The Gringo Lament

My morning ritual starts with reading any email I may receive, then I take a look at Inside Costa Rica and AM Costa Rica. Most days it’s a rather futile search for real news about Costa Rica, but there are just enough tidbits now and again to keep me coming back. In the process of sifting through the chaff looking for that kernel of whole grain goodness, I can’t help but note some common themes, one of which is something I call the ‘Gringo Lament.’

The December 13 edition of AM Costa Rica has a great example on page one (naturally). The article is entitled “List of security proposals has some big omissions” and it goes on to point out some things the editors feel should be in the security proposals but aren’t. After lamenting new taxes on corporations and casinos, the article goes on to say “Many expats have said they would prefer changes in the penal code that mandate a 20-year sentence for armed robbery and a similar sentence for possession of a firearm during a crime.”

After that one sentence the article goes on to the real heart of the matter, which is the apparently inefficient and arbitrary judicial system here in good old Costa Rica. Although their focus seems rather self-interested I definitely agree with the overall point that the system here just plain sucks, to put it bluntly.

Quite true that the system here works very poorly for gringos. But strangely enough the powers that be don’t seem inclined to change it in the direction most gringos would like. Now why would that be? Maybe because they aren’t gringos? Most gringos have trouble accepting the fact that they are second (or third) class citizens here. The fact is, few gringos are citizens at all. Some that complain aren’t even legal residents. I don’t hold that against them, but then, I’m a gringo myself.

Gringos really hate the squatting laws. Ticos aren’t so thrilled with absentee landlords. The laws may not be fair, but anybody who thinks ‘fair’ is the goal of the system here or anywhere is rather naive. The justice system everywhere is stocked with a ‘brotherhood’ of legal professionals whose first loyalty is to themselves. Almost anywhere you’ll see that the real beneficiaries of the court system are attorneys and judges. I would wager there’s not a single family of substance in Costa Rica (read: affluent) who doesn’t have one or two attorneys in the family.

And the system as it is works quite nicely for well-connected Ticos and even well-connected foreigners. Google Robert Vesco if you doubt me. Swindlers who happen to be former presidents get house arrest, confined to their mansions. Oh, the humanity! The ‘fungible’ nature of Costa Rican ‘justice’ works to the advantage of those who know how to game the system, and guess where you’ll find them? I don’t have a figure, but I do suspect a high percentage of the National Assembly have law degrees. Imagine that!!!!

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  1. Good article and analysis; I have lived here in CR for four and a half years after visiting first 24 years ago and completely agree. I refer to what you write about as "Gringo Myopia" however "Gringo Lament" says it better!

  2. I'm not anti-Perpetual Tourist, let me say that upfront, but when the PTs start complaining about how CR operates, economically, politically, whatever, that's where I draw the line. If they can't even bother with getting legal residency, which would at least put them on a path to citizenship, then I say they should just STFU. 🙂