What’s going on in Costa Rica?

A wholly off-topic rant about Costa Rica, a country close to my heart – I lived there through much of the 80s and I have family and friends there.

If you don’t know Costa Rica (even where it is), read a guide like Fodors’ Costa Rica. Quick description: small country (size of Wales/West Virgina), in Central America between Panama and Nicaragua. Totally unlike any other Latin American country: no revolutions, no military, high standards of living, fantastic tourist destination (go there for your next holiday!), etc. The coffee from Costa Rica is arguably the best in the world.

Yes, they also have bananas, but this is no banana republic. Well, that’s what I’ve always believed until very recently.

A financial scandal of epic proportions is exploding in this small country that, if it were happening in a European country, would see the government’s speedy fall and lots of people in jail.

We’re not talking about some government official taking a bribe: we’re talking about lots of government officials in collusion with some business leaders systematically pillaging the state social security and health care system, involving a $40 million loan from the government of Finland earmarked for updating medical equipment in Costa Rican hospitals.

It looks like the people involved have fiddled some of the cash as nobody knows where much of the equipment is or even if some hospitals will even get it. Judging by the lively discussions on lots of discussion forums in Costa Rica, my analysis is putting it mildy and politely.

Then last night, the wife of the ex-director of the state electricity company left the country, allegedly with one billion colones (local currency, about $2.4 million) that she allegedly received from French company Alcatel. Clearly a bit more than absolutely necessary for a shopping trip to Miami. For a country the size and GDP of Costa Rica, that’s an incredible amount of money.

What’s amazing is that this scandal appears to embrace so many levels in government as well as deeply into the private sector, and could extend to other countries. Things like this just don’t happen in Costa Rica, which is what makes it all so incredibly shocking and sad.

Read more at Americas.org | Government Corruption Scandal Explodes. If you’re a Spanish-speaker, read the latest news in Costa Rica’s main newspaper, La Nación (registration required) or check out the discussion in the Teletica Canal 7 forum.

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