Invest in Costa Rica: A Long-Range Answer to the Central American Crisis that Rewards Good Governance, by J.D. Meyer

Central America: Suddenly our southern border is being besieged by immigrants from there—often children. We hear tales of homelands that have become failed states–full of poverty and gang violence—especially Honduras. But what about Costa Rica? I had heard about a couple of really good things about Costa Rica: ecotourism and high ratings in Happiness measures. I’ve never met a Costa Rican, despite teaching ESOL off-and-on during a 20-year period while meeting plenty of Salvadoreans and whatnot. So I decided it was time to introduce myself to Costa Rica through Wikipedia
The New Economics Foundation (NEF) not only rated Costa Rica as first in its Happy Planet Index twice recently but also as the greenest country in the world. Costa Rica is “the only country to meet all five criteria established to measure environmental sustainability.” Costa Rica has made sustainability and environmental concern the fixture of its national public policy. This country used to have among the worst deforestation rates in the world until 1989, but now it’s almost zero. The ecological footprint is one-third of the US.
Around 25% of its land area is in protected areas and national parks–the best in the world and way above the developing world average of 13% and the developed world average of 8%. Costa Rica has 5% of the Earth’s biodiversity in only 0.1% of its land mass. No wonder Costa Rica has pioneered ecotourism, and that now earns more than its three cash crop exports: bananas, pineapples,and coffee. Costa Rica is second only to Mexico in tourism for Latin America.
Now we’re talking economics—the main reason for my topic. The Costa Rican central government offers tax exemptions for those willing to invest in Costa Rica. The three biggest manufacturers are (1) Intel (chip manufacturers), (2) GlaxoSmithKline (pharmaceutical, including my Advair!), and (3) Procter & Gamble. The giant Intel facility accounts for 20% of its exports and 5% of its GDP. Costa Rica is also trading with Southeast Asia and Russia, gaining membership in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). Costa Rica is the top destination in Central America for direct foreign investment since 2003, partly because the people are so educated. Costa Rica is a highly literate country– 94.9%. When Costa Rica abolished its army in 1949, it was said that the army would be replaced with an army of teachers.” Elementary schools and high schools are found throughout the country, and they’re free and guaranteed by the constitution. Public universities are considered better than private ones.
Costa Rica is healthy too with an average life span of 79.3 years, second highest in the Americas, and its health care system called Central America’s “great health success story.” Ranked higher than the US, Costa Rica provides universal health care to wage earners and has many hospitals and clinics. It even attracted $150,000 from foreigners (often the US) in 2006 in medical tourism for its proximity, quality, and low expense.
However, Costa Rica only has a GDP of $12,874; poverty is at 23% and unemployment is 7.8%, but inflation is only 4.5% They need help in infrastructure.
My point is for the US to encourage more investment in Costa Rica. Maybe we could ask Intel, GlaxoSmithKline, and Procter & Gamble what companies they’d like to see join them. How many times have we heard our civil engineers urge repairing highways and bridges in the US?Perhaps Costa Rica could save some Central American refugees from trying to move all the way to the often unfriendly US. Costa Rica is one Latin American country with more immigrants than those leaving.

Note: This essay was originally a talk given at the Tyler Spoken Word (July 6, 2014).