Poverty, Bring Education to Communities

February 18, 2005

SILVIA Ruiz, a Spanish law studentwho studied Costa Rican cooperative lawfor a year while living here writing herdoctoral thesis, said the educationalopportunities cooperatives offer are whatdistinguish them from other businesses.“Education is fundamental to development,and in underdeveloped areas there isa low level of education and little opportunityto get one because the only jobs availableare cheap manual labor jobs,” shesaid. “But cooperatives, by law, have toprovide education.”Others emphasize the place of cooperativesin the economic sphere.“Cooperatives generate 12% ofemployment in the country and stabilizelife in the community,” Garita said.Harys Regidor, president of theNational Cooperative Council (Conacoop),believes cooperatives are the humanist balanceto the cutthroat business world.“Whereas in conventional businessesthe focus is on profits, in cooperatives thehuman being is the axis.”FOR those involved, it’s hard to keep anote of idealism from creeping into talk ofcooperatives in Costa Rica – Regidorcalled it a true expression of democracy,because of the equal role every worker hasin decision making, and he and others considerit the best hope of battering down thecountry’s high poverty level.“One person, one vote, independent oftheir capital or time with the cooperative,”Regidor said.Garita’s recommendations for economicoverhaul go beyond the privatesector’s investment. First on the government’sagenda should be the roads.Potholes and unpaved roads stymie allkinds of business, especially exportationand tourism, he said.Then the country needs to make investingsafer and easier both for locals and foreigners.WITH an eye on that end, CostaRican cooperatives are looking forwardto a reform to the General CooperativesLaw that could give them more flexibilityin the market and open the door to thepromotion of social investment cooperativesthat give opportunities to poor andmarginalized populations, such as peoplewith disabilities, ex-convicts, the elderlyand others. It is now in the hands of theExecutive Branch, and Regidor said hehopes it will be sent to the LegislativeAssembly for study soon, and be passedby the end of April.Cooperatives sometimes fail like anybusiness, and they also have their ownspecial pitfalls. Shared responsibilityamong workers is the hallmark of thepopularity of cooperatives, but it couldalso lead to the business’ demise,Coopecompro’s manager Trejos said.“As long as there is honesty, cooperativesare the best way. Without it, there arecooperatives that don’t last long,” he said.The cooperative, as an idea, is impeccable,but greed and bureaucracy bringthem down, one disgruntled former cooperativeworker said.JOSÉ Alexis Astúa, owner of a smallhotel in Manuel Antonio, on the centralPacific coast, said cooperatives closebecause of a flawed attitude among theworkers – they don’t believe the cooperativewill serve the group, rather, someserve themselves from the cooperative’scapital.Elite groups within the cooperativeenrich themselves at the expense of thebusiness, and excessive bureaucratic jobssiphon off profits, he said.“I believe in cooperativism, but I’magainst how it’s practiced,” Astúa said.Regidor said he knows cooperativesare not the only way; “we understand themarket is composed of multiple modes ofthought,” he said, but because of cooperatives,there are Costa Rican fishermenwho receive higher prices for their catches,there are farmers who can collectivelycompete with the agricultural giants, andthere is business investment that keeps theprofits in the community.

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