Academic journal article Social Development Issues

Building Comunidad: Fundación Humanitaria De Costa Rica

Academic journal article Social Development Issues

Building Comunidad: Fundación Humanitaria De Costa Rica

Article excerpt

Walking through the streets of La Carpio, a squatter's community in San José, Costa Rica, one gets the distinct impression of comunidad; a thriving, bustling community that is overcoming the limitations of poverty and despair. Residents run up to greet the founder and director of the Fundación Humanitaria de Costa Rica (Costa Rica Humanitarian Foundation, or CRHF), to share their joys and challenges. The brightly painted fronts of houses and businesses represent but one project instituted by CRHF and carried out by locals and volunteers. CRHF was founded in 1997 to address a variety of needs in poverty-stricken neighborhoods of San José, the capital city of Costa Rica. Although the foundation has more than fifty projects scattered throughout the country, this case study focuses on the projects in the La Carpio community.

At one time, the community primarily consisted of undocumented Nicaraguans, who had relocated to Costa Rica to take advantage of economic opportunity and a better quality of living; however, the population balance is shifting, which we discuss later here. Nicaragua continues to struggle with economic stagnation, political instability, and underdevelopment. For Nicaraguans living in their homeland, Nicaraguans living in Costa Rica are an important source of economic resources, in the form of remittances.

This article focuses on a case study of the CRHF in La Carpio, outlining the grassroots empowerment and community-based strategies the organization uses. The article gives a brief history of the sociopolitical contexts of Costa Rican-Nicaraguan migration, an overview of San José and La Carpio, and the strategies of empowerment (grounded in liberation psychology and the thirdwave feminist perspective) used in the community. Finally, lessons learned and implications for future economic development in poverty-stricken areas are explored.

Sociopolitical History and Context of Costa Rican-Nicaraguan Migration

The history of Nicaraguans in Costa Rica is a complex story framed by many forces that have shaped the often-troubled Central American isthmus. Revolutions, the Cold War, death squads, railroad construction, and multinational fruit conglomerates all served as powerful forces contributing to various waves of immigration throughout the region (Schlesinger & Kinzer, 1982). Other factors of migration have included natural disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes. In this section, we explore salient sociopolitical factors that have framed several waves of Nicaraguan immigration to Costa Rica. In exploring these forces, readers will gain a more complete understanding of the psychosocial dilemmas and demands placed on Nicaraguan immigrants, primarily women. Women account for slightly more than half of immigrants entering Costa Rica (International Organization for Migration, 2013), and their vulnerability is much greater than that of men.

During the nineteenth century, Costa Rica had a significant labor shortage for its growing agricultural export business. Multinational fruit companies recruited Nicaraguan laborers to pick fruit on large banana plantations (Turner, 1974), and for nearly a century Nicaraguans were viewed as a solution to the labor shortage (López Ruiz, 2012). During the middle of the twentieth century, Costa Rica enjoyed a stability and prosperity unprecedented in the history of any Central American country. The rest of Central America, however, did not enjoy such stability. During most of the twentieth century, Nicaragua was governed by a series of brutal dictators from the Somoza family. The violence and repression were intense and pervasive. During the long civil war that peaked in the mid- to late 1970s, the violence and oppression spilled over into Costa Rica as a new wave of Nicaraguans moved into the country (Crawley, 19 79).

The 1979 victory of the Sandinistas marked a radical shift in the history of Nicaragua-and indeed all of Central America (Vilas, 1986). …

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