Ticos Rank Low in Activism

December 17, 2004

EVEN though a string of publicmarches brought thousands of CostaRicans to the streets this year – to protestgovernment corruption, the proposed free-tradeagreement with the United States,low public-sector salaries and controversialhigh-school exams, among many othertargets – overall levels of civic participationare shockingly low in this countryfamed for its democratic system.Such are the results of a studyreleased last week by the Inter-AmericanNetwork for Democracy and theFoundation for Peace and Democracy(FUNPADEM), the network’s CostaRican member.The international study used surveys(telephone or face-to-face, depending onthe country) to determine citizens’ participationin a variety of areas including religion,social organizations, volunteer activities,sports and politics.COSTA Rica scored only 1.9 out of 20possible points and took sixth place amongthe seven Latin American countries surveyed.However, Ricardo Sol, FUNPADEM’sCivil Society Director, said while CostaRica fell below the average of the countriessurveyed, it is important to take intoaccount that none of the countries scoredparticularly high.The top scorer in the survey – theDominican Republic – received only 3.4points on the scale. Chile, Peru, Argentinaand Mexico, in descending order, were alsosurveyed, and Brazil scored 1.7 to take lastplace behind Costa Rica.According to José Alberto Rodríguez,director of Demoscopia, the organizationthat conducted the survey in Costa Rica,comparing this year’s results with futureyears’ will yield the most valuable insights.COSTA Rica’s survey was conductedin July and August of this year, primarilyby telephone, in the urban areas of allseven provinces, and included 1,254 peopleover 18. Those surveyed were chosenrandomly from the phone book, Rodríguezsaid.Results, released Dec. 9, showed 31%of the recipients participated in religiousactivities, the most popular of the areasincluded in the survey. Neighborhoodactivities and volunteer work were otherareas with relatively high participation,while civic activities and public policyranked lowest.Men were more likely than women toparticipate in neighborhood activities,sports, unions and political parties, whilewomen were more likely to participate inreligious, volunteer and educational activities.According to FUNDAPEM, mostcountries surveyed showed greater participationby men than by women.THE study also examined citizens’motivations for participating and theirbeliefs about civic involvement.In Costa Rica, 72.7% of those surveyedsaid they participate to help others or tofeel part of a group. Nearly half said theythink lack of interest and selfishness aremajor factors preventing people from participating.Executive Director Cecilia Cortez saidthe study’s ultimate goal is to analyze citizens’motivations behind involvement invarious areas of public life to find ways to improve civic participation.

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