San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

From the Tomes of The Tico Times

Editor’s note: To give you a sense of how things have changed – or not – in Costa Rica over the years, The Tico Times will occasionally bring you a taste of newspaper editorials from days gone by.

The ‘Crime’ of Journalism

June 10, 1983

Supreme Court decisions are never predictable, as we were reminded last week when a panel of the Costa Rican Supreme Court sentenced U.S. newsman and Tico Times reporter Stephen Schmidt to three months in prison for the heinous crime of “illegal practice of journalism.”

We have no doubt that the justices’ decision was a strictly legalistic interpretation of the 1969 law that established the Costa Rican Journalists Association, the government- authorized association that determines who may or may not work in the news field in Costa Rica.

Only members of the association may work as journalists, says the law. Only graduates of the University of Costa Rica’s school of journalism may become members.

Perhaps the most discouraging aspect of all in last week’s Supreme Court decision is that this final recognition of legality for an open violation of a basic human right should occur in a country whose constitution not only guarantees complete freedom of expression, but which also provides the seat of the Inter-American Human Rights Court.


A Victory for Democracy

May 12, 1995

In a historic vote that at long last conforms local law to international human rights treaties, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional Article 22 of the law establishing the Costa Rican Journalists Association.

Court sources said the decision was based in part on the 1985 advisory opinion of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which found that obligatory licensing of journalists violates Article 13 of the American Human Rights Convention.

The rights court opinion was based on the case of Tico Times reporter Stephen Schmidt, who was given a suspended oneyear sentence for practicing journalism without a license after his initial acquittal was overturned on appeal.

Though Costa Rica requested the advisory opinion and was the first country in the hemisphere to sign the American Human Rights Convention, four successive governments declined to take action to correct Costa Rica’s legal non-conformity to this basic precept of free expression.

The Supreme Court has now corrected this omission.

We at the Tico Times have reason to celebrate the high court’s decision, not only for the brave decision of one of our reporters to challenge the Colegio law. The Supreme Court ruling vindicates the dozens of foreign journalists who have worked at this newspaper as “outlaws” over the years, and have run into opposition from the Colegio de Periodistas.


Shooting Yourself in the Foot

Oct. 30, 1998

Some years back, with typical, traditional Tico friendliness, Costa Rica began rolling out the red carpet for foreign tourists in increasingly large numbers.

But recently, some overzealous immigration officials ordered a big group of bewildered tourists to spend the night in jail –alongside drunks, derelicts and murderers – for not carrying their passports, and local residents and their political representatives, in the stated “fight to conserve the most sacred moral values of the Costa Rican family,” blockaded the transport to and from airports of more than 120 gay tourists, causing them to miss international flights and marring their vacations.

Such tragicomic incidents might be understandable in a semi-civilized Third World country. They’re unforgivable in a nation that prides itself on its culture, democracy and respect for human rights.

And they are downright unbelievable in a country whose principal source of foreign exchange is tourism.

Homophobia, like racism, is a dangerous and volatile reaction born of fear and ignorance, and easily fueled by irresponsible rhetoric.

Just as Costa Rica has every right to insist that its visitors respect its values, visitors have the right to expect that they’ll be treated with courtesy and respect. The fact is, the gay tourists who were so shamefully treated here demonstrated far better manners than their hosts.

Let’s stop the foot shooting.


C.R. Gave Right Answer

July 4, 2003

The chronically undiplomatic administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has unfortunately again thumbed its nose at the world, this time targeting peace-loving (or more accurately, war-hating) souls who first dreamed of an International Criminal Court.

One year after the curt’s creation, Bush is behaving like a typical bully on the block, threatening to cut military aid to countries that stand firm on the principle that no country should be exempt from laws punishing those responsible for crimes against humanity.

Peace is built together, through compromise and dedication, not by one party imposing its will.

Costa Rica – which erred in supporting the unjustified U.S. war in Iraq – recovered its credibility this week, thanks to a firm decision by Foreign Minister Roberto Tovar, who said, simply, “No, thanks” to the U.S. offer to strike a bilateral immunity deal.

With this answer, he politely reminded Costa Rica’s longtime friend and ally of the need to maintain mutual respect in relations, and reaffirmed this country’s commitment to international law.

The student has once again outshined the teacher.


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