In Latin America, many regard the United States as somewhat of a colossus to the North. Symbols of red, white and blue have long contrasted with cultural and political ideals south of the border due to heritage and customs.
Today, if nations are to effectively collaborate, it is most often on the waves of an economic current.
This idea is no less true in Costa Rica, the small Central American nation ranked No. 1 in 2009 on the Happy Planet Index for the highest life satisfaction in the world and the second highest average life expectancy of the Americas (second only to Canada).
Among economic super powers such as Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, Costa Rica may appear as a blip on the radar of the economic wow-factor. Nonetheless, many of the coffee, bananas and pineapples imported to the United States come from Costa Rican shores.
Perhaps more than anything, Costa Rica thrives today on its unequaled tradition in Central America of political, social and economic stability. It has had no standing army since 1948. Twenty-six percent of its land is comprised of natural reserves and park systems that help to safeguard an estimated 4-6 percent of the world’s biodiversity and a whopping $1.92 billion ecotourism industry.
As the nation continues to grow, it also discovers the larger problems of statehood in a world of very rapidly increasing demand for a share of resources and territorial prowess.
Nearly half of Costa Rica’s exports, imports and tourism are sustained by U.S. consumption.
Victor Moreda, a host grandparent in Costa Rica, shared a history of the two nations’ ties.
“Communism was what brought Yankee interest down south and along with it, a heap of cultural effects that changed the face of this country,” he said.
Rural workers were once held in great esteem, but the idea of city success transferred to Costa Rica. Campesinos, or farmers, became a mockery for the rising urban sector.
“The migration of campesinos was a result of ideals of industrialization inherited from the U.S.” said Moreda. “Costa Ricans can’t say it’s good or bad—it’s modern.”
But there have been recent problems with relations between the United States and Costa Rica. During the last 10 years, an estimated 2,000 percent increase in trade with China has given Costa Rica the image of being China’s gateway to Latin America in terms of trade and political influence. A beacon of this development is the national soccer stadium in the capital, erected in early 2011. As a gift for their recent trade agreements, the Chinese government spent an estimated $100 million on its construction, the largest and most modern event venue ever constructed in Costa Rican history.
What stands out about Costa Rica, through all of its international and domestic dynamics, is the widespread cultural embrace of values that are reflected from its economic activity. It's the idea that a culture can thrive on commercial interests and seeking a profit can align with a society’s integral value-system on a moral and practical level.
Although coffee production has dropped almost 45 percent over the last 10 years, an esteemed coffee-culture flourishes there yet. Most Costa Ricans would rather sit in their home to chat and have a cup of coffee than go out to a streamlined, Starbucks-like coffee shop.
Carlos Morales, a restaurant owner in San Jose said, “(I am as) content and grateful as a Costa Rican in Costa Rica.”
This is an example of how pleased and proud people are with their way of life, and it also expresses a culture that is in touch with its environment.
When was the last time someone in the United States remarked that a commercial interest was aligned with a cultural interest, and ultimately the well being of society in full view? There is much to be learned from this tropical, Central American paradise, full of unique economic proportions paralleled only by the rarity of a people just as satisfied with their own culture.