Taking on tax reform a laugh at a time
A scary group of clowns is taking on the government, the Citizen Action Party, Finance Ministry officials and supporters of a controversial fiscal reform plan currently before the Legislative Assembly.
The clowns have gone viral on Costa Rican social media sites, and their pirouettes and freaky faces have garnered more than 13,000 “likes” on Facebook from people opposed to tax reform.
They are from the “Republic of Costa Risa,” a virtual country where bad clowns use public money to finance self-enrichment schemes. (“Risa” is Spanish for “laugh.”) On YouTube, the clowns sing and dance at a circus in Costa Risa, “a country of theft and poverty,” where the corrupt live in paradise and drug dealers are happy.
Costa Risa has a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/costarisa), a Twitter account (@RCostaRisa) and a blog (republicadecostarisa.com), where every day a new post appears with commentary on government spending, budget debates and other issues. Hundreds of Costa Ricans comment daily, generating quite a discussion.
While the creators of Costa Risa have remained anonymous, it is clear that they formed the virtual satirical world to oppose the government’s fiscal reform plan. There is one person involved in the campaign who isn’t wearing face paint: economist Luis Loría.
“Last March, I became very worried about the fiscal plan. I started talking to other people about the need to rally against it by using creative and nontraditional methods. We have a powerful and independent campaign,” Loría said.
When he came up with an idea, Loría approached three advertising agencies to help him launch the project. Father, an agency owned by Giovanni Bulgarelli, agreed to work pro bono on the campaign. The total production cost has been kept secret, leading to much speculation from followers on social media networks.
The original Costa Risa video has been viewed more than 70,000 times on YouTube. The group has since produced two additional videos. The first, viewed more than 10,000 times, shows a clown asking, “If you can’t buy a car, why worry about potholes in the road?” The newest video, viewed 4,000 times, shows another clown resembling Communications Minister Roberto Gallardo, who promises not to make life more expensive for Costa Risa citizens. All three videos end with the campaign slogan: “Let’s stop the clowning around. Let’s stop the fiscal plan.”
The movement has generated such a following that the Finance Ministry has launched its own online campaign promoting tax reform. Videos on one government Facebook profile seek to clarify doubts about the “Solidarity Tax Reform,” the official name of the bill currently in Congress.
In the video, a voice asks questions such as “Will my rent increase with the new tax reform?” or “Will bus and taxi fares increase with the fiscal plan?” A second voice answers with a “no” and explains the reform’s proposals.
That campaign also has a website (www.solidaridadtributaria.com) that offers a complete guide to the tax reform proposal.
“We did not launch a campaign specifically to respond to the Costa Risa videos, which have been losing momentum recently. [The Costa Risa campaign] never actually worried us, despite its large following. The campaign follows a tendency of shallow public debate that has been gaining force in the country, but that most people actually dislike,” said Gallardo.
But the Costa Risa movement captured the attention of The Wall Street Journal, which published a Nov. 14 column critical of the government’s tax plan.
“It was great to see that our efforts are being recognized not only in Costa Rica, but also on an international level,” Loría said. “We already pay enough taxes in Costa Rica, and if the money was invested properly, we wouldn’t need tax reform.”
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