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Class and ethnicity in Costa Rica: The Afro-Antillean case

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  1. Costa Rica's history.
  2. The popular concept of 'the great white myth'.
  3. Blacks in Costa Rica.
  4. Atlantic coast clashes between Hispanics and Afro-Antilleans.
  5. Black policies of the 1930's-1940's.

Latin America has a unique heritage of race mixture and class struggle, within which is located the domination and repression of countless people of African and Amerindian blood. While Costa Rica is no real exception to this historical trend, many of national proponents claim that their country is so homogenous and egalitarian that it is virtually free of the ethnic- and race-driven conflict that typifies the rest of Latin America. As this paper argues though, Costa Rica is not uniform in ethnicity or class, for there has been a large, thriving West Indian population on its Atlantic Coast for nearly two hundred years. This group's history in Costa Rica illustrates the shortcomings of the country's national myths of egalitarianism.

[...] Marking the next chapter of ethnic and class conflict, UFC - the major developer of Costa Rica and the recipient of the most federal contracts and Costa Rican President Jiménez simultaneously struck up a deal for the further expansion of UFC's industries and the further contraction of West Indian benefits. In the infamous 1934 decree, the government forbade ?coloured? labourers' employment outside of the Atlantic coast zone (see attached map), in order not to upset the ?racial balance? or cause ?civil commotion? (Biesanz 1999). [...]


[...] Persistent anti-Black prejudices among the Hispanic mainstream also bonds Afro-Costa Ricans together, for even though the mainstream may argue that Ticos are egalitarian and racial divisions do not exist, the everyday reality for Costa Rican Blacks is that they encounter anti-Black jokes, negative and stereotypical imagery in media and school texts. Many Afro-Costa Rican teens explore their bi- cultural identity through involvement in Protestant churches, interest in Reggae and Rastafarianism, while also speaking Spanish and maintaining an ardently Costa Rican identity at the same time. [...]


[...] Kitts, began arriving in the 1820s, then en masse in 1872, and forever changed the face of Costa Rica (Chomsky 1998). Pushed out by the sugar economy's depression and widespread unemployment in the West Indies, and pulled into Costa Rica by railroad and plantation contractors and high wages, West Indians settled mostly on the Atlantic coast of the country, with a great many in the port city of Puerto Limón. During the peak two decades from 1891-1911, over 43,000 West Indians arrived there (Harpelle 2001). [...]

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