Costa Rica: Quest for Democracy

By John A. Booth | Go to book overview

government's backsliding on the deficit in 1995-1996 likely reflects Tico policymakers' sensitivity to public opinion.

Some significant possible costs to democracy also warrant consideration. First, structural adjustment was imposed mainly by external actors. Although Costa Rican officials technically enacted and implemented it, outside forces dictated the details of neoliberal reforms. External imposition of the new political economic model thus completely fails to meet any reasonable test of democratic decisionmaking.

Second, in order to implement structural adjustment presidents and the executive branch resorted increasingly to legislation by decree (see Chapter 4). This took away from the representatives of the people in the Legislative Assembly much of their constitutionally assigned lawmaking responsibility. Such a decline in popular influence (even if indirectly exercised through representative government) over public policy clearly reduces the depth of democracy.36 This loss of democracy as the people's representatives ceded policy influence to technocrats and foreign institutions represents a considerable setback for Costa Rican democratic governance.

Finally, Costa Rica's neoliberal retreat from statism has relinquished the electorate's potential to influence critical aspects of national economic activity. Government's withdrawal from much of the economic arena also reduces the range of Costa Rican democracy. Indeed, one may reasonably surmise that the many protests of the 1990s and the sharp drop-off in election turnout in 1998 expressed the anger of many Ticos about two things: their polity's losses in democratic range and depth, and how palpably and quickly neoliberalism. had eroded their well-being.

A quiet revolution in Costa Rica's political economy occurred in the 1980s and early 1990s. Government lost size, power, and responsibilities. Private initiative gained freedom, and the burden of financing government, social welfare, and debt repayment shifted away from the economically comfortable and toward middleand working-class citizens. As the state shrank, the power of the executive branch over public policy decisions grew greatly while that of the people's legislative branch waned. Time alone will reveal whether the losses in the depth and range of Costa Rican democracy brought about by these changes will be partially offset by the strengthening of civil society. The once great ability of the Costa Rican middle sector to influence and benefit from economic policy through the social democratic model has diminished. In stark contrast, neoliberalism has shifted political and economic power to economic elites and appears to offer them disproportionate benefits and influence over the long run.


NOTES
1
This section is drawn mainly from Hugo Acuña Ortega and Iván Molina Jiménez , Historia económica y social de Costa Rica (1750-1950) ( San José, Costa Rica: Editorial Porvenir, 1991); Ciro F. S. Cardoso and Héctor Pérez Brignoli, Centro América y la economía occidental (1520-1930) ( San José: Editorial Universidad de Costa Rica, 1977); Rodolfo Pastor, Historia de Centroamérica ( Mexico City: El Colegio de México, 1988); Mitchell A. Seligson, Peasants of Costa Rica and the Development of Agrarian Capitalism

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Costa Rica: Quest for Democracy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Illustrations xiii
  • Acronyms xvii
  • Preface xxi
  • 1 - Latin American Democracy and Costa Rica 1
  • Notes 12
  • 2 - Contemporary Costa Rica In Central America 17
  • Notes 30
  • 3 - The Historical Development of Costa Rican Democracy 32
  • Notes 53
  • 4 - The Political Framework of Democracy 56
  • Notes 78
  • 5 - Social Structure and Civil Society 82
  • Notes 100
  • 6 - Political Participation 103
  • Notes 125
  • 7 - Political Culture 129
  • Notes 151
  • 8 - Political Economy in Transition 154
  • Notes 174
  • 9 - Costa Rica in the World 177
  • Conclusions 192
  • 10 - Analysi5 and Conclusions: Can Democracy Survive? 195
  • Notes 208
  • Appendix 211
  • Index 219
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