During the last decades, Costa Ricans have lived, or perhaps we should say that we have suffered, a kind of green fantasy that is based on our image as a conservationist country and committed to the environment. That fantasy has made everything around us the color of chlorophyll: luxury hotels, government solutions, bank bonds, wind, boats on the sea and the horse on the mountain. As in García Lorca’s Sleepwalking Romance. Yes: the one who recited almost a century ago, like us now, “green, I want you green”.
It is true that the campaigns of Esencial Costa Rica warn from time to time that Ticos are not exclusively green. We are also “talented, authentic, supportive, entrepreneurial, hard-working, innovators and pura vida”. No more and no less. However, beyond the proselytism and the label we use for the purpose of looking better and raising self-esteem, every so often we discover that something smells rotten.
The most recent epicenter of the stench of the homeland is located in Oreamuno de Cartago. In that place, for more than nine months, about 10,000 people have gone out daily to collect the water that is distributed in cisterns, because the one that reaches their homes is contaminated with an agrochemical called chlorothalonil. This event coincides with the detection in Germany of a shipment of melons from Costa Rica, with a concentration of this agrochemical that far exceeded the permitted limit, as geologist Emma Tristan comments in an article published on the Delfino.cr site.
Does the double episode of chlorothalonil respond to a chain of unfortunate events or is it instead the overlapping image of what underlies our environmentalist fantasy? Is the label of the green Costa Rica still valid or will it be necessary to think of another that represents us in a better way, after leaving behind the labels of The happiest country in the world and The Switzerland of Central American? At least, it’s worth asking.
My beautiful Costa Rica
Constantino López Guerra, better known as Tino, is remembered in his country of origin as “the Rubén Darío of popular music”. In Costa Rica, this Nicaraguan from Chinandega is recognized for having composed, during the first half of the twentieth century, that sort of second national anthem that in its refrain repeats: “For being so beautiful Costa Rica they call it, the Central American Switzerland”.
Just as Constantine the Great founded again the city of Byzantium, calling it “the new Rome”, with the lyrics of Mi linda Costa Rica, a closer Constantine founded again the “Central American Switzerland”, which was announced a century ago by the French journalist Félix Belly. Thus, Felix and Tino anticipated, with admirable premeditation and treachery, the tasks that our Costa Rican Tourism Institute carries out with such enthusiasm today.
Several decades later, the pianist Manuel Obregón performed a playful and fun version of Mi linda Costa Rica, which disrupted his original patriotic sense and gave way to an ironic reflection on the great myths of the Costa Rican being and the trifles implicit in any nationalist ideology. Thus, Manuel Obregón had the good sense to explore with humor the work that more than half a century ago made us believe that we were better than our neighbors: more intelligent, more beautiful and closer to nature. Nothing too different from our mirages today.
Below the green
Since the seventies and the emergence of environmental groups such as Greenpeace, green is related to respect for the environment and the ways of life associated with nature. Paradoxically, the manufacture of this color involves the incorporation of chemical elements and alloys such as chlorine, cobalt, titanium, nickel oxide and zinc oxide, which can cause cancer and congenital malformations, among other health problems.
Thus, the beneficial green, profitable and usable for propaganda and national image purposes, presents an under layer of green, harmful and darkened. Contrary to what one might think, this discovery is not minor. On the other hand, it points out that our current label is composed of layers and that the dreamed green world is lived in a double sphere: the obvious and the hidden, the marketable and the one that is convenient to hide. In other words, it aims, unbeatably, to the historical double standard of Costa Ricans.
This double standard, or this differential value of green, can be verified by a simple exercise. If we were to buy chlorothalonil in Brazil or Chile, the yellow label would warn us that the agrochemical is moderately dangerous. In Mexico the blue label would indicate its slightly dangerous character and in Costa Rica the green label, of course, would indicate that chlorothalonil is very little dangerous. This is how relative toxicity is in Latin America. Or, that’s how broad the spectrum reaches our deep desire to inhabit a chlorophyll-colored world.
The identity of a country is a kind of river in which its inhabitants are submerged, which makes it impossible to approach it from an “outside” impervious to contradictions and inherited customs. The Costa Rica that we are is formed from a series of contradictions that must constantly be exposed, recognized and reflected. Otherwise, we are condemned to wander through civic life mechanically and unconsciously. Like green ghosts. Like the sleepwalkers of García Lorca’s romance.