A Lecture with Prof. Lizano

This morning we had the pleasure of receiving a lecture from Professor Joaquin Lizano. He had so much to share, and such a curious and open mind. Following our conversation with him on the history of Costa Rica, I composed some resounding thoughts and questions:

So why coffee?

How did coffee become such an important part of Ticos’ culture and economy? Well, the answer turns out to be rather random. President at the time, Juan Mora, had a personal interest in coffee and wanted to get into the business. However, as the President, he knew it would be difficult, and perhaps not a well received move politically, to only invest himself. So, he recruited his surrounding party of government officials and worked to implement the processes nationally. Although the origin of Costa Rica’s coffee stems from something completely arbitrary–an unaimed interest of a President, the utilization of coffee had major beneficial effects. Costa Rica became wealthy, and something happened that rarely ever happens in history: the middle class strengthened. Things finally began to settle, or “civilize,” and Costa Rica experienced a growth in education and transportation/trade with the construction of a major railway. How interesting is it that such success can be derived from, for lack of a better term, the right person in the right place at the right time?

Why isn’t there separation of Church and State? Is this well-received?

According to the constitution, catholicism is the official religion of Costa Rica. When walking around Heredia on Sunday though, I noted that there wasn’t as large of a religious  presence as I expected. I thought there would be more churches than I saw, and that they would all be grand and massive and luxurious. I only noticed a few, and their architecture was atypical compared to those I had seen in Mexico, for example. Finally, I thought there was a large possibility everything would be closed and absolutely no one would be out doing anything, as it was the quiet and relaxed “Day of God.” It turns out, that while Catholicism is the “official” religion of the country, only about 45% of the population are actually practicing catholics. Many other christian denominations exist, as well as Buddhism and Agnosticism. At one point in the 19th century, there was a separation of church and state, however it was cancelled shortly after. Ever since then, the Ticos have been fighting to gain back that separation.

How did Costa Rica gain an interest in sustainability? 

I think coming into this trip, I had this notion that Costa Rica had sat down one day and actively decided to create an agenda that prioritized sustainability. However, once again I was surprised. As it would appear, Costa Rica’s emphasis on sustainability is more accidental. Ticos are very conservative with their utilities and try to minimize waste because their garbage disposal, etc. services aren’t as efficient as in the US. Ever since Juan  Mora introduced the coffee industry, the population increased in well-being, as the Ticos were making money, supporting their families, and boosting the country’s economy. It was a win-win situation. Additionally, the land is bountiful in the sweetest fruits and plants, meaning there’s no need for major imports/reliance of other countries. It would appear that the focus on sustainability is situational; there never was an active choice to begin environmental awareness. I believe this focus originated from Tico’s simply embracing the land and resources around them. Since then, this idea of “Pure Vida” has grown as one of the country’s most defining and desirable features.

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