The Costa Rican Catholic Church, Social Justice, and the Rights of Workers, 1979–1996


274 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-88920-445-4
DDC 261.8'5




Reviewed by John Walker

John Walker is a professor of Spanish studies at Queen’s University.


Compared to the troubled conditions and civil wars in neighbouring
countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, there is much to be
thankful for in Costa Rica. However, as Dana Sawchuk demonstrates in
this study, it is not the paradise that the U.S. government (which has a
vested economic and political interest) and other proponents suggest.

Sawchuk’s study started life as a dissertation, and there is still
more than a whiff of dissertationese in this otherwise well-researched
and well-written work. Purporting to deal with the role of the church,
social justice, and the rights of the workers over the 1979–96 period,
Sawchuk in passing highlights the crime, poverty, exploitation,
prostitution, environment pollution, and destruction emanating from the
U.S.-controlled banana plantations, and the fate of the workers. Based
on the neo-Marxist theories of Gramsci and Maduro, Sawchuk’s thesis is
divided into an informative introduction, followed by 10 chapters
dealing with the role of the church, paper encyclicals, key church
figures and institutions, documents, and their influence on the workers.
Among other topics, these chapters deal with the political-economic
conditions, the union movement (sindicalismo), the rival
labour-cum-management organization (solidarismo), the Catholic social
teaching tradition vis-а-vis the workers, the role of church hierarchy
figures, church organizations directed by bishops, and the problems of
church/workers in specific places like Limуn province. The concluding
chapter contains a useful summary of the research and lists the
implications for the future.

Sawchuk has seen first-hand the problems of the people among whom she
lived and worked. Her thesis is based on personal contact, interviews,
archival digging, letters, papers, documents, meetings with labour
activists, priests (ordinary and hierarchy), and campesinos. Her solid
scholarship is demonstrated by 35 pages of useful notes and a 22-page
bibliography. The end product is a valuable socio-economic, cultural,
and political study of a country that has often been misinterpreted by
well-meaning outsiders.


Sawchuk, Dana., “The Costa Rican Catholic Church, Social Justice, and the Rights of Workers, 1979–1996,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed December 10, 2023,