Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Degree Granting Department
Government and International Affairs
Harry E. Vanden, Ph.D.
Bernd Reiter, Ph.D.
M. Scott Solomon, Ph.D.
E. Christian Wells, Ph.D.
modern-day slavery, Central America, tourism, exceptionalism, politics, prostitution
This is a case study on human trafficking that was conducted on the small Central American country of Costa Rica via a mixed-methods approach which included document review, surveys, and interviews. It was selected due to Costa Rica’s history of fluctuation between Tier 2 and Tier 2 Watch List status on the Trafficking in Persons Report, issued by the U.S. Department of State, over the last ten years. This ranking average indicates that it is one of the worst performing Central American states in efforts to combat trafficking in persons. This finding breaks with Costa Rica’s traditional placement as one of the best performing Central American countries by other indices, such as GDP, Human Development Index (HDI), World Happiness Report, and Corruption Perception Index (CPI), to name a few.
The purpose of this research was to explore the reasons why Costa Rica leads Central America in numerous international measurements of success, yet remains equal to or below other Central American countries in its fight to combat human trafficking. There were two hypotheses. First, Costa Rica has strong economic ties to and reliance on tourism. According to data collected for this study, tourism has become Costa Rica’s primary means of “development,” which has created a neocolonial-style enclave economy and society which responds heavily to the demands of the tourists. This reliance on tourism is associated with choices made by government officials for inaction. Second, low levels of prosecutions and convictions are due to the state’s reliance on NGOs to shoulder the responsibility of efforts. The government even pays the NGOs to care for rescued children to alleviate any burden placed on its own agencies. NGOs operating in Costa Rica run shelters and rehabilitate survivors, head awareness campaigns, and educate. Along with the United Nations, and other IGOs, NGOs have been the main force against trafficking in persons in Costa Rica.
Other findings included issues with the definition of human trafficking under the law, as it is not in alignment with those of the United Nations and the United States. As well, the limited awareness across the country, both for professionals and citizens, is a concern. Poverty, particularly increases in extreme poverty, was cited as a recurring problem by the stakeholders interviewed. Furthermore, the image of the country as exceptional was reported by many interviewees as a barrier to recognizing the relevant issues and combatting them. Finally, the persistent culture of machismo and a political and social culture in turmoil were found to be detrimental to combatting human trafficking, particularly when dealing with gendered crimes, prostitution, and the feminization of poverty and of the marginalization of women and children.
This study has synthesized the data and shows support for a correlation between the aforementioned factors, tying human trafficking to the tourist industry, to political inaction, to NGOs and their activities and responsibilities, as well as to political and social culture and a number of other factors. Prosecutions and convictions remain low, and efforts to fight modern-day slavery remain below the minimum standards. Thus, it is the implication of this study that the notion of Costa Rica as exceptional, as a leader across Central America, is more an image than reality, at least in this case. In reality, Costa Rica is caught between opposing political and social cultures, between Western capitalism, classic machismo, and Costa Rica’s historical notion of peaceful living and exceptionality.
Scholar Commons Citation
Golob, Timothy Adam, "Hidden: A Case Study on Human Trafficking in Costa Rica" (2017). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.