In order to understand Bajo Tejares is it first necessary to understand the tumultuous history between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. In the 1960s, civilians of Nicaragua and the ruling dynasty clashed in what was widely known as the “Nicagaruan Revolution”, resulting in twenty years of civil war. The most notable events of this civil strife occurred between two rebel factions, the Sandinistas and the Contras. The Sandinnistas were a leftist government organization that consolidated control during the 1970’s and ruled through 1990 (when they were narrowly defeated in a democratic election). As a result, the 80s witnessed the Nicaraguan economy plunge into a deep depression, primarily due to bad government policies and the ongoing civil war. The GDP dropped 80% and a great exodus began. Nicaraguans fled to Costa Rica, hoping to escape the political instability and, more importantly, the complete economic collapse.Costa Rica was a safe haven for many Central American refugees. At the time, Costa Rica received support from the US and UN in order to deal with the influx of refugees. However, that money eventually stopped flowing and Costa Rica was unable to deal with the massive number of incoming Nicaraguan immigrants. As a result, social and humanitarian services began to lag and prejudice began to build.
Although many Ticos (Costa Ricans) are not overtly racist, they show little compassion to the Nicaraguans and often mock their difficulties. In many cases, Nicaraguans are exploited as farm labor and then the immigration department is called on pay-day. Nicaraguans rarely receive minimum wage ($1.50) and are often let go as soon as possible. The two classes do not readily mix socially. All of this is to say that, in a relatively wealthy country, Nicaraguans frequently live and work in Third World conditions.
Costa Rica itself is growing more polarized. The poverty level has catapulted to nearly 25%, forcing the Costa Rican government to strain it’s already limited resources. Bajo Tejares was created in the late 80s when the government, in an effort to “clean up” San Jose, moved a community of squatters to San Ramon and gave them a district to stay in. A Catholic soup kitchen was opened for them and the government promised to someday help them build houses (a promise which has not yet been fulfilled). After that, these people set up a partially functioning community, sharing electricity and water, while building what little infrastructure they could (sewage), hoping to create a sense of normalcy.
The community grew as people contacted their families and told them about the area. Most of the current families in Bajo arrived by the mid 1990’s, after a year or so of migration, and have been there since. The only real legitimate jobs held by Nicaraguans in Bajo is day labor in construction and seasonal coffee picking. This is the extent of legitimate yearly income for many. Drug (crack cocaine) trafficking and the sex trade are the area’s main money makers. Most goods are stolen and then distributed at night. Abandoned and poor, these people subsist under the worst physical conditions, with unemployment looming at 80 percent and their shelter consisting of little more than wooden shacks with dirt floors.