Assessment for Antillean Blacks in Costa Rica
|Publisher||Minorities at Risk Project|
|Publication Date||31 December 2000|
|Cite as||Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Antillean Blacks in Costa Rica, 31 December 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/469f3a6bc.html [accessed 24 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Discrimination against black Costa Ricans, known as the Garifuna people, does not appear to be condoned or sanctioned by the government (ATRISK1 = 1), though the Garifuna elite claim that West Indian culture is in danger of disappearing in Costa Rica. Assimilation is required for entrance into many sectors of society. Despite the Garifuna elites' attempts at reviving their West Indian identity and discrediting discrimination (CULGR201-03 = 3), the majority of Costa Rican Garifunas seem to prefer to focus on concrete economic issues. The Garifuna community has polarized along elite-mass lines: the elite are attempting to preserve West Indian roots, while the poorer Garifunas are primarily concerned with economics and survival. This makes effective, mass-based mobilization for "Garifuna rights" difficult to achieve (RACE = 3). Garifunas have held strikes and protests in Limon Province regularly for a decade, but the strikes are based on class issues, rather than race (ECOSTR99 = 6). They have demanded that more tax revenues from banana exports be used in Limon (only 30 percent Garifuna) for better health and education facilities. The province as a whole is the poorest in Costa Rica, but this poverty crosses ethnic and racial lines (DEMSTR99 = 5). Due to the high level of economic discrimination the Garifuna face (ECDIS01-03 = 3), their other grievances include: obtaining a greater share of public funds (ECOGR201-03 = 2), access to greater economic opportunities (ECOGR301-03 = 1), and improved working conditions (ECOGR401-03 = 2). However, as long as the ideology of Caribbean Garifunas in Costa Rica holds that discrimination is not racially and ethnically motivated, it will be nearly impossible for the Garifuna elite to mobilize them (COHESX9 = 4).
Costa Rica's population includes two distinct populations of African descent. The first to arrive in Costa Rica was a small group of cacao plantation slaves who moved from the Atlantic side to the Pacific. They eventually assimilated into the Costa Rican Hispanic identity and are largely indistinguishable from the European and mestizo Costa Ricans (they do not identify themselves, nor are they identified by others as Garifuna). The Garifuna population that exists today is descended from post-colonial immigrants from the West Indies, primarily Jamaica, who reside almost exclusively on the Caribbean coast in the Province of Limon (GROUPCON = 3). Some have immigrated to San Jose to seek employment in the tourist industry; others have migrated to urban areas as professionals, but most remain in Limon.
The arrival of the West Indian immigrants began in the 1870s and continued until the 1930s (TRADITN = 3). They were recruited to work on the railroads and later employed on banana plantations owned by the United Fruit Company. English-speaking and Protestant, the West Indians have always varied greatly in education and income. However, most Garifunas lived quite favorably in comparison to the average Hispanic Costa Rican. In 1934, spurred by mestizo demands and a general economic decline, the government ceased granting entrance visas to Garifunas, forbade them from seeking employment outside the Atlantic zone, and required the United Fruit Company to end its past employment practices and hire Hispanics over Garifunas.
The 1948 revolution led to the mobilization of the West Indians and ended discriminatory laws, giving Antillean Garifuna the full rights of Costa Rican citizenship. These newly politically active Garifunas began to move into the Meseta central; their knowledge of English enabled them to become key players in the tourist industry. By the 1970s an increasing number of Garifunas had mastered Hispanic culture and joined the professional class. Another group worked for the ports, railway, canal, or the local oil refinery (RECOPE) as manual laborers. The majority of the Garifuna population remained unskilled and service laborers as well as small-scale farmers and vendors. West Indian culture in Costa Rica began to dissipate because knowledge of Hispanic culture was necessary for upward mobility and acceptance, though Garifuna professionals have shown interest in preserving their West Indian heritage. Despite this, Spanish has become the first language of many West Indians and Catholicism has gained widespread acceptance among the West Indians (BELIEF = 1). Most West Indians are bilingual and choose to master the Hispanic culture for greater economic opportunities.
The ideology of Antillean Garifunas is that individual advancement follows from education and hard work, and any discrimination was not a result of racism. Social and cultural discrimination is considered a class-based problem. Advancement to higher socio-cultural statuses is expected to end discrimination, though the socio-economic group now most concerned with discrimination and maintaining Caribbean heritage are the Garifuna elites. This ethic of individualism and hard work has resulted in considerable advancement in the economic positions of some Garifunas, but has not eliminated discrimination on a mass level, as Garifunas continue to be on the periphery of the decision-making elite in Costa Rica. There has been political advancement, though it has been somewhat limited due to government neglect and their historical status (POLDIS01-03 = 1).
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