Criticizing public policy is not just for citizens

Jere Land’s letter urging U.S. citizens to stop complaining about Costa Rica and remember that they are guests in the country is well-intentioned but mistaken.

Moral responsibility, which includes constructively criticizing public policy, doesn’t disappear when people cross national borders.

In fact, the letter that prompted Mr. Land to complain about all the complaining, which addressed the controversy over burning sugar cane, was one of the most informed and helpful letters A.M. Costa Rica has ever published.

Letters like it contribute to Costa Rica’s improvement, and are offered in that spirit by people who live here and are part of the society.

Mr. Land also makes the mistake of labeling everyone who doesn’t hold Costa Rican citizenship as guests.

Some 20 percent of Costa Rica residents don’t hold citizenship, even though many work, pay taxes, and are otherwise integral parts of the society.  Must they refrain from criticizing for want of a piece of paper?

Costa Rican law requires immigrants to wait eight years before becoming eligible for citizenship (which given the delays at Migración can easily drag on much longer), and Costa Rican law requires Americans to renounce their U.S. citizenship when they become Costa Rican citizens.

Do U.S .citizens in Costa Rica really have to renounce their U.S. citizenship before they can state an opinion about the country in which they are legal residents?  And if they do, do they forfeit the right to criticize the U.S. since they are then no longer citizens of that country?

As it happened, Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t a citizen of the Roman Empire, where he lived, so according to the reasoning of those like Mr. Land, he remained a guest who was obligated to keep his mouth shut.

But the New Testament has no use for citizenship, ethnicity, or any arbitrary category of inclusion.  When it raises the question, “Who is my neighbor?” it answers everyone you encounter.

Arguably, it is even irresponsible of residents of Costa Rica not to criticize misguided public policy.  As some point, remaining silent makes a person part of the problem rather than part of the solution
I understand what sticks in Mr. Land’s craw:  The American blowhards who object to anything in Costa Rica that differs from the U.S. lifestyle they want to replicate here.

However, the letter that Mr. Land complains about was not authored by blowhards blathering about their finicky cultural tastes.  It was a well-informed contribution to the discussion of a public issue that concerns everyone in Costa Rica.

Mr. Land’s nationalism may be central to his identity, and, if so, he should continuing behaving like a guest during his visits to Costa Rica.

Some of us, however, live here.  We aren’t guests, but neighbors — with all the moral obligations, including those of constructive criticism, that neighborliness entails.

Ken Morris
San Pedro
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