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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Costa Rica and Obama

The Obama Appeal in Costa Rica


Robert Newby

Some may have noticed that updates to the blog have been a bit slow lately. I just spent two weeks in Costa Rica. Being there put me outside the loop in a couple of ways: access to the news cycle was limited by no access to daily papers and the Internet was very slow. Access to U.S. news was Fox News 24/7 and the network broadcast feeds from the Denver. The flooding in Iowa and the Midwest was a disheartening story. But imagine in the second and third week of June the Ski Train running from Denver to the snow

More to the point, while there is lot to be learned about Costa Rica as a travel destination, I was most struck be the enthusiasm there for the candidacy of Barack Obama. I usually wore some Obama paraphernalia, usually a baseball cap but often a t-shirt. I was not always conscious of what was provoking smiles but it would become clear when out of their mouths were words like “Obama, si!!!” or “We like Obama”

Even though Costa Rica is one of the more well-off countries in Latin America, its level of development means that the standard of living for its people leaves many desperate. The Central Pacific Region is quite remote from the nation’s cultural and political center, San Jose. Being remote, however, has not kept the news of Obama from either the Costa Ricans or the tourists.

The enthusiasm for Obama in Costa Rica was amazing. Being greeted with a smile was commonplace, even from people who said nothing. At the condominiums where we stayed were these two older white couples from Indiana. They were farmers who have visited this condo near Quespos every year for ten years. The spokesperson for the group stated his approval for Obama but he seemed to be a Republican. I queried whether or not Obama would win Indiana. He said he didn’t know but that Indiana was a Republican state. My response was an assertion that Obama going to take Indiana. He said:

“I agree. I think he will. I think he is going to take all 50 states.”

I later found out that for the primary he had been a Hillary supporter. He wanted to better understand the tensions between African Americans and the Clintons. I explained that some unwitting comments distorted what the Clintons may have intended. He seemed satisfied and assured me that he believed Obama would take them all.

Our tour guide for the Manuel Antonio National Park was very interested in U.S. politics. He was no casual observer. His mother is Cherokee and his father a Costa Rican. Though born in the States, he has lived in Costa Rica for the last 30 years, since he was 15. His 10-year son who lives in North Carolina joined us. Talk about an eagle-eye? Fauna, no matter how well disguised, this kid would point them out. His father, the tour guide was a real Obama supporter. He loved Jeremiah Wright and he thought Rev. Pfleger deserved an Oscar. He understood the impolitics of it all but those were his memorable moments. Understand also the only 24/7 U. S. news is Fox News.

Many of the American tourists were also high on Obama. I saw several Obama t-shirts, which was in itself heartening. The area is run amuck with backpackers. Manuel Antonio is for young people. At the Internet cafĂ©, apart from Skype conversations, and being startled by the loss of Tim Russert, news was often some Obama update. At a popular restaurant, there was this shout from across the room from this one young 20 something wearing a University of Washington t-shirt, "Right on, Obama!” He went on to say, “My brother moved to Chicago to work for him."

A visit a bit north along the coast to Jaco, the enthusiasm for Obama remained. At a souvenir shop the owner wanted me to know that “Obama is the best.” She went on to say, “I want you to know the young people really like him. He is going to win. He’s going to win because the young people like him. I mean the white young people!!! He will be better for all of us.”

Apart from the Americans, many of Costa Rica’s tourists are Europeans. The International appeal of Obama was in the air. They all seemed to be pulling for Obama. As I was going through security in San Jose on my return, this shout came out "Right on Obama! We have got to get him… no, you have got to get him elected. I can't vote for him. I am Canadian!"

An interesting political side note: a popular restaurant and bar is El Avion (“The Plane”). The plane, including its hull, is themed around the C.I.A. plane piloted by Eugene Hasenfass that was shot down by the Sandinistas during the Contra Affair. The food was very good and the view is great No doubt a part of Obama’s appeal in the region is America’s imperial history.

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