“So far, Costa Rica hasn’t given anything to China,” said China’s ambassador to Costa Rica, Wang Xiaoyuan. “But we are confident that in the future there will be projects that benefit both countries.
Despite the lack of equality in bi-lateral exchanges and the difficulty posed by the global economic downturn, the construction of Costa Rica’s new soccer stadium, a gift from China, is underway. Wang assured the Costa Rican public that although China is also being affected by the global financial crisis, this “does not mean that our external projects and aid will cease.”
On March 12, the inauguration of Costa Rica’s new National Stadium was held in Parque La Sabana, where President Oscar Arias, the Costa Rican Sports and Recreation Institute (ICODER) Vice Minister Osvaldo Pandolfo and Wang addressed the crowd after signing the agreement and shoveling the first bit of earth atop the new stadium’s foundation stone.
Actually more a time capsule, the stone contained newspapers and documents announcing the launch of the new project and celebrating the newfound friendship between Costa Rica and China.
Costa Rican sports officials, government ministers, prominent athletes and special guests were present at the event. The new stadium will cost $83 million, seat 35,000 spectators and house the offices of 32 different sports federations, track and field facilities and a sports museum.
“Costa Rica has never been known for hosting sports events, but thanks to this stadium, that perspective could change,” said Pandolfo, “We can begin to support sports enthusiasts as first world countries do.”
Pandolfo added that sports and cultural events are not the only motives behind the project.
“It is also extremely important to have such a large space in case of an emergency, such as during the earthquake that happened two months ago,” said Pandolfo, referring to the 6.2 magnitude earthquake on Jan. 8 that killed 23 and left hundreds homeless and living in tent cities.
Two wheelbarrows full of dirt, with shovels laid across them, stood ready for the dignitaries present to place the foundation stone in the ground. President Arias shoveled the first scoop of dirt into the gaping hole, followed by Wang, Pandolfo and Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias.
Chinese music echoed over the field as the officials “worked,” and after the first few shovelfuls, members of the International Kung Fu Federation wove through onlookers performing a traditional dragon dance.
“Thanks to the overwhelming generosity of the Chinese people, our dream will be possible in a few months,” said President Arias. “Today we place the first stone of a stadium that represents the passion of our people, a stadium that is the heart of our country, half of the lung of our city.” But not all Costa Ricans share the same dream as President Arias.
Aaron Laurent, a soda owner in downtown San José, said he loves soccer, but a new stadium isn’t exactly his dream.
“There are better, more permanent ways to spend that money if China is willing to hand over that much,” said Laurent. “It could be used for building houses for people on the street or fixing the highways … things that are actually necessary.”
“We need schools, not stadiums,” said Laurent, “and jobs, not foreign workers.”
A San José taxi driver, Carlos Madrigal, expressed an alternative point of view. While he agreed the money could be used more wisely elsewhere, he doubted that would actually happen.
“If China were to hand that $83 million over to the Costa Rican government to build schools, hospitals or highways, it would mysteriously disappear,” said Madrigal. “It’s better to put it where we can see it.”
After placing the foundation stone, President Arias, Pandolfo and Wan spoke about the significance of the project and the benefits it will provide Costa Rica.
“There is no doubt that, once constructed, the new stadium will bring many benefits to the people of Costa Rica,” said Wang. “There is no better gift than a stadium for a country who appreciates peace, competence and sport. A profound parallel exists between our two countries, and this building symbolizes the friendship growing between us.”
The ceremony ended with the unveiling of the large billboard on the west end of Parque la Sabana. It reads “Un Estadio Para Un Pueblo Que Piensa En Grande” (A Stadium for a People Who Think Big) and includes a rendering of the future stadium.
In response to concerns that the Chinese laborers would be working around the clock to complete as much of the stadium as possible before the rainy season (TT, Feb. 27), Pandolfo and Wang emphasized that Costa Rican labors laws will be strictly followed.
This means that every Chinese worker should earn at least approximately $325 per month, in accordance with minimum wages for construction labor in Costa Rica. According to Daniel Song, a 24-year-old Chinese worker who is also the main translator for the Chinese side of the project, $325 per month would be a very high wage in China. He has been in the country for almost two months now, and says he still doesn’t know how much they are being paid.
Their meals and accommodation are covered by the project’s Chinese contractor, the An Hui Foreign Economic Construction Group, as well as their transportation to and from the worksite.
José Luis Campos, a San José lawyer specializing in labor law, said that compensating workers with food and accommodation doesn’t legally entitle them to pay their workers less.
David Sosa is one of the few Ticos working with the Chinese already. He works for ICODER and has been transporting the Chinese workers between their temporary home in barrio Don Bosco and the construction site.
“All the laborers right now are Chinese,” said Sosa. “There are only a couple Ticos driving them back and forth, but we can’t actually communicate.”
He has learned a few choice Chinese words in order to tell the workers when it’s time to pack up and head out.
Pandolfo said construction of the stadium will be completed in November 2010, when the stadium will be delivered “key in hand” to the Costa Rican government, and the laborers will return to China.
“The workers will not be allowed to seek residency after completing the project,” said Wang. “They will finish the stadium, pack up and head home.”