of The Gift Economy
Many Voices discuss The Gift Economy
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This paper develops the premise that patriarchal capitalism, which understands
conservation in terms of enclosure, uses it as another instrument for coloniza-
tion of Third World resources, women’s work, and nature. This paper connects
two aspects of this process: the first is the enclosure of the forest for as an oxygen
generator/carbon sink; and the second is the enclosure of women’s labour through
prostitution. As the forest and women’s non-wage labour comprise the support
system that local communities use for survival, selling oxygen and prostitution
have become a war on subsistence and, consequently, an expansion of poverty.
Presenting a case study of the interactive socio-economic-ecological-gender im-
pact of land management on local communities in Costa Rica, I conclude that
Costa Rica’s foreign debt crisis provides grounds for restructuring accumulation
in the industrial world by selling oxygen/carbon sink capacity as the technological
solution to environmental destruction, and for repairing masculine anxiety, or
“masculation” (Vaughan 1997) by selling its women’s and children’s bodies as a
result/consequence of the inequality crisis.
The Tragedy of the Enclosures
An Eco-Feminist Perspective on Selling Oxygen and
Prostitution in Costa Rica
Since the Industrial Revolution humans have greatly increased the quantity of
carbon dioxide found in the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. The major sources
of these gases are being emitted by industrial processes, fossil fuel combustion,
and the modification in land use, such as deforestation. If emissions continue at
the present rate, current projections suggest that there will be a global increase in
temperature of between, approximately, 1oc to 5oC by 2100 (PhysicalGeography.
net; Pew Centre on Global Climate Change). Forest vegetation stores carbon
that otherwise might trap heat in the atmosphere, driving up temperatures and
speeding up climate change.
Selling oxygen from the rainforest to act as storage of carbon sink has become
part of the sustainable development agenda as outlined in the Kyoto Protocol.
Governments first agreed to tackle climate change at the Earth Summit in Rio
de Janeiro in 1992. The Kyoto Protocol was the follow-up to the United Nation
Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which set a non-bind-
ing goal of stabilizing emissions at 1990 levels by 2000. This goal has not been
met overall (Forbes 2003).
The World Bank (WB) defines sustainable development as the management of
the entire cycle of life (humankind and nature) with the intention of expanding
“wealth.” This definition of sustainable development allows for the management
of a nation’s portfolio of assets. These assets include built infrastructure, natural
resources (minerals, energy, agricultural land, forests, etc.), human capital, and
social capital. According to the World Bank (1997), many of the critically impor-
tant ecological and life-support functions provided by natural systems are not yet
measured as part of the wealth of nations. Among those not yet captured is the
forest. The forest must be embedded in the economic system as natural capital
to become a resource for sustainable development. This is very problematic for
rainforest dwellers that are not embedded in the market economy.
As forests become commodities for selling oxygen/carbon sink provision, the
sexual division of labour and women’s oppression is affected in powerful and
serious ways. Evicted from a forest, peasant families are forced to migrate toward
cities to look for employment. Rural women and men need to find resources to
assure subsistence and emotional support for themselves and dispossessed family
members. In the exchange logic, according to Genevieve Vaughan (2004), those
who do not succeed in the market, are seen as “defective,” less human, and therefore
more exploitable (17). In this context, the gender relations of patriarchal capital-
ism have constructed peripheral women as cheap labour—cheap sex. In Costa
Rica, patriarchal males find a place to practise their quest for domination. Their
domination is expressed through their ego-oriented individual psychology, that
Genevieve Vaughan has called “masculation.” Masculation expresses dominance of
men over women’s bodies. Some males need to confirm their superiority through
the use of sexual violence; this is done by degrading anyone in the position of
other. In this paper, prostitution and sexual slavery are the enclosure of women’s
and children bodies, because they no longer have decision-making power over
their own bodies.
The advantages of selling oxygen/carbon sink capacities has been articulated by
mainstream environmentalists. Environmentalists from the industrial world have
adopted a political stance that sets them and the environmental movement above
and beyond class struggle, gender oppression, colonialism, and imperialism. Practic-
ing this narrow form of environmentalism has reinforced the dominant relations
of power in global capitalism (Foster 1994). They are oblivious to exploitation,
poverty, and the inequalities facing local communities, thus contributing to the
displacement of communities on a global level through ill-conceived conservation
strategies. In their view, the rainforest and its dwellers are seen as spectators only
(Hecht and Cockburn 1990). As a result, the sustainable development agenda has
defined the forest as “natural capital,” while rural women have been constituted
as “cheap human capital.” Since capital has converted the sensuous world into
an abstraction for the purpose of profit, the forest and women come to express
alienated ways of being. The double enclosures of the forest and women’s labour
have become another war on the subsistence capacity of rainforest dwellers. This
paper will connect the selling of oxygen/carbon sink capacities and prostitution
of women and children in Costa Rica.
Capitalist Patriarchy in Costa Rica
Ecologists have provided evidence of the natural limits of the planet to industrial
growth (Foster 1994) and consumerism (Wackernagek and Rees 1996), and
rejected the belief in unlimited economic growth (Daly 1996). The natural limit
is already expressed in the destruction of resources and absorptive capacities for
wastes (Alvater 1994), and in irrefutable global warming. As economic growth
continues to be central to sustainable development, two Earth Summits— one in
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and the other in Johannesburg, South Africa— to reduce
emissions of greenhouse gases, air pollution in the form of carbon dioxide, dust
particles, and carbon monoxide have failed, making clear that traditional envi-
ronmental movements are inadequate, and even dangerous in their propositions
on how to confront the environmental crisis.
Ecologists and feminists plea for the reorientation of economic development to
the goals of maximal reduction of energy and material throughputs for local self-
sufficiency as opposed to export-oriented trade competitions—and for consump-
tion norms that recognize “enoughness” (Sachs 1992; Shiva 1989), “sufficiency”
as a good life (Bennholdt-Thomsen and Mies 1999), subsistence economies
(Bennholdt-Thomsen and Mies, 1999), and gift economies (Vaughan 2004).
Genevieve Vaughan (2004) argues that patriarchy fabricated an economy based
on private property (in Latin privare = to rob) (see also Claudia von Werlhof on
page 141 of this volume). Patriarchy artificially created scarcity in order to erase
the gift economy, practiced generation after generation, because most labour in
the world is still gift giving. These gifts are women’s non-waged household work;
peasant and Indigenous people’s labour; industrial workers’ forced gifts (in Marx’s
theory, surplus value is an unpaid portion of the worker’s labour, which is a gift);
voluntary work; child labour; and nature.
Costa Rica has an export-oriented economy, however, due to its foreign debt,
it is an example of export pressure on resources (Guha and Martinez Alier 1997).
In terms of land ownership, United Fruit, a U.S. multinational corporation, en-
closed the southern part of the country with banana plantations; the local business
community enclosed the central valley for coffee plantations; and foreigners and
local businesses enclosed the northwest for cattle ranching. These land grabs by
foreign and local businesses deeply divided Costa Rica in terms of land control
and power. Excluding the owners of one hectare parcels of property, 83.4 percent
of land owners with less than a 100 hectares control 1.12 percent of the national
territory, while 0.71 percent of the owners with more than a 100 hectares own
70.3 percent of the country’s territory (El Estado de la Nacion 1996: 68).
The sustainable development agenda has aggravated this unequal access to
resources by intensifying earlier enclosure of the land through the Conservation
Area System created in 1989 by the then Ministry of Natural Resources, now the
Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE). Through Sistema Nacional de
Areas de Conservation (SINAC), the conservation area model was implemented
to manage the country’s wildlife and biodiversity. SINAC divided the country
into eleven Conservation Areas, which incorporate wildlife, privately-owned
land, and human settlements, and placed them under the current Ministry of
Environment and Energy’s supervision. In enclosing 24.8 percent of the national
territory, SINAC expanded the enclosure model. The expropriated land has been
organized along the lines of national parks in North America from which people
are excluded and denied any role in sustaining the ecosystems contained therein
(Hecht and Cockburn 1990). These expropriated lands are linked to transnational
and political networks to forge local and global “stakeholders” through categories
of management such as human patrimony, national parks, wet land, biological
reserves, protected zones, forest reserves, and wildlife refuges. At the same time
internal boundaries are established, separating local people who share volcanoes,
waterfalls, rivers, hot springs, congo-monkeys, and turtle-spawning havens. The
separated lands then become sites for mining (Isla 2002), research (Isla 2005a),
ecotourism (Isla 2005b), and the selling of oxygen.
Enclosure of the Rainforest: Selling Oxygen/Generating Carbon Sinks
In the sustainable development framework, forests have become natural capital.
But the forest, in the rainforest, is an essential mechanism for flood control. In
the forest, trees are connected directly to each other through the multitude of
creatures that relate to them as food, shelter or nesting place; through their shared
access to water, air and sunlight; and through an underground system of fungi
that links all the trees as a super-organism. Rainforest people are also members
of this super-organism.
The Kyoto Protocol commits industrialized nations to reducing emissions of
greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide, by around 5.2 percent percent below
their 1990 levels by 2007. In the Climate Change Convention held in Kyoto in
1997, industrial countries agreed to create mechanisms to reduce the emissions of
gases responsible for the greenhouse effect. Among these is carbon dioxide (CO2),
largely discharged by the industrial world. However, reducing gas emission implies
high costs for industries that the industrial world protects. Thus, it was easier
for the major emitting corporations, with the backing of their governments, to
propose a self-interested “solution”: create a global market in carbon dioxide and
oxygen, focused on the forest of indebted countries. According to the scheme of
the Climate Change Convention, countries or industries that manage to reduce
emissions to levels below their limits will be able to sell their “credit” to other
countries or industries that exceed their emission levels. Following the Convention,
the Clean Development Fund thus evolved into the Clean Development Mecha-
nism (CDM), an arrangement under the Kyoto Protocol that allows industrialized
countries with a greenhouse gas reduction commitment to “invest” in emission
reducing projects in developing countries as an alternative to what is generally
considered more costly emission reductions in their own countries.
With the introduction of the Kyoto Protocol, the rainforest is valued economi-
cally through the securing of CO2 strategies. Carbon emission became subject
to trading in an open market. The use of the absorption of CO2 by the forest
to compensate for other countries’ emissions developed easily in indebted Costa
Rica.1 Through international covenants, Costa Rica organized conservation, man-
agement of forests and reforestation, and sells environmental services to Norway,
Germany, Holland, Mexico, Canada, and Japan (El Estado de la Nacion 1996:
129). During Jose Figueres’ administration (1994-1998), the Forestry Law (7575)
and the decree daj-d-039-98 were signed to regulate payments for environmental
services. Certification for forest conservation is legislated by Forestry Law, Art.
22, which is under the jurisdiction of MINAE. Under the Forestry Incentive
Programs (FIP), MINAE receives, evaluates, and approves the terms of the pro-
gram and promotes and compensates owners of forestry plantations. The decree
recognizes the forest and forest plantation owners, small farmers (finca owners),
and Conservation Areas (CA) as providers of environmental services eligible
to receive payments for the environmental services they provide. MINAE also
developed a law of expropriation, which outlines the limits placed on initiating
any project on small and medium-size farms.
Since the industrial world is not held responsible for mitigating its own level of
emissions, this “solution” has allowed the industrial world to continue polluting
by means of the purchase of carbon credits from the indebted rainforest, while
energy-related emissions produced by the increase in the amounts of coal and
oil burned mainly in the industrial world, the leading cause of climate change,
Selling CO2, to mitigate carbon emissions, is a colonial, class- and gender-
biased practice that impacts on the nature of indebted countries, subsistence
production, and on women.
Paying the Price of the Kyoto Protocol: Crisis of Nature
The selling of oxygen is transforming the rainforest. Forest farms have been es-
tablished. Reforestation is particularly promoted among large-scale agricultural
entrepreneurs in association with international capital, which also benefits from tax
relief under Fiscal Forestry Incentives (FFI). FFI reforestation involves international
capital, which uses foreign forest species of high yield and great market acceptance,
such as melina (used by Stone Forestall, a United States corporation), and teak (used
by Bosques Puerto Carrillo and Maderas). Big projects related to the planting of
forests in general are also connected to the interests of big mining corporations.
For instance, in Arenal-Huetar Norte Conservation Area, Industries Infinito S.A,
a subsidiary of the Canadian company Vanessa Ventures, which obtained permits
to operate Mining Crucitas over an area of 1,000 hectares, also has a reforestation
project on 32 hectares where it planted 20,000 trees to profit from the Forestry
Incentive Plan (FIP). The corporations are allowed to log the trees after ten years
of growth and transform them into wood for floors and/or paper.
Between 1996 and 2001, around 121,000 to 147, 000 hectares of foreign
trees were planted; 50 percent percent of the species are melina and teak (MINAE
2001; Sage and Quir█s 2001; De Camino, Segura, Arias, and P╚rez1999), and
the rest are eucalyptus. The government had enthusiastically promoted convert-
ing forest ecosystems into sterile monocultures by planting homogeneous forests,
despite the fact that melina, teak and eucalyptus are not indigenous to Costa Rica’s
rainforest. In order to plant homogenous species, if the owners want to manage
recurrence (return), the first step is to remove all the native trees and vegetation,
which increases the extraction of nutrients, and with it the devastation of the
productive capacity of the soil. Thus, chemical fertilizers are massively spread
throughout the area targeted for the plantation. This choice was clearly dictated
by industry (flooring wood and paper). This has negative effects on soil fertility,
water retention, and on biological diversity.
The consequences of planting teak has been explained by Sonia Torres (2001),
a forestry engineer, who explains how foreign trees produces erosion on flat lands.
In the rainforest, biodiversity means a great number of leguminosae with differ-
ently sized leaves, which lessen the impact of rainfall and prevent erosion. She
used the example of teak to illustrate the problem.
Since the planting of these foreign species, I have observed that teak has a root
system that grows deep into the soil, but in the rainforest the systems of nutrient
and water absorption are at the surface. In general, nutrients and water are
concentrated between 70 and 100 centimetres deep. As a result, teak trees are
encircled by flaked soil. In addition, when it rains, the size of the leaf accumulates
great amounts of water that then pours violently onto the soil. A drop of water,
at a microscopic level, forms a crater; when water falls from 15 metres or more
it forms holes. Water descending on soft soil destroys the soil. The far-reaching
spread of the roots and the shade produced by the leaves obstruct the vegetative
growth on the lower forest layer, which could prevent the soil damage from the
Torres advocates the planting and protection of indigenous tree species that can
also feed the indigenous population, animals, bacteria, etc.
Crisis of Rainforest Dwellers
The selling of oxygen scheme has also transformed local communities. In Costa
Rica, the state’s project of selling CO2 expropriated the small- and medium-sized
landholders without compensation to the owners has been exposed:
A symbol of pride of Costa Ricans, the national parks constitute a unique
model in the world, which offer innumerable benefits to society in particular
and the planet in general, but they are in a critical situation due to the lack
of resources to give them sustainability and cancel the debt to the former
property owners whose lands were expropriated or frozen for the sake of
protection. (Odio 2001: 2)
By August 1999, the government owed US$100 million to evicted campesinos/as
(peasants). Around that time, it offered to pay US$6,703.45 per hectare to the
dispossessed families (Vizcaino 1999). However, by 2001, 14,917 hectares of land
were still not paid for, affecting approximately 745 families that have been made
landless and impoverished by the conservation areas system.
Large projects related to the planting of forests in general are also connected to
the interests of international mining corporations, large environmental NGOs,
and government institutions (MINAE in Costa Rica). For instance, in the Arenal
Conservation Area, organized by the World Wildlife Fund-Canada, national
parks such as Arenal Volcano and Tenorio Volcano National Park, and forestry
reserves such as Cerro Chato, sell oxygen. But to put the oxygen on the market,
in 1994, the Arenal Volcano was declared Arenal Volcano National Park. From
five hectares, the park was extended to 12,010 hectares. As a result, entire com-
munities were forcibly evicted. While the majority of the land around the volcano
was not arable or adequate for cattle ranching, small farms had existed in the
area. Campesinas/os who had organized their lives by clearing land for agricultural
production and pasture around the Arenal Basin were expelled by (MINAE). An
injunction brought to Costa Rica’s Supreme Court (Division IV of the judicial
system), reported heavy losses by campesinas/os who lived in the Basin area of the
Arenal Conservation Area. They lost land, pasture, houses, dairies, and roads.
Former property owners have become hut renters (ranchos) or slum inhabitants
(tugurios). The personal effects of the campesinas/os, such as cars and small electri-
cal appliances, were taken by the commercial banks when they could not afford
to repay their loans acquired for economic development (Monestel Arce 1999).
When, in desperation, some of them returned to their land to plant yucca, beans,
maize, and other subsistence foods, they were declared to have broken the law
and some of them were thrown in jail (Siete Dias de Teletica 1999).
In 1996, La Cuenca de Aguas Claras was also declared a forestry reserve. In
2001, I attended a public Town Hall meeting in La Cuenca de Aguas Claras
at which more than 200 farmers, men and women, arrived ready to be inter-
viewed. Since they were too many to each be interviewed, the farmers chose Abel
Fuentes and Luis Guimo2 to speak on their behalf. They declared themselves
witnesses of the following accounts. According to Fuentes (2001), MINAE
had stated that:
our survival way of life is producing deforestation and pollution, and reducing the
water level of La Cuenca de Aguas Claras. [But] MINAE exaggerated the level of
deforestation to oust almost all the inhabitants because it is reforesting our land
in order to sell the oxygen to other countries and get “donations.”
MINAE’s argument for expropriating their land was based on the claim of water
reduction in the area. Water scarcity has been converted into a strategy to convince
campesino/as to let MINAE reforest while the owners of the land are evicted.
Fuentes had witnessed the forced eviction of rainforest dwellers.
Until 1996, in La Cuenca de Aguas Calientes, 200 families lived and the land
was organized as follows: 70 percent percent was pastureland, holding around
2,000 cows; 10 percent primary forest; and 20 percent combined secondary for-
est, which was used for beans and pig production. By 2001, we were only three
families; the majority were forced into exile. And the land has been re-organized
as follows: 90 percent is primary and secondary forest; 10 percent is pastureland
with less than 200 cows; and land to produce beans has been extinguished.
Fuentes believes that his rights and his community’s rights have been violated
under the law of expropriation of 1995. As soon as the expropriation law was passed,
some of the campesino/as went to MINAE’s office to get more information about
the law, but were purposely misled by the government. Fuentes declared that:
the government denied our right to know the law. When we requested a copy of it,
a representative of MINAE showed us a giant book, saying that he couldn’t give
us a copy, because of the volume of the decree. However, later, one of our members
found the legislation on the Internet and printed it on just one page.
Martin Guimo (2001), also a small landholder who still lives within the ex-
propriated land, added:
When we ask MINAE officials for information, they decide when and where
we can get it. When we propose a meeting, they decide when and where we can
meet, then they change the hour, the date, or they cancel the meeting without
telling us. Many of us live far from the meeting place and sometimes we have to
ride a horse for three hours to go to a meeting and it is disappointing to arrive
and learn that the meeting has been cancelled.
The snatching of the forest from local communities who use it to sustain
themselves has become a death sentence for small and medium-size landholders.
As a result, their needs are dismissed, and community members who used to live
off the forest are declared enemies of the rainforest.
The eviction of the rainforest dwellers is justified by claims they will find
employment in the cities. Rural community members know opportunities for
well-paying jobs and upward mobility in Costa Rica’s cities is a myth. They know
that there is a surplus of people in the cities whose basic human needs cannot be
met and whose human rights are violated (Robinson 2003; Bennholdt-Thomsen
and Mies 1999). Maria Mies (1986) argues that community members in the Third
World dispossessed from their livelihood cannot expect to become dependent
on wages. Peripheral landless women and men will not have the good fortune of
their peers from the core countries to find a job and share the wealth extracted
from colonies, because they themselves are the colonies.
Crises of Women and Children: Impoverishment and Prostitution
The power of the industrial world to re-design the forest as oxygen producer exac-
erbates inequalities. As a new structure of accumulation emerges, the disintegration
of the ecosystem that supported the means of survival of local communities has
powerful effects on the sexual division of labour and women’s oppression. When
families are violently disintegrated or displaced and impoverished, rural women
are encouraged to migrate to San Jose and tourist areas in the hope of earning an
income for themselves and their dispossessed families. Introduced into the cash
base economy, impoverished women earn all or part of their living as prostitutes.
Prostitutes in Costa Rica are women at work supporting children and family
members. They are in the market not by choice but out of necessity. Along with
them, there are an astonishing amount of children who are bought, sold, and
mistreated by society (Casa Alianza 2001a). By complying with the desires of the
so-called developed men, these women contribute to the global production of the
tourism industry, and to the wealth of businesses and states, as we will see.
Pressured by the global institutions (the International Monetary Fund [IMF]
and the World Bank), indebted Costa Rica has become the premier eco-tourism
and sex tourism destination since the early 1990s (Isla 2005b). Eco-tourism pro-
motion links conservation areas with tourism, and promises a world of leisure,
freedom, and safe risk; while sex tourism portrays an image of women and children
as exotic and erotic. This image of the country entangles the economic relations
of domination between creditors (the industrial world) and debtors (the indebted
periphery), and the psychological relations of hypermasculinity or “masculation”
of fragile male egos that the exchange system develops. As Costa Rica becomes
impoverished by its foreign debt, manufactured by the U.S and England in 1982
(Roddick 1988), we can see the marks of these changing international power relations
on the bodies of Costa Rican children and women (Pettman 1997). Rich, white
men move across borders for racialized sex tourism. Male sex tourists, in their 40s
and 50s, come mainly from the creditor countries, such as the U.S, Europe, and
Canada. In Costa Rica, most pimps that profit from sex-tourism are men from
the patriarchal industrial world—U.S, Canada, Spain, and others. They bring
with them the political economy and culture, material relations, and particular
perceptions of how the world works (Pettman 1997: 96). On the Internet, there
are currently more than 70 websites selling Costa Rican women.3
Costa Rica is also indebted to Canada; from 1992 to 1996, 313,525 Canadians
visited Costa Rica. In 1997 alone, 36,032 Canadians (ITC 1999) visited Costa
Rica, while by 2002 this number had grown to 50,000 (Malarak 2004). A 2004
CBC report by journalist Victor Malarek, made it clear that Canadian males
engage in sex-tourism. According to his report, these men can be found at the
El Rey Hotel in San Jose, where secret videos for sex and teenagers are waiting
to be bought and women are sold for $10 or $20 dollars. Prostitution in Costa
Rica has become widespread; in San Jose alone 2,000 girls are working in the
sex-trade (Casa Alianza 2001a). Trafficking is a growing problem. Many of the
teenagers being sold into the sex industry in Costa Rica are victims of traffick-
ing from Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras. Traffickers threaten to kill their
parents and siblings if they are identified. The “wealth” generated by those women
goes back to the IMF and the World Bank as interest payment on Costa Rica’s
outstanding foreign debt.
As the country slides into a more subordinated position, the entire country has
become a paradise for pedophilia. Men interested in young girls, and gay male
tourists (and so-called straight male tourists) who want to have experiences with
boys travel to Costa Rica to engage in sex with or take pornographic pictures of
children. Child pornography has become an established industry in Costa Rica
(EFE News 2003).
More than a million tourists go to Costa Rica every year, and at least 5,000
are pedophiles....Women and children involved in sex work commonly
contract sexually transmitted diseases or die of AIDS-related illness. (Casa
By 2001, international groups put Costa Rica’s government under intense
scrutiny for its lack of action against the sexual abusers of children, most of
them tourists. In an economy increasingly based on enclosure of the Commons,
complicit Costa Rican governments do not want to stop the sex-trade industry
because they know that this is the only way left for women and children to earn
a living. As a result, the government’s attitude is one of general indifference to
recognizing and reporting the criminal activity. Ex-president of Costa Rica,
Miguel Angel Rodriguez stated on an American television program in 2001 that
there were only “20 or 30” children being sexually exploited in Costa Rica, even
though the U.S. Department of State estimated 3,000 children were victims of
commercial sexual exploitation in Costa Rica (see Casa Alianza 2001c). The Costa
Rican government also protects the sex industries because it generates hundreds
of millions of dollars per year that the state uses to pay its foreign debt.
Although prostitution is prohibited in Costa Rica by law, there is no enforce-
ment to stop this oppression of the poor and marginalized members of society
considered disposable. To endure their misery of sexual activity with five or six
men daily, many of the enslaved women and children turn to drugs and alcohol.
In 2001, three young street girls went missing and were eventually found dead,
cut into pieces and strewn around San Jose (Casa Alianza 2001c) with seeming
impunity. By 2001, there were only five people in jail (four U.S citizens and one
Costa Rican) awaiting trial for the sexual exploitation of children, despite the 230
criminal complaints that Casa Alianza (2001a), a U.S. nonprofit organization in
Central America that works with homeless children and kids at social risk, pre-
sented to the Costa Rican authorities. In addition, the police are often part of the
problem. On August 10, 1999, the Costa Rican Special Prosecutor Against Sex
Crimes received a judge’s order to raid “The Green Door,” a private club operated
by a U.S citizen that offered female “escorts” and minors for sex to businessmen
and foreign residents in Costa Rica. Helped by the Minister of Public Security,
Rogelio Ramos, the U.S criminal escaped (see Casa Alianza 2001b). Further,
when young girls are arrested, the victims are punished by police who demand
oral sex (Malarek 2004).
In Costa Rica, women are also sex tourists. Rich U.S, Canadian, and European
women sex tourists take advantage of their superior class and race status to lure
young boys and men. There are reports that young boys and men engage in “ro-
mance tourism” with these women, usually well-off, single, professional women
who travel to resort areas and provide a willing male with drinks, dinners, shopping
sprees, jewellery, and other luxury goods in exchange for sex and companionship.
In this criminal environment, women can be as exploitative as men (Sanchez Tay-
lor 2001), but women can also be endangered by their “romantic companions.”
Resisting Narrow Environmentalism
The definition of forest as oxygen generator actually destroys sustainable ways
of living, thus creating real material poverty, or misery, by expropriating or
diminishing the capacities of the forest to sustain its dwellers. Campesino/as
know that their human rights have been violated by MINAE and other
organizations that call themselves environmentalist. Referring to these “en-
vironmentalists” organizations, Luis Guimo (2001) stated:
They used to come to us for information, and we provided it. I personally boarded
people and allowed them to use my horses to move about comfortably. Things are
changing; we cannot collaborate anymore. MINAE told me that I have to sell
my finca to the state and at the price the state decides. We are not leaving. They
have to kill us if they want our land.
Further, the creditors’ power relations that encourage selling oxygen are written
on the bodies of the forest, the women, and the children of indebted Costa Rica.
As dwellers are evicted from their land, dispossessed and vulnerable women and
children turn to the sexual tourism industry for survival, forcing them into sexual
slavery. First world white males, with the complicity of local governments, thus
exploit the economic hardships of the inequality crisis created by global capital-
ism with impunity.
The messages of power from the industrial world and its privileged males deem
Costa Rican women and children, and nature inferior. Consequently, the enclosure
of the Costa Rican forest, for capital accumulation, has condemned Costa Rica’s
rural women and children to destitution, prostitution, and/or death. Ironically,
the situation of Costa Rica as country is the same as the situation of its prosti-
tutes—both are kept in financial debt by their pimps: the IMF, the World Bank,
commercial banks, and powerful countries in the first case and brothel owners
in the second. They live in debt bondage where the arrangements are such that
neither the country nor the sexual slave can ever earn enough to pay off their
debts or become autonomous beings.
But, Costa Rican women and men, with the support of local municipalities,
are no longer silent. They are defending their rights to a secure livelihood. In
their battle against losing livelihoods, men and women have uncovered the class,
gender, and colonial relations of the sustainable development agenda in the alli-
ances between their “national” government and international capital. At the same
time, women and children’s battered and enslaved bodies have shown that the
Kyoto Protocol that uses the rainforest as carbon sink is not separated from their
subsistence and everyday life.
By pressuring investors around the world and by exposing the fallacy of “sus-
tainable development” that does not acknowledge its class, gender, colonial, and
imperialist bias, women from all over the world can join their Costa Rica sisters
in their struggle for a just and healthy world. No blank cheque to the Kyoto
Protocol! The women’s movement needs to support the Kyoto Protocol only if
it is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by imposing limits on the
gases produced by the factories and lifestyles in the North. It cannot be endorsed
if it will continue with the expropriation of the rainforest that represents the basis
of the survival economy of its dwellers.
Ana Isla’s current research specialty and interests are feminism, eco-feminism, women
in development, Third World women, women’s micro-enterprises, political economy,
political ecology, the Commons, enclosure in the twenty-first century, debt crisis, glo-
balization and global issues, social justice, racism, economic development, sustainable
development, debt-for-nature swaps, poverty issues, community organizing, the gift
economy, bio-piracy, Indigenous knowledge, eco-tourism, mining and environmental
NGOs. She is assistant professor at Brock University and a member of Toronto Women
for a Just and Healthy Planet.
Costa Rica had a small debt, US$ 4,000,000 in 2000, but it is one of the highest
indebted countries in the world due to its reduced population.
These names are psdeudonyms.
See, for example, the website of U.S citizen Alan Seaman, who organizes prostitu-
tion tours from a website called “Dream Getaway: Fantasy Resort Adult Vacations.”
In his advertisement, Costa Rican women are constructed as a “body-for-others,”
as body object of desire, or bodies for men’s use (Pettman 1997): “Dream Getaway
Packages or Adult Vacation Packages can be mixed-and-matched to suit your most
exotic, erotic dreams and budget. The packages here are merely suggestions. Dream
Getaway works with you on a personal basis to truly make your dreams realities....
Please note that some people think these prices include companions. They do not....
The companions set their own prices, varying from $200 to $600 per day. If that is
not what you want, we can offer a City Tour (in a nice casino hotel) and a Private
Beach Club where you can stay in safety and pick your own girls by the hour or day.
The cost is $100/day.”
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