Saturday, January 29, 1983
The Michigan Daily
The facade of democracy in Costa Rica
By Matthew P. Levine
SSpecial to the Daily
., SAN JOSE, Costa Rica-Democracy is a
mighty system, but it basically consists of only
two things: The right of the majority to choose
its leaders, and the right of the minority to fun-
-. ction legally in the attempt to become the
* There are two structural reenforcements to
,,,,,these foundations. One is the ability to par-
ticipate in free and honest electins. The other
are the inalienable individual rights to think,
speak, print, and organize.
TO HAVE a blossoming democracy is to have a
rich life, but to lack it is to lose not only our in-
dependence but our interdependence. And
denied our freedom of acquaintance we are
dulled into forfeiting the only means of restoring
31 Nobody would bother to contest that in early
1982 here in a cheerful Costa Rica, as compared
to many of its Latin American counterparts.
Luis Alberto Monge was elected president by a
58 percent majority in a fair and unfettered
election. Since 1949, this expost republic
roughly the size of West Virginia has enjoyed a
seemingly sparkling record of paving the was
a for these essential democratic operations.
However, two recent events have cast a
telltale haze over these easily glossed-over
guarantees. They have generated an em-
bryonic interest in taking a closer look at
whether the quintessence of Costa Rica's
political process is a sturdy and thriving in-
frastructure or simply a shallow simulation.
at THE POST OFFICE'S refusal to dispatch a
previously little-known publication during the
Christmas holidays, and the trial of an
American journalist early this month have sent
Edited and managed by stude
Vol. XCIII, No. 98
Editorials represent a majoritye
subtle shockwaves through the usual everyday
calm. Although the erosion of public confiden-
ce was ever so slight, the latest uncovering of
alleged censorship and unconstitutional en-
croachments on personal freedoms has bared
some cracks in the system.
There is a crucial distinction between an in-
scribed right of free speech and thought and the
actual ability to do so. Where people are
unorganized and mal-informed, and im-
penetrable corporate-type command can
become entrenched and the "free press" can
be used to mold public opinion and prudently
distribute privileges. All this is done in a way
diametrically opposed to the principles of
democracy. And a brief glance down this
renumerative avenue at these sobering images
can help us distinguish the real face of Costa
Rica's political institutions.
Political pluralism here takes the form of
four major political alliances. But two of them,
Monge's National Liberation Party (PLN) and
the Christian Democratic Unity Coalition
(UNIDAD) hold over 90 percent of the 57 seats
in the Legislative Assembly.
"VERY MUCH akin to your own Democratic
and Republicans parties," said a slightly
balding political science professor, "these two
factions are made out by the press to be
fighting like cats and dogs. But in reality, they
are the very same species."
Although alternative parties are legal-like
the United Peoples Party (PU) and the
National Movement Party (MN)-"they gain
little support," the professor, who wished to
remain anonymous, said. "The press is tightly
controlled and geared away from initiating
truly independent thinking."
To work as a journalist here, you have to be a
product of the University of Costa Rica and
certified by the Colegio de Periodistas, a
government-sanctioned professional journalist
association. The association arbitrarily denies
certification to writers from outside the
university regardless of their qualifications.
To work without certification is to subject
yourself to government harassment or two
years in jail.
AS SATIRIC as it sounds, Stephen Schmidt, a.
New York native and former employee of the
weekly English language paper the Tico
Times, stands accused of the "illegal practice
of the profession."
Carlos Morales, the president of the Colegio,
has announced that they will demand the
maximum two year penalty for. this "unsan-
ctioned" reporter. And the Costa Rican
press-a vital artery of democracy-is doing
nothing to uphold its rights.
Juan Echeverria, a former minister of the
Legislative Assembly and former minister of
public security, has declared that the "media
has been working hard to manipulate public
opinion. The media owners are sufficiently
conservative here, and are staunch defenders
of the status quo."
THE MONGE administration seems equally
paranoid about minority viewpoints.
The flow of information is also being disrup-
ted. The present administration has invoked a
little-known postal regulation that permits
government authorities to "burn or return"
material which is determined to be "seditious
The semi-monthly magazine Aportes (Con-
tributions), a publication of the non-
denominational Pastoral Center for National
Action, had its postal franking denied pending
investigation, according to Vice Minister of In-
terior Enrique Chacon. He proclaimed the
magazine "subversive," and said that it first
came under scrutiny last October when it
published an article that was "highly insulting
to the government."
"THE MATTER was discussed at a cabinet.
meeting, and the Ministry of Interior was ordered to
investigate the magazine, its editors, and its
policies," Chacon said.
But holding up the distribution of information
on the grounds that it might constitute a threat
to national security because the government
found an article insulting or even subversive is
without precedent here. It has sparked
fireworks of controversy and debate.
In an open letter to Minister of Interior
Alfonso Carro, over 100 well-known Costa
Rican writers, artists, professors, and editors
protested the official action against Aportes.
"We know this magazine well," the letter
read, "and we can testify that it is an organ of
the press that is serious, critical, and respon-
On Jan. 5, Aportes was cleared for
distribution by the National Security Agency,
but not until a crumbling facade had revealed
some prominent cracks in Costa Rica's poorly
reenforced framework. The emerging outlines
of a predominated press and a paranoia of
minority viewpoints are instilling serious soul-
searching and instigating some much needed
Democracy necessitates free choice. And to
be able to ask the right questions and make the
best decisions we must have a press that's
serious, critical, responsible, and independent.
Here too, democracy is a mighty high ideal.
'To have a
have a richlife,
but to lack it
is to lose not only
Levine, on special assignment for the
Daily, is traveling in Central America. He
will be a frequent contributor to the
ents at The University of Michigan
420 Maynard St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
opinion of the Daily's Editorial Board
A useless aid program
iAONG PRESIDENT Reagan's
latest round of economic
,proposals is a plan which would en-
;courage low- and middle-income
- families to set up special funds for
rtheir college-bound children. These
4,education savings accounts would earn
Reagan's plan has several serious
flaws, however, that will keep it from
- -ever being a worthwhile program to
-.help financially strapped families send
0:,their children to college.
'The first problem is that the only tax-
:: free family earnings is interest from
: such accounts. Thus, a family that is
::-able to put $2,000 in one of these ac-
" counts will only be able to earn $105 in
non-taxable interest. The $2,000 would
still be subject to taxes - taxes that
P would eat up most of the interest the
° But the real problem is that most
families cannot afford to put money in-
to such accounts. Reagan's plan is
aimed at low- and middle-income
families - the families with the least
amount of disposable income to put in-
to such a program.
In these difficult economic times, it
is hard to imagine a family of four ear-
ning $20,000 a year being able to save
even $1,000 specifically for a college-
bound child. Low-income families just
don't have enough income to set aside
to make such an account worthwhile.
The president chose this plan over
another which would have allowed
parents to set up education accounts
very similar to individual retirement
accounts. The original plan, which also
had flaws, would have made all money
placed in the accounts tax-free until it
The Reagan plan may provide
jusitification for further cutting into
more traditional and successful forms
of financial aid which dispense to
students money to use for their
educations. These tax incentives will
not be sufficient in themselves to send
financially needy students to college.
And they should not be used as
justifications for further cuts in
student aid programs.
2 - "tt1.-
LETTERS TO THE DAILY:
What now for the nuclear freeze ?
To the Daily:
The message has been sent to
the president that we've had
enough of the nuclear arms race.
No doubt he already knew that
the vast majority of Americans
would support the nuclear freeze
The president has
acknowledged the concern of the
people, a concern he says all
Americans share. But, the
president and his cabinet cam-
paigned against the freeze in
California before the November
End PIP GIM's windfall
To the Daily:
From the tone of Ms. John-
ston's letter in Friday's Daily
("SCRAP Petition is Counter-
productive," Jan. 28th.), it would
seem that the writer may
possibly be an apologist of
PIRGIM if not outright sup-
porter of the group. Therefore,
she sees nothing wrong with a
private group, one she approves
of, using University facilities-
registrar's office, financial
operations to keep it afloat -all
because PIRGIM is "...the most
famous and successful of student
social reform and progress
Who determines what group,
reformist, elitist, whatever, can
lock into the kind of windfall deal
PIRGIM has? If PIRGIM is as
suceessful as the claims would
group, allegedly looking out for
the interests of those who have
failed to read the fine print.
But inspect how PIRGIM wants
its funding. It is a system
whereby a fee is automatically
assessed, and if, and only if, the
student is so unprogressively in-
clined as to desire a refund, she
or he must apply for one. This of
course would nickel and dime to
death the University's accoun-
However, most students do not
read the fine print that the fee is
not mandatory, it is too much
trouble to apply for a refund, and
most bills go to the parents
anyway. Cui bono? PIRGIM!
Not a very consumer-oriented
method of operations, is it?
Unless, of course, you are of the
opinion that the ends justify the
Despite the efforts of Reagan
and Secretary of Defense Caspar
Weinberger to stop it, the freeze
passed in eight of nine states.
Now we must ask ourselves what
effect the election results will
have on the judgments of those
men. Will these proposals do any
good, and if not, what can we do
to force the administration to
take legitimate action?
The general concensus seems
to be that the success of the
freeze proposals will have no ef-
fect on the administration's
defense posture. There is no
obligation for the administration
to do so. This situation will con-
tinue for Reagan not to change
The nuclear freeze movement
is capable of becoming that force.
However, the movement needs
help. True, it is a growing
popular movement with a broad
base of support. Its organization-
al network is spreading and so is
That is important but it is not
enough. What the movement
needs is real political clout
because clout is the only thing
Reagan understands. The way to
get that clout is through
spoken in favor of the freez
about setting up a coalition i
Congress to work toward the
realization of that goal. This
coalition should transcend party
lines to eventually gain enough
strength to invoke a resolution in
Congress demanding action on
the part of the president.
It is important to realize that
this is not a politically naive or
insane notion. This could be
movement in which politicians a
the people grow together.
It's time to start a new trend in
American politics. The people
are disillusioned with the
political process, politicians, and
their ulterior motives. The foun-
dations of democracy are crum-
bling and so is the faith of the
people in their government.
I hope that the creation of an ef-
fective coalition could help to a
complish a real nuclear freeze.
so, it would be an important first
step, perhaps, toward restoring
some of the lost faith in our