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La Carpio

This is an article that appeared on InsideCostaRica.com in October of '08


La Carpio: Exposing The Hidden Violence Of Poverty and Marginalization In Costa Rica
By Lynn Schneider

The community of La Carpio, a poor San Jose neighborhood, is a paradigmatic case of the challenges that legitimized structural violence poses to peace in Costa Rica. 

La Carpio’s 40,000 residents, around half of whom are immigrants from Nicaragua and other Central American countries, live in an area of 296 square kilometers, surrounded on two sides by rivers and another by a landfill which receives over 700 tons of waste daily. 

Founded by squatters in the mid-1990s, waves of poor families have continued to inhabit La Carpio at rapid rates, moving into increasingly hazardous zones due to limited space. 

Although schools, health clinics, and a single paved road have been constructed in the community due to residents’ ongoing pressure on the government, this infrastructure remains inadequate. Over half of the crowded population lives below the poverty line (compared with 22% of the national population) and has no formal employment, and few residents have title to their land.

Costa Rica’s reputation is one of a social democracy, a peaceful society with little inequality and first-rate ecological practices and policies. Yet this reputation, perpetuated abroad and within Costa Rica, is in large part a myth reflecting more how Costa Ricans like to think of their nation than the reality that exists. 

A look at the living conditions and status of the poor residing in marginalized communities reveals that in fact there exist great inequality, violence, discrimination, environmental injustice and insecurity, and basic needs that go unmet. 

These forms of structural violence hinder the nation’s progress toward building both negative and positive peace, yet they are perpetuated and legitimized by cultural violence

Hostile perceptions of, and attitudes towards, immigrants are reinforced and perpetuated by the media and xenophobic discourses, making it acceptable for Costa Ricans to blame immigrants for unpleasant aspects of their society. 

This generates cultural violence, as Costa Rican society dehumanizes immigrants, placing them in the category of the disliked ‘Other’ who is violent and bad-natured, the source of the nation’s social problems, and therefore deserving of poverty and injustice. This differentiation between the nature of immigrants and Costa Ricans is, however, a mere social construction that serves as a smokescreen to obscure the structural aspect of poverty and inequality.


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