PEACE AND LOCAL DEMOCRACY IN COSTA RICA. PUBLIC POLICIES AND THEIR FUNDAMENTAL ROLE IN OUR FUTURE
Author: Matías Fallas Mora
Translated into English by Gilma Cristina Sánchez Cossio
In Costa Rica, the political system and public institutions have different degrees of decentralization, that is, levels of dependence on the Central Government. We understand the Central Government as "The Executive Power". Local Governments are one of the public institutions with the highest degree of decentralization that exist in the country, they have in their power a wide range of action around the quality of life of people, the development of the canton through political agendas and the preservation of the environment.
This competence is designated by the Costa Rican legal apparatus, in accordance with the convenience for local governments. The law establishes that the municipalities decide freely and under their responsibility everything related to the organization of the canton. This is found in the political constitution of the Republic of Costa Rica (1949), the Municipal code (1998) or in jurisprudence on the subject made by the Costa Rican constitutional chamber. For example, the opinion C-244-99 issued by the Attorney General's Office, about a specific case of the competence possessed by the municipality to set the prices of public transport in the municipality of the central canton of Heredia.
In this context, the municipalities have a great margin of action regarding the functions and services that they offer to the people residing in their cantons, including issues related to the environment.
This last issue has been in vogue for quite some time and we forget that, to continue building society, we must take care of our environment. Costa Rica must maintain an environmental flag in the midst of this chaos called the 21st century. This article is a small review of the importance of considering sustainable development in decision-making, based on a real case of urban development and preservation of the environment.
The role of local governments and the development plans they have is fundamental for sustainable development, but also for the well-being of people. In many spaces and for many people, local governments are the first contact of people in their day-to-day lives, for the services they offer, for the roads they travel and for the lifestyle that people have.
A healthy and clean environment is also part of a good lifestyle for people, planning and the sustainable organization of our societies, it is an issue that starts from the political organizations. As a country, canton, society, we must consider and always be in the pursuit of joint sustainability, as the basis of our democracy, we have the duty to request these spaces and assert our rights.
The environmental impact and the preservation of the environment has a first frontier in local governments, decision-makers have a responsibility around our life in society and are in the duty of ensuring our well-being. Unfortunately, in many spaces of power, they only think about a reelection and the "basic needs of the people" which in practical terms are thought to be the same needs as 10-20 years ago.
Lindbloom (1991) exposes this idea, public policies and agendas are a “response” to societal problems or needs. Today our societal needs are completely different from "fixing streets and bridges" our needs have migrated to a spectrum of housing, well-being and sustainable development.
The central point is that decision-makers must seek a balance, a sustainable development. At the United Nations level, Costa Rica was the first country to sign and commit to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 17 points around how countries have to develop in order to improve people's quality of life, but also, preserve the environment.
In accordance with this, it is vital for our democracy that public spaces reach a certain ideal for the citizens, they need to be accessible, and respond to the needs of recreation and protection of biodiversity.
Applying the logic of Susbtraits (1992) that explains that facing any problem or situation we must ask ourselves what the importance of the facts raised is? or if preferred, the number of people affected, or what their degree of awareness is and what are the results of such perception, to consider the environmental crisis.
The crisis is national and global, which makes it too deep for it not to be given its proper treatment and solutions. However, this global debate would not exist, if a sustainable and viable urban development is sought from local decision-making spaces.
Our Local Democracy
Decision-makers are elected under the “Values” that they indicated in their government plan, but do they really identify with them and enforce them? The answer to this question leaves much to be desired from the institutions and opens the way to dissatisfaction with the democracy that exists today in the region, and not only with democracy, but also with the political parties and the political system in the region that we live today (LAPOP, 2019).
Today, many of the local governments are incoherent. Local authorities are due to their people, community participation must once again be included in decision-making as it confers empowerment and counteracts the disproportionate power of influence over public decision-making that certain economic elites have in the cities. We must fight for urban policies of well-being, to guarantee health and adaptation of cities to climate change.
The municipalities, together with the institutions, have a responsibility acquired in the pursuit of a more sustainable society around the 2030 agenda. Costa Rica, being the first UN country to commit to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda, acquired a task that it owes to citizens but also to the planet, in the search for solutions and comprehensive public policies from the political-environmental sphere.
To build peace, we must also be responsible with our environment, but we must also build and ask for that peace to our representatives at the local level, since they are the ones who have the power to make changes around us, whether positive or negative.
I leave you this reflection, the people who are in power today surely want to continue in it, but are we being represented?
I am Matías Mora, a young lover of coffee, poetry and languages. Graduated from Political Science and currently a Data Science Engineering student. Identified with researching and studying about inequalities and democracy as a fundamental pillar for decision-making and societal change. I have worked in the legislative, diplomatic and academic fields. Collaborator in community projects for mobility and urban planning.