Friday, November 6, 2009

Thoughts from a surf town...

Some may say I’m living the dream, hanging out in a small surf town in Costa Rica, enjoying the liberty of beach life, surfing until my arms ache everyday. I suppose for a long time this has been my dream. Now I’m here, in the midst of it, and I feel strangely uneasy with my situation. I’ve come so far throughout my travels and I feel as though I’ve developed certain views that are quite often at odds with my surroundings, even with what I’m actually doing. Here in what seems like paradise it is easy to throw away any guilty apprehensions and just forget about the rest of the world, just forget about everything except the here and now. Yet, I can’t do it. There is so much struggle happening in this part of the world that to just sit back and ignore it all while taking advantage of the waves and warm weather just seems plain wrong. I’m finding it very hard to find the life that I’m looking for here on the beach, and it will be interesting to see where the near future might take me. Of course, that is not to say that I'm not enjoying myself. I've been surfing great waves and meeting amazing people, and as always the adventures continue. These are some thoughts from surf town Costa Rica


Well, if you come here looking to find work be ready to experience what many locals do everyday – exploitation. I suppose it is a good way to learn the reality of what life is like in this part of the world where most people earn enough money to just survive. The really sad part of the exploitation here is that it occurs under foreign owners. It’s hard to criticize the practice of foreign owned business in a place like this, because arguably it creates jobs and stimulates the economy. Such is the great debate over economic globalization… Is it beneficial or detrimental to the global south? You can all guess where I stand in the argument. Just because people here have no choice but to work for these businesses, and even though these businesses are actually creating jobs, does not justify unjust wages and working hours. If a foreigner comes here to live they should accept that their ability to live in a place like this is profit enough, and they should work to create better conditions for those people they employ. But then, that wouldn’t be capitalism would it?
When I arrived here, my own struggle to save money landed me with the first job I could find at a foreign-owned hostel called Tranquilo Backpacker’s. The hostel was owned by a Swiss man and he had hired his friend, another Swiss, to manage the place. I quickly realized that my working at this place was a serious conflict of interest for me. The manager of the place not only could not speak Spanish, but he was blatantly racist against any non-westerner, and the owner was no better. I couldn't comprehend how someone could open a business in Costa Rica and be racist against Costa Ricans at the same time, it was like a throwback to the days of colonialism where Europeans would come to the New World to find a better life at the expense of the indigenous. Although they paid me very little, we learned that they paid the local workers even less, only because they knew that they could get away with it. The owner was constantly complaining about the difficulties of his job and about how hard it was to work with Ticans, and all I could do was pity the fact that he had lost his original motivation to come to a place like this, and that he deserved any trouble that came his way. His racism was the real result of his problems, as he refused to treat locals with the trust and respect that they deserve. Rather than hiring locals who need the jobs he instead hires foreigners like me and my two friends, who quickly realize that they are being exploited and that they don’t need to put up with a job like that. If he hired locals his problems would probably be solved, because sadly they would have to accept his working conditions. I started this job while my brother and my friend Paul were still here with me, and they constantly heard my misgivings. One day Paul told me that all it took was one person to make a stand and to do the right thing; his words were not taken lightly.
One night after another long day of work all of this inner turmoil brewed over and I exploded on the bosses. I’ve never been so angry in my life, and I’ve never talked to someone in the way that I did to them, it was invigorating. Although I was only letting my anger out at them, it was really much more than that to me. That little hostel was like a microcosm for all the injustices being carried out by rich foreigners in the poor world, and I was launching a proxy verbal attack on them all. Needless to say, I’m no longer working there, neither are my friends. Instead, Stu and I are trying to work with a local guy named Rolo running a cooperative surf school.

Thoughts on Honduras

As I think I've already communicated, it is not easy to stay involved with the pressing issues facing Latin Americans today while living the beach life, but I do my best to stay informed while I'm still here. Currently in Honduras there is a situation that is jeopardizing any progress that has been made for human rights and democracy in Latin America. If you don't all know, some months ago the President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, was ousted in a Coup D'etat carried out by the powerful military and right wing elite. Zelaya had slowly been moving towards the left, aligning himself with social movements of the people and aiming for economic and political independence for Honduras. After being forced into exile at gun point Zelaya was able to sneak back into the country and take refuge in the Brazilian embassy. For anyone who has been paying attention to the developments, you probably have heard that a potential agreement has been reached between the de-facto regime and the ousted President Manuel Zelaya. First and foremost, Zelaya is still confined to the embassy, and he has yet to be able to safely leave. He has not yet been returned to power, and repression, disappearances, and killings continue in the streets. As for the agreement itself it is still hard to say whether it will work. Many are skeptical of the agreement, but it seems to me that anything that might bring the President back to power at this point is a good thing. I’ve heard arguments from both sides, and it seems that there is a division of opinions in the country as to who is right and what should happen next. I believe that the situation can only be rectified through the reinstatement of the legally elected President, and that this is vital in order to uphold the integrity of Latin American politics, and to show the world that coup d’etats are a thing of the past in this region.
The situation, and the impending agreement, has also shed light on the dangers of foreign intervention and dependence. The apparent agreement was brokered by U.S. diplomats who for some reason took their time in pushing this resolution through while killings, beatings, and disappearances continue in the streets. Honduras is one of many countries with an economic dependence on the U.S., especially in the form of “development aid” (a very ambiguous term today). And although it was because of this dependence that the U.S. was able to push for a resolution, it is also this dependence that degrades the political independence of Honduras. Imagine what may have happened if the Republicans were still in power in the U.S.? It’s not radical to say that they would have supported the plotters. In fact there were several Republican representatives blatantly trying to undermine the diplomacy of the Obama administration and back the de facto regime during the situation. The fact of the matter is that there is something seriously wrong when the U.S. can control a political outcome by dangling "development aid" over the heads of poor nations.
This stumble in the march towards democracy and equality in Latin America has only emboldened the movements of the left and only reiterates the importance of economic and developmental independence in this part of the world. I urge you all to keep informed and spread the word about what is happening in a not so distant part of the world.

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