The Political Role of Non-Governmental Organizations in Costa Rica
Because of the characteristics of the Costa Rican state discussed in the previous chapter, NGOs were slow to develop and only recently have begun to think about their role in cultivating a more democratic civil society. Active state involvement in community development and social services to a large extent replaced or coopted efforts at autonomous organization of the popular sectors. It was only in the 1980s, as a result of the economic crisis, the decreased role of the state, and the increased intervention of the United States, that Costa Rican NGOs began to emerge as important social actors. Clearly, the dominant role of the Costa Rican state limited the independence of the popular sector. It is unlikely, though, that assistance from international NGOs can entirely substitute for the role previously played by the state. NGO assistance may seem like a gift, but it lacks the comprehensiveness of state action, and brings with it new forms of dependence and cooptation over popular groups. The Costa Rican case suggests, therefore, that the argument that NGO aid inevitably acts to strengthen civil society is critically flawed.