Costa Rican bloggers help expose corruption, waste
Whoever said Facebook and Twitter marked the end of the blogging era was not living in Costa Rica. In recent years, a group of Tico bloggers has captivated a widening audience of readers throughout the country. Despite anonymity, the bloggers are perceived as highly credible among their followers, something that many members of traditional media are coming to envy.
The blogs range in content, but the most popular ones offer unique insight into Costa Rica’s social and political movers and shakers. Bloggers also offer popular forums (in Spanish) where followers can comment in real time on events that don’t always make the news. Some blow the whistle on corrupt politicians. Others write about broken public institutions. It is a model that combines old-fashioned reporting with modern technological tools to reach an increasingly widening audience.
‘El Infierno en Costa Rica’
He goes by the name “El Chamuko,” which in Costa Rican jargon means “the Devil.” His blog is called “El Infierno en Costa Rica” (“Hell in Costa Rica”), and every month nearly 100,000 people visit his digital perdition. El Chamuko is likely Costa Rica’s most well-known and appreciated – and dreaded – blogger (see http://infierno.ticoblogger.com).
In March 2007, El Chamuko, whose
identity has never been publicly revealed, set out to create a blog where people could post “denuncias” (complaints) about government officials, as long as the complaints were accompanied by proof. With a familiar tone and style that many Ticos can relate to, El Chamuko has brought to light some of the biggest political scandals in recent years.
Only his wife knows his true identity. In his non-blogging life, El Chamuko pretends to be a near-Luddite with a fake ignorance of social networks. “Being anonymous has given me the independence and security I need to keep publishing information about corruption,” El Chamuko told The Tico Times in a recent email exchange.
Heads of companies and government agencies constantly monitor his site. His posts have prompted more than a few official investigations. And best of all, said El Chamuko, Hell in Costa Rica doesn’t discriminate, as it equally targets low-level and high-level acts of corruption.
“I remember when former Presidency Minister Marco Vargas’ daughter was assigned to the Costa Rican Embassy in Madrid. I posted it on my blog and it became a huge scandal. Later on, it led to her dismissal. It became the tip of the iceberg, which led to an investigation that revealed the political piñata in the Foreign Affairs Ministry,” El Chamuko said (TT, July 3).
For protection, and to keep his identity secret, El Chamuko uses several servers and proxies in Asia and Europe. “I’m not afraid, but I understand that I have to take lots of protective measures to keep my blog alive,” he said.
While the creation of social networks Facebook and Twitter have been a deathblow to other blogs, El Chamuko uses them to his advantage. “[Blogs] like mine became stronger since we are now reaching a broader public through,” he said.
‘El Cobrador de la Caja’
Roberto Mora is giving the Costa Rican Social Security System, or Caja, its money back one click at a time. While his blog, “El Cobrador de la Caja” (“The Caja’s Bill Collector”) is only two years old, it has already become a fundamental tool to publicize what Mora has been doing since 2001: finding companies that owe the Caja money, denouncing them, and recovering the money (see http://robertomorasalazar.ticoblogger.com).
In 2001, Mora realized that the company he was working for owed the Caja ₡274 million ($545,000). It was a widespread problem, not just at his company. So Mora decided to change his career and become both the Caja’s best friend and worst enemy.
While Mora targets companies that owe astronomical figures to the public health care agency, he also takes on Caja officials because of their lax attitude toward debtors. “The Caja’s financial administration seems asleep. How come I get companies to pay their debt and they can’t?” Mora said.
In his blog, Mora writes letters to owners and CEOs of companies in debt to the Caja. Because of the letters, Mora has helped the Caja collect a staggering ₡18 billion ($35.8 million). “Using a blog is a way of exposing these defaulters. Every post gets sent in a newsletter read by 700 people, including lawmakers, ministers, trade-chamber members and tax collectors,” Mora said.
To feed his blog, 60-year-old Mora has spent a considerable amount of time and his own personal savings. Each day, he goes to the Public Registry to follow clues left by company managers and owners as they change names and reincorporate to avoid their Caja debt. He then posts what he finds, signing each post with his name, cédula (identification number), phone number and email address. “To me, it is clear that if I want my cause to be credible, I have to sign the posts with my own name,” said Mora.
“Super Negro” is the new guy on the blogging block. His first posts started in June. His goal is to become the digital voice of the Caribbean province of Limón.
“When a family member told me that in Limón, going to school is useless unless you have union or political connections, I was angry. It’s a shame to see that young, hard-working people have to live with such pessimism,” Super Negro said.
Inspired by “El Infierno en Costa Rica,” he started his own blog that focuses on problems unique to Limón (see http://supernegrocr.blogspot.com). Only his wife knows about his work, and he intends to stay anonymous. “Limón is a violent place. The people with power here do not believe in arguments. They work like a mafia,” he said.
Super Negro serves up a dose of criticism for each of the province’s main power players: unions, banana companies and the political figures. “I’ve heard people in the street talk about my writing. My only wish is to inspire young students in Limón to realize that we need to break the wall of indifference in order to achieve a radical change,” said Super Negro.
Ticoblogger and Other Favorites
José Medrano has been in the blogosphere for six years. His “Carepicha” blog, despite its name (a profane term in Costa Rican slang), is one of Costa Rica’s more popular sites (see http://carepichablog.com). In 2007, Medrano created a new initiative called “Ticoblogger.”
“The goal was to create a place where we could all feel identified in one Costa Rican Internet domain and promote original and independent content,” Medrano said. “I have to make sure that no political or commercial groups take advantage of the space to promote themselves.”
“Carepicha” is mostly opinion, but posts draw comments by political officials, who often grant interviews for the site.
Julio Córdoba is another favorite in the Costa Rican blogosphere. “Ciencia Ficción” (“Science Fiction”) measures the pulse of Costa Rican current events. Córdoba’s writings on the recent SlutWalk (TT, Aug. 15) generated more “tweets” than most other news media outlets covering the event (see http://www.ficcionblog.com).
Córdoba’s premise is that Costa Rican reality often seems like science fiction. During the Cinchona earthquake in 2009, Córdoba moved to the affected area, where he was able to deliver some of the best reporting on local residents. It was the beginning of a new credibility and respect for the young blogger.
Recently, a newcomer has sparked chatter in the Ticoblogger community. Former Health Minister María Luisa Ávila launched her own blog to announce her recent resignation (see http://marialuisaavila.blogspot.com). Her second post commented on a lawsuit that was recently filed against her. “Writing about my resignation on a blog was a way to make sure that my opinion was completely publicized, instead of leaving it to traditional media to write about,” Ávila said.
The former health minister says she is a frequent reader of “El Infierno en Costa Rica” and “Carepicha.”
“I understand that I have to cautiously read the posts, and I know that it is one version of reality like any other media, but I believe it is healthy to have such appositive phenomena in the country,” said Ávila.
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