and rural populations outside of the urban Central Valley. Now, according to The National Institute of Statistics and the Census, 20% of Ticos live in poverty, due to cheap wages for low-skilled employees. This makes Costa Rica, a country that has consistently had the lowest level of inequality in Latin America, now equivalent to the OECD regional average.

       The security situation has also deteriorated. Formerly just a stop on a larger trafficking route, Costa Rica is now home to both organized crime and drug operations. The rise of drug trafficking, a byproduct of larger inequality, has also increased the rate of violence in the country. Formerly known as the safest, most peaceful country in Central America, Costa Rica now has a homicide rate of 12 per 100,000 people, surpassing that of neighboring Nicaragua. According to the director of San José’s municipal police, with 603 violent deaths last year and 146 to date in 2018, the past twelve months have been “the bloodiest in the nation’s history.” Unfortunately, these incidents have shown that the ‘Switzerland of Central America’ is equally susceptible to international crime and violence in the territory.

      Lastly, Costa Rica is witnessing an impending financial crisis that could considerably shrink its famous social programs. The fiscal deficit is predicted to exceed seven percent in 2018 and public debt currently stands at 49 percent of GDP. This due in part to the country’s large bureaucracy, where twenty percent of Ticos are employed with high salaries and guaranteed annual raises. Current President Luis Guillermo Solís claims he has cut all he can in light of partisan gridlock, instead prioritizing tax revenue in February with a fast-track reform law. Yet Ticos say this isn’t enough, calling the new law a temporary fix that raises taxes without first cutting public salaries. Experts predict that if the next administration cannot address the country’s finances in the next year, this former bastion of prosperity and social equality may have to roll back the services that made it so exceptional in the first place.

      Each of these three issues suggests that Costa Rica has become susceptible to globally disruptive trends; ones that stand to threaten the country’s history of a strong social democracy. But surprisingly, none of them were the focus of the past Presidential Election. The priority, instead, was same-sex marriage.

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Putin Claims Victory Amidst Election Fraud Allegations

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Russian President Vladimir Putin Won Reelection for his Fourth Term March 18. Flickr. 

Russian president Vladimir Putin claimed reelection victory on March 18 in unsurprising results for a noncompetitive election. Official numbers credit him with over 75% of the vote, easily securing the autocrat another six years in office. This recent victory essentially guarantees that Putin with oversee the country for a total of 25 years, making him the only other Russian leader to rule for more than two decades besides dictator Joseph Stalin.

With several unviable opponents, Moscow attempted to increase turnout to indicate the legitimacy of its ‘democracy’ to the outside world. Get-out-the-vote campaigns included selfie competition raffles for iPhones and cars. Hard-to-find food products were placed as incentives for voting at polling places. Bosses threatened termination if employees abstained from voting. And it may have worked: turnout increased from 65% in the 2012 elections to 70% in 2018. At the same time, Golos, an independent election monitoring group, has cited multiple counts of election fraud, including ballot stuffing and blocking security cameras. Nonetheless, the Russian Election Commission has declared the polls valid.

Regardless, the real controversies are not necessarily the conditions of this election, but the upcoming one. …

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Brazil Mourns Slain Councilwoman

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Rio de Janeiro City Councilor Marielle Franco. Flickr.

Thousands have taken to the streets of Rio de Janeiro to mourn Marielle Franco, a 38 year old City Councilor who campaigned against police brutality. She was shot dead returning from a black women’s empowerment event Wednesday. A former resident of Favela de Mare, one of Rio’s most violent slums, Ms. Franco was known for heavily criticizing President Michel Temer’s decision to deploy military forces to Brazil’s favelas to decrease violent crimes. His policy was announced in February after it was revealed the country experienced 2,125 violent deaths in the past year.

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SPD Hands Merkel a Fourth Term

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Chancellor Angela Merkel at a CDU rally in September. Flickr. 

Germany’s center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) voted Sunday to form a coalition government with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), ending months of uncertainty after an indecisive September election. The decision secures Merkel a fourth term, avoiding the possibility of governing without a majority or facing another election. While pro-European leaders and businesspeople heralded the decision as good for the continent, both voters and party members are unhappy at the loveless Grand Coalition (GroKo).

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Fillon Seeks Runoff Victory As French Head to Polls

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Republican Presidential Candidate Francois Fillon. Wikimedia Commons. 

On Sunday, French citizens headed to the polls to select the new Republican Presidential Candidate in a primary runoff, the winner of which is set to take on far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen in April. After Francois Fillon won last week’s primary, barring former President Nicolas Sarkozy from the race, polls show he is set to win again. His socially conservative platform, including anti-abortion, anti gay marriage, and restrictive immigration proposals, stand in contrast to centrist opponent Alain Juppe, who denies the need for such “brutal” laws.

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Economic Growth Seen as “Path to Power” in Brazil, But Will Politics Let it Happen?

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Experts discuss Brazil’s political fate on July 6. Atlantic Council. 

Amid political uncertainty and a deepening recession, economic growth is seen as the “key” to reform and prosperity in Brazil.

“If we fail economic growth, all the other scenarios would be a disaster,” said Ricardo Sennes, a nonresident senior Brazil fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. “Not just disaster in the economic sense, but also political disaster with strong social disorder etc.”

Sennes spoke at an event at the Atlantic Council on June 6. He is the co-author of a new issue brief“The Path to Power in Brazil,” along with Andrea Murta, an associate director in the Council’s Latin America Center. Sennes was joined in a panel discussion by Ciro Gomes, a former Brazilian presidential candidate, and Mauricio Moura, a pollster with Ideia Inteligencia. Peter Schechter, director of the Council’s Latin America Center, moderated the discussion.

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Trudeaumania 2.0: Canada’s Liberal Honeymoon Proves Substantive

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Justin Trudeau gives his victory speech upon being elected Canada’s next Prime Minister. Flickr.

Since winning the national elections last December, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made waves as the fresh new face of Canadian politics. At 44, the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau bolstered Canada’s international image and popularity, leading to a political honeymoon with the promise of reform and a charismatic young leader. The celebration is only heightened when juxtaposed with the near decade-long reign of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. However, this liberal wave, hailed as a potential second Trudeaumania (the term used to describe Pierre Trudeau’s surge in popularity upon his election), proved to be more substantive than empty promises and charm from a relatively inexperienced politician. In his first 100 days in office, the Prime Minister made progress on the 214 promises made during the campaign cycle, demonstrating that Trudeau is an effective foil to his Conservative predecessor.

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