NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Thursday, April 18th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Cal Thomas now on why Costa Rica is a Central American success story.
CAL THOMAS, COMMENTATOR: Three countries are the primary sources for the surge of asylum seekers at the U.S. southern border.
Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are all experiencing a mass exodus. And more people are leaving Nicaragua, too. Why isn’t neighboring Costa Rica experiencing a similar exodus?
The answer could prove critical to solving the immigration mess—or at least improving it. So I put the question to Costa Rica’s president, Carlos Alvarado Quesada.
In an email response he cited education. Quoting now—“8 percent of our GDP is dedicated to education, and our main resource is the human talent and well-being of the people who live in our country. Next Monday, for example, we will celebrate 150 years of primary education for free for all kids in the country.” End quote.
Part of the reason may also be a new anti-poverty program introduced by the previous president, Luis Guillermo Solis. Its goal is to pull more than 50,000 families out of poverty. It assesses families according to their needs, rather than a one-size-fits-all formula.
Job training and education scholarships are part of the plan, so that poverty doesn’t become a life sentence.
Tourism is the main economic driver here in Costa Rica. So the government is concerned any perception it is unsafe to visit might cause serious financial harm.
Recent trends are not all that encouraging. While Costa Rica’s homicide rate remains lower than other Central American countries, it has been rising steadily. This tiny nation saw 603 murders in 2017.
This comes as Costa Rica is experiencing its own immigration challenge. To the north Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is cracking down against his opponents and has crippled his country’s economy. That has led thousands to flee across the border.
The Economist ranks Costa Rica as one of the strongest 20 democracies in the world, but The Heritage Foundation says the country needs more economic freedom. The unemployment rate is over 9 percent. And some 20 percent of the population lives in poverty.
You might think those numbers would mean the political focus would be on the economy, but it wasn’t in the last presidential election. President Alvarado ran a center-leftist campaign focused on same-sex marriage and climate change.
The 39-year-old Alvarado would do better to focus his attention on more practical issues. Crime control and maintaining a vibrant tourist industry are the keys to Costa Rica’s success story. Addressing them will ensure the country remains a breath of fresh air in the region.
For WORLD Radio from Liberia, Costa Rica, I’m Cal Thomas.