Sunday, May 30, 2010

La Carpio: A Paradigmatic Case Now Online

Visiting La Carpio, one of San José most conflictive neighbourhoods now is a close as mouse click and as secure as your computer's anti virus protection.

La Carpio En Línea ( is a project for outsiders to understand the lives of the people of the community known as La Carpio, located west of the Hospital México.

The website allows visitors to take a virtual tour of the area and listen to the stories and see pictures and dreams of those who live in the barrio.

The area is officially part of the district known as La Uruca, it covers and areas of 626.000 square metres, surrounded by the rivers Torres and Virilla and a landfill, with only one road in and out of the community.

The La Carpio was created out of the initiative of Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans squatting on the land between 1993 and 1994.

Many of the full name of the people telling the story are not told, including that of one of the founders of La Carpio, Doña Martha, as she is known in the history books, who says that it time for people to stop talking bad of the "cuidadela" she helped found.

The idea of the website is to offer outsiders a window into a community that is rife with crime, gangs, drugs and many good people as well who call La Carpio home.

La Carpio, home to some 40.000, half of whom are Nicaraguan immigrants, is described as a "marginalized" community where inequality, violence, discrimination, environmental injustice and insecurity are way of daily life. Many living in the area do not count with the basic necessities.

Although schools, health clinics, and a single paved road have been constructed in the community due to residents’ ongoing pressure on the government, this infrastructure remains inadequate. Over half of the crowded population lives below the poverty line (compared with 22% of the national population) and has no formal employment, and few residents have title to their land.

The media exacerbates the perceived and real conflict in La Carpio through sensationalist reporting which focuses disproportionately on violence committed by Nicaraguans, fueling the negative discourses surrounding immigration. A content review of the newspaper La Nación between 1999 and 2004 revealed that it carried an average of one negative news article about La Carpio every week, generally portraying Nicaraguans as the perpetrators of crime. The negative and unfair media attention perpetuates the stereotype of Nicaraguans as violent criminals, thereby legitimizing the root cause of the violence, which is structural.

A May, 2004, blockade that led to violence between police and protesters further exemplifies the relationship between structural violence, direct violence, and the media and society’s criminalization of La Carpio. In this instance, community members had blocked the road leading to the landfill in order to demand that the government and waste management company fulfill their promises to deposit a small sum of money per ton of garbage processed into a community fund and to grant titles for the land upon which people had built their homes.

Rather than allowing for dialogue between the community and the authorities, police escalated what had been a non-violent conflict by throwing teargas bombs into the crowd, which in turn led to violent retaliation by the protesters.

While the media framed Nicaraguans as the primary perpetrators of the violence in this incident, La Carpio residents claim that few Nicaraguans participated in the blockade and subsequent conflict with police because they feared being arrested and deported. By portraying La Carpio incorrectly as a community of Nicaraguans who are inherently violent, the media justifies the structural violence in which La Carpio residents are trapped and the direct violence that the police employ upon them.

The lack of educational opportunities for La Carpio residents presents yet another structural barrier. Environmental insecurity and injustice are common forms of structural violence in similarly disenfranchised communities throughout the world.

Economic opportunities for La Carpio residents are limited for a number of reasons related to the forms of structural violence. With little education and few opportunities for legal residents, much less illegal immigrants, to access state adult education and training programs or other social services, the majority of La Carpio residents work in the informal economy if at all.

With reports from the University for Peace (

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