Costa Rica

All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About encyclopedia.com content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated

COSTA RICA

Republic of Costa Rica

República de Costa Rica

COUNTRY OVERVIEW

LOCATION AND SIZE.

Costa Rica is a central American nation, located between Nicaragua and Panama. Its borders span 309 kilometers (192 miles) with Nicaragua and 330 kilometers (205 miles) with Panama. Costa Rica also borders the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, its coastline reaching across 1,290 kilometers (802 miles). The country has 51,100 square kilometers (19,730 square miles) of land, which is slightly less than the size of West Virginia, including the Isla del Coco (a small island in the Pacific Ocean).

San José, the capital, is located in a highland valley in central Costa Rica called the Meseta Central. Most of the country's population is located in this area formed by 2 basins separated by low, volcanic hills ranging from 900 to 1,500 meters above sea level. Other important cities are Cartago (the old colonial capital), Alajuela, and Heredia. The main port cities are Limón on the Caribbean Sea and Puntarenas on the Pacific.

POPULATION.

The country's population was estimated at 3.5 million in July of 2000. It is growing at a rate of 1.69 percent, which means that the population should reach approximately 4.1 million by 2010 and should double to over 7 million by the year 2035. Over 60 percent of the population is between the ages of 15 and 64, and only 5 percent of citizens are over 65 years old. The population is young, posing a challenge for the government to provide adequate schooling and training for youngsters. About 95 percent of the population can read and write. The larger, younger generation will also require greater health and retirement services as it begins to age.

Birth rates are at 20.69 per 1,000 people and death rates are at 4.31 per 1,000 people. There are approximately 2.52 children born per woman. Infant mortality rates are 11.49 deaths per 1,000 live births. There are approximately 1.02 males for every female in Costa Rica. The average life expectancy is 75.82 years: 73.3 years for males, and 78.5 years for females.

Adding to the high birth rate, the Costa Rican population also increases due to immigration particularly from Nicaragua and other Central American countries. Immigrants come to Costa Rica in search of work opportunities, which they usually find in the agricultural sector. They are attracted by the relatively higher standards of living that are enjoyed in the country. The immigration rate for 2000 was estimated at 0.54 immigrants per 1,000 citizens.

The population of Costa Rica is mainly white (94 percent, including mixed European and Amerindian mestizos) and Roman Catholic (85 percent). There is a small proportion of black (3 percent), Amerindian (1 percent), and Chinese (1 percent) residents, and the second most important religious group is Evangelical Protestant (14 percent).

OVERVIEW OF ECONOMY

Costa Rica has a mixed economy in which both public and private companies play an important role. The government has supported socialist policies for decades. The emphasis in the economy has been placed on the governmental promotion of human development and welfare, while still allowing private companies to operate in some industries. These efforts were intensified in the 1950s, when political and social forces supported a method of economic development (planned growth) that was heavily dependent upon the state.

The biggest indication of the government's socialist ideology was its purchasing of goods and companies that were in trouble. When the state bought an interest in key industries such as banking, electricity, telecommunications, insurance, medicine, and education during the second half of the 1900s, the economy underwent nationalization . Under government control, Costa Rica achieved a relatively high standard of living.

However, this strategy relied on deficit spending, which meant that the Costa Rican government was spending money that it did not have. Even worse, the government also financially supported import substitution industrialization (ISI) policies during the 1960s and 1970s. Such policies were supposed to make the country more self-sufficient in industrial production, but ISI policies put Costa Rica deeper in debt.

The worldwide recession of the 1980s helped cause a Latin American debt crisis. Facing a devalued currency and an inflation rate of over 100 percent, Costa Rica experienced the most severe recession since the 1930s. The country was forced to make economic reforms and to liberalize the economy. This process began with a currency stabilization program (to stop inflation ), and led to a structural adjustment program (SAP) that tried to reduce government intervention in the economy.

The government sold many companies in which it had invested, but state control of the main industries persisted, with the exception of the banking industry. The people of Costa Rica preferred a state-run economy, and chose to finance their debt through the attraction of foreign direct investment . Public funds continued to be directed towards the manufacture and export of industrial goods. In spite of an increase in taxes, deficit spending continued, and the public debt grew. Interest payments on this debt absorbed a third of public accounts annually, making the economy unstable. Foreign direct investment helped the growth of local supply networks and supported export growth. The Intel Corporation opened a microprocessing plant in Costa Rica in 1998. The country has also been successful at promoting tourism, which has become an important source of foreign investment, has increased employment, and has generated substantial exchange revenue.

High levels of gross domestic product (GDP) growth achieved during 1998 and 1999around 8 percentproved unsustainable in 2000 when the demand for microprocessors plummeted. GDP growth during 2000 fell to a mere 1.5 percent. Economic policy focused on controlling inflation (at a historically low 10 percent), but the fiscal deficit remained above 4 percent, limiting economic growth.

POLITICS, GOVERNMENT, AND TAXATION

Costa Rica differed from other Spanish colonies in that it never developed a system of large land holdings. Agricultural production was limited to the size of families, and the distribution of land and other resources was relatively equal. Independence from Spain came without violence in 1821. After joining the Mexican Empire briefly in 1822, the Central American colonies Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Ricacreated a federated republic in 1823, which collapsed in 1829. Costa Rica is a democratic republic organized under the 1949 constitution. The president, 2 vice-presidents, and single-chamber congress (the Legislative Assembly) are directly elected for 4-year terms. The Supreme Court justices are elected by the Legislative Assembly for 8-year terms.

Liberal political reforms in the late 1800s facilitated the expansion of democratic institutions and processes. The middle class of Costa Rica flourished along with the development of commerce, services, and manufacturing. As economic conditions worsened through the Great Depression of the 1930s, the role of the state increased, and the citizens of Costa Rica demanded economic reform. Much of the country's character was defined in the 1950s through the abolition of the army, the nationalization of the main industries, and the construction of a social welfare system .

The main political forces in the country since the introduction of the social welfare system have been the Social Democrats (Liberación Nacional) and the Christian Democrats (Unidad Social Cristiana). Both Social and Christian Democrats have pursued an active involvement of the state in economic affairs. As a result, Costa Rica is a country in which the public sector plays a major role. The wave of privatization that has shaken most Latin American countries has not been significant in Costa Rica. The state continues to control key industries such as electricity, telecommunications, banking, insurance, health, oil refinery, and alcohol distillation. This situation has resulted more from public opposition to privatization than from government policy. As a result, the state has focused on administrative reforms that attempt to improve the efficiency of public companies.

Although there has been an increase in the level of participation of the private sector , the state is still in control. Banking is no longer a state monopoly , but the 3 largest banks are state owned. Medicine is also practiced privately, but the largest and most modern hospitals are owned and operated by the government's social security system. A law passed in 2000 allows the handling of oldage pensions by private companies, but the majority of pensions are still under state control.

The central government has a significant impact on the economy with its expenditures totaling over 30 percent of GDP in 1998. This is much higher than the level of expenditures in Canada (24.7 percent of GDP), the United States (21 percent) or the East Asian countries (10.4 percent), but is lower than the level in France (46.6 percent), Italy (44.6 percent), the U.K. (37.9 percent), Spain (36.1 percent), or Germany (32.9 percent). According to Central Bank figures (1999), the main sources of government revenue were import duties (42 percent), income taxes (22 percent), sales taxes (16 percent), and consumption taxes (5 percent).

Since tax revenues are lower than 23 percent of GDP, the government finances its expenditures through debt. This creates a deficit that in 1996 amounted to 4 percent of GDP and, although it was lowered to levels closer to 3 percent during 1998, has resurged during the past 2 years. Public debt has risen as a result, to a point where it represents more than the total of goods and services produced by the country, and thus represents a major source of economic instability. Interest payments on the debt absorb up to a third of the national budget, restricting the amount of funds that can be devoted to building schools, roads, and hospitals. The country's Central Bank has a limited ability to control the money supply and to fight inflation.

In spite of these negative trends, the government devotes over 5 percent of GDP to education and almost 7 percent of GDP to health. This compares well to the Latin American averages of expenditure in education and health, at 4.5 percent and 3.1 percent, respectively, and is comparable to international levels. The result of this policy has been an educated, skilled workforce.

INFRASTRUCTURE, POWER, AND COMMUNICATIONS

One of the greatest challenges facing the country is the maintenance of its infrastructure . Investments in this area have not kept pace with economic growth. There is more traffic than the old roads and ports can safely

Communications
Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Computers Personal a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Costa Rica 94 271 387 13.8 28 2.3 39.1 10.41 150
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Mexico 97 325 261 15.7 35 3.0 47.0 23.02 1,822
Nicaragua 30 285 190 40.2 4 N/A 7.8 2.21 20
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium (http://www.isc.org) and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

handle, and the communication and power networks are not strong enough for the country's demands. A law was passed in 1998 to allow the development and administration of the infrastructure through private contracts, but by 2000 not one contract had been granted.

Costa Rica's communication infrastructure is less advanced than other Latin American countries. For example, in 1998 telephone lines per 1,000 inhabitants were at 172, better than the Latin American average of 118. But cellular phones per 1,000 inhabitants were at 28, caompared with 43 for all of Latin America, while Internet hosts were at 0.85 per 1,000 inhabitants compared to 4.85 for Latin America. Television sets were at a level of 387 per 1,000 inhabitants, compared to 255 per 1,000 for Latin America, but cable subscribers were at 13.8 per 1,000, compared to 28.3 per 1,000 for Latin America.

The country has over 35,705 kilometers (22,187 miles) of roads, of which 20 percent corresponds to national highways and 80 percent to local roads. About 56 percent of the national roads and 12 percent of the local roads are paved. Two major projects were underway by the end of 2000 to improve the carrying capacity of the main roads connecting the capital to the Pacific Coast.

Electric power generation and telecommunications are handled by a state monopoly, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE). Efforts to open these sectors to competition and privatization sparked riots and public protests in early 2000. The government claimed that it needed help from the private sector in order to service demand. Rioters were afraid that privatization would result in higher rates and the neglect of rural locations. The country's power source is mostly hydroelectric, although geothermal and wind sources are also used. The Costa Rican Congress was discussing a restructuring of the ICE in 2000-01 that would allow the establishment of joint ventures for the development of energy and telecommunication projects. It would, however, fall short of allowing competition by private participants in these sectors.

An index compiled by the Instituto Centroamericano de Administración de Empresas (INCAE), the Harvard Institute for International Development, and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration shows Costa Rican infrastructure lagging behind that of other Central American and East Asian countries. Values assessed ranged from 1 to 7 with higher values representing better infrastructure conditions. Costa Rica obtained a value of 2.29 compared to 3.46 for Guatemala, 3.56 for Nicaragua, 4.55 for South East Asia, and 4.64 for the United States, Japan, Ireland, Sweden, and China. This means that Costa Rican business faces greater challenges to compete against other nations.

ECONOMIC SECTORS

The Costa Rican economy is concentrated in the service sector, with 60.5 percent of its 1998 GDP represented in this category. The main service activity in the country is tourism, with over 1 million visitors in 1999. Industry is the second most important sector, representing 24 percent of GDP in 1998, followed by agriculture, which represents 15.2 percent of GDP.

The amount that industry contributes to GDP in Costa Rica is average for Latin America but is low when compared to that of East Asia (44 percent of GDP), the Arab nations (40 percent of GDP), and Eastern Europe (35 percent). However, it has become an area of aggressive growth through government stimulus. Efforts to build a high technology park through foreign direct investment have attracted firms like Intel Corporation, Baxter Medical, Microsoft, Abbot Laboratories, Conair, and Alcoa.

Government policies have attempted to reduce dependence on agriculture as a source of employment, production, and foreign exchange revenue. This has reduced the relevance of agriculture from close to 40 percent of GDP in the 1950s to its current 15.2 percent level. However, it still employs about 20 percent of the labor force .

AGRICULTURE

Costa Rica's temperate (warm) climate and fertile soils are suitable to agricultural production. There is an abundance of wateryearly rainfall averages 4 meters and irrigation has been successfully applied to develop more arid (dry) regions. The government supports growers through research, training, and technical assistance.

The agricultural sector in Costa Rica has been declining in importance since the 1950s, but in 1998 still accounted for 15 percent of GDP and employed one-fifth of the labor force. Almost 10 percent of the country's land is used for agriculture. Agriculture is still an important contributor to foreign trade. Excluding free zone companies, agricultural exports represent approximately 60 percent of export flows. Traditional crops, like coffee and bananas, have been the staples of agricultural production since the 18th century. However, a wide range of nontraditional products has appeared since the 1980s that have begun a revival in agricultural exports.

Coffee is the country's oldest agricultural product and has been exported since the 1790s. In the 1820s the Costa Rican government stimulated its production by distributing free coffee plants and offering tax exemptions to interested families. This approach resulted in a group of small producers that, in spite of the existence of large-scale growers, has managed to remain in existence. Costa Rican coffee has been characterized by its high quality and efficient production, boasting some of the highest area yields in the world. In 1999 the country produced 147,000 metric tons of coffee. Although for many years coffee was the country's main source of foreign exchange, low international prices eroded its importance. Production for 1994-99 averaged 2.9 million bags (133,000 metric tons) with revenues of US$370 million annually. While such revenue represented about 11 percent of total export earnings in 1994, it only amounted to 4 percent of total export earnings in 2000.

Banana production surpassed coffee as the main agricultural product in 1992. Local farmers have cultivated it for over a century on the country's coasts, although primarily multinational corporations handle its export and sale. Production grew constantly during the 1990s, and prices remained steady. Exports for 1994-99 averaged 2,045,000 metric tons with revenues of US$624 million. This represented almost twice the revenue generated by coffee. Costa Rica devotes 50,000 hectares to growing bananas, almost 1 percent of its territory. It is the second largest producer in the world with an annual crop of approximately 115 million boxes sold in the United States and Europe. Growers estimate that their industry generates over 40,000 direct jobs and 100,000 indirect jobs. Workers in banana production enjoy the highest salaries and benefits in the Costa Rican agricultural sector.

Costa Rica is also an important producer of sugar. Yearly export volumes average 130,000 metric tons per year, with revenues of US$39 million. However, unlike coffee or bananas, sugar production is largely for local consumption, which exceeds 2.6 million metric tons. Over 48,000 hectares of land are dedicated to the production of sugar.

Nontraditional agricultural goods have been rising in importance over recent years. Most of them are export oriented and linked to various forms of agroindustry. Examples are African palm used for the extraction of vegetable cooking oil, and oranges processed for their juice and exported as fluid or concentrate. Although African palm has been cultivated since the 1970s, its period of strong growth began in the 1990s. By 1996 over 27,000 hectares were in production generating a volume of 422,000 metric tons. Orange production began in earnest as recently as 1990, spurred by the construction of 2 processing plants. Production areas doubled in 6 years, reaching 23,500 hectares and 165,000 metric tons. Other important nontraditional agricultural products are hearts of palm, ornamental plants, and macadamia nuts.

INDUSTRY

Costa Rican industry expanded in the 1960s and 1970s through government investment and protection. Sizable industrial investments were undertaken by the state through its development agency, CODESA. The investments aimed at reducing foreign dependence. However, the halt of foreign competition through trade protection resulted in inefficiency and products of poor quality. The strategy was abandoned in the mid-1980s as the government initiated a process of trade liberalization.

Industrialization policies since then have supported nontraditional exports. They have relied on direct subsidies such as the CAT (Certificado de Abono Tributario a tax refund certificate) program; and indirect subsidies such as income tax exemptions, preferential import duties, and streamlined import-export facilities.

The result has been a sustained increase in the flow of industrial exports that has more than doubled their dollar value in less than 10 years, from US$518 million in 1991 to US$1.1 billion in 1999. Since 1996, industrial exports have contributed over 40 percent of all exports, excluding those from the free zone. About 15 percent of the workforce is employed in manufacturing activities.

Industry has also been promoted through the attraction of foreign investment. The country's industrial policy has been successful in attracting high technology companies, the most noteworthy being Intel Corporation, which invested over US$200 million in the construction of microprocessor production facilities in 1998. Total export volumes nearly doubled as a result of these investments, from US$3.5 billion in 1995 to US$6.6 billion in 1999. The export volume of the free zone sector was greater than the combined revenues of the normal export sector.

Because small industry is rarely eligible for free zone benefits but is subject to all forms of regulation and taxesincluding payroll taxes that can reach up to 50 percent of workers' salariesa growing number of establishments have been appearing in the informal sector . The Costa Rican Chamber of Industry estimates that 84 percent of all the industrial firms established in the 1990-98 period belonged to the informal sector.

MINING.

Gold is mined on the southern Pacific Coast and northwestern regions of the country. Some controversy exists as to the ecological impact of the methods employed in these extractions. Silver is also mined though not extensivelyin the western part of the country. Deposits of manganese, nickel, mercury, and sulfur exist but remain unexplored. Petroleum deposits have been identified in the southeastern region, but their exploitation has been deemed uneconomical. Salt is produced from seawater.

MANUFACTURING.

Until recently, most of the country's industry consisted of small-scale light manufacturing enterprises. Intel Corporation's arrival in 1998 marked the first large-scale manufacturing venture. Coffee-drying plants, sugar mills, cheese factories, sawmills, woodworking factories, breweries, and distilleries characterize the manufacturing sector. There is a single petroleum refinery that is state owned, and several hydroelectric plants with capacity to produce close to 6 billion kilowatt hours of electricity. Factories produce petroleum products, furniture, paper, textiles, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, plastics, footwear, cigars, cigarettes, jewelry, and clothing.

About half of the 4,856 industrial firms are located in the capital, San José. Next in importance are Alajuela (20 percent), Heredia (11 percent), and Cartago (10 percent). Of these firms, 2,411 (49.6 percent) are micro-enterprises employing between 1 and 4 workers. There are 1,547 (31.9 percent) small industries with 5 to 19 employees, 624 (12.9 percent) medium industries, with 20 to 29 employees, and 274 large industries (5.6 percent) with 100 or more employees.

According to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, 24 percent of all industrial establishments process foods, drinks, and tobacco; 21 percent are metal and mechanic shops; 15 percent process wood, furniture, or other wooden products; 14 percent produce textile or leather products; 9 percent are in paper and printing; and 8 percent are in chemicals, rubber, and plastics.

SERVICES

Over 50 percent of the Costa Rican workforce is employed in the service sector, producing over 60 percent of the country's GDP.

TOURISM.

The most dynamic portion of the service sector is tourism. Costa Rica pioneered ecotourism (the practice of touring natural habitats in a manner that minimizes ecological impact). Because of its great biodiversity the country enjoys a natural advantage in this sort of activity. The number of tourists visiting Costa Rica has increased steadily during the 1990s, at an average rate of 15 percent per year. During 1999 over 1 million people visited the country, and the Costa Rican tourist board estimates that number increased by over 10 percent in 2000. Since 1986 a flow of investment exceeding US$800 million has been devoted to developing the sector. In 2001 there were over 13,400 rooms available for tourists. In 1998 US$883 million was generated by the tourist industry. This amount was over twice the revenue generated by coffee and 1.3 times that of banana exports. The government promotes the development of tourism through the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (ICT), or tourist board, which prepares a yearly development plan. ICT runs specialized educational facilities to train workers in hotel management and other tourism-related activities.

RETAIL.

Retailers currently employ about 20 percent of the active workforce. Most retail firms are small to medium companies, although large discount retailers and hypermarkets have established themselves in the market during the past 2 years. There are 4 main supermarket chainsAutomercados, MasxMenos, Super2000, and Perifericosas well as a number of one-location markets of considerable size. Coverage of retail stores is limited to the Central Valley, although some have made inroads into the provinces during recent years. The oldest and largest department stores are La Gloria, with significant coverage in the Central Valley, and Llobet, located mainly in Alajuela.

FINANCIAL SERVICES.

About 5 percent of the workforce is employed in financial services. The sector generates about 3.6 percent of GDP. Banking was a state monopoly until 1987, when private institutions were allowed to coexist legally with the state banks, although they were limited to offering time deposits and were not allowed to offer checking or savings deposits. Reforms in the 1990s allowed private banks to offer the entire range of financial services, virtually eliminating the previous state monopoly. The only difference that persists between private and public banks is that the latter enjoy unlimited deposit guarantee from the state whereas private deposits are un-secured. There are 3 public banksBanco Nacional, Banco de Costa Rica, and Banco Crédito Agrícola de Cartagowhich represent 41 percent of total credit, and 20 private banks which represent 35 percent of total credit (2000). Other financial institutions include a workers' bank known as the Banco Popular y de Desarrollo Comunal which is capitalized through mandatory payroll contributions from workers and employers, a public funding agency for mortgage financing known as the Banco Hipotecario de la Vivienda, savings and loan cooperatives, mutual fund companies, and finance companies. The social security fund also engages in long-term mortgage financing. Insurance is presently a state monopoly; all insurance business is handled by the Instituto Nacional de Seguros.

There is a private stock exchange, the Bolsa Nacional de Valores (BNV), which is the oldest and largest in Central America. Its current annual volume is approximately US$28 billion, but over 80 percent of the volume traded is in public instruments. Only a small fraction of this volume (under 1 percent) is in equities . Some international transactions are also handled through the exchange. There are 27 brokerage companies currently participating at the exchange.

There are 3 regulatory entities in the financial sector: the Superintendencia de Entidades Financieras (Financial Superintendence), regulating banks, credit cooperatives, and other financial institutions; the Superintendencia de Pensiones (Pension Superintendence), regulating pension administrators; and the Superintendencia de Valores (Securities Superintendence), regulating securities and exchanges. All 3 entities are governed by a national board or commission, the Consejo Nacional de Supervisión Financiera.

COMPUTER SOFTWARE.

A burgeoning sector in Costa Rican services is the production of computer software. The National Chamber of Software Producers estimates the country currently boasts the highest number of per capita software producers in the world. About 85 percent of these firms, all nationally owned, export their products with yearly revenues of over US$50 million. The sector is estimated to have generated over 1,500 jobs in 1998. The high level of education and technical expertise available in the population favors the development of this industry, which is expected to continue growing.

INTERNATIONAL TRADE

Following a period of protectionism during the 1960s and 1970s, Costa Rica has slowly opened to greater foreign investment. The result has been an increase in import and export activity. Whereas imports and exports each barely amounted to US$200 million in 1969, in 1998 they had reached levels of US$6.2 and US$5.5 billion, respectively. The bulk of this growth occurred during the

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Costa Rica
Exports Imports
1975 .493 .694
1980 1.002 1.540
1985 .976 1.098
1990 1.448 1.990
1995 3.453 4.036
1998 5.511 6.230
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.

1990s. In the case of imports it took the country from 1977 to 1990 to double its import volume from US$1 to US$2 billion, but only 8 years (1990-98) to triple that level to US$6.2 billion. The main sources of these imports in 1998 were the United States (41 percent), Japan (8.1 percent), Mexico (7.3 percent), and Venezuela (4 percent). In the case of exports it took from 1980 to 1992 (12 years) to double its export volume around the US$2 billion level, but only 6 years (1992-98) to more than double again and reach US$5.5 billion. The country's main export destinations in 1999 were the United States (49 percent), the European Union (22 percent), and other Central American nations (10 percent).

This growth has been accompanied by an important shift in the composition of trade. The importance of agricultural exports has diminished in favor of industrial exports. From 1991 to 1999, industrial goods went from 49 percent to 77 percent of total exports, whereas agricultural goods fell from 51 percent to 23 percent, respectively. This shift was largely the result of policies conducted to promote direct foreign investment and stimulate exports. These investments were carried out in free zone areas and their contribution to exports grew from 22 percent in 1991 to 60 percent in 1999. During the same period, local industry reduced its contribution to exports from 27 percent to 17 percent.

This growth of exports was driven by the arrival of foreign manufacturersmost importantly, the Intel Corporation. With its arrival in 1997, free zone exports shot up by a factor of 4, from US$891 million to US$3.6 billion. The relevance of Intel's exports can be gauged by their impact on the total volume of country exports, which rose from US$4.2 billion in 1997 to US$6.6 billion in 1999.

Since Costa Rica relies heavily on imports of raw materials and capital goods , industrial export growth has been accompanied by a substantial growth in imports. The country has carried a deficit in its balance of trade for every year since 1995, except 1999. However, the deficit has shrunk from over 33 percent of total exports in 1995 to just over 7 percent of total exports in 2000. This trade deficit has been financed by foreign capital flows, which have totaled US$2.4 billion in the past 5 years. Income from the service sector, particularly from tourism, has also helped finance the trade deficit.

The country's dependence on foreign capital flows to sustain imports is one of its recognized weaknesses. Although so far it has managed to attract sufficient levels of investment through its aggressive promotion policies, its stable social and political circumstances, and its highly educated workforce, the inability to generate sufficient foreign exchange through exports alone makes the country vulnerable to changes in international circumstances. Investment attraction policies have also been

Exchange rates: Costa Rica
Costa Rican colones (C) per US$1
2001 318.95
2000 308.19
1999 285.68
1998 257.23
1997 232.60
1996 207.69
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

criticized as expensive and fiscally unsustainable since they require substantial subsidies and tax exemptions.

MONEY

Costa Rica has suffered from chronic inflation during the last 25 years. Inflation rates exceeded 100 percent at the height of the debt crisis in the early 1980s, but monetary authorities have successfully managed to bring the inflation rate under control. Inflation rates at the end of the 1990s varied from 10 percent to 15 percent annually.

The country's high level of social spending generated fiscal deficits that were financed through the Central Bank. An administrative structure that provided for government control of the Central Bank allowed its easy manipulation. Although subsequent reforms granted the Central Bank more freedom from the government, it still carries the burden of high debt. Since interest payments on the public debt represent as much as 30 percent of the spending budget, total debt is increasing, requiring ever larger amounts of public funds and limiting the ability of the government to spend in other areas such as health and education. The government's inability to balance the fiscal budget has led to inflationary pressures.

The persistence of inflation has led to periodic currency devaluation in order to protect the competitiveness of Costa Rican exports. The government's policy aims at maintaining a neutral currency value by comparing domestic inflation to an index of international inflation rates. The goal is to maintain the local currency at its 1992 level, adjusting for inflation so that its purchasing power is neither greater nor lower than what it was at that date. Devaluation rates typically follow inflation rates, and are currently at a 10 percent to 12 percent annual level. The exchange rate for January 2001 was approximately 320 colones to the dollar.

Although the legal currency is the colón, dollar-denominated transactions are legal and widespread. This practice developed in the 1980s as people tried to protect themselves against inflation and devaluation. Legalization took place in the early 1990s. Convertibility of the colón to the dollar is unrestricted and can be done at every bank and financial institution. Loans and investments can be contracted in dollars, and rent contracts are typically denominated in dollars.

POVERTY AND WEALTH

Costa Rica has a large, professional middle class, and a relatively equal distribution of wealth. For the years between 1987 and 1998, the poorest 20 percent of the population held 4 percent of total income, whereas the richest 20 percent held 52 percent of total income. Approximately 9.6 percent of the population was reported under the World Bank poverty line (PPP US$1 a day) in 1998, compared to an average of 15.6 percent for Latin America and the Caribbean. The country had a per capita income (at purchasing power parity ) of US$7,100 in 1999.

The GINI coefficient is an index of inequality that measures the distance between a perfectly equitable distribution of income and the actual distribution across the population. A coefficient of 0 entails perfect equality, and a coefficient of 1 entails perfect inequality. Costa Rica's GINI coefficient for 1996, as reported by the World Bank, was 0.4607. This compared favorably with the distribution of income for its neighboring countries: El Salvador (0.052), Guatemala (0.0596), Honduras (0.537), Nicaragua (0.503), and Panama (0.485). The United States had a GINI coefficient of 0.408.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean classifies countries according to the incidence of inequality as measured by 5 risk factors: urban income inequality, urban poverty, urban unemployment, percentage of youngsters between 13 and 17 that are out of school, and the percentage of children that have not completed 6 years of schooling by age 15. Costa Rica is classified as having a low incidence of income inequality, measured as a ratio no greater than 8 between the richest 10 percent and the poorest 40 percent. It is also considered to have low incidence of poverty, measured

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Costa Rica 2,231 2,482 2,176 2,403 2,800
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Mexico 3,380 4,167 4,106 4,046 4,459
Nicaragua 999 690 611 460 452
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.
Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage
Share: Costa Rica
Lowest 10% 1.3
Lowest 20% 4.0
Second 20% 8.8
Third 20% 13.7
Fourth 20% 21.7
Highest 20% 51.8
Highest 10% 34.7
Survey year: 1996
Note: This information refers to income shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita income.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].

as a maximum of 20 percent of urban households classified as poor. In the other 3 categories Costa Rica is classified as having a median incidence of inequality: urban unemployment between 6 percent and 10 percent, between 8 percent and 15 percent of youngsters from 13 to 17 out of school, and between 10 percent and 20 percent of children under 15 that have not completed 6 years of schooling.

Costa Rica has also been classified by the United Nations Development Program as a country with medium human development in the 2000 report. The Human Development Index (HDI) is a composite index that measures different aspects of development, such as life expectancy at birth, education, and income. Costa Rica was ranked 47th in the world according to the HDI report 2000.

The Costa Rican government provides a comprehensive safety net through its social security system. Although coverage is far from universal and the system is plagued by high rates of evasion, payroll taxes insure a majority of the working population and their families. There is no unemployment insurance, but the law requires employers to pay up to 8 months of severance to dismissed employees. A legal reform passed in 2000 requires employers to pay monthly contributions into pension and severance funds that will be at the disposal of employees when required. Education is mandatory and free at the primary and secondary levels, and public universities provide high quality, low cost education at the undergraduate and graduate level. High quality medical attention is available and open to all citizens in the national hospitals.

Despite these achievements certain tendencies have started to erode the benefits of social services, creating a growing gap between the higher and lower sectors of the population. The quality of private education, for example, has surpassed that of public education. Service at public clinics and hospitals is poor, and there are long waits for medical appointments and procedures that tend to exclude those most in need. Public pensions are low and lag behind inflation. Reform efforts are underway that will attack these situations, but until they are passed, governmental authorities will continue to be challenged by these problems. Although government spending in these areas has not been reduced, critics believe that even higher amounts are required. The reforms partly hinge on this matter, but also aim at increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of administrators.

WORKING CONDITIONS

The labor force was estimated to be 1.377 million in 1998, with 5.6 percent unemployment and 7.5 percent underemployment (employment that does not require all the skills held by the employee). Working conditions are regulated in Costa Rica by a Labor Code (Código de Trabajo), and by administrative directives issued through the Ministry of Labor. Among the basic stipulations in effect are a minimum salary, a maximum workday with overtime stipulations, minimum safety and health requirements at the workplace, paid vacations and resting days, severance pay, a mandatory Christmas bonus, and maternity leave. Wage statistics published by the Inter-american Development Bank show that, although real minimum wages in Costa Rica fell by 1.4 percent between 1990 and 1992, they rose by 15 percent between 1992 and 1998.

Enforcement of the laws and regulation is conducted by Labor Ministry inspectors and through the labor courts. All employers are required to insure their workers against job-related injuries. Coverage is provided exclusively through the National Insurance Company (INS), and covers medical expenses, lost wages, and compensation in case of disability. Costa Rica has ratified, to date, 48 of the International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions.

Labor unions have existed legally in Costa Rica for a long time and there are at least 4 national labor organizations or confederations: Confederación de Trabajadores Rerum Novarum (CTRN), Central del Movimiento de Trabajadores Costarricenses (CMTC), Confederación de Trabajadores de Costa Rica (CTCR), and Confederación Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT). The influence of labor is greatest in the public sector.

During the 1990s, fiscal constraints led the government to curtail some of the privileges of public sector employees. These privileges were considered excessive and disproportionate to the benefits of workers in the private sector. Among the privileges that were discontinued were shortened workweeks, extended vacation periods, wage premiums linked to seniority and not productivity, and severance bonuses. This resulted in strikes held by public sector employees. Inability to solve the disputes led unions to process claims of labor rights violations at the International Labor Organization. During the 1990s, the ILO reports that strikes and lockouts averaged 18.5 per year, with the worst year being 1990. About 70 percent of these occurred in the public sector.

COUNTRY HISTORY AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

1502. Columbus lands on Costa Rica.

1522. Spanish colonizing expedition led by Gil Gonzalez Davila names the area Costa Rica, or "Rich Coast" because of the large amounts of gold given to them by the natives.

1562. Establishment of first permanent settlement, Cartago, by Juan Vázquez de Coronado "the true conqueror of Costa Rica," who acts as governor.

1821. Costa Rica gains independence from Spain, and votes to join the Mexican empire.

1823. Costa Rica joins the United Provinces of Central America, with Guatemala City as the capital.

1824. Juan Mora Fernández elected to be the first head of state. He presides over 9 years of stable progress.

1838. Costa Rica withdraws from Central American federation and declares complete independence.

1840s. Great wealth comes to several coffee growers, called "coffee barons."

1870-82. Investment in railroads and public works during the military rule of Tomás Guardia.

1871. Minor Copper Keith, the eventual founder of the United Fruit Company, comes to Costa Rica to manage production of the railway.

1873. Keith begins growing bananas to feed railway workers.

1889. Democracy established in Costa Rica.

1920-30s. Economic depression. Public calls for government reform culminate with communist -led strike against United Fruit Company.

1940-44. Rafael Angel Calderón Guardia continues the reformist movement as president by creating the social security system and introducing a labor code. He also founds the University of Costa Rica.

1948. A 40-day civil war kills 2,000 people; José Mariá Figueres Ferrer becomes head of the government, founds the Partido de Liberacion Nacional (PLN), and nationalizes the banks and insurance companies. (He dies a national hero in 1990.)

1950-60s. Period of expansion in government intervention in the economy and creation of a welfare state and public school system.

1980. Economic crisis due to inflation, currency devaluation, high oil prices, low prices for coffee, bananas, and sugar, high costs of the welfare state, and the disruption caused by the war in Nicaragua. Costa Rica has the world's highest per capita debt.

1981-84. The United States and IMF pour US$3 billion in aid into the Costa Rican economy.

1987. Costa Rican president Oscar Arias Sanchez wins Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to establish peace in Central America.

1990. Rafael Angel Calderón Fournier, son of Calderón Guardia and opposition leader, is elected president. He promotes reform of the tax codes.

1994. José María Figueres Olsen, son of Figueres Ferrer and Liberación Nacional leader, is elected president. He initiates policies to attract direct foreign investment in high technology.

1998. Conservative economist and opposition leader Miguel A. Rodríquez is elected president. His narrow victory at the polls leads to an experiment with "Concertación" (an effort to consult civil society on national problems), especially on the issue of privatization.

FUTURE TRENDS

Economic policy in Costa Rica will hinge upon institutional reforms that will alter the balance between the state and the private sector. Although popular sentiment is antagonistic to privatization of public companies, there is a growing awareness of the need for these companies to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness. At the same time, the budgetary constraints faced by the country in the year 2000 are restricting its ability to invest in infrastructure, health, and education. Since future competitiveness relies on these investments, a reassessment of public finances will be inevitable.

Recent revisions of the methodology employed by the Central Bank to calculate GDP revealed that national production figures reported in past years have been understated. This has led critics to point out that the tax burdenmeasured by tax revenues as a percentage of GDPin the country is inordinately low. A reform of the tax code could ameliorate the fiscal constraints of the government. Reform is also required to adjust accounting for the effects of inflation, which reduces the effective tax rates. However, these effects will probably not materialize in the short term because of the political challenges they pose.

DEPENDENCIES

Costa Rica has no territories or colonies.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

"Balance preliminar de las economías de América Latina y elCaribe, 2000." Comisión Económica Para América Latina y el Caribe, 2000.

Banco Central de Costa Rica. "Indicadores Económicos." <http://websiec.bccr.fi.cr>. Accessed January 2001.

Bolsa Nacional de Valores de Costa Rica. "Estadísticas." <http://www.bnv.co.cr/estadist/>. Accessed January 2001.

Cámara de Industrias de Costa Rica. "Crecimiento de las empresas industriales formales e informales." <http://www.cicr.com/indicadores>. Accessed 15 January 2001.

Corporación Bananera Nacional. "Realidad bananera en CostaRica." <http://www.corbana.co.cr/realidad.htm>. Accessed January 2001.

Costa Rica Tourist Board. <http://www.tourism-costarica.com>. Accessed January 2001.

Diamond, Larry, Jonathan Hartlyn, Juan J. Linz, and SeymourMartin Lipset, editors. Democracy in Developing Countries, second edition. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers Inc., 1999.

"El 2000: un mal año." La Nación. 19 December 2000.

"Equidad, desarrollo y ciudadanía." Comisión Económica ParaAmérica Latina y el Caribe, 2000.

"Estabilidad resiste: Golpes del 2000." La Nación. 20 December 2000.

Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (ICT). "Area Estadísticas."

International Coffee Organization. "Coffee Export Statistics."<http://www.ico.org/>. Accessed 10 January 2001.

International Labor Organization. "International Labor Statistics."<http://database.iadb.org/>. Accessed 14 February 2001.

International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 2000. Washington, D.C.: International Monetary Fund, 2000.

Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería, Costa Rica. "Estadísticas Agropecuarias." <http://www.infoagro.go.cr/estadisticas>. Accessed 10 January 2001.

Ministerio de Planificación Nacional y Política Económica (MIDEPLAN). "Sistema de Indicadores sobre Desarrollo Sostenible (SIDES)." <http://www.mideplan.go.cr/sides>. Accessed January 2001.

La Nación Digital/Revista Viva. "Programas de software a la tica." <http://www.nacion.co.cr/viva/1997/julio/14/compu1.html>. Accessed 15 January 2001.

La Nación Digital/TecnoAvances #1. "Software con calidad de Exportación." <http://www.nacion.co.cr>. Accessed 15 January 2001.

Naranjo, Fernando. "Economía en picada." La Nación. 17December 2000.

Organización Internacional del Trabajo. "ILOLEX: Las NormasInternacionales del trabajo." <http://ilolex.ilo.ch:1567/public/50normes/ilolex>. Accessed 14 February 2001.

"Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo." InformeSobre Desarrollo Humano, 2000.

United Nations. Human Development Report 2000. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2000. <http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html>. Accessed April 2001.

World Bank. 2000 World Development Indicators. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2000.

Ludovico Feoli

CAPITAL:

San José.

MONETARY UNIT:

Colón (C). One colón is composed of 100 céntimos, but céntimos are no longer used. The smallest unit of money in circulation is the 5 colón coin, followed by the 10, 25, 50, and 100 colón coin. Bills circulate in denominations starting at 1,000 colones, and are available in 2,000, 5,000, and 10,000 colones.

CHIEF EXPORTS:

Coffee, bananas, sugar, textiles, electronic components, electricity.

CHIEF IMPORTS:

Raw materials, consumer goods, capital equipment, petroleum, electricity.

GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT:

US$26 billion (purchasing power parity, 1999 est.).

BALANCE OF TRADE:

Exports: US$6.6 billion (1999 est.). Imports: US$5.9 billion (1999 est.).

views updated

COSTA RICA

LOCATION, SIZE, AND EXTENT
TOPOGRAPHY
CLIMATE
FLORA AND FAUNA
ENVIRONMENT
POPULATION
MIGRATION
ETHNIC GROUPS
LANGUAGES
RELIGIONS
TRANSPORTATION
HISTORY
GOVERNMENT
POLITICAL PARTIES
LOCAL GOVERNMENT
JUDICIAL SYSTEM
ARMED FORCES
INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION
ECONOMY
INCOME
LABOR
AGRICULTURE
ANIMAL HUSBANDRY
FISHING
FORESTRY
MINING
ENERGY AND POWER
INDUSTRY
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
DOMESTIC TRADE
FOREIGN TRADE
BALANCE OF PAYMENTS
BANKING AND SECURITIES
INSURANCE
PUBLIC FINANCE
TAXATION
CUSTOMS AND DUTIES
FOREIGN INVESTMENT
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
HEALTH
HOUSING
EDUCATION
LIBRARIES AND MUSEUMS
MEDIA
ORGANIZATIONS
TOURISM, TRAVEL, AND RECREATION
FAMOUS COSTA RICANS
DEPENDENCIES
BIBLIOGRAPHY

Republic of Costa Rica

República de Costa Rica

CAPITAL: San José

FLAG: The national flag consists of five horizontal stripes of blue, white, red, white, and blue, the center stripe being wider than the others.

ANTHEM: Himno Nacional, beginning "Noble patria, tu hermosa bandera" ("Noble native land, your beautiful flag").

MONETARY UNIT: The colón (c) is a paper currency of 100 céntimos. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 céntimos and of 1, 2, 5, 10, and 20 colones, and notes of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, and 1,000 colones. c1 = $0.00209 (or $1 = c479.28) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the legal standard, but local measures also are used.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day and Solemnity of Mary, 1 January; Day of St. Joseph (Costa Rica's patron saint), 19 March; Anniversary of the Battle of Rivas, 11 April; Labor Day, 1 May; Day of St. Peter and St. Paul, 29 June; Anniversary of the Annexation of Guanacaste, 25 July; Feast of Our Lady of the Angels, 2 August; Assumption (Mother's Day), 15 August; Independence Day, 15 September; Columbus Day, 12 October; Immaculate Conception, 8 December; Abolition of Armed Forces Day, 1 December; Christmas, 25 December. Movable religious holidays include Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Corpus Christi.

TIME: 6 am = noon GMT.

LOCATION, SIZE, AND EXTENT

The third-smallest country in Central America, Costa Rica has an area of 51,100 sq km (19,730 sq mi), including some small islands. Comparatively, the area occupied by Costa Rica is slightly smaller than the state of West Virginia. Its length is 464 km (288 mi) ns, and its width is 274 km (170 mi) ew. Costa Rica is bordered on the n by Nicaragua, on the e by the Caribbean Sea, on the se by Panama, and on the sw and w by the Pacific Ocean; the total boundary length is 1,929 km (1,199 mi), which includes the coastline of 1,290 km (805 mi). Costa Rica's capital city, San José, is located in the center of the country.

TOPOGRAPHY

Costa Rica has three main topographic regions. The central highlands, extending from northwest to southeast, reach elevations of more than 3,660 m (12,000 ft) south of San José; the highest point in the country is Chirripó Grande (3,810 m/12,500 ft). Four volcanoes, two of them active, rise near the capital city; one of these volcanoes, Irazú (3,432 m/11,260 ft), erupted destructively during 196365. Nestled in the highlands is the Meseta Central, with an elevation of 9001,200 m (3,0004,000 ft), covering some 2,000 sq km (770 sq mi) of fairly level, fertile terrain. Half of the population, the centers of culture and government, four of the six main cities, and the bulk of the coffee industry are found on the plateau.

The Atlantic coastal plain, on the Caribbean side of the highlands, comprises about 30% of Costa Rica's territory and is low, swampy, hot, excessively rainy, and heavily forested. The Pacific slope, some 40% of the country's area, resembles the Caribbean lowlands, but to the northwest is a dry area producing cattle and grain. Fifteen small rivers drain Costa Rica.

The country lies in a moderately seismic area that experiences occasional earthquakes, some of which have been severe. On 22 April 1991, an earthquake in the LimónPandora area caused the death of 47 people, as well as severe damage to homes, buildings, and some roads. The quake triggered minor tsunamis in the Cahuita-Puerto Viejo area and at Portobelo and Cristobal in Panama.

CLIMATE

Costa Rica has only two seasons: the wet season, from May to November, and the dry season, from December to April. There are three climatic zones. The torrid zone (tierra caliente), which includes the coastal and northern plains to an altitude of 457 m (1,500 ft), is characterized by heavy rains, almost continuous on the Atlantic watershed, and by a temperature range of 2932°c (8490°f). The temperate zone, including the central valleys and plateaus, has altitudes ranging from 457 to 1,524 m (1,500 to 5,000 ft), with regular rains from April through November and a temperature range of 2427°c (7580°f). The cold zone, comprising areas higher than 1,524 m (5,000 ft), has a temperature range of 1027°c (5081°f) and is less rainy but more windy than the temperate regions. The average annual rainfall for the country is more than 250 cm (100 in).

FLORA AND FAUNA

Costa Rica supports varied flora and fauna. From the coast to an altitude of about 900 m (3,000 ft) are tropical forests and savannas; oaks and chaparrals are found between 2,070 and 3,050 m (6,800 and 10,000 ft); and sub-Andean and subalpine flora characterizes the highest mountains. The dense tropical forests contain rich stands of ebony, balsa, mahogany, oak, laurel, campana, and cedar. Plant life is abundant. The country has more than 1,000 species of orchids.

Most of the wild mammals common to South and Central America, such as jaguar, deer, puma, and varieties of monkeys, are found in Costa Rica. There are over 600 species of birds and 130 species of snakes and frogs; fish and insects are plentiful.

ENVIRONMENT

Nearly all of Costa Rica was once covered by forests, but deforestation for agricultural purposes and cattle ranching has reduced forested areas to only 38% of the total area. Between 1990 and 1995, the country lost an average of 3% of its forests and woodlands annually. Most of the wood was wasted by burning or rotting, and there has been little incentive for conservation or reforestation. The result has been soil erosion and the loss of soil fertility. Another serious problem, according to the UN, has been contamination of the soil by fertilizers and pesticides used in growing important cash crops, such as bananas, sugarcane, and coffee. Costa Rica's use of pesticides is greater than that of all the other countries in Central America added together. Under the General Health Law of 1973, the Ministry of Health has broad powers to enforce pollution controls, and the Division of Environmental Health has attempted to set standards for air and water quality. However, trained personnel and equipment are lacking.

Carbon dioxide emissions from industrial sources totaled 4.6 million metric tons in 1996; in 2000, the total emissions increased to 5.4 million metric tons. As of 2001, Costa Rica has 112 cu km of renewable water resources with 80% of the total used for farming activity. Of the nation's urban dwellers 99% have safe drinking water, as do 92% of the rural population.

Costa Rica's national park system is among the most extensive and well developed in Latin America. The system, covering nearly 4% of the total land area, includes 12 parks, 6 nature reserves, 4 recreation areas, the Guayabo National Monument archaeological site in the Turrialba region, and the International Peace Park established jointly by Costa Rica and Panama on their common border. There are 3 natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 11 Ramsar wetland sites. Altogether, 23% of Costa Rica's total land area is protected.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 13 types of mammals, 18 species of birds, 8 types of reptiles, 60 species of amphibians, 13 species of fish, 9 species of invertebrates, and 110 species of plants. Threatened species include the red-backed squirrel monkey, tundra peregrine falcon, spectacled caiman, American crocodile, and four species of sea turtle (green sea, hawksbill, olive ridley, and leatherback). The golden toad has been listed as extinct since 2001.

POPULATION

The population of Costa Rica in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 4,331,000, which placed it at number 118 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 6% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 30% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 103 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population growth rate for 200510 was expected to be 1.3%, a rate the government viewed as satisfactory. The projected population for the year 2025 was 5,568,000. The population density was 85 per sq km (220 per sq mi).

The UN estimated that 59% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 2.49%. The capital city, San José, had a population of 1,085,000 in that year. Other large cities and their estimated populations are Alajuela, 791,900; Cartago, 475,100; Puntarenas, 397,700; Heredia, 390,400; and Limón, 380,200.

MIGRATION

In 1995, 24,600 refugees were in Costa Rica. Of these, 4,200 were from El Salvador and 19,500 were from Nicaragua. Large numbers of Nicaraguans migrate seasonally to Costa Rica seeking employment opportunities. Illegal migration is a major national concern, with estimates of people illegally in the country ranging from 300,000 to 500,000 in 1999, most of whom were thought to be from Nicaragua. In the aftermath of 1998's Hurricane Mitch, Costa Rica declared an amnesty on illegal immigration, which expired on 31 July 1999. While intended primarily for aliens from Belize and Panama, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) secured a provision that extended the amnesty to refugees. Under the amnesty, some 160,000 people applied for permanent residence. In 2004, there were 10,413 refugees living in Costa Rica and 223 asylum seekers. The net migration rate in 2005 was estimated as. 5 migrants per 1,000 population.

ETHNIC GROUPS

The population is fairly homogeneous, primarily of European (mainly Spanish) descent. Whites and mestizos (mixed white and Amerindian) account for 94% of the total population. The remainder are blacks (3%), Chinese (1%), and Amerindians (1%). The blacks for the most part are of Jamaican origin or descent, and some mulattoes live mainly in the Limón port area. Most of the Amerindians reside on isolated reservations.

LANGUAGES

Spanish is the official language, but English is also spoken around Limón and among members of the middle class. Descendants of the Jamaican blacks speak an English dialect.

RELIGIONS

Roman Catholicism, the predominant religion, is the official religion of the state; however, the constitution guarantees religious freedom and this right is generally respected in practice. About 69% of the population is nominally Roman Catholic; only about 40% of Roman Catholics are active members. About 18% of the population belong to other Christian churches. Of these churches, the primary Protestant denominations include Methodist, Baptist, Evangelical, Episcopalian, Mormon, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Seventh-Day Adventists. There is a Mormon temple in San José which serves members from Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, and Honduras. San José is also the site of the Continental Headquarters for Latin America of the Unification Church. There are small communities of Quakers, Mennonites, and Beechy Amish. Other religions include Judaism, Islam, Taoism, Hare Krishna, Scientology, Tenrikyo, and Baha'ism.

Representing the official religion of state, the Roman Catholic Church enjoys some privileges that are not automatically conferred on other religious organizations. For instance, Catholic marriages are automatically recognized by the state; couples of other faiths must have marriages legalized through a civil union. The Catholic Church also has more opportunity to be in open dialogue with the government concerning economic, social, and political causes, such as the 2003 CAFTA negotiations. Catholic holidays are celebrated as public holidays. The government does not impose any major restrictions on the activities of non-Catholic groups.

TRANSPORTATION

San José is linked to both coasts by railroad and by highway. The Inter-American Highway, 687 km (427 mi) long, connects Costa Rica with Nicaragua and Panama. Another major highway runs from San José to the Caribbean coast beyond Limón. As of 2003 there were 35,889 km (22,323 mi) of roads, of which 8,075 km (5,022 mi) were paved. Motor vehicle registrations in 2003 included 367,832 passenger automobiles and 230,048 commercial vehicles.

As of 2004, Costa Rica had 278 km (173 mi) of railroad, all of it narrow gauge.

Principal ports are Limón on the Caribbean Sea and Puntarenas, Caldera, and Golfito on the Pacific. As of 2005, Costa Rica had two merchant vessels of more than 1,000 GRT totaling 1,716 GRT. There are about 730 km (454 mi) of seasonally navigable waterways.

There were an estimated 149 airports in 2004, only 31 of which had paved runways as of 2005. Líneas Aéreas Costarricenses, S.A. (LACSA), the national airline, provides domestic and international services centered at Juan Santamaria International Airport near San José. Service was also provided by fifteen international passengers lines and 22 cargo lines. In 2003, about 781,000 passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international flights.

HISTORY

There were about 25,000 Amerindians in the region when Columbus landed in 1502. He named the area Costa Rica ("Rich Coast"), possibly because he saw gold ornaments on some of the indigenous people. European settlement of Costa Rica began in 1522, the Spanish conquered the Ticos, as the Costa Rican natives called themselves, and Spain organized the area into a colonial province in 1540; it was eventually placed under the provincial administration in Guatemala. Cartago, the colonial capital, was founded in 1563.

When independence came to Central America in 1821, Costa Rica had fewer than 70,000 inhabitants. In the following year, it was absorbed into the short-lived Mexican Empire proclaimed by Agustín de Iturbide. Following the collapse of Iturbide's rule, Costa Rica became a member of the United Provinces of Central America in 1823. At the same time, the provincial capital of Costa Rica was moved to San José. The United Provinces fell apart in 1838, and Costa Rica proclaimed itself sovereign. In 1848, the Republic of Costa Rica was established. The new state was threatened by William Walker, a US military adventurer who invaded Central America in 1855, but his troops were repelled in 1857. In 1860 Walker was captured and executed. In 1871, General Tomás Guardia, dictator from 1870 to 1882, introduced the constitution that, though frequently modified, remained Costa Rica's basic law until 1949. Although Guardia's rule was characterized by decreased liberty and rising debt, it also brought increased sugar and coffee exports, as well as increased education.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a series of boundary disputes with Panama and Nicaragua, in the course of which Costa Rica annexed Guanacaste Province from Nicaragua. In World Wars I and II, Costa Rica was a US ally, but not a military participant.

Meanwhile, the success of coffee cultivation, introduced in the early 1800s, had encouraged rapid population growth, progress in education, and the beginnings of modern economic development, through the construction of a coast-to-coast railroad from Limón on the Caribbean through San José to the Pacific. Banana cultivation was started in 1871, and at the turn of the century, the US-owned United Fruit Company (now United Brands) made Costa Rica a major producer of bananas.

Costa Rica's first major political crisis of the 20th century came when President Teodoro Picado Michalski annulled the 1948 elections in order to impose Rafael Ángel Calderón Guardia as president rather than the legally chosen president-elect Otilio Ulate Blanco. José Figueres Ferrer, a socialist landowner, led a civilian uprising, installed his own junta for 18 months, and restored democratic government, turning over the presidency to Ulate. The 44-day civil war was Costa Rica's bloodiest event of the 20th century, leaving 2000 dead and resulting in the prohibition of a standing army in the new constitution. Based on the constitution of 1871, the 1949 constitution reinstated free elections and banned the army, replacing it instead with a Civil Guard. However, it was not until 2000 that a professional Coast Guard was established in addition to domestic police and internal security forces.

Figueres was himself elected president by an overwhelming majority in 1952 (with women voting for the first time), and under his leadership, Costa Rica was one of the most democratic and prosperous countries in Latin America. Figueres was strongly opposed to all dictatorships, and Costa Rica proceeded to sever diplomatic relations with several Latin American countries. A socialist, Figueres nationalized the banks and threatened the holdings of the United Fruit Co. and other large-scale utilities. Border skirmishes with Nicaragua in 1955 were resolved through the mediation of the Organization of American States.

In 1958, the candidate of the opposition National Unification Party, Mario Echandi Jiménez, was elected by a bare majority vote. He was unable to enact his program of minimizing the government's role in social and economic matters because the legislature was dominated by other parties. In 1962, Francisco J. Orlich Bolmarich, a candidate of Figueres's National Liberation Party (Partido de Liberación NacionalPLN), won the elections and continued Figueres's progressive program. Costa Rica joined the Central American Common Market (CACM) in 1963 and has benefited from Central American economic integration, especially through increasing industrialization. Figueres served as president again from 1970 to 1974 and was succeeded by the PLN candidate, Daniel Oduber Quirós. An internal split within the PLN opened the gap for a conservative, Rodrigo Carazo Odio, to be elected president in 1978. However, after facing economic and political strains from Nicaraguan refugees, as well as the destabilization from surrounding Central American conflicts and civil wars, Carazo's administration left spiking inflation and unemployment for the presidency of Luis Alberto Monge Álvarez of the PLN in 1982.

During the 1980s, Costa Ricans were confronted with a severe economic crisis and with increasing political violence in the region, including sporadic terrorist activities in San José. The Monge government, on the insistence of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, introduced an austerity program of devaluation, budget cuts, and other fiscal contraction to help economic recovery. Monge also tried to avoid being drawn into the war in neighboring Nicaragua between the insurgents known as "contras" and the Sandinista government. Nevertheless, the government resisted pressure from the United States to support the contras or to accept US aid toward the building of a military establishment.

In February 1986, the PLN won another presidential election when Oscar Arias Sánchez defeated Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier. An important factor in the PLN victory was Monge's popularity. As the surrounding countries of Central America descended into war, drug trafficking, corruption, and further economic distress, Arias focused on his role in international affairs, leading a peace movement to bring stability to the region. In August 1987, a peace plan for Central America was signed in Guatemala by Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Honduras. With little support from the United States, Arias's accomplished provisions were free elections in all countries, a guarantee of basic democratic freedoms in Nicaragua, a cease-fire by both Sandinistas and contras, an end to outside aid to the contras, amnesty for the contras, repatriation or resettlement of refugees from all countries, and an eventual reduction in the armed forces of all countries. For his efforts, Arias won the Nobel Prize for Peace later that year.

In 1990, amid continued economic troubles, Rafael Angel Calderón Fournier was elected, and his Social Christian Unity Party (Partido Unidad Social CristianaPUSC) won a paper-thin majority in the Legislative Assembly. Although he campaigned on a platform of liberalization, economic equality, and welfare reform, little change was accomplished. The economy nevertheless rebounded, with peace settlements easing some of Costa Rica's demographic problems.

On 6 February 1994, Costa Ricans returned the PLN to power, as José María Figueres Olsen, son of former president Figueres, was elected president of Costa Rica, though the PLN failed to win an outright majority in the assembly. In response to the nation's weakening economy, Figueres introduced an economic reform package in 1995 that focused on government-spending cuts and the privatization of state-owned enterprises. These measures, which represented a reversal of the traditional policies of Figueres's PLN ruling party, drew stiff opposition from labor leaders, who feared cutbacks in Costa Rica's large public sector, and touched off a month-long strike by the nation's teachers. Although the government responded by modifying some of its proposed plans, public support for Figueres plummeted as the nation's economy continued to slip, officially entering a recession in 1996. The economic crisis led to cooperation between the PLN and PUSC in order to enact fiscal reform. In December 1996 Figueres announced plans to raise taxes, privatize parts of the state-owned banking and telecommunications systems, and end the state insurance monopoly. Costa Rica's economic issues increased with the damage caused by Hurricane Cesar.

Elections were held again in February of 1998 and Social Christian (PUSC) leader Miguel Angel Rodríguez won with 46.9% of the vote, narrowly defeating National Liberation Party candidate José Miguel Corrales who obtained 44%. Rodríguez's party also won 29 of out 49 seats in the unicameral Congress. The sweeping Social Christian Union Party victory was attributed to popular discontent with Figueres's administration between 1994 and 1998. Rodríguez was a popular president and his government had some important achievements in an environment of increased tourism and foreign investment. That helped PUSC candidate Abel Pacheco de la Espriella win the 2002 presidential election with 58% of the vote; however, the previous two-party political system was toppled with the arrival of three presidential candidates, with no candidate garnering at least 40% of the vote. Therefore, Pacheco was the first president since 1948 to have to win a runoff election for the presidency, and the Citizen Action Party (Partido Acción CiudadanaPAC) won 14 seats in the Legislative Assembly, denying an overall majority to either the PLN or the PUSC. In 2003 the Supreme Court annulled the 1969 constitution amendment limiting presidents to a single four-year term, which reverted back to the 1949 rule enabling a former president to be elected again after an eight-year period out of office.

Although it has a reputation as one of the most stable and least corrupt countries, Costa Rica has not been immune to government corruption and profiteering amidst the current trend of worldwide corporate and government depravity. In October 2004, former presidents Miguel Angel Rodriguez and Rafael Angel Calderón Fournier, along with several top government officials, were implicated in a corruption scandal involving a multimillion-dollar "commission" from a pharmaceutical company. Both were incarcerated in 2004, and released to house arrest in March 2005, with the former obliged to step down as secretary general of the Organization of American States. That same month former president José Maria Figueres was also forced to resign as executive director of the World Economic Forum in Geneva. This led to investigations in 2005 of corruption and illegal receiving of gifts, including free airline tickets, by President Pacheco and other government officials.

Because of the corruption tainting their government, Costa Rican voters approached the 2005 presidential election lacking enthusiasm. The candidates were former president and Nobel laureate Oscar Arias, who was not among the politicians implicated in the 2005 investigation. His opponent, Otto Solis, was the candidate of the PAC. Arias won, in one of the closest elections in Costa Rica's history. Arias and his vice president, Laura Chinchilla took office 8 May 2006

GOVERNMENT

For the most part, Costa Rica has held to a tradition of orderly, democratic rule. The nation is a republic organized under the constitution of 1949, based on the constitution of 1871. A president, two vice presidents, and a unicameral congress (the Legislative Assembly) of 57 members (in 2003), apportioned by provinces, are all directly elected for four-year terms. Runoff provisions are in place in case no candidate wins an outright majority in the first round vote. The cabinet (composed of 15 members in 2005) is appointed by the president, who may also remove any of its members. For every three assembly deputies, one substitute deputy (suplente ) is elected to obviate any subsequent need for by-elections. After each population census, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal proportions the number of deputies for each province. This body, consisting of three magistrates elected by the Supreme Court for six-year terms, also supervises all other aspects of the electoral process. Suffrage is universal and obligatory for all persons of 18 years or more.

The constitution bars all high government officials from running for the legislature or the presidency while already in office. The president, cabinet ministers, and all government employees are forbidden to interfere with or to participate in election campaigns or to hold party office. The constitution guarantees equality before the law, as well as freedom of speech, assembly, press, and organization. In addition, it guarantees foreigners the same rights as Costa Rican citizens. However, foreigners may not participate in political affairs, nor may members of the clergy. In the presidential election held 5 February 2005 Oscar Arias Sanchez of the Partido de Liberación NacionalNational Liberation Party (PLN) was elected president in a close contest, winning 40.9% or the vote to the PAC's Otto Solis's 39.8%. Arias and his vice president, Laura Chinchilla, took office 8 May 2006.

POLITICAL PARTIES

The largest political grouping is the PLN (Partido de Liberación NacionalNational Liberation Party), a reformist party that has been the nation's leading party since its formation in 1948. The other major party is the more conservative Social Christian Unity Party (Partido Unidad Social CristianaPUSC), which held the presidency during 197882, 19901994, and was in power during the 19982002 period. The PUSC has ties to Christian Democratic parties in the Western Hemisphere and Europe. Toward the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, elections were closer than in the past, and saw the rise of additional political parties. In the 1994 elections, José María Figueres of the PLN was elected president with 49.7% of the vote, to 47.5% for PUSC candidate Miguel Angel Rodriguez. In 1998, Rodríguez became president with 46.9% of the vote, defeating PLN's José Miguel Corrales. The PUSC also won a majority in Congress with 29 seats, followed by the PLN with 22, the remaining 6 seats went to small and provincial parties. In 2002, however, the PUSC presidential candidate, Abel Pacheco, obtained only 38.6% of the vote in the first round due to the increased presence of other parties. Pacheco won 58% in the runoff election on 7 April 2002 to become president. The PUSC only clinched 19 of the 57 seats of the National Assembly, with the PLN with 17 and the Citizen Action Party (Partido Acción CiudadanaPAC) 14, depriving Pacheco of a legislative majority. Legislative elections left the composition of the assembly as of January 2005 with the PUSC holding 19 seats, the PLN 16, PAC 8, the PML (Libertarian Movement Party) with 5, and the PRC (Costa Rican Renovation Party), 1. PUSC's power dropped significantly in the legislative assembly after elections held 5 February 2005; PUSC lost 15 seats, winning just 4. The election also resulted in the PLN gaining 8 seats (for a total of 25); PAC gaining 3 (for a total of 18); and PML gaining 1 (for a total of 6). Oscar Arias Sanchez of the PLN was narrowly elected president in that same election with 40.9% or the vote to the PAC's Otto Solis's 39.8%. Arias and his vice president, Laura Chinchilla, took office 8 May 2006.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT

Costa Rica is divided into seven provinces, which are further subdivided into 81 cantons and 429 districts. The governor of each province is appointed by the president and is responsible to the minister of government. There are no provincial assemblies, and no elected provincial officials. The chief city of each canton elects a council (municipalidad ), which possesses legislative powers and cooperates with a presiding officer appointed by the national executive. In December 2002, the first mayoral elections in Costa Rican history were held; prior to 2002 the office of mayor did not exist. A police agent appointed by the national government oversees each district.

JUDICIAL SYSTEM

The judiciary consists of justices of the peace, lower courts, labor courts, a court of cassation, two civil courts of appeal, two penal courts of appeal, and the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land. The Supreme Court is composed of 22 justices chosen for renewable eight-year terms by the Legislative Assembly. A Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court was established in 1989 to review the constitutionality of legislation, executive decrees, and habeas corpus warrants. Justices are automatically reelected for an additional eight-year term unless the Legislative Assembly votes to the contrary by a two-thirds majority. The Assembly also names 25 alternates from a list of 50 names submitted by the Supreme Court, and vacancies on the court are then filled by lot from the list of alternates. Relatives of incumbent justices are ineligible for election. The Supreme Court, by a two-thirds majority, can declare legislative and executive acts unconstitutional. Justices of lower courts are appointed by the Supreme Court, but justices of the peace are appointed by the minister of government acting for the president. Capital punishment has been abolished. The judiciary is independent of the legislative and executive branches and assures fair public trials. Public security forces generally observe procedural safeguards established by law and the 1949 constitution. The constitution prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence. Judges may approve use of wiretaps in limited cases, primarily to combat narcotics trafficking.

ARMED FORCES

The 1949 constitution prohibits the establishment of military armed forces. However, the country did have an 8,400 member paramilitary force in 2005. This force included the 4,400 member Civil Guard, the 2,000 member Border Security Police, and the Rural Guard which had 2,000 members. The security budget was $101 million in 2005.

INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION

Costa Rica is a charter member of the United Nations, having joined on 2 November 1945, and participates in ECLAC and several nonregional specialized agencies. It is one of five members of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE) and the Central American Common Market (CACM). In 2004, Costa Rica, the United States, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic signed the USCentral America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The agreement must be ratified by all participating countries before it enters into force. Costa Rica also participates in G-77, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Latin American Economic System (LAES), the Río Group, the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), and OAS. The nation has observer status in the Latin American Integration Association (LAIA) and the Nonaligned Movement.

Costa Rica is part of the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (OPANAL) and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. San José is the seat of the Inter-American Human Rights Court. In August 1987, a peace plan for Central America proposed by Costa Rica was signed by Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In 1999, the United States and Costa Rica signed the Maritime Counter-Drug Agreement as a cooperative effort to stop drug trafficking through Costa Rican waters. It is first of its kind in Central America. The country is a signatory of the 1947 Río Treaty, an inter-American security agreement.

In environmental cooperation, Costa Rica is part of the Basel Convention, Conventions on Biological Diversity and Whaling, Ramsar, CITES, the London Convention, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change, and Desertification. Costa Rica is also signatory to the Central American-US Joint Declaration (CONCAUSA).

ECONOMY

The economy of Costa Rica, like that of all other countries in Central America, was originally based on the production of tropical agricultural commodities for export. There is some forestry in Costa Rica but very little mining, although steps have been taken to exploit bauxite, sulfur, and petroleum. Since about 1961 there has been a significant expansion of manufacturing activity, but most industrial plants remain small, concentrating on simple consumer goods to displace more expensive imports. Government efforts to promote diversification of agricultural production have resulted in notable expansion of cattle and dairy farming, second in value only to coffee among agricultural sectors. The opening of an Intel chip-making factory in 1998 spurred high growth rates and an influx of high technology companies, and increasing tourism revenues supported the growing economy. GDP growth, based on increases in tourism and industrial output, rose to 8.2% in 1999, while the official unemployment fell to 5.6%. There is relatively little underemployment in Costa Rica. From 2000 to 2002, however, economic growth turned sluggish, averaging a little under 2% per year, the result of both a weakened external environment in which tourism, export demand, and foreign investment were all decliningand slackness in the domestic economy, reflected an average yearly inflation rate of 10.4% and a yearly combined government deficit amounting, on average, to 4.7% of GDP. Costa Rica's unemployment rate, however, has remained at a relatively unproblematic 6%. (with underemployment estimated at 7.8% for 2002), which relieves some of the pressure for reform.

Through the 1960s, prospects for economic expansion were promising, particularly in view of progress toward economic integration in Central America. However, in the 1970s, increases in import prices for raw materials (particularly oil) and finished goods caused an inflationary surge (reaching 100% in 1982), to which some internal policies, such as credit expansion and wage increases, also contributed significantly. Chiefly because of a decline in coffee prices in 1978 and the doubling of oil import costs in 1979, the economic growth rate fell sharply from 8.9% in 1977 to -8.8% in 1982. Costa Rica normally spends the whole of its export revenues from coffee on importing petroleum.

Positive growth rates averaging 3.8% resumed in 1983 and continued through 1985, largely due to government-imposed austerity under IMF standby agreements. Unemployment declined from an official high of 9.1% in 1982 to 6.7% in 1986, the year world oil prices finally collapsed. The annual inflation rate dropped from 90% to 11.8% in the same period. Foreign debt, rescheduled in 1983 and 1985, remained high at $3.67 billion at the end of 1985. The overall growth rate between 1978 and 1988 was 4.1%.

Although per capita income slipped in the early 1990s, Costa Ricans still enjoyed the highest per capita income in Central America. Following a structural adjustment period, real GDP grew by 7.3% in 1992. In 1993, however, economic growth slowed to 4.5%; continually declining until the rate hit -0.8% in 1996. The decline was attributed to lingering negative expectations in the private sector, adverse effects of increasing international competition, and unfavorable weather. Tight fiscal and monetary policies adopted under an IMF standby agreement April 1993February 1994 also contributed to the mild recession. The government entered into another standby agreement with the IMF, which ran from November 1995 to February 1997. By 1998, annual inflation was down to 12%, a significant improvement on the 22.5% recorded in 1995, and GDP growth rose to 6.2%, above the 3.7% recorded in 1997, reflecting increased tourist and export trade, and new investment activity. Inflation dropped to 10.1% in 1999, the year of Costa Rica's strongest recent growth. In 2000 GDP growth fell to 2% and in 2001 to 1.1%. In 2002, GDP growth was estimated at 2.8% and inflation at 10%.

In 2004, the economy expanded by 4.2%, down from 6.5% in 2003; in 2005, the GDP growth rate was estimated at 2.7%. The inflation rate was fairly stable, but in 2004 it grew to 12.3%, and was expected to continue this trend in 2005 (increasing to 13.6%). The unemployment rate was also stable, and remained under the 7% marker. The main economic growth engines remain agriculture, tourism, and electronics exports. Costa Rica's economy is attractive for investors as it is framed within a stable political system; it benefits from high education levels and a booming tourism sector. However, the government has to struggle with substantial internal and external deficits, and a sizable internal debt.

INCOME

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Costa Rica's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $40.3 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $10,000. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 3.2%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 13.8%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 8.6% of GDP, industry 28.3%, and services 63.1%.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $321 million or about $80 per capita and accounted for approximately 1.8% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $28 million or about $7 per capita and accounted for approximately 0.2% of the gross national income (GNI).

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Costa Rica totaled $11.72 billion or about $2,925 per capita based on a GDP of $17.5 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 4.2%. It was estimated that in 2004 about 18% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.

LABOR

As of 2005, Costa Rica's labor force was estimated at 1.82 million workers. In 2003, the services sector accounted for 62.1% of the workforce, followed by industry at 22.2%, agriculture at 15.1%, and various other occupations at 0.6%. Unemployment was estimated at 6.6% in 2005.

The law provides workers with the right to join and form unions, although this is limited in practice. Unionization was about 9% of the total workforce in 2005. Solidarismo (solidarity associations), a Costa Rican alternative to traditional trade unions, have grown popular and have around 330,000 workers, 95% of whom are in the private sector. Solidarismo are nondues collecting associations and work to promote cooperative labor/management relations by offering workers practical benefits (like credit unions), in exchange for which workers renounce their striking and collective bargaining rights. Solidaristas are established with mutual contributions from the employer and the workers, so that the fund serves as savings plan, benefits, and severance pay. Private sector workers have the right to strike, but public employees are prohibited from striking.

A minimum wage is set up by a National Wage Council. The private sector minimum wage ranged from $150 per month for domestic servants to $588 for university graduates in 2005. The workweek was set at 48 hours. Overtime pay is required for work in excess of that. Occupational health and safety standards are inconsistently enforced, especially outside of San José. Although child labor remains a problem, the government is working to eradicate abuses. The minimum working age is 15 years, while minors between the ages of 15 and 18 may work up to six hours per day and 36 hours per week. Night work and overtime for minors are prohibited.

AGRICULTURE

About 10.3% (525,000 hectares/1,297,000 acres) of the total land area is used for crop production. Nearly half of all farms average less than 10 hectares (25 acres) in size. Over 326,000 persons, or about 19% of the economically active population, were engaged in farming in 2003.

Corn and sugar crops are usually sufficient to meet domestic needs, but beans and rice must be imported from time to time. Agriculture accounted for about 9% of the GDP in 2004. The principal cash crops are coffee, bananas, cocoa, and sugar. Coffee and bananas together accounted for 12% of exports in 2004, with values of $199.5 million and $545.4 million, respectively.

Over 85% of coffee properties belong to Costa Ricans. The banana industry has been producing more than one million tons of bananas annually since the 1970s. The principal marketer of Costa Rica's bananas is Standard Fruit Co. Corn, rice, potatoes, beans, sisal, cotton, citrus fruits, pita (used to make hats, baskets, and mats), yucca, vegetables, pineapples and other fruits, tobacco, abaca (hemp), and vegetable oils (especially African and coconut palms) are produced primarily for domestic consumption. Estimated crop production in 2004 (in tons) was sugarcane, 3,945,000; bananas, 2,230,000; rice, 222,000; coffee, 126,000; corn, 12,000; dry beans, 10,500; and cocoa, 700. In 1999, agricultural output was 26% higher than the annual average during 198991. During 200204, it was 20% higher than during 19992001.

ANIMAL HUSBANDRY

About 46% of Costa Rica's total land area was devoted to livestock raising in the early 1990s as the result of a major conversion of land to pasturage during the 1970s. In the past, Costa Rica had to import meat, but improvements in animal husbandry have made the country self-sufficient and provided a surplus for export. However, low productivity, low international prices, and high domestic interest rates affected profitability of the beef cattle sector in 1993 and 1994. National milk production in 2004 was an estimated 790,000 tons, enough to permit exports of excess production. Exports of meat were worth $37.3 million in 2004. In 2004, there were an estimated 1,080,000 head of cattle, 550,000 hogs, 115,000 horses, and 19,500,000 chickens.

FISHING

Fish abound in Costa Rican waters, particularly in the Pacific Ocean, where 89% of the annual harvest is caught. Tuna, herring, and shrimp are the most valuable commercial fish; they are caught, processed, and shipped abroad by US firms. A small native fishing industry contributes to the domestic food supply and exports shark, mollusks, and live lobsters. Pearl fishing, once an important industry on the Pacific coast, has declined. In 2003, the total volume of fish landed was an estimated 29,327 tons. Aquacultural production added another 20,546 tons to the 2003 total.

FORESTRY

Costa Rica's forestland has declined from about 75% of the total land area in 1940 to 39% in 2000. About 18% of the area still forested is lightly exploited, while 82% is virgin forest. Varieties of commercial woods include laurel, cedar, oak, quina, espavel, campana, cristobal, pochote, maca wood, cedro macho, cedar, and caoba (mahogany). In the Golfo Dulce rain forest of the southern Pacific coast, 135 families of trees embracing some 1,315 species in 661 genera have been identified. Forest products include rubber, chicle, ipecac, roots, medicinal plants, seeds, and other plant products. Although lumber exports have declined, overall timber output increased to 5.1 million cu m (181 million cu ft) of roundwood cut in 2003, of which about 67% was used for fuel. Forestry product exports in 2003 totaled $21.7 million.

MINING

The production of minerals contributed less than 1% to the GDP. Mineral production in 2003 included cement, 1.3 million tons; common clays, 420,000 metric tons; sandstone, 3.25 million tons; and limestone, 920,000 tons. Diatomite, lime, pumice, silver, marine salt, crushed stone, and sand and gravel were also mined in 2003. Except for clays, fertilizers, and lime, most mineral commodities were produced for domestic use. In May 2002, the president of Costa Rica issued a decree that placed a moratorium on oil exploration, open pit mining, and cyanide processing. While the moratorium was not expected to affect the open-pit heap-leach Bellavista and Cerro Crucitas gold projects, which were approved prior to the moratorium, other gold projects could be severely affected. Gold production in 2003 totaled 110 kg, up from 100 kg in 2002.

ENERGY AND POWER

Costa Rica, with no proven reserves of oil, natural gas, or coal, relies heavily upon electric power to meet the bulk of its energy needs. In 2002, the country had an electric power generating capacity of 1.715 million kW, with production and consumption for that same year at 7.360 billion kWh and 6.420 billion kWh, respectively. The nation's generating capacity, and output is primarily hydroelectric. Hydropower accounted for 1.226 million kW or 71.4% of generating capacity, and for 5.871 million kWh or almost 80% of the power produced in 2002. Additional capacity and production comes from geothermal/other and conventional thermal sources. In 2002, geothermal/other sources accounted for 0.207 million kW or 12% of capacity, and 1.374 billion kWh or 18.6% of production. Conventional thermal sources accounted for 0.282 million kW or 16.4% of capacity, and 0.115 billion kWh or 1.5% of production. Costa Rica has no nuclear power generating capacity

Costa Rica relies mostly on imports to meet its hydrocarbon-based needs. All crude oil is imported. In 2002, crude imports averaged 9,680 barrels per day. Costa Rica however, does have limited refining capacity. According to data from the Energy Information Administration, updated as of October 2005, of the seven countries that comprise Central America, Costa Rica is among only three (El Salvador and Nicaragua are the others) to have refining capacity. Of the three, Costa Rica's refining capacity is the largest, at 24,000 barrels per day, and is handled by a single refinery, the Limón facility. In 2002, refinery output totaled 9,280 barrels per day and consisted of: distillates (2,920 barrels per day); residual product (4,500 barrels per day); liquefied petroleum gas (800 barrels per day); and unspecified products (1,780 barrels per day). However the country's demand for refined product far outstrips the capacity of this single facility, so imports are necessary. In 2002, demand for refined petroleum products averaged 39,670 barrels per day. Costa Rica must also import all of the coal it consumes. In 2002, these imports consisted of hard coal and amounted to 54,000 tons.

INDUSTRY

Costa Rica is one of the most industrialized countries in Central America, although industries are predominantly small-scale and primarily involve assembling or finishing imported semifinished components. Of the few larger-scale manufacturing enterprises, the majority are in chemical fertilizers, textiles, coffee and cocoa processing, chemicals, plastics, electronics, and computer chips. The Intel Corporation opened a chip-manufacturing plant in 1998. The garment assembly and tuna processing industries are important. Other manufacturing projects include aluminum processing, a petrochemical plant at Moin, a tuna-processing plant at Golfito, and an oil refinery at Limón with a production capacity of 15,000 barrels per day. Major infrastructure construction projects were planned as of 2002, but with the exception of road repair, most had not progressed. Industry represented 37% of GDP in 2000. The Costa Rican Investment and Development Board (CINDE), is designed to attract high quality foreign investment oriented toward exports.

The share of industry in the GDP decreased to 28.3% in 2005, and was bested by services with a 63.1% share (which was also the country's largest employer). The industrial production growth rate was 2.6%, similar to the GDP growth rate in the same yearan indicator of unspectacular development in this sector. Manufacturing and mining continue to account for most of the industrial output.

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

The principal scientific policymaking body in Costa Rica is the General Directorate of Geology, Mining, and Petroleum (founded in 1951). Several institutes specialize in tropical sciences, including the Organization for Tropical Studies in San Pedro, the Tropical Science Center in San José, and the Tropical Agronomy Center in Turrialba, as well as medicine, nuclear energy, technology, geology, agriculture, and meteorology. The University of Costa Rica in San José, founded in 1843, has faculties of agronomy, science, pharmacy, engineering, medicine, microbiology, and dentistry. The National University in Heredia, founded in 1973, has faculties of exact and natural science, earth and sea sciences, and health sciences. The Technological Institute of Costa Rica in Cartago, founded in 1971, has numerous attached research centers. In 198797, science and engineering students accounted for 20% of college and university enrollments.

For the period 19902001, there were 530 researchers per million people engaged in research and development (R&D). In 2002, high technology exports by Costa Rica were valued at $1.146 billion, which accounted for 37% of manufactured exports. In 2000, R&D expenditures totaled $131.417 million, or 0.39% of GDP.

DOMESTIC TRADE

San José is the commercial center, and most importers, exporters, and manufacturers' agents operate there. Though there are a number of small merchants and traditional public markets; modern shopping centers, malls, supermarkets, and franchise outlets are becoming the norm. E-commerce is slowly becoming popular but has been hindered by the lack of appropriate telecommunications.

In recent years, the economy has made a major shift from agricultural production and exports, primarily of bananas and coffee, to high-tech industries and tourism. As of 1999, 58% of the work force was employed in service industries. In 1998, the opening of an Intel Corporation microprocessor assembly and testing plant accounted for half of the nation's economic growth the following year. Subsequent large foreign investment companies include Abbott Laboratories and Procter and Gamble.

Shops are open on weekdays from 8:30 to 11:30 am and from 2 to 6 pm, and on Saturday in the morning only. Business hours are from 8 am to 12 pm, and 2 to 6 pm, Monday through Friday. Normal banking hours are 9 to 11 am and 1:30 to 3 pm, Mondays through Friday, and 8 to 11 am on Saturday. Advertising agencies in Costa Rica, all located in San José, offer advertising services through newspapers, radio, television, and direct mail.

FOREIGN TRADE

Among Costa Rica's major exports are coffee, bananas, sugar, cocoa, and cattle and meat productsall commodities vulnerable to world market prices. The major markets for Costa Rican exports are the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Belgium.

Imports consist mainly of raw materials for industry and mining, followed by consumer goods and capital goods for industry, mining, and transportation. Major suppliers include the United States, Mexico, Venezuela, Japan, Spain, Guatemala, and Germany.

In 1996, falling terms of trade due to lower international prices for coffee, beef, and sugar, and the drop in banana production, caused traditional exports to perform less well than in previous years. However, the growth of nontraditional exports picked up part of the slack, despite some adverse effects from much-enhanced competitiveness of competing Mexican exports. Despite the economic recession, the value of imports of goods increased by 16% in 1996, well above the 8% for the previous year. A major factor was the substantial increase in international fuel prices and a relatively strong local currency. As a result, the trade deficit worsened from 1995 by almost 117% to $76 million.

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 5,800.4 7,388.2 -1,587.8
United States 2,733.2 3,682.5 -949.3
Areas nes 359.4 191.2 168.2
Guatemala 253.5 154.0 99.5
Malaysia 206.4 206.4
Nicaragua 186.3 51.0 135.3
Germany 179.6 165.3 14.3
Special Categories 170.8 97.9 72.9
Panama 163.3 114.5 48.8
United Kingdom 156.3 80.4 75.9
Honduras 155.4 42.3 113.1
() data not available or not significant.

The value of imports continued to rise into 1998; after 1997 the value of imports as compared to exports was balanced. Exports in 1999 climbed above imports because of the sale of computer chips, but in 2000 the trade deficit returned.

Costa Rica relied mostly on agriculture to sustain its commodity export market in 1996. Fruits and nuts made up almost a third of exports (30%) and coffee was the second-largest export (15%). Other agricultural exports included nonedible vegetable oils (4.6%), fruit (2.5%), edible vegetables (2.4%), meat (2.0%), and sugar (1.5%). Small amounts of medicines and gold were exported from Costa Rica (2.1% and 1.7%).

In 2005, exports reached $7 billion (FOBFree on Board), while imports grew to $9.7 billion (FOB). In 2004, the bulk of exports went to the United States (46.9%), the Netherlands (5.3%), and Guatemala (4.4%). Imports included raw materials, capital goods, and consumer goods, and mainly came from the United States (46.1%), Japan (5.9%), Mexico (5.1%), and Brazil (4.2%).

BALANCE OF PAYMENTS

Costa Rica has traditionally experienced balance-of-payments difficulties because of the vulnerability of its main sources of exchange earnings to fluctuations in world markets. The nation's payments problems in the late 1970s were aggravated by domestic inflationary policies and rising trade imbalances, despite increases in foreign capital receipts. The deficit on capital accounts declined in the mid-1980s due to increases in capital investment from foreign loans and credits and favorable renegotiation of the foreign debt. During the early 1990s, an unfavorable trade balance resulted from fluctuating coffee prices and high oil prices, but the balance of payments leveled out by 1999. Costa Rica's chronic trade and current account deficits have been offset by foreign direct investment in the form of capital goods, which is reflected in the offsetting figures for the current and capital accounts. The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2001 the purchasing

Current Account -967.0
   Balance on goods -1,169.6
     Imports -7,294.4
     Exports 6,124.7
   alance on services 838.6
   Balance on income -848.6
   Current transfers 212.6
Capital Account 26.1
Financial Account 653.4
   Direct investment abroad -26.9
   Direct investment in Costa Rica 576.7
   Portfolio investment assets -91.6
   Portfolio investment liabilities -304.5
   Financial derivatives
   Other investment assets 170.6
   Other investment liabilities 329.1
Net Errors and Omissions 68.0
Reserves and Related Items 219.5
() data not available or not significant.

power parity of Costa Rica's exports was $5 billion while imports totaled $6.5 billion resulting in a trade deficit of $1.5 billion.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2001 Costa Rica had exports of goods totaling $4.91 billion and imports totaling $6.12 billion. The services credit totaled $2.05 billion and debit $1.28 billion.

The current account balance was negative in 2004, slightly improving from -$967 million in 2003 to -$960 million in 2004. Foreign exchange reserves (including gold) decreased to $1.4 billion in 2004, covering almost two months of imports.

BANKING AND SECURITIES

The Central Bank (Banco Central de Costa Rica), an autonomous governmental body established in 1950, issues currency, holds the nation's gold reserves, formulates general banking policy, and regulates commercial banks. Three commercial state banks, which dominate the banking system, are operated as autonomous government corporations: the Banco Nacional de Costa Rica, Banco de Costa Rica, and Banco Crédito Agrícola de Cartago. The banking monopoly was surrendered in 1995. There are also nearly 70 private banks and financial groups operating in Costa Rica.

Costa Rican residents can own and deal in gold, own foreign securities and foreign currencies, maintain foreign bank balances, import and export national bank notes, and import goods from abroad, but they must repatriate export earnings. Costa Ricans traditionally put their savings into real property rather than securities, but on several occasions during the 1960s and 1970s, the government successfully floated bond issues within the country. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $2.2 billion. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $6.1 billion. The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 28.75%.

Stock sales and foreign currency transactions are handled by the Bolsa Nacional de Valores in San José. The Superintendency of Financial Markets (SUGEVAL) is in charge of the stock exchange.

INSURANCE

Only the government's National Insurance Institute (Instituto Nacional de SegurosINS), founded in 1924, may write insurance in Costa Rica. It handles all types of insurance, the most important being life, fire, automobile, and workers' compensation. One of the more popular features of life insurance policies is that the holder may borrow up to the full face value of the policy after paying premiums for only two years. In 1996, the insurance monopoly was reformed to allow private agents to sell policies, while the INS continued to hold all underwriting rights. The INS does, however, reinsure its risks with private, foreign insurers. In 2003, the value of all direct premiums written totaled $318 million, of which nonlife premiums accounted for $290 million. In 2002, the INS' gross written nonlife premiums (including personal accident) totaled $313.5 million.

PUBLIC FINANCE

The central government budget is passed upon by the Legislative Assembly. Municipal budgets are of minor importance, and local

Revenue and Grants 1,579.4 100.0%
   Tax revenue 935.4 59.2%
   Social contributions 510.7 32.3%
   Grants 3.8 0.2%
   Other revenue 129.5 8.2%
Expenditures 1,691 100.0%
   General public services 375.6 22.2%
   Defense
   Public order and safety 127.6 7.5%
   Economic affairs 164.6 9.7%
   Environmental protection
   Housing and community amenities 0.5 <1.0%
   Health 352.6 20.9%
   Recreational, culture, and religion 13.2 0.8%
   Education 365.5 21.6%
   Social protection 292.4 17.3%
() data not available or not significant.

government funds are mainly grants from the national government. The financial range of the public sector extends to a large number of publicly owned entities. Interest costs on the accumulated government debt consume a huge 16.8% of the government's revenues. Approximately 42% of the 2001 national budget was financed by public borrowing.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Costa Rica's central government took in revenues of approximately us$2.7 billion and had expenditures of us$3.1 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -us$473 million. Public debt in 2005 amounted to 56.2% of GDP. Total external debt was us$3.633 billion.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2003, the most recent year for which it had data, central government revenues in colones were c1,579.4 billion and expenditures were c1,691 billion. The value of revenues in US dollars was us$3.97 million and expenditures us$4.24 million, based on a market exchange rate for 2003 of us$1 = c398.66 as reported by the IMF. Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 22.2%; public order and safety, 7.5%; economic affairs, 9.7%; health, 20.9%; recreation, culture, and religion, 0.8%; education, 21.6%; and social protection, 17.3%.

TAXATION

Indirect taxes, such as import duties, contribute about three-quarters of government revenues.

Both individuals and businesses residing in Costa Rica are subject to income tax only on income derived from sources within the country. The corporate tax rate is 30%. Incentives are available for new industries and for engaging in the export of nontraditional products. Personal income taxes range from 1025% for employed persons and 1020% for self-employed persons. The personal exemption level is equal to only 80% of Costa Rica's average income, and the threshold for the highest tax rate is less than four times the average. The main indirect tax is Costa Rica's value-added tax (VAT) introduced in January 1975 at a standard rate of 10%, which was reduced to 8% during the 1990s, and then raised to 13% in 2001. Items exempted from the VAT include inputs for dwelling construction, food, medicines, educational supplies and books. Electric power to homes is subject to a 5% rate. There is also a property tax, a franchise tax, a real estate transfer tax, and a selective-consumption tax levied on luxury items, with rates ranging from 1075%.

CUSTOMS AND DUTIES

Initially, the import tariff was primarily for revenue raising purposes, but in 1954 it was increased to protect Costa Rican industry. In 1962, tariffs were raised so high that they virtually prohibited foreign competition in certain fields. Import duties usually included a specific duty on the gross weight in kilograms and ad valorem duties of varying percentages of the CIF (cost, insurance, and freight) value of the imported goods.

Since Costa Rica's entry into GATT, tariffs have been lowered. As of 2002, customs duties range from 115%. However, food tariffs were between 14% and 19%. Import duties on raw materials, bulk grains, and oilseeds were reduced to 1% in 1996. Capital goods and most finished products have a tariff of 1% and 1015% respectively. There is a 13% value-added tax (VAT). Excise taxes range from 575%, applying to about half of all products imported. For example, arms and munitions are taxed at 75%; costume jewelry, fireworks, and whiskey at 50%; wine and beer at 40%.

Costa Rica has a bilateral free trade agreement with Mexico and was planning future agreements in 1999 with Dominican Republic, Panama, Chile, and Trinidad and Tobago. Costa Rica is also a member of the Central American Common Market (CACM) with El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The CACM has a common external tariff of 520% for most products.

FOREIGN INVESTMENT

Foreign investment, which is welcomed in Costa Rica, is concentrated in manufacturing (45%) and agriculture (25%, mainly banana and coffee interests). Other investments are placed in the railways, tobacco, communications, airlines, government bonds, and real estate. The United States, Costa Rica's major foreign investor (78% in 1998), has interests chiefly in computer chip manufacturing, agriculture, petroleum refining, and distribution, utilities, cement, and fertilizers. The continued high level of trade with the United States has been conducive to private foreign investment, especially in export industries. Investment incentives include constitutional equal treatment guarantees and free trade zones. Foreign direct investment in Costa Rica in 1998 was $530 million, or 5% of GDP.

Liberalization of Costa Rica's trade and investment regimes, resolution of the internal debt problem, and passage of legislation expanding private sector investment in energy, telecommunications, roads, ports, and airports have boosted opportunities for foreign and local investors and increase Costa Rica's prosperity. In 1998, the Public Concessions Law defined the ways in which foreigners could invest in Costa Rica's public sector. Still, in the energy sector, foreign ownership may not exceed 65%, and a long list of activities are reserved for the state. The government had no privatization programs in 1999, but in 2000 investment was promoted by the government in the electricity and telecommunications parastatals.

Costa Rica has sought to widen its economic and diplomatic ties, including outside the region. Costa Rica has maintained connections with the United States, the EU, along with the other Central American states, through periodic ministerial consultations. The country is a founding member of the WTO and has actively participated in the follow-up to the Summit of the Americas to bring about the Free Trade Area of the Americas by the year 2005.

In 2003, total capital inflows reached $587 million, down from $662 million in 2002, but up from $454 million in 2001. The United States' stock of foreign investment decreased by $75 million in 2003, reaching $1.6 billion. In August 2004, Costa Rica (together with El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic) signed a free trade agreement with the United States. Through this agreement, Costa Rica has committed itself to open up two sectors that are currently state monopoliestelecommunications and insurance. Costa Rica is also a beneficiary of the US Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA).

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Despite trying to remain neutral, Costa Rica was affected adversely by regional political turmoil in the late 1970s and the 1980s. Instability in neighboring Nicaragua and Panama discouraged new investment and tourism in Costa Rica. Many displaced Nicaraguans and Salvadorans sought refuge in Costa Rica, further burdening the country's educational and health facilities. An oil shock and debt crisis also made economic recovery difficult.

Following an economic crisis in the early 1980s, Costa Rica made significant progress toward macroeconomic stability, structural adjustment, and growth through increasingly diversified exports. Gross domestic product (GDP) growth averaged 4% from 1988 to 1998. Nontraditional exports and tourism have increased rapidly and account for almost 60% of foreign currency earnings. Impressive growth after 1998 was recorded, in part due to the investments of the Intel Corporation. Although that and other North American corporations remain crucial to the success of the economy, since 2000, growth slowed to around 2%, unemployment remained at 6%, and inflation remained at 10%.

The government faced a large budget deficit in 2002 (it was 6% of GDP, up from 3.8% in 2001); 42% of the 2001 national budget was financed by public borrowing. The public debt was 52% of GDP in 2002. In 2000, an effort to privatize the telecommunications sector failed, and important economic sectors remain controlled by large public enterprises. The government in 2003 planned to implement tax reform to broaden the tax base, and to improve the condition of the financial system. Costa Rica is a supporter of the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

In 2005, the economy expanded at an overall slower pace than in 2004. This deceleration was reflected in all sectors of the economy, save agriculture and utilities. Government spending also went down, holding down growth in government consumption. Domestic demand was sluggish, with the exception of fixed investment. The fastest-growing sectors were transport and communications.

SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT

A national social insurance and mandatory private insurance system provides old age, disability and survivorship benefits for employed persons. There is also a voluntary program for the self-employed. All employed persons have coverage for sickness and maternity cash benefits, and all residents get medical care. A family allowance program provides pensions for persons, employed or not, that are not covered under the national social insurance system. The social security program is compulsory for all employees under 65 years of age. Pensions are generally set at 60% of average earnings during the last five years of coverage.

The government is taking action to protect women against domestic violence and abuse, including passing laws and providing services to victims. Domestic abuse is considered a major society problem. Women have equal rights under the law. The Law for the Promotion of the Social Equality of Women further obligates the government to promote political, economic, social, and cultural equality. Although women remain underrepresented in senior government positions, progress has been made. The law stipulates that women receive equal pay for equal work, but men usually have higher earnings. The Women's Council and the Women's Delegation, two government agencies, act as advisors and advocates for women who have suffered abuse or harassment. Child prostitution remains prevalent. However, the government is committed to children's rights and adequately funds pubic education and medical care.

Prisons are overcrowded, but conditions are generally considered to be humane. The judicial process tends to be slow, resulting in some lengthy pretrial detentions. Human rights are respected by the government.

HEALTH

Health standards have steadily improved in Costa Rica. The infant mortality rate, 166.7 per 1,000 live births in 1927, was 62.3 in 1968 and 9.95 in 2005. The decreases in mortality rates were attributed to improvements in sanitary and medical facilities under the national health program administered by the Ministry of Health. The fertility rate was 3.1 in 1994, a 1.3% yearly reduction since 1984, and was reduced further to 2.5 as of 2000. The use of contraceptives is one of the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean. In the mid-1990s, 75% of married females aged 1549 were using a form of contraception. During 2005, life expectancy at birth was an average of 76.84 years.

Hospitals are located in the principal cities and about 95% of the hospital beds are in urban areas. In 2004, Costa Rica had an estimated 172 physicians, 245 nurses, 42 dentists, and 34 pharmacists per 100,000 people.

Health services for the rural population are generally inadequate and the refugee problem has severely taxed urban services. However, there are sanitary units and dispensaries to care for the health needs of the poor. During the 1980s, the greatest health problem was protein-calorie malnutrition, particularly among infants and children. Diseases of the circulatory system are the leading cause of death. Almost 100% of the population had access to safe water. Costa Rica immunized children up to one year old as follows: diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 91%; measles, 99%; polio, 93%; and tuberculosis, 91%. The incidence of tuberculosis was 17 per 100,000 in 1999.

The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.60 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 1,200 people living with HIV/ AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 900 deaths from AIDS in 2003.

HOUSING

In 2004, there were approximately 1,082,662 housing units in the country. About 646,806 (59.7%) were detached houses. About 74% of all dwellings were owner occupied. About 84.5% of all dwellings were listed in good or average condition and 88% were listed as having access to all basic services.

Sources for housing mortgages include private funds, the Central Bank, the Social Security Fund, and the national banking system. In 2002, the cost of building a home was about $315 to $540 per square meter. The National Institute of Housing and Urban Affairs, established in 1954, administers a national low-cost housing program.

In 1986, the National Bamboo Project was launched as a way to introduce new building technology aimed at preventing deforestation throughout the country. The project focuses on the use of bamboo for building material in indigenous housing projects. In 1995, FUNBAMBU (The Bamboo Foundation) was established to take over the program. To date, at least 3,000 low-cost homes have been built through this program and about 200 hectares of bamboo have been cultivated for future use. FUNBAMBU plans to build another 1,500 homes per year, about 6% of all housing construction per year.

EDUCATION

Primary education lasts for six years followed by three years of secondary education. Either a two-year academic course of study or a three-year technical course of study follows. Primary and secondary education is free, and primary-school attendance is compulsory.

Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 90% of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 53% of age-eligible students. It is estimated that about 94% of all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 23:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was about 19:1.

The country has 39 universities, including an open university. The University of Costa Rica (founded in 1843) is supported by the government. The Open University (1977) in San José operates 28 regional centers for all students who apply. There are also the Autonomous University of Central America (1976) in San José and the National Autonomous University of Heredia (1973), among others. In 2003, about 19% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 95.8%, with fairly even rates for men and women.

As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 5.1% of GDP, or 22.4% of total government expenditures.

LIBRARIES AND MUSEUMS

The National Library at San José, founded in 1888, is a reference library that contained about 255,000 volumes in 2002. Other important libraries in San José are the National Archives, with 8,500 volumes, and the library of the University of Costa Rica, which contains about 439,000 volumes. The Inter-American Institute of Agricultural Sciences, in Turrialba, has a library of over 90,000 volumes. The Legislative Assembly maintains a library of 35,000 volumes and the Indigenous Museum (1890) holds 40,000 volumes. The Tropical Science Center in San José sponsors the L.R. Holdridge Documentation and Information Center, which specializes in research materials on nature conservation and management.

The National Museum of Costa Rica in San José, founded in 1887, is a general museum with collections of pre-Columbian, colonial, republican, and religious art, a herbarium, and bird displays. The Museum of Costa Rican Art was founded at San José in 1977. There are several other art museums in the capital as well, including the Indigenous Museum, the Museum of Pre-Colombian Gold, and the Museum of Jade.

MEDIA

Costa Rican telephone, telegraph, and radio systems are owned and operated by both governmental and private firms. In 2003, there were an estimated 251 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people; about 15,800 people were on a waiting list for telephone service installation. The same year, there were approximately 111 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

There were 65 AM and 51 FM radio stations in 2002. The same year, there were 20 television stations in Costa Rica. Many stations are privately owned. The Commission on Control and Rating of Public Performances has the authority to restrict radio and television broadcasts, as well as films and live theater productions that may contain violent or explicitly sexual content. In 2003, there were an estimated 816 radios for every 1,000 people. The number of televisions was unavailable in the same survey.

The major daily newspapers, all published in San José, (with 2004 circulations except as noted) include Diario Extra, an independent morning paper (120,000); La Nación, an independent morning paper (125,000); La República, an independent morning journal (60,000 in 2002); Al Dia, an independent morning paper (65,000); and La Prensa Libre, an independent evening paper (56,000). There are several periodicals and magazines available, the most popular of which is the general interest weekly Esta Semana, with a 1995 circulation of 27,000.

Freedom of speech and the press is guaranteed by the constitution and observed in practice. Print and electronic media are largely privately owned.

ORGANIZATIONS

Consumer cooperatives purchase, sell, and distribute goods among the membership. The cooperative credit societies procure loans for agriculture, stock raising, and industrial development, and cooperative housing associations provide low-cost housing facilities. There are chambers of commerce and of industry in San José. In addition, there are about 50 employers' and industrial organizations, including the National Coffee Chamber. An unusual organization, combining features found in credit unions, company unions, and building and loan societies, is the Movimiento Solidarista, which advocates harmony between employers and workers. Professional associations are also available.

The Central American Health Institute is a multinational organization based in San José. There are also several organizations concerned with environmental issues and conservation. Volunteer service organizations, such as the Lions Clubs and Kiwanis International, are also present.

National women's organizations include the Association of University Women, The Center of Feminist Information and Action, and the National Institute of Women. There are two major student unions, the Federation of University Students of Costa Rica (FEUCR) and The Nation Federation of University Students (FEUNA). The Association of Guides and Scouts of Costa Rica and the YMCA are also active youth organizations. There are several sports organizations representing a variety of interests, such as tae kwon do, badminton, tennis, and football (soccer), to name a few. There is an active organization of the Special Olympics.

Costa Rica has chapters of Amnesty International, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and the Red Cross. A national organization, the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress, is based in San José. The Arias Foundation works to build peace and justice in Central America and operates the Center for Peace and Reconciliation, the Center for Human Progress, and the Center for Organized Participation. The Commission for the Defense of Human Rights in Central America and the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights are multinational groups based in San José.

TOURISM, TRAVEL, AND RECREATION

Popular tourist sights in San José are the National Museum, National Theater, and the Central Bank's gold exhibition. Other attractions include the Irazú and Poás volcanoes, brief jungle excursions, and the Pacific beaches. Popular recreations are bird-watching, mountain climbing, swimming, water-skiing, and deepsea fishing. Football (soccer) is the national sport; there are matches every Sunday morning in San José from May through October. Horseback riding is widely available.

Visitors to Costa Rica must have passports and an onward/return ticket. In 2003, Costa Rica received 1,238,692 tourists, of whom 82% were from the United States. There were 35,003 hotel rooms that year. Tourism receipts reached $1.4 billion.

In 2005, the US Department of State estimated the daily cost of staying in Costa Rica at $171.

FAMOUS COSTA RICANS

José María Castro was Costa Rica's first president (184749, 186668). Juan Rafael Mora Porras, the second president of the republic (184959), successfully defended the country against the invasion of US military adventurer William Walker. General Tomás Guardia (183282) led a revolt against the government in 1870, became a dictator, and in 1871 introduced the constitution that remained in force until 1949. José Figueres Ferrer (190690), president during 195358 and 197074, is regarded as the father of the present constitution. Oscar Arias Sánchez (b.1940), president 198690 and elected again in 2005, won the Nobel Prize for peace in 1987 for his plan to bring peace to Central America. Ricardo Fernández Guardia (18671950) is regarded as Costa Rica's greatest historian. Joaquín García Monge (18811958) founded the literary review Repertorio Americano. Maribel Guardia (b.1960) is a Costa Rican singer, actress, and model famous throughout Latin America.

DEPENDENCIES

Cocos Island26 sq km (10 sq mi), about 480 km (300 mi) off the Pacific coast, at 5°32n and 87°2wis under Costa Rican sovereignty. It is mainly jungle, with a maximum elevation of 850 m (2,788 ft). There is no permanent population, but the island is popular with transient treasure hunters. Cocos Island has two harbors and is of strategic importance because of its position along the western approach to the Panama Canal.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Calvert, Peter. A Political and Economic Dictionary of Latin America. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2004.

Costa Rica and Uruguay. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Creedman, Theodore S. Historical Dictionary of Costa Rica, 2nd ed. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1991.

Daling, Tjabel. Costa Rica: A Guide to the People, Politics and Culture. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Interlink, 2002.

Health in the Americas, 2002 edition. Washington, D.C.: Pan American Health Organization, Pan American Sanitary Bureau, Regional Office of the World Health Organization, 2002.

Helmuth, Chalene. Culture and Customs of Costa Rica. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000.

Longley, Kyle. The Sparrow and the Hawk: Costa Rica and the United States During the Rise of José Figueres. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997.

Mesa-Lago, Carmelo. Market, Socialist, and Mixed Economies: Comparative Policy and Performance: Chile, Cuba, and Costa Rica. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

views updated

COSTA RICA

Republic of Costa Rica

Major City:
San José

Other Cities:
Alajuela, Cartago, Golfito, Heredia, Liberia, Limón, Puntarenas

EDITOR'S NOTE

This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report 1999 for Costa Rica. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at http://travel.state.gov/ for the most recent information available on travel to this country.

INTRODUCTION

Sometimes called the Switzerland of Middle America, Costa Rica straddles the mountain backbone that separates the Pacific from the Caribbean. Rugged ranges, topped by active volcanoes, climb sharply from lush jungles of the coastal regions and cradle a central plateau.

Legend holds that Columbus saw Indians wearing gold ornaments and named the region Costa Rica-Rich Coast. It enjoys a living standard considered the highest in Central America.

The explorers and "conquistadores" that were to come after Columbus did not find great native empires; instead, they found different tribes that were loosely connected or fragmented completely. While important Indian empires were falling-in 1532 the Incas and in the 1540s the Aztecs-Costa Rica was left alone, mostly because dreams of gold and jewels had proved to be illusions. It was not until 1559 that Spain decided to conquer Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is different from the rest of Central America because its people distribute their wealth, land, and power far more equitably. Its social welfare system and parliamentary democracy have no equal. To its everlasting good fortune, it was the most neglected of colonial Central America. It had neither of the two things the Spanish conquistadors wanted: mineral wealth (gold and silver), or an abundant Indian population to work their haciendas. The absence of minerals and indigenous workers meant that settlers worked their own land-and there was plenty of it to go around for centuries-to form a huge middle class of yeoman farmers. Money became so scarce at times that colonists had to substitute it with the Indian equivalent cacao beans.

Wheat and tobacco were among the first products to be exported to Spain and other countries. Costa Rica was transformed by coffee in the 19th century. The brown bean attracted foreign capital and immigrant merchants and promoted road and railroad development. In one of the major engineering feats of the age, the San Jose-Puerto Limon railroad was completed in 1890, and from it a banana empire was built in the process. It connected the U.S. fruit centers of New Orleans and Boston with San Jose.

The country boasts a population close to 3.5 million people, which by standards of the region, is not large. Also, the growth rate is only 2.3% per year and is one of the most homogenous of the region. 98% of the people are classified as white or mestizo, and two percent as black or indigenous.

Costa Rica is also homogenous in regards to social classes. Most of the population is middle class, and even though poverty exists, it is not as large a problem as it is in other Latin countries. By the standards of a developed country, Costa Rican incomes are very low, but when compared to other neighbors, salaries and earnings prove to be much better. Besides the poor and middle classes, there is an upper class, which is very elitist. The preponderance of a middle-class produces an impression of class and social homogeneity.

Democracy is the source of tremendous pride in a country that can boast of having more teachers than policemen and of not having a standing army since 1948. Reform has always won over revolution and repression. Out of 53 leaders, only 3 have been military men and 6 can be considered dictators. Most Latin American countries can't affirm the same good fortune.

MAJOR CITY

San José

San José, with a metropolitan population of over one million, is almost completely surrounded by mountains, and just a few minutes' drive from the center of the city are foothills that offer a country atmosphere and lovely views.

The central part of the capital is divided into four quadrants by Avenida Central running east and west, and Calle Central running north and south. The arrangement of streets is logical, but initially confusing: Odd-numbered avenues (avenidas) are located north of Avenida Central and even-numbered avenues are to the south; odd-numbered streets (calles) are east of Calle Central, and even-numbered streets are to the west.

Street names or numbers are seldom used. Locations are given in relation to some landmark that may, or may not, be well known, such as a public building, a monument, a prominent intersection, or even a grocery store or gasoline station. Distances are expressed in meters ("metros" in Spanish), and 100 meters is roughly equivalent to a normal city block. At times the point of reference is a landmark that once existed but no longer is standing, a practice that works for longtime residents of San José but generally adds to the considerable confusion.

Most city streets in San José are paved, but many are narrow and rough, and congestion and noise are constant problems in the city. The pollution at times can be stifling. Potholes are a constant threat to the unwary, both in the city and in the countryside, and often are deep enough to damage vehicles. Open manholes are a danger as well, since theft of manhole covers seems to be a favorite activity in San José.

Downtown commercial buildings usually have two or three stories, but newer structures are much taller. Residential sections have many modern homes of brick, wood, or concrete construction, with either tile or galvanized metal roofs. Parks of all sizes are located throughout the city.

The temperature in San José is generally pleasant, with two seasons distinguished mainly by the rainfall. The dry season runs from December through April and the wet season extends from May through November. Even during the wet season the mornings generally are clear, with the afternoons and evenings dominated by heavy rains nearly every day. Relatively high winds often are present during the dry season.

The average temperature in San José is 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. In December, the coolest month, the average temperature drops to around 65 degrees. Temperatures drop into the 50s at night throughout the year.

Humidity in San José averages 80 percent throughout the year, and during the rainy season mold and mildew are serious problems. Leave a light burning in closets, but for more serious measures, a dehumidifier must be used to prevent damage. Electronic equipment, books, records, tapes, and photographic equipment also suffer in the humidity, and should be protected if possible.

More than 20,000 private American citizens, most of them retirees, live in Costa Rica, and approximately one half million tourists from the U.S. visit the country every year. Smaller groups of foreign residents include Canadian, British, French, German, Italian, Chinese, Spanish, and other Latin Americans.

Precautions must be taken with regard to personal security. Pick-pocketing, muggings, and assaults are on the rise, especially in downtown San José.

Food

Many newcomers to San José are shocked at the prices for food and other purchases, which often approach or exceed U.S. prices and are not typical of Latin America.

Most fresh fruits and vegetables are available year round. They include bananas, papaya, melon, grapefruit, oranges, lemons, pineapples, strawberries, plantains, tomatoes, beets, eggplant, radishes, cucumbers, zucchini, potatoes (white and sweet), carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, squash, lettuce, cabbage, celery, green and wax beans, and several varieties of fresh and dried beans. Local fruits and vegetables are of good quality. Apricots, peaches, pears, apples, and grapes are not grown in commercial quantities in Costa Rica, but they are imported by the better grocers. Prices for all imported fruits are high.

Good quality fresh meats are available at all times, and beef, pork, chicken, and fish are plentiful. Mutton and lamb are seldom available on the open market, but can be ordered from some butchers. Beef prices and quality are slightly lower than in the U.S., while chicken, fish, and pork are sold at prices similar to those in the U.S. Fresh and frozen shrimp is available, but prices are quite high since most shrimp is destined for the export market.

Several dairies sell pasteurized milk similar in price and quality to American brands. Other dairy products such as chocolate milk, ice cream, skim milk, buttermilk, cottage cheese, sweet and sour cream, whipping cream, yogurt and eggnog, and a great variety of cheeses also are available. The overall quality of dairy products is high.

Local supermarkets are well stocked with snack foods, packaged foods, pasta, canned meats and fish, and soft drinks. Dry cereals are available at high prices. Flour, sugar, yeast, chocolate, and other baking items are available, but packaged cake mixes are of poor quality. A few frozen items are available, but choices are minimal. Supermarket chains stock many imported American foods, but the prices for all imported items are inflated.

Clothing

Since temperatures vary little, basically spring and fall weight clothing as well as summer attire are suitable for San Jose. Local tastes and standards are similar to those in the U.S. and are becoming increasingly casual. Some lightweight sweaters are handy during the rainy season, when evening temperatures are slightly cooler, and for trips to the mountains. Umbrellas and comfortable rain gear are necessary accessories for your San Jose wardrobe.

Shoes made in Costa Rica and other Central American countries are available at reasonable prices. Styles are similar to those found in the U.S. Finding shoes made with American lasts is difficult and consequently locally made shoes may not fit satisfactorily. Shoes, however, can be custom made for prices lower than in the U.S.

While shopping malls do exist, as indicated, the major differences are price, selection, and quality.

A wide selection of locally made material is available for home sewing, and some imported material is available as well. Care should be exercised in buying, as "seconds" sometimes appear on the local markets. Local department stores have adequate supplies of zippers, buttons, hooks, and facings, but some notions, especially fancy trimmings, are difficult to find. Some women have used local seamstresses, with varying success.

Children's casual clothing follows U.S. styles, with emphasis on slacks and jeans for both boys and girls, although girls are seen in dresses more often in Costa Rica than in the United States.

A recent change in regulations made school uniforms mandatory in all schools. Some uniforms can be purchased locally or from the U.S. Other uniforms are school specific and must be purchased locally. Prices for a complete uniform run between $40 and $50. Complete information about uniform requirements can be obtained from school representatives. Jackets, sweaters, and a water-repellent windbreaker with hood also should be included in a child's wardrobe. Locally made clothing is inexpensive, and of fair quality. Good quality, locally manufactured leather shoes are available in average widths, but extra shoelaces can be hard to find. Children's tennis shoes, made locally, are inexpensive and available in narrow to average widths, though no half sizes. Good quality boys underwear can be found, but underwear for girls is expensive if imported, and of inferior quality if made locally. Socks for both boys and girls are expensive. Infant clothing, as well as items such as receiving blankets, are available on the local market.

Supplies and Services

Some familiar American-brand and European-brand cosmetics, toiletries, and personal hygiene items are manufactured in Central America, and available at local drugstores and department stores. Common home medications found locally, and many medicines requiring a prescription in the United States, can be purchased over the counter. Generic medications are often sold.

A good supply of locally manufactured household products is available, such as soaps, detergents, floor wax, furniture polish, glass cleaner, insecticides (extreme care should be taken with some of the local products), and laundry supplies, although quality is below U.S. standards.

Locally made pots, pans, kitchen utensils, and dishes can be purchased at moderate prices. Imported varieties also are available for much higher prices.

Laundries and dry cleaners in San José have modern equipment, but only one chain of cleaners offers U.S.-style martinizing service. San José has few self-service laundromats.

Small repair shops in the city service appliances, stereos, and cameras, but the wait is long and the quality of the repairs is poor. Household repair services are unreliable as well. Basic household tools are useful. Prices for tools are higher in San José than in the United States.

Many hairdressers have adequate equipment and competent operators, some of whom speak English. Services tend to be inexpensive. Satisfactory shoe repair is available.

Domestic Help

Many Americans in San Jose prefer to hire a live-in maid, as a convenience and as a deterrent to burglary, which is a major problem. Reliable maids are difficult to find. Some families are employing part-time maids instead of full-time, live-in employees. It is common practice to employ one person to do the cleaning and cooking for a family. For those who do not want a live-in maid, or who cannot find one, a guard or housesitter is necessary whenever the entire family is away from the house.

Some people also employ a day laborer part time to do heavy work in the home, such as waxing floors and washing windows. Local gardeners also can be hired for reasonable prices, and most have their own equipment. Tools are available locally, but are more expensive than in the U.S.

The typical cash wage in 1997 for a live-in maid was around 40,000 colones a month, plus 19.5 percent of their monthly salary that must be paid into the Social Security system on a monthly basis.

In addition to their salaries, both full-time and part-time domestics are entitled to two weeks paid vacation annually after 50 weeks of service, plus a Christmas bonus based on the number of months worked. Similar bonuses often are given to others, including garbage men, paper boys, and street sweepers. Maids are also entitled to severance pay when they are dismissed.

Full-time and part-time domestic employees are entitled to illness and maternity benefits of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (the Social Security system). They are also covered under a Disability/ Old Age Retirement Plan. This is a compulsory program and in theory is funded through contributions by both the employer and employee. In fact, the employer generally pays the worker's share as well. Total contribution to the plan amounts to between 20 percent and 25 percent of the worker's salary. All domestic employees must be registered with the Caja.

Religious Activities

Catholicism is the state religion, and more than 90 percent of the population is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. Several local churches offer English services either Saturday or Sunday. Other denominations represented in San José include Episcopal, Baptist, Jehovah's Witnesses, Lutheran, Methodist, Mormon, and Seventh Day Adventist. San José also has a Jewish Synagogue.

Education

American children in Costa Rica have several educational alternatives, including some private schools that offer college-prep curriculums and operate on a U.S.-style August through June schedule.

During the past year, however, several newly arrived families have encountered problems with the school enrollment process. Missing required documents are the primary problem. These documents included: original school transcripts for the past two years, results of recent standardized achievements tests, passport or birth certificate, vaccination record, two passport size photos, letter of recommendation from the principal or counselor of the previous school. The schools require a personal interview and admission tests. Students will be tested on several academic subjects. The results of these tests often take up to three days to be released. Students will not be accepted until the results are known. Additionally, many arriving families fail to identify and contact the school they wish to use before arrival. These schools operate on a limited enrollment basis; failure to reserve a space early may preclude admission. Therefore, it is highly recommended that families with school-age children contact the selected school as soon as possible, ideally before May for the following August. This is especially important, if the family will arrive at after school begins.

Special Education

Parents should be aware that the schools have limited resources and/or programs for students with special needs. In most instances, the buildings lack structures to facilitate the access of those in wheelchairs or with other physical disability requirements.

A few public schools in San Jose have devoted resources to establishing programs for children with educational requirements. These programs are below standards developed by schools in the U.S. and all such instruction is in Spanish. A few specially trained therapists are available, but physical, occupational, and speech therapists are in critically short supply. Parents should correspond directly with local schools for information about their child's special needs. Local school directors also can provide detailed information about curriculums, accreditation, student-to-teacher ratios, facilities, and extracurricular activities.

Private schools operating on a U.S. style schedule with classes in English, include: American International School (former Costa Rica Academy). Pre-kindergarten through 12th grade; 280 students; classes in English. Enrollment fee, $1000 one time payment per student, grades 1 - 12; school maintenance fee, $600 per family for 3 years; annual tuition: pre-kindergarten and kindergarten $2000; for 1/2 day program, $3500; for full day, lst through 12th grade, $5150; bus fee, $900 annually.

For more information contact Director, Larry Lyons Apartado 4941-1000 San Jose. Telephone: (506) 239-0376 E-mail:[email protected]

Country Day School: Pre-kindergarten through 12th grade; 800 students; classes in English. Enrollment fee, $375 per year; Annual tuition: pre-kindergarten half-day, $1832; kindergarten and prep half day, $2680; kindergarten and prep full day, $3995; grades 1-12, $5390; bus fee depends on the location of your residence.

For more information contact: Director, Timothy Carr Apartado 8-6170, San Jose Telephone: (506) 228-1187 or (506) 289-8406.

Marian Baker School: Kindergarten through 12th grade; 210 students; classes in English. Enrollment fee, $450; Annual tuition: kindergarten, $2500 1/2 day program; kindergarten, $3500 full day; prep.-5th grade, $4500; 6th-12th grades, $5300. Bus fee, $540 per student.

For further information contact: Director, Linda Niehaus Apartado 4269, San Jose Telephone: (506) 273-3426 or (506) 273-3204 E-mail:[email protected]

International Christian School: Pre-kindergarten through 12th grade; 530 students; classes in English. Enrollment fee, $190. PK $340 for 1st child enrolled, $220 for other siblings enrolled. Monthly tuition: pre-kindergarten half-day $160; kindergarten and prep half-day, $190; grades 1-6, $300; grades 7-12, $345.

For more information contact: Director, William Tabor Apartado 3512, San Jose Telephone: 236-7879 or 236-2970.

Each school may have additional fees not listed in the general pricing information provided, i.e., books, uniforms, school lunches, specialty or individual instruction classes, instrument rentals, maintenance and/or technology fees.

Private schools operating on the local February-November schedule, with classes in English or in English and Spanish, include:

Lincoln School: Pre-kindergarten through grade 12; 750 students; classes in English. One-time family membership, $450; Enrollment fee, $180 per year; Registration fee, $50 per year; Monthly tuition: pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, $105; preparatory - grade 3, $150; grades 4 - 6. $170; grades 7 - 9, $175; grades 10 - 11. $185; grade 12, $245.

For more information contact: Director, John Dellman Apartado 1919-1000, San Jose Telephone: 235-7733.

Escuela Britanica: Kindergarten through grade 12; 800 students; classes half in English, half in Spanish. One time fee pet family, $310. Enrollment fee, $115 - $162 depending on grade level. Monthly tuition: $130 - $225, depending on grade level.

For more information contact: Director, David Lloyd Apartado 8184-1000, San Jose Telephone: 220-0719

Of the above schools, Costa Rica Academy (American International School (AIS) and Country Day School (CDS) are the most similar to American schools, and their familiarity may help ease the transition for some students.

There are several preschools available for children.

El Girasol: Ages 2-6, instruction in Spanish. Monthly fees: $90 with a matriculation fee of approximately $80.

For more information contact: Director, Nora Masis Apartado 6063, San Jose Telephone 232-8496

ABC Montessori: Ages 1-1/2 to 5 years; 60 students, instruction in English and Spanish. Enrollment fee, $95. Monthly tuition: $105; materials, $55; transportation, $28, School calendar: March through November. Hours: 7:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

For more information contact: Laura Patino, 759-1007 Centro Colon, San Jose Telephone, 232-1805.

Kiwi Kinder: Ages 2-1/2 to 5 years; 32 students; instruction in English. Enrollment fee, $80 per semester. Tuition per semester: 5 days per week, $775; 3 days per week, $525. School calendar: August through mid-June. Hours: pre-school, 8:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.; kindergarten, 8:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

For more information contact: Director, Dianne Patterson Apartado 549-6150, Santa Ana Telephone: 282-6512

Special Educational Opportunities

The University of Costa Rica is situated on a modern campus in an eastern suburb of San Jose. The University has a faculty of some 2,500 and a student body of more than 30,000. Majors include history, art, law, education, science, economics, dentistry, medicine, microbiology, social work, agronomy, pharmacy, and engineering. Foreigners may take courses either for credit or on an audit basis. Admission requirements vary according to the courses desired and the individual's educational background. A good command of Spanish is necessary because all courses are taught in Spanish.

The Centro Cultural Costarricense-Norteamericano offers classes in Spanish at all levels, and private tutors of varying degrees of skill can be hired.

Courses in art are taught at the University of Costa Rica's School of Fine Arts, and in music at the National Conservatory. Many private teachers provide instruction in voice, music, painting, ballet, ceramics, swimming and diving, golf, tennis, and horseback riding.

Sports

The Costa Rica Country Club in Escazu is very expensive. It offers excellent facilities, including a heated swimming pool, tennis courts, a nine-hole golf course, saunas and exercise equipment, and a restaurant. The Costa Rica Tennis Club in La Sabana has a swimming pool, steam baths, tennis courts, and a restaurant. The Cariari Country Club, off the airport highway, offers an Olympic-size swimming pool, the country's only 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, exercise equipment, a nightclub, and a restaurant. The Indoor Club in Curridabat on the east side of San José, offers indoor and outdoor tennis courts, racquetball and squash courts, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and a restaurant. And, the Los Reyes Country Club, located a half-hour drive from downtown San José, offers a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts, a swimming pool, and a restaurant. There are also several health clubs in the area that include: Spa Corobici, Hi-Line Gymnasio, San José Palacio, and Club Olimpico. For children, 6 months to 15 years, Kid's Gym offers classes in gymnastics and modern dance.

Joining the various clubs remains a costly proposition. Membership at the Cariari, for example, costs around $3000 initially, plus another $100 a month. Prices are increased frequently.

Horseback riding lessons are available at several stables, but most, including one of San José's best establishments, La Carana, cater to riders with their own horses. One stable in Guachipelin does offer lessons in dressage and jumping using horses they rent.

La Sabana park has a public swimming pool and many fields for soccer, baseball, softball, and basketball. A paved jogging track also circles the park. Other activities include swimming, golf, and tennis competitions, many of which are open to Americans.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

Costa Rica is a small country, and many interesting areas can be visited in a day trip from San José. They include the Braulio Carillo National Park; Poas, Irazú, Barva, and Arenal volcanoes; Lankester Gardens; beaches on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts; the Sarchi ox cart factory; white water rafting trips, and a number of rustic restaurants reached after drives through the lush countryside. For those who prefer not to drive, there are scores of tour agencies that provide an abundance of packaged tours to all areas of the country.

After leaving San José the climate becomes either cooler or more tropical depending upon the destination, with altitude being the determining factor. Most day trips out of San José begin on divided highways, but the roads become less maintained outside the city. A few of these short trips include brief stretches on dirt roads.

Twenty-five percent of Costa Rica's land has been devoted to protected national parks and reserves, and visits to the parks can be the highlights of a stay in the country. The well-developed park system includes areas of dry forests, rain forests, and cloud forests, volcanoes, beaches on both coasts, caves, the highest mountain in Central America, nesting sites for several species of endangered sea turtles, and miles of hiking trails. Many of the parks are excellent sites for bird watching.

There are pristine beaches on both coasts, but most of the hotels are being developed along the Pacific. Several of the international hotel chains have accommodations at the more popular beaches. Small hotels, cabinas, and bed and breakfasts can be found at almost any beach. Camping is available at some of the parks and beaches, but campsites with facilities are limited.

Social Activities

Periodic business and social meetings, dinner parties, and many other informal social events provide opportunities for international contacts. Guest lists at such functions often include Americans, Costa Ricans, and nationals of other countries. The foreign segments may include people from the local or international business community, as well as people who have retired to Costa Rica.

The American Legion, Rotary Club, Lions, Masons, and several other fraternal organizations have branches in San José. Americans may join, although the memberships are mainly Costa Ricans.

Some of the many other international clubs that are available to join include: The Costa Rican Women's Club, Newcomers Club of Costa Rica, The Square Dance Club, National Bridge Association, and Women's Reading Group.

When invited to a formal dinner in a Costa Rican home, it is customary to send flowers.

OTHER CITIES

ALAJUELA , located in central Costa Rica 14 miles west of San José, was the capital of the country in the 1830s. With a metropolitan population of about 158,000, Alajuela is a commercial and agricultural center whose industries include sugar, coffee, and lumber. Four churches here are of outstanding architecture. The Juan Santamaria Museum is one of the city's principal tourist attractions. The museum features an exhibit of locally produced handicrafts. One wing of the museum exhibits the history of the Battle of Santa Rosa, where Costa Rican troops defeated filibusters led by William Walker in 1856.

CARTAGO is located on the Pan-American Highway, about 20 miles east of San José at the foot of Mt. Irazú. The city is situated at an elevation of 4,765 feet. Founded in 1563, Cartago was destroyed by the eruption of the Irazú volcano in 1723, and by earthquakes in 1841 and 1910. Because of these disasters, no authentic colonial buildings exist in Cartago. However, new buildings are built with colonial styling. Cartago was the political center of Costa Rica until 1821, when a more liberal government was seated in San José. It was in this rich coffee-growing region that the system of small plantations was begun, and many of the early colonial traditions survive. The population is estimated at close to 109,000. Cartago's principal church, the Cathedral of the Virgin of Los Angeles, is the scene of annual pilgrimages. Another attraction is the Church of Otosi, the oldest colonial church still in use in Costa Rica. In addition to regular services, the church houses a small museum of colonial and religious artifacts.

GOLFITO , surrounded by steep hills, is situated in southern Costa Rica off the Gulf of Dulce, about 100 miles south of San José. The heavy rainfall promotes the tropical rain-forest vegetation found in this area. Golfito is a major banana port and belongs to the Banana Company of Costa Rica. The city handles about one-fifth of Costa Rica's seaborne trade. The city's population is estimated at 30,000.

HEREDIA , whose population is about 67,000, is located in central Costa Rica. It is the center of the nation's coffee and cattle industries. Founded in 1571, Heredia is a tourist attraction because of its colonial architecture. The lush vegetation of the area has earned Heredia the nickname "La Ciudad de las Flores" (city of the flowers).

LIBERIA , with a population of about 33,000, lies on the Liberia River in northwestern Costa Rica. Located near the Pan-American Highway, it is about 100 miles north of the capital. Liberia is a commercial center for grains, fruits, sugarcane, and livestock.

LIMÓN , on the Caribbean about 100 miles east of San José, is the leading port of the country, and a modern, busy city. It was founded in 1874 during the construction of the railroad to San José. Limón's major crops are coffee and bananas; cacao and timber also are exported from this city, whose population is about 68,000. Nearly 40 percent of the country's exports pass through Limón. Limón is a tourist resort. Several beautiful parks are located near the city. Cahuita National Park, with its lush flora and fauna, contains the only coral reef on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast. Tortuguero National Park is the most important nesting ground for the green sea turtle in the western Caribbean. The park has an unique system of natural and man-made canals that serve as waterways for transportation and exploration. Columbus is said to have visited this area on his voyage in 1502.

PUNTARENAS is located about 60 miles west of San José on the Gulf of Nicoya. It was a major Pacific port before the building and expansion of Limón. With a population of approximately 92,000, Puntarenas is the center of the country's banana industry; coffee also is exported from here. Other industries include shark and tuna fishing and fish processing. Puntarenas is a picturesque resort.

COUNTRY PROFILE

Geography and Climate

At 19,730 square miles, about four-fifths the size of West Virginia, Costa Rica is, with the exception of El Salvador, the smallest country in Central America. It is bounded on the north and southeast by Nicaragua and Panama, respectively; on the east by the Caribbean Sea; and on the west and south by the Pacific Ocean. Limon, the major Caribbean port, is some 2,400 miles from New York; Puerto Caldera, the principal Pacific port, is located some 2,700 miles from San Francisco.

A rugged central massif runs the length of the country, north to south, separating the coastal plains. Even though Costa Rica lies totally within the tropics, the range of altitudes produces wide climatic variety. The country has four distinct geographic regions:

  • The Caribbean Lowlands are hot and humid, and comprise about one-fourth of the total area of Costa Rica. It is the major banana exporting region. The lowlands contain less than 10 percent of the population.
  • The Highlands are the economic, political, and cultural heart of the country, and include the Central and Talamanca mountain ranges and the Meseta Central where the capital, San José, is located. The Meseta, with elevations ranging from 3,000 to 4,500 feet, and adjacent areas contain nearly two-thirds of Costa Rica's population. The region has rolling, well-drained land, productive soil, and pleasant sub-tropical temperatures, with an annual rainfall of 60-75 inches. The central highlands have most of Costa Rica's improved roads, and there is direct access to both coasts by paved highway, rail, and air.
  • The Guanacaste Plains comprise the rolling section of north-west Costa Rica, and include portions of the provinces of Guana-caste and Puntarenas, plus the Nicoya Peninsula. Despite having the lowest average annual rainfall and the longest dry season, the region is important for agriculture and livestock production as well as a popular area for tourism. The area contains 15 percent of Costa Rica's population.

Southern Costa Rica is the wettest part of Costa Rica with some 10 percent of the population.

Altitude determines the climate throughout Costa Rica. Areas below 3,000 feet have average annual temperatures of around 80 degrees, with little variation from month to month. The temperature drops from around 74 degrees at 3,000 feet to 59 degrees at 5,000 feet. Above 5,000 feet, the average annual temperatures can range as low as 40 degrees to the mid-50s, with occasional frost during the coolest months.

Palms abound in the freshwater and brackish swamps along the Caribbean coast, as do broad belts of man-groves along the Pacific shore and tidal streams and tropical hard-woods in the higher elevations. Logging operations, both legal and illegal, have stripped many previously wooded areas of Costa Rica, and less than half the land now is forested. The broadleaf forests remaining contain mahogany, Spanish cedar, lignum vitae, balsa, rose-wood, ceiba, nispero, zapote, Castilla rubber, brasilwood, and others. Oaks and grasslands once covered the Meseta Central, but the land there now is devoted largely to crops and pastures.

The country has approximately 12 active volcanoes; the last significant eruptions began in 1968. Seismic activity occurs on a regular basis in Costa Rica. The last major earthquake that caused considerable damage along the Atlantic coast was in April, 1991. Many buildings and homes in Costa Rica are built to withstand earth tremors.

Costa Rica long has been a haven for birdwatchers who track the 900-plus species. Animal life also is abundant. Deer, squirrel, opossum, tapir, monkey, porcupine, sloth, many species of reptiles, and several species of large cats can be found in some areas, although their ranges are constantly being reduced as their habitats are destroyed. Sport fishing on both coasts for tuna, swordfish, marlin, tarpon, and shark is popular, and opportunities for freshwater fishing also exist.

Costa Rica's economy traditionally has had an agricultural base, with the chief exports being bananas, coffee, sugar, and beef. Woodworking and leathercraft are the major handicrafts of the country. Tourism, along with the cattle industry, has grown rapidly in recent years, and non-traditional exports, both agricultural and manufactured, have become increasingly important as sources of revenue.

Population

In 1996, the population of Costa Rica was estimated to be 3.3 million. The San Jose metropolitan area, with a population of 1,230,848, accounted for over one-third of the country's people. Other provinces and their populations included Alajuela (607,486), Cartago (381,420), Limon (258,369), Guanacaste (268,172), Heredia (272,711) and Puntarenas (379,002). Costa Ricans are called "Ticos" both by their Central American neighbors and among themselves.

According to the American Chamber of Commerce, more than 35,000 private American citizens, most of them retirees, live in Costa Rica, and approximately one half million tourists from the U.S. visit the country every year. Smaller groups of foreign residents include Canadian, British, French, German, Italian, Chinese, Spanish, and other Latin Americans.

Most Costa Ricans are Caucasians, and the country lacks the large indigenous Indian populations that characterize most other Central American countries. Small groups of Indians and Blacks live in Costa Rica, but together they account for less than 10 percent of the population. Descended from West Indian workers who began emigrating to Costa Rica in the late 19th Century, most Blacks live in the Limon Province on the Caribbean coast. Many speak English as their primary language.

Costa Rica's culture, like its racial composition, is relatively homogeneous. An old-line Spanish-Catholic tradition persists despite many changes brought about by an influx of people, goods, films, and books from other countries. Values of Latin American culture are evident in the great importance attached to family ties; a rather sedate, ritualized, conventional behavior; a yearly schedule of festivals; and an outwardly male-oriented and male-dominated society. Every town has its local patron saint whose day is celebrated with a "fiesta." Carnival in Limon in October, industrial and other fairs throughout the year are particularly interesting.

Public Institutions

Costa Rica is a vibrant democracy whose citizens have a strong sense of civic pride and considerable respect for human rights, peaceful resolution of conflicts and democratic institutions. The national government, which employs a comprehensive system of checks and balances, consists of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, plus a highly respected Supreme Electoral Tribunal that oversees elections every four years. The 57-member Legislative Assembly has representatives from two major political parties as well as several minority parties. Overall, the president remains the single most influential political leader, but the Legislative Assembly wields considerable power. Since 1969, the Constitution has limited the president and legislative deputies to single terms, although deputies may gain reelection after sitting out one term.

Numerous political parties compete for elective office at the national and municipal levels every four years. The Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) and the National Liberation Party (PLN) have dominated most recent elections. In February 1998, PUSC candidate Miguel Angel Rodriguez won the presidency by a narrow margin over PLN rival Jose Miguel Corrales. The PUSC also won a plurality in the Legislative Assembly.

Costa Ricans pride themselves on the country's abolition of its standing military in late 1948, a concept enshrined in the 1949 Constitution. Governments give priority to public spending on education and health care. A small civilian Public Force under the Public Security Ministry performs security and police functions. Costa Rica has exercised an international influence well beyond its relatively small size. The Figueres administration (1994 to 1998) hosted several regional conferences including the May 1997 San Jose Summit involving the U.S. President and his counterparts from Central America and the Dominican Republic.

Arts, Science, and Education

The arts are flourishing in Costa Rica. At the beautiful and historic National Theater, the Melico Salazar Theater, and other venues throughout San Jose, there is a steady stream of high-quality representations of the visual and plastic arts from Costa Rica and abroad. The National Symphony Orchestra offers an annual concert series, as does the Costa Rican Youth Symphony. The National Dance Company and university dance groups also perform during the year. Professional theater groups offer works in Spanish throughout the year, and an amateur theater group produces plays in English. Costa Rica hosts three major international festivals: the annual International Music Festival and, in alternate years, the International Festival of the Arts and the International Guitar Festival.

Several institutional and commercial art galleries are located in San Jose. The Museum of Costa Rican Art, located in the terminal of San Jose's original airport, now a large city park, features several exhibits every year by both Costa Rican and foreign artists. The Ministry of Culture, located in a restored liquor factory, houses the Museum of Modern Art and Design, exhibiting the more avant-garde works of local and foreign artists.

San Jose's movie theaters offer American films, with Spanish subtitles, shortly after original release, as well as films from Europe and the rest of Latin America. The San Jose metropolitan area has a variety of world-class museums. The National Museum, occupying a former fortress near the Legislative Assembly, has an excellent collection of pre-Columbian artifacts and a national history collection. The Central Bank's Gold Museum, located beneath the Plaza de la Cultura, near the National Theater, houses a stunning display of pre-Columbian gold artifacts. The Coin Museum is located in the same building. The Jade Museum, located in the National Insurance Institute, features one of the world's foremost collections of pre-Columbian jade pieces. The Children's Museum, established only in 1995, is located in a former penitentiary and offers a permanent display of history, science and technology with hands-on exploration for children. Other museums include the Serpentarium, the Museum of Natural Science, the Juan Santamaria Museum in Alajuela, and the Simon Bolivar Zoo.

Education is a national passion for Costa Rica, as reflected in the vast array of schools and universities throughout the country. The literacy rate, at 95 percent, is the highest in the region. Four state-supported universities and nearly forty private universities offer undergraduate and graduate courses in almost all major fields of study. The Centro Cultural Costarricense-Norteamericano, also known as the Binational Center (BNC), offers regular courses in English and Spanish as second languages, as do a host of commercial language schools. The BNC also houses an excellent lending library, which Mission families may join for a small annual fee, and offers art exhibits and performing arts events featuring American as well as Costa Rican artists.

Commerce and Industry

Costa Rica's economy emerged from recession in 1997 and is poised for relatively healthy growth for the near future. National account statistics from Costa Rica's Central Bank indicated a 1997 gross domestic product (GDP) of 2.2 trillion colones (USD 9.5 billion at the average exchange rate for the year), up 3.2 percent in real terms (measured in constant 1966 colones) from the year before, when GDP declined. Inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, was 11.2 percent less than the 12.5 percent that was forecast The central government deficit decreased to 3.4 percent of GDP in 1998, down from 3.7 percent from the year before but still above the 3.0 percent target. Controlling the budget deficit remains the single biggest challenge for the country'; economic policy makers, as servicing the accumulated public sector debt consume approximately 30 percent of the government's budget and limits the amount of resources available for needed investments in public infrastructure.

Costa Rica's major economic re sources are its fertile land and frequent rainfall, its well educated population, and its location in the Central American isthmus, which provides easy accessibility to North and South American markets and direct ocean access to the European and Asian continents. With one fourth of it land dedicated to national forests, often adjoining picturesque beaches, the country has also become a popular destination for affluent retirees and ecotourists.

The country has not discovered sources of fossil fuels (apart from minuscule coal deposits), but its mountainous terrain and abundant rainfall have permit ted the construction of a dozen hydro-electric power plants, making it self-sufficient in all energy needs, except oil for transportation. Mild climate and trade wind make neither heating nor cooling necessary, particularly in the highland cities and towns where approximately 90% of the population lives.

Costa Rica has an extensive road system of more than 30,000 kilometers, al though much of it is in disre-pair. All part; of the country are accessible by road. The main highland cities in the center of the country are connected by paved all-weather roads with the Atlantic and Pacific coast; and by the Pan American Highway with Nicaragua and Panama, the neighboring countries to the North and the South. Cost Rica needs to complete the Pacific coastal highway (and repair large sections of existing highway), build a new road along the Atlantic coast, and possibly construct coast-to-coast highway across the North ern plains of the country. These are probably the most pressing infrastructural need of the country.

Tourism, which has overtaken bananas as Costa Rica's leading foreign exchange earner, is once again growing after stagnating in the mid-1990s. Earning in 1997 from an estimated 812,000 visitors were reported at 750 million U.S. dollars, up from 684 million dollars the year before. The number of visitors in 1996 was 781,000. The numbers also show that tourists spend nearly 1,000 dollars per person per visit. In 1998 the Ministry of Tourism projected a 4-5 percent increase in the number of tourists visiting the country.

Costa Rica is also aggressively pursuing investment in the high technology sector. Largely due to the personal efforts of President Figueres to attract new investment in the sector, Intel Corporation began construction of a plant in 1997 to produce Pentium II micro-chips with an investment plant that reached 200 million dollars by the end of 1998. Intel's total planned investment was 400-500 million dollars by the end of 1999. A number of other high technology companies were already present in Costa Rica, and more are expected to follow.

Reflecting the evolution away from agriculture, 1997 growth was strong in the construction sector (16.4 percent), in industry (4.5 percent) and in commerce, restaurants and hotels (4.0 percent). Agriculture declined by 0.7 percent. Statistics for 1997 indicated a widening of the trade deficit and an increase of the current account deficit from roughly 1.1 percent of GDP in 1996 to 4.5 percent of GDP in 1997. During 1999, roughly 55 percent of total trade was with the U.S. As usual, bananas led the list of merchandise exports, but tourism earned more foreign exchange. However, despite the current account deficit, strong private capital inflows brought international reserves to over 1 billion dollars, a level approximating three months of imports.

Transportation

Automobiles

The majority of streets and roads in Costa Rica are rough and narrow. Many of the roads to the beaches and other out-of-the-way locations are not paved. A high clearance, rugged suspension vehicle, such as Ford Broncos, Chevrolet Blazers, Toyota Land Cruisers, Isuzu Troopers, Jeeps, Mitsubishi Monteros and Nissan Patrols, is recommended if significant travel away from San Jose is planned. Replacement parts, when available, are expensive.

It is strongly recommended to install anti-theft devices, such as an alarm or the Club as car burglary and theft are serious problems.

Both international and local rental car companies have offices in San Jose, but the cost is substantial and the quality of the rental cars is not always of a high standard. Costa Rica is a dangerous country in which to operate an automobile. Driving in San Jose, and throughout the country, is a challenge. Turns across one or two lanes of traffic are common; and pedestrians generally are not given the right of way. The narrow roads often are blocked by stalled, unmarked vehicles, pedestrians, or livestock. Yawning potholes, honking taxis, and smoke-belching buses with dangerous drivers, make Costa Rican traffic most unpleasant.

Liability insurance is a monopoly of the Costa Rican Government and must be purchased in the country. A comprehensive policy can be obtained in Costa Rica and several U.S. companies sell comprehensive policies for coverage in Costa Rica, although few have local offices or claims adjusters.

Since 1995, all imported vehicles must have catalytic converters.

Local

Within San Jose, taxis are efficient and inexpensive, by U.S. standards, although during rush hours and when it is raining, taxis seem to vanish. Taxis are mandated to have meters; passengers should insist that they be used, or at least determine the fare at the start of the trip.

Buses serve all parts of the city and surrounding suburbs. Service is inexpensive, but crowded, during rush hours, and some vehicles are in deplorable condition.

Regional

Costa Rica's principal cities are connected by air or highway with San Jose. The closest U.S. city is Miami, Florida, a two and a half hour non-stop flight. American carriers, American and United, as well as the national airline, LACSA, offer daily flights to Miami. Continental has a daily flight to Houston, Texas. American Airlines has a daily flight to Dallas, and Delta flies daily to Atlanta.

LACSA and other regional airlines include San Jose as a stop on their Central American schedules. Air travel within Costa Rica is very inexpensive, and many vacation spots can be reached easily by air. Travel to other Central American countries is quite expensive; a round-trip flight to Panama is $300, and Guatemala costs approximately the same. Few discounts are available.

Currently, most international flights land at Juan Santamaria Airport, a 25-minute drive from downtown San Jose. Another international airport, located near Liberia, opened recently.

Several steamship lines offer freight service to both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Costa Rica, and Cunard lines makes port calls at both Puerto Caldera and Limon. Both the Pacific and Caribbean ports are connected to San Jose by highway and air.

Communications

Telephone and Telegraph

An automatic telephone system covers all of Costa Rica. Long-distance calls may be placed from one's home, and direct-dial service to the United States and other Central American countries is available. Direct-dial rates to the continental United States range from $0.65 $1.60 a minute, depending on the time of day, though the peak rate is expected to drop to $1.10 by the middle of 1998.

Radiografica Costarricense handles all international telegraphic messages.

Mail

International air mail service to San Jose is also available. The service is slow but generally reliable. Air mail and Special Delivery from almost any point in the U.S. to Costa Rica usually takes at least a week, and there can be a lengthy delay and considerable expense before a parcel can be collected from Customs.

TV and Radio

Short-wave reception is good in San Jose. The country has more than 80 commercial radio stations, almost half of them FM stations. Several broadcast in stereo, and a few offer regular classical music programming.

Twelve TV stations operate in San Jose, broadcasting in color and offering local news and entertainment programs, plus U.S. programs dubbed in Spanish. Cable television is available in most parts of San Jose, including the areas where most Americans live. Service is available on a monthly or bi-annual subscription basis and English-language programs from the U.S. include ABC, NBC, FOX and CBS networks, ESPN sports programming, several "superstations," two movie channels, and CNN news programs.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals

Costa Rica has six daily newspapers in Spanish, plus two weekly commercial publications, the Tico Times and Costa Rica Today, in English. There are also four Spanish news magazines published weekly. Many American books and magazines are available at local book shops and newsstands, but prices are double those in the U.S. Consequently, magazine subscriptions and book club memberships are very popular.

The Centro Cultural Costarricense-Norteamericano, in the Los Yoses suburb of San Jose, maintains current periodicals and U.S. newspapers in its well-stocked library, the Biblioteca Mark Twain.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities

Costa Rica is known for the quality of its health care, and many competent surgeons, pediatricians, neurologists, dermatologists, gynecologists, cardiologists, general practitioners, dentists, and opticians work in San Jose. Many have trained in the U.S. or Europe, and some speak excellent English.

A number of local hospitals, clinics, and diagnostic laboratories are adequate for normal medical requirements, such as the Clinica Biblica or Clinica Catolica, both private medical facilities. Many Americans use the Clinica Santa Rita for maternity care.

Costa Rica also has an excellent social security (Seguro Social) hospital system with many hospitals in San Jose and other parts of the country. Costa Rica has the best children's hospital in Central America.

Essential medicines and medical supplies are available at local pharmacies, although prescriptions for some specific medications may be hard to fill.

Community Health

The general level of sanitation and health control in San Jose is below that found in the average U.S. city. Garbage is collected regularly, and San Jose has a central sewer system, but sanitary regulations sometimes are not rigidly enforced. The city's water supply is filtered and chlorinated, but the possibility of contamination is always present.

The altitude of San Jose (3,814 feet), the high humidity, the extremely high pollen concentrations at certain times of the year, and the general air pollution of the city can combine to affect persons with sinusitis, hay fever, or asthma. Colds and other respiratory problems occur with more frequency than in the U.S., because of the air quality, the pervading dampness during the rainy season, and the frequent and dramatic temperature changes from midday to evening.

Serious health hazards are found both in San Jose and in the provincial areas. These problems include common diarrhea, amebic dysentery, and bacillary dysentery. Common causes of intestinal diseases are contamination from flies, polluted water, and contaminated fruits and vegetables. Common sense precautions are necessary when dealing with food, particularly when traveling outside San Jose.

Cases of malaria have been reported in the coastal areas of Costa Rica that have altitudes of less than 2,000 feet at an increasing rate during the last few years. And in some regions of the country certain tropical diseases such as cholera and dengue still present a serious health hazard.

Use boiling as a means of water purification in areas where needed. Electronic water filtering systems are used in many restaurants and hotels. Commercially bottled water is available in San Jose.

Several dairies sell pasteurized milk and dairy products that are safe, but off-brand products should be viewed with suspicion. As in most countries, raw fruits and vegetables should not be eaten unless they have been properly washed, and this applies to produce purchased in local markets and grocery stores.

As of December, 1997, approximately 1,200 cases of AIDS had been diagnosed in Costa Rica, 60 percent of whom have died, and the number of undiagnosed HIV positives was estimated, as of December 1994, to be 15,000 to 20,000. AIDS testing is mandatory for certain groups, including blood donors, foreign applicants for temporary or permanent residence, patients consulting VD clinics or receiving treatment at Social Security hospitals, and prison inmates.

NOTES FOR TRAVELERS

Passage, Customs & Duties

A valid passport is required to enter Costa Rica. At the discretion of Costa Rican authorities, travelers are routinely admitted with a certified copy of their U.S. birth certificate and a valid photo identification. Foreign tourists are generally permitted to stay up to 90 days. Extension of legal stay beyond that time requires application to the Costa Rican Department of Migration. Tourists who have overstayed their 90-day limit without receiving a formal extension can expect to be fined at the airport as they depart the country. Those who have overstayed repeatedly, or have overstayed and wish to depart Costa Rica by land, must pay a fine to migration authorities in San Jose before departure. There is a departure tax for short-term visitors.

Additional information on entry and exit requirements may be obtained from the Consular Section of the Embassy of Costa Rica at 2114 S Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 328-6628, or from a Costa Rican consulate in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Puerto Rico, San Antonio, or San Francisco. The Embassy of Costa Rica also maintains a web site at http://www.costarica-embassy.org/

Americans living in or visiting Costa Rica are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in San Jose and obtain updated information on travel and security within Costa Rica. The U.S. Embassy maintains a web site at http://usembassy.or.cr. Americans visiting Costa Rica are encouraged to inform the Embassy of their itinerary and contact information via the web site. This can also be accessed through the Department of State's web site athttp://www.state.gov. The U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica is located in Pavas, San Jose, telephone (506) 220-3050. The Embassy is open Monday through Friday, and closed on Costa Rican and U.S. holidays. For emergencies arising outside normal business hours, U.S. citizens may call tel. (506) 220-3127 and ask for the duty officer.

Pets

The importation of pets into Costa Rica is controlled by the Ministry of Public Health. Entry permits from the Costa Rican Health Ministry must be obtained before the arrival of the pet in the country. Failure to obtain the necessary permit may result in the pet being refused entry or being detained by health authorities. The pet should arrive with the family and be declared as luggage instead of cargo.

The following documents should be certified by a Costa Rican Consul before the pet's departure for Costa Rica, and must accompany the pet: international health certificate from an accredited veterinarian (this document must be certified by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture/ APHIS before presentation to the Costa Rican Consul, call 301-436-8590); certificate of vaccinations for rabies, distemper, parvovirus, and leptospirosis (if applicable to the species of pet); and certification that the pet is free from taenia equinococus. Plan ahead to have the vaccines given to your pets, as the rabies vaccine should be given at least 30 days prior to travel.

Costa Rican Government can require a quarantine period. Use proper cage or crate for shipment and bring a supply of pet food. If importing cats, bring a litter box, pooper scooper and cat litter. Cat litter is difficult to find; so, cat owners should bring a supply in their household effects.

American brands of cat and dog food are sold in local markets, at greatly inflated prices. Locally prepared pet food also is available, but the quality is not up to U.S. standards.

Firearms and Ammunition

Firearms are permitted in Costa Rica for persons over the age of 18. Firearm owners are authorized 1000 rounds of ammunition per weapon. Owners are advised to check with the U.S. Customs Service when shipping firearms from the continental U.S.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures

The monetary unit in Costa Rica is the colon (C). Its exchange value with the U.S. dollar varies daily; in December 1999, the exchange rate was C296.00=US$1. Costa Rica has a small black market with the unofficial rates close to the rates obtained at banks. Counterfeit money has also been found on the black market.

Banking and exchange facilities exist in San Jose, but they are painfully slow-even a simple visit to a bank to cash a check can involve a wait of an hour or more. Travelers checks may be purchased at a some local banks.

The Banco Central de Costa Rica (the Central Bank) directs monetary policy and foreign exchange credit facilities, as well as supervising the banking system. Major commercial banks are government institutions; private banking institutions perform some banking functions, but their services are somewhat limited.

The dollar is freely convertible into colones. Major credit cards are widely accepted at hotels, restaurants, large department stores and supermarkets, but it is best to check before making your purchase.

Costa Rica uses the metric system, and officially, weights and measures are in kilograms, meters, and liters. Unofficially, and illegally, it is not uncommon to find American measures or Spanish colonial measures still in use.

Unleaded gasoline costs approximately $1.42 per gallon; leaded gasoline costs approximately $1.28 per gallon, and diesel fuel costs $1.06 per gallon in early 1995.

Disaster Preparedness

Costa Rica is an earthquake-prone country. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.

LOCAL HOLIDAYS

Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Mar. 19 St. Joseph's Day

Apr. 11 Juan Santamaria

Mar/Apr. Holy Thursday*

Mar/Apr. Good Friday*

Mar/Apr. Easter*

May 1 Labor Day

May/June Corpus Christi*

June 29 Sts. Peter & Paul

July 25 Annexation of Guancaste

Aug. 2 Our Lady of the Angels

Aug. 15 Assumption Day (Mother's Day)

Sept.15 Independence Day

Oct. 12 Dia de la Raza/Columbus Day

Dec. 25 Christmas Day

*variable

RECOMMENDED READING

The following titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country:

Barry, Tom. Costa Rica: A Country Guide. 3rd. ed., Albuquerque, NM: Inter-Hemisphere Education Resource Center, 1991.

Biesanz, Richard, et. al. The Costa Ricans. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1988.

Costa Rica, Guatemala & Belize on 25 Dollars-a-Day, 1991-92. Frommer's Budget Travel Guide Series. New York: Prentice Hall General Reference and Travel, 1991.

Creedman, Theodore S. Historical Dictionary of Costa Rica. 2nd ed. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1991.

Cummins, Ronnie. Costa Rica. Milwaukee, WI: G. Stevens Children's Books, 1990.

Cummins, Ronnie, and ValerieWeber. Children of the World: Costa Rica. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens, 1989.

Edelman, Marc, and Joanne Kenen, eds. The Costa Rica Reader. New York: Grove Press, 1989.

Haynes, Tricia. Let's Visit Costa Rica. Bridgeport, CT: Burke Publishing, 1988.

National Democratic Institute for International Affairs Staff. Democracies in Regions of Crisis: Botswana, Costa Rica, & Israel. Washington, DC: Democratic Institute for International Affairs, 1990.

Peduzzi, Kelli. Oscar Arias: Peace-maker and Leader Among Nations. Milwaukee, WI: G. Stevens Children's Books, 1991.

Rolbein, Seth. Nobel Costa Rica. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988.

Searby, Ellen. The Costa Rica Traveler: Getting Around in Costa Rica. 3rd ed., Occidental, CA: Windham Bay Press, 1991.

Sheck, Ree. Costa Rica: A Natural Destination. Sante Fe, NM: J. Muir Publications, 1990.

Wallace, David R. The Quetzal & the Macaw: The Story of Costa Rica's National Parks. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books, 1992.

Winson, Anthony. Coffee & Democracy in Modern Costa Rica. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989.

views updated

COSTA RICA

Compiled from the August 2004 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:
Republic of Costa Rica


PROFILE

Geography

Area: 51, 100 sq. km (19,730 sq. mi.); about twice the size of the state of Vermont.

Cities: Capital—San Jose (greater metropolitan area pop. 2.1 million, the greater metropolitan area as defined by the Ministry of Planning and Economic Policy includes the cities of Alajuela, Cartago, and Heredia). Other major cities outside the San Jose capital area—Puntarenas (102,504), Limon (89,933). (Note: These figures are for the Canton of each city, administrative areas that include the municipality and surrounding areas, rural or urban.)

Terrain: A rugged, central range separates the eastern and western coastal plains.

Climate: Mild in the central highlands, tropical and subtropical in coastal areas.

People

Nationality: Noun and adjective—Costa Rican(s).

Population: (2004 est.) 3.96 million.

Annual growth rate: (2004 est.) 1.52%.

Ethnic groups: European and some mestizo 94%, African origin 3%, Chinese 1%, indigenous 1%, other 1%.

Religions: Roman Catholic 69%, Protestant approx. 18%, none 12%, others 1%.

Languages: Spanish, with a southwestern Caribbean Creole dialect of English spoken around the Limon area.

Education: Years compulsory—9. Attendance—99% grades 1-6, 71% grades 7-9. Literacy—96%.

Health: Infant mortality rate—10.26/1,000. Life expectancy—men 74.07 yrs., women 79.3 yrs.

Work force: (2003, 1.64 million) Services—71.3%; agriculture—14.6%; industry—14%.

Government

Type: Democratic republic.

Independence: September 15, 1821.

Constitution: November 7, 1949.

Branches: Executive—president (head of government and chief of state) elected for one 4-year term, two vice presidents, Cabinet (15 ministers, one of whom also is vice president). Legislative—57-deputy unicameral Legislative Assembly elected at 4-year intervals. Judicial—Supreme Court of Justice (22 magistrates elected by Legislative Assembly for renewable 8-year terms). The offices of the Ombudsman, Comptroller General, and Procurator General assert autonomous oversight of the government.

Administrative subdivisions: Seven provinces, divided into 81 cantons, subdivided into 421 districts.

Political parties: Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), National Liberation Party (PLN), Citizen's Action Party (PAC), Libertarian Movement Party (PML), Costa Rican Renovation Party (PRC).

Suffrage: Obligatory at 18.

Economy

GDP: (2002 est.) $16.7 billion.

GDP PPP: (2003) $35.16 billion.

Inflation: (2003 est.) 9.4%.

Real growth rate: (2003) 5.6%; (2004 proj.) 4.0%.

Per capita income: (2003) $4,193. (PPP $9,000).

Unemployment: (2003) 6.7%.

Currency: Costa Rica Colon (CRC).

Natural resources: Hydroelectric power, forest products, fisheries products.

Agriculture: (10.1% of GDP) Products—bananas, coffee, beef, sugarcane, rice, dairy products, vegetables, fruits and ornamental plants.

Industry: (22.4% of GDP) Types—electronic components, food processing, textiles and apparel, construction materials, cement, fertilizer.

Commerce and tourism: (21.3% of GDP) Hotels, restaurants, tourist services, banks, and insurance.

Trade: (2003) Exports—$6.1 billion: electronic components, bananas, coffee, textiles and apparel, fruits, jewelry, flowers and ornamental plants, small appliances, shrimp. Major markets—U.S. 29.1%, Europe 21%, Central America 9%. Imports—$7.6 billion: electronic components, machinery, vehicles, consumer goods, raw materials, chemicals, petroleum products, foods, and fertilizer. Major suppliers—U.S. 35.4%, Europe 10%, Mexico 3.9% Central America 5%, Japan 4.3%, Venezuela 4%.


PEOPLE

Unlike many of their Central American neighbors, present-day Costa Ricans are largely of European rather than mestizo descent; Spain was the primary country of origin. However, an estimated 10% to 15% of the population is Nicaraguan, of fairly recent arrival and primarily of mestizo origin. Descendants of 19th-century Jamaican immigrant workers constitute an English-speaking minority and—at 3% of the population—number about 119,000. Few of the native Indians survived European contact; the indigenous population today numbers about 29,000 or less than 1% of the population.


HISTORY

In 1502, on his fourth and last voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus made the first European landfall in the area. Settlement of Costa Rica began in 1522. For nearly three centuries, Spain administered the region as part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala under a military governor. The Spanish optimistically called the country "Rich Coast." Finding little gold or other valuable minerals in Costa Rica, however, the Spanish turned to agriculture.

The small landowners' relative poverty, the lack of a large indigenous labor force, the population's ethnic and linguistic homogeneity, and Costa Rica's isolation from the Spanish colonial centers in Mexico and the Andes all contributed to the development of an autonomous and individualistic agrarian society. An egalitarian tradition also arose. This tradition survived the widened class distinctions brought on by the 19th century introduction of banana and coffee cultivation and consequent accumulations of local wealth.

Costa Rica joined other Central American provinces in 1821 in a joint declaration of independence from Spain. Although the newly independent provinces formed a Federation, border disputes broke out among them, adding to the region's turbulent history and conditions. Costa Rica's northern Guanacaste Province was annexed from Nicaragua in one such regional dispute. In 1838, long after the Central American Federation ceased to function in practice, Costa Rica formally withdrew and proclaimed itself sovereign.

An era of peaceful democracy in Costa Rica began in 1899 with elections considered the first truly free and honest ones in the country's history. This began a trend continued until today with only two lapses: in 1917-19, Federico Tinoco ruled as a dictator, and, in 1948, Jose Figueres led an armed uprising in the wake of a disputed presidential election.

With more than 2,000 dead, the 44 day civil war resulting from this uprising was the bloodiest event in 20th-century Costa Rican history, but the victorious junta drafted a constitution guaranteeing free elections with universal suffrage and the abolition of the military. Figueres became a national hero, winning the first election under the new constitution in 1953. Since then, Costa Rica has held 13 presidential elections, the latest in 2002.


GOVERNMENT

Costa Rica is a democratic republic with a strong system of constitutional checks and balances. Executive responsibilities are vested in a president, who is the country's center of power. There also are two vice presidents and a 15-member cabinet. The president and 57 Legislative Assembly deputies are elected for 4-year terms. In April 2003, the Costa Rican Constitutional Court annulled a constitutional reform enacted by the legislative assembly in 1969 barring presidents from running for reelection. The law reverted back to the 1949 Constitution, which states that ex-presidents may run for reelection after they have been out of office for two presidential terms, or eight years. Deputies may run for reelection after sitting out one term, or four years.

The electoral process is supervised by an independent Supreme Electoral Tribunal—a commission of three principal magistrates and six alternates selected by the Supreme Court of Justice. Judicial power is exercised by the Supreme Court of Justice, composed of 22 magistrates selected for renewable 8-year terms by the Legislative Assembly, and subsidiary courts. A Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, established in 1989, reviews the constitutionality of legislation and executive decrees and all habeas corpus warrants.

The offices of the Comptroller General of the Republic, the Solicitor General, and the Ombudsman exercise oversight of the government. The Comptroller General's office has a statutory responsibility to scrutinize all but the smallest public sector contracts and strictly enforces procedural requirements.

There are provincial boundaries for administrative purposes, but no elected provincial officials. Costa Rica held its first mayoral elections in December 2002 whereby mayors were elected by popular vote through general elections. Prior to 2002, the office of mayor did not exist and the president of the municipal council was responsible for the administration of each municipality. The most significant change has been to transfer the governing authority from a position filled via an indirect popular vote to one filled by a direct popular vote. Municipal council presidents are elected through internal elections conducted by council members each year, but mayors are elected directly by the populace through general elections. All council members are elected in a general election process.

Autonomous state agencies enjoy considerable operational independence; they include the telecommunications and electrical power monopoly, the state petroleum refinery, the nationalized commercial banks, the state insurance monopoly, and the social security agency. Costa Rica has no military and maintains only domestic police and security forces for internal security. A professional Coast Guard was established in 2000.

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 10/28/04

President: Pacheco , Abel
First Vice Pres.: Saborio , Lineth
Second Vice Pres.: Fishman , Luis
Min. of Agriculture & Livestock: Coto , Rodolfo
Min. of Culture, Youth, & Sports: Saenz Gonzalez , Guido
Min. of Economy & Industry: Barrantes , Gilberto
Min. of Education: Bolanos , Manuel
Min. of Environment & Energy: Rodriguez , Carlos Manuel
Min. of Finance: Carrillo , Federico
Min. of Foreign Relations & Religion: Tovar Faja , Roberto
Min. of Foreign Trade: Gonzalez , Manuel
Min. of Health: Saenz , Maria del Rocio
Min. of Housing: Fallas Venegas , Helio
Min. of Justice: Vega , Patricia
Min. of Labor & Social Security: Trejos , Fernando
Min. of Planning: Saborio , Lineth
Min. of the Presidency: Saborio , Lineth
Min. of Public Security, Government, & Police: Ramos Martinez , Rogelio Vicente
Min. of Public Works & Transportation: Quiros Bustamente , Randall
Min. of Science & Technology: Gutierrez , Fernando
Min. of Tourism: Castro , Rodrigo
Min. of Women's Issues: Vargas , Georgina
Min. Without Portfolio (National Council on Childhood): Gil , Rosalia
Pres., Central Bank: De Paula , Francisco
Ambassador to the US: Duenas , Tomas
Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Stagno Ugarde , Bruno

Costa Rica maintains an embassy in the United States at 2114 S Street NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-328-6628).


POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Costa Rica has long emphasized the development of democracy and respect for human rights. Until recently, the country's political system has contrasted sharply with many of its Central American neighbors; it has steadily developed and maintained democratic institutions and an orderly, constitutional scheme for government succession. Several factors have contributed to this tendency, including enlightened government leaders, comparative prosperity, flexible class lines, educational opportunities that have created a stable middle class, and high social indicators. Also, because Costa Rica has no armed forces, it has avoided the possibility of political intrusiveness by the military that other countries in the region have experienced.

In May 2002, President Abel Pacheco of the Social Christian Union Party (PUSC) assumed office after defeating National Liberation Party (PLN) candidate Rolando Araya in the firstever second-round runoff election. The April 2002 runoff election was necessitated by the failure of any one candidate to obtain the constitutionally required 40% of the popular vote in the February first-round election. Pacheco has been criticized as having achieved little during the first half of his four-year term, and his declining approval ratings reflect public frustration with his government. In his defense, Pacheco cites achievements in fighting corruption and reducing poverty. He continues to seek a fiscal reform package and can count the successful negotiation of a U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement (U.S.-CAFTA) and an improved economy among his significant accomplishments. The 57-member unicameral Legislative Assembly has five principal party factions, with the governing party, PUSC, having only a 19-seat plurality. As a result, legislative action has been slow.


ECONOMY

After four years of slow economic growth, the Costa Rican economy grew at a healthy 5.6% in 2003, with growth estimates exceeding 4% for 2004. Compared with its Central American neighbors, Costa Rica has achieved a high standard of living, with a per capita income of about U.S. $4,200, and an unemployment rate of 6.7%. The annual inflation rate hovers around 9.4% as the Costa Rican Government seeks to reduce a large fiscal deficit.

Controlling the budget deficit remains the single-biggest challenge for the country's economic policymakers, as interest costs on the accumulated central government consumes the equivalent of 32.1% in 2003 of the government's total revenues. About 18.9% of the national budget was financed by public borrowing. This limits the resources available for investments in the country's deteriorated public infrastructure.

Costa Rica's major economic resources are its fertile land and frequent rainfall, its well-educated population, and its location in the Central American isthmus, which provides easy access to North and South American markets and direct ocean access to the European and Asian Continents. One-fourth of Costa Rica's land is dedicated to national forests, often adjoining picturesque beaches, which has made the country a popular destination for affluent retirees and ecotourists.

Costa Rica used to be known principally as a producer of bananas and coffee. In recent years, Costa Rica has successfully attracted important investments by such companies as Intel Corporation, which employs nearly 2,000 people at its $300 million microprocessor plant; Proctor and Gamble, which employs nearly 1,000 people in its administrative center for the Western Hemisphere; and Abbott Laboratories and Baxter Healthcare from the health care products industry. Manufacturing and industry's contribution to GDP overtook agriculture over the course of the 1990s, led by foreign investment in Costa Rica's free trade zone. Well over half of that investment has come from the United States. Dole and Chiquita have a large presence in the banana industry. Two-way trade exceeded U.S. $6 billion in 2003.

Costa Rica has oil deposits off its Atlantic Coast, but President Pacheco decided not to develop the deposits for environmental reasons. The country's mountainous terrain and abundant rainfall have permitted the construction of a dozen hydroelectric power plants, making it largely self-sufficient in most energy needs, except oil for transportation. Costa Rica exports electricity to Nicaragua and has the potential to become a major electricity exporter if plans for new generating plants and a regional distribution grid are realized. One challenge will be how to secure payment for these exports. Mild climate and trade winds make neither heating nor cooling necessary, particularly in the highland cities and towns where some 90% of the population lives.

Costa Rica's infrastructure has suffered from a lack of maintenance and new investment. The country has an extensive road system of more than 30,000 kilometers, although much of it is in disrepair. Most parts of the country are accessible by road. The main highland cities in the country's Central Valley are connected by paved all-weather roads with the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and by the Pan American Highway with Nicaragua and Panama, the neighboring countries to the North and the South. Costa Rica's ports are struggling to keep pace with growing trade. They have insufficient capacity, and their equipment is in poor condition. The railroad does not function, with the exception of a couple of spurs reactivated by a U.S.-owned banana company. The government opened the ports and the railroad to competitive bidding opportunities for private investment and management, but U.S. companies chose not to participate in this process. Costa Rica has sought to widen its economic and trade ties, both within and outside the region. Costa Rica signed a bilateral trade agreement with Mexico in 1994, which was later amended to cover a wider range of products. Costa Rica joined other Central American countries, plus the Dominican Republic, in establishing a Trade and Investment Council with the United States in March 1998. Costa Rica has signed trade agreements with Canada, Chile, the Dominican Republic, and is negotiating trade agreements with Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago. Costa Rica concluded negotiations with the U.S. to participate in the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement (U.S.CAFTA) in January 2004. CAFTA is expected to bring about the partial opening of the state telecommunications monopoly beginning in 2006 and a substantial opening of the state-run insurance sector beginning in 2008. CAFTA has not yet been ratified either by the U.S. or Costa Rican legislatures. Costa Rica is an active participant in the negotiation of the hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americas as well as a member of the Cairns Group, which is pursuing global agricultural trade liberalization within the World Trade Organization.


FOREIGN RELATIONS

Costa Rica is an active member of the international community and, in 1993, proclaimed its permanent neutrality. Its record on the environment, human rights, and advocacy of peaceful settlement of disputes give it a weight in world affairs far beyond its size. The country lobbied aggressively for the establishment of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and became the first nation to recognize the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Human Rights Court, based in San Jose.

During the tumultuous 1980s, then President Oscar Arias authored a regional peace plan in 1987 that served as the basis for the Esquipulas Peace Agreement. Arias' efforts earned him the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize. Subsequent agreements, supported by the United States, led to the Nicaraguan election of 1990 and the end of civil war in Nicaragua. Costa Rica also hosted several rounds of negotiations between the Salvadoran Government and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), aiding El Salvador's efforts to emerge from civil war and culminating in that country's 1994 free and fair elections. Costa Rica has been a strong proponent of regional arms limitation agreements.

With the establishment of democratically elected governments in all Central American nations by the 1990s, Costa Rica turned its focus from regional conflicts to the pursuit of democratic and economic development on the isthmus. It was instrumental in drawing Panama into the Central American development process and participated in the multinational Partnership for Democracy and Development in Central America.

Regional political integration has not proven attractive to Costa Rica. The country debated its role in the Central American integration process under former President Calderon. Costa Rica has sought concrete economic ties with its Central American neighbors rather than the establishment of regional political institutions, and it chose not to join the Central American Parliament. Former President Figueres promoted a higher profile for Costa Rica in regional and international fora. Costa Rica gained election as president of the Group of 77 in the United Nations in 1995.

That term ended in 1997 with the South-South Conference held in San Jose. Costa Rica occupied a nonpermanent seat in the Security Council from 1997 to 1999 and exercised a leadership role in confronting crises in the Middle East and Africa, as well as in the former Republic of Yugoslavia. It is currently a member of the UN Human Rights Commission. Costa Rica hosted the OAS General Assembly in San Jose in 2001 and assumed the presidency of the Rio Group in 2002.

Former President Miguel Angel Rodriguez received hemispheric-wide support in his bid for Secretary General of the OAS and was elected to the position by consensus. In November 2004, Costa Rica will host the Ibero-American Summit.

Costa Rica broke relations with Cuba in 1961 to protest Cuban support of leftist subversion in Central America and has not renewed formal diplomatic ties with the Castro regime. Costa Rica established a consular office in Havana in 1995. Cuba opened a consular office in Costa Rica in 2001. Costa Rica temporarily withdrew its Consul General from Havana in 2001, but subsequently allowed his return.

Costa Rica has also signed a three year agreement with Nicaragua to defer submission to the International Court of Justice an issue of navigational rights on the San Juan River in a border area of the two countries. Meanwhile, the governments of Costa Rica and Nicaragua agreed to work towards an amicable solution and to jointly fund community development projects in the border area.


U.S.-COSTA RICAN RELATIONS

The United States and Costa Rica have a history of close and friendly relations based on respect for democratic government, human freedoms, free trade, and other shared values. The country consistently supports the U.S. in international fora, especially in the areas of democracy and human rights. Costa Rica joined the Coalition for the Immediate Disarmament of Iraq, despite significant domestic opposition, and co-sponsored the Resolution on Cuba at the 60th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights. Law enforcement cooperation, particularly efforts to stem the flow of illegal drugs to the U.S., has been exemplary.

The United States is Costa Rica's most important trading partner. The U.S. accounts for over half of Costa Rica's tourism and more than twothirds of its foreign investment. The two countries share growing concerns for the environment and want to preserve Costa Rica's important tropical resources and prevent environmental degradation.

The United States responded to Costa Rica's economic needs in the 1980s with significant economic and development assistance programs. Through provision of more than $1.1 billion in assistance, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) supported Costa Rican efforts to stabilize its economy and broaden and accelerate economic growth through policy reforms and trade liberalization. Assistance initiatives in the 1990s concentrated on democratic policies, modernizing the administration of justice, and sustainable development.

For decades, Peace Corps Volunteers have provided technical assistance in the areas of environmental education, natural resources, management, small business development, basic business education, urban youth, and community education. USAID completed a $9 million project in 2000-01 to support refugees of Hurricane Mitch residing in Costa Rica.

Upwards of 20,000 private American citizens, including many retirees, reside in the country and more than 600,000 American citizens visit Costa Rica annually. There have been some vexing issues in the U.S.-Costa Rican relationship, principal among them longstanding expropriation and other U.S. citizen investment disputes, which have hurt Costa Rica's investment climate and produced bilateral tensions. Land invasions from organized squatter groups who target foreign landowners also have occurred, and some have turned violent. The U.S. Government has made clear to Costa Rica its concern that Costa Rican inattention to these issues has left U.S. citizens vulnerable to harm and loss of their property.

The United States and Costa Rica signed the bilateral Maritime Counter-Drug Agreement, the first of its kind in Central America, which entered into force in late 1999. The agreement permits bilateral cooperation on stopping drug trafficking through Costa Rican waters. The agreement has resulted in a growing number of narcotics seizures, illegal fishing cases, and search-and-rescue missions.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

SAN JOSE (E) Address: Pavas, San Jose; APO/FPO: Unit 2501 APO AA34020; Phone: (506) 519-2000; Fax: (506) 519-2305; Workweek: Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Website: usembassy.or.cr

DCM:Douglas Barnes
CG:Robin J. Morritz
POL:Frederick Kaplan
MGT:Scott D. McAdoo
AGR:Katherine Nishura
APHIS:John Stewart
CLO:Gwendolynne Simmos
DEA:Dirk Lamagno
ECO:Whitney J. Witteman
FCS:James McCarthy
FMO:Carmen Castro
GSO:Panfilo Marquez
IMO:Jasper R. Daniels
IPO:Larry Helmich
PAO:Laurie Wietzenkorn
RSO:Michael E. Wilkins
Last Updated: 1/6/2005

Other Contact Information

U.S. Department of Commerce
Trade Information Center
International Trade Administration
14th and Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20320
Tel: 800-USA-TRADE
www.ita.doc.gov

Costa Rican American Chamber of Commerce
c/o Aerocasillas
P.O. Box 025216, Dept 1576
Miami, Florida 33102-5216
Tel: 506-22-0-22-00;
Fax: 506-22-0-23-00
Email: [email protected]


TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet

October 13, 2004

Country Description: Costa Rica is a middle-income, developing country with a strong democratic tradition. Tourist facilities are extensive and generally adequate. The capital is San Jose. English is a second language for many Costa Ricans.

Entry/Exit Requirements: For entry into the country, Costa Rican authorities require that U.S. citizens present valid passports that will not expire for at least ninety days after arrival.

Costa Rican authorities generally permit U.S. citizens to stay up to ninety days; to stay legally beyond the period granted, travelers will need to submit an application for an extension to the Office of Temporary Permits in the Costa Rican Department of Immigration. Tourist visas are usually not extended except under special circumstances, such as academic, employment, or medical grounds, and extension requests are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Costa Rican law requires that foreigners carry their passports on their persons at all times, and be able to demonstrate legal admission into the country through a valid entry stamp. Costa Rican migration authorities have stated, however, that while foreigners must present their passports for entry into and exit from Costa Rica, they may carry photocopies during their stay in Costa Rica. This would permit U.S. citizen travelers to lock their passports in a hotel safe while going to the beach or participating in other activities during which they may not be able to watch their passports. Due to the high incidence of theft of passports, travelers who do carry the passport on them are urged to place it securely in an inside pocket, and to keep a copy of the passport data page in a separate place to facilitate the issuance of an emergency replacement passport.

There is a departure tax for short-term visitors. Tourists who stay over ninety days without receiving a formal extension can expect to pay a higher departure tax at the airport or land border, and may experience some delay at the airport. Persons who have overstayed previously may be denied entry to Costa Rica.

In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated special procedures for minors at entry and exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of the child's relationship to the accompanying parents and permission for the child's travel if one of the parents is not traveling with the child. Having such documentation on hand may facilitate entry and departure.

Dual U.S./Costa Rican citizens are required by Costa Rican authorities to comply with entry and exit laws that pertain to Costa Rican citizens. This means that dual citizen children (children who hold both U.S. and Costa Rican citizenship), who might normally travel on U.S. passports, will be required to comply with entry and exit requirements applicable to Costa Rican children. Some American parents may not be aware that their child acquired Costa Rican citizenship through birth in Costa Rica or because the other parent is Costa Rican. American parents of minors who may have obtained Costa Rican citizenship through birth in Costa Rica or to a Costa Rican parent should be aware that these children may only depart Costa Rica upon presentation of an exit permit issued by the Costa Rican immigration office. This office may be closed for several weeks during holiday periods. Parents of dual citizen children are advised to consult with the Costa Rican Embassy or Consulate in the U.S. about entry and exit requirements before travel to Costa Rica. For general information about dual nationality, see the Consular Affairs home page on the Internet at http://travel.state.gov.

The most authoritative and up-to-date information on Costa Rican entry and exit requirements may be obtained from the Consular Section of the Embassy of Costa Rica at 2112. "S" Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 328-6628, fax (202) 234-6950, or from a Costa Rican consulate in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Juan (Puerto Rico), San Francisco, or Tampa. The Embassy of Costa Rica also maintains a web site: http://www.costarica-embassy.org/, as does the Costa Rican immigration agency: http://www.migracion.go.cr.

Safety and Security: On both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, currents are swift and dangerous, and there are no lifeguards or signs warning of dangerous beaches. Several American citizens drown in Costa Rica each year.

Adventure tourism is increasingly popular in Costa Rica, and many companies provide white-water rafting, bungee jumping, jungle canopy tours, deep sea diving, and other outdoor attractions. In recent years, several Americans have died on Costa Rica's flood-swollen rivers in white water rafting accidents. Others have died trying to reach the mouths of active volcanoes after being assured by tour guides that this dangerous activity is safe. Americans are urged to use caution in selecting adventure tourism companies, and are advised to avoid small, "cut-rate" companies that do not have the track record of more established companies. The government of Costa Rica has passed legislation to regulate and monitor the safety of adventure tourism companies; enforcement of these laws is overseen by the Ministry of Health. To be granted official operating permits, registered tourism companies must meet safety standards and have insurance coverage.

Demonstrations or strikes, related to labor disputes or other local issues, occur occasionally in Costa Rica. Past demonstrations have resulted in port closures, roadblocks, and sporadic gasoline shortages. These protests have not targeted U.S. citizens or U.S. interests, and are typically non-violent. Travelers are advised to avoid areas where demonstrations are taking place and to keep informed by following the local news and consulting hotel personnel and tour guides. Additional information about demonstrations may be obtained from the Consular Section at the U.S. Embassy, or on the Embassy website.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements may be found. Up to date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States, or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-317-472-2328. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Crime: Crime is increasing and tourists are frequent victims. Criminals usually operate in small groups. While most crimes are non-violent, criminals, including juveniles, have shown a greater tendency in recent years to use violence and to carry handguns or shoulder weapons. U.S. citizens are encouraged to exercise the same level of caution that they would in major cities or tourist areas throughout the world. Americans should avoid areas with high concentrations of bars and nightclubs, especially at night, and should also steer clear of deserted properties or undeveloped land. Americans should walk or exercise with a companion, and should bear in mind that crowded tourist attractions and resort areas popular with foreign tourists are also common venues for criminal activities. Travelers should avoid responding in kind to verbal harassment, and should avoid carrying large amounts of cash, jewelry or expensive photographic equipment. Local law enforcement agencies have limited capabilities and do not act according to U.S. standards, especially outside of San Jose.

In recent years, several Americans have been murdered in Costa Rica in urban, rural and resort locations. U.S. citizens have been victims of sexual assaults both in cities and in rural areas. In some of these cases, the victim has known the assailant. There have been several sexual assaults by taxi drivers.

Travelers should be careful to use licensed taxis, which are red and have medallions (yellow triangles containing numbers) painted on the side. Licensed taxis at the airport are painted orange, rather than red. All taxis should have working door handles, locks, meters (called "marias"), and seatbelts. Passengers are required by law to wear seat belts. Passengers should not ride in the front seat with the driver. If the taxi meter is not working, a price should be agreed upon before the trip begins.

There have been reports that unsuspecting patrons of bars and nightclubs have been drugged and later assaulted or robbed. Americans should always be aware of their surroundings, and should not consume food or drinks they have left untended. Americans may find it safer to seek entertainment in groups to help avoid being targeted, especially in urban areas.

Although unusual, there have been a number of kidnappings reported over the past several years, including the kidnappings of Americans and other foreigners. Some of these cases have been so-called "express kidnappings," in which victims are held for several hours as the kidnappers transport them to various automated bank teller machines in an effort to take as much money as possible from the victims' bank accounts.

Carjackings have also increased, and motorists have been confronted at gunpoint while stopped at traffic lights or upon arrival at their homes. Late model sports utility vehicles and high-end car models are popular with carjackers. One method of initiating kidnappings and carjackings is to bump the victim's car from behind; the unsuspecting victim stops, believing he or she has been involved in a minor car accident, and is taken hostage. Americans should remain vigilant to these types of incidents, and use caution if bumped from behind on an isolated stretch of road.

Another common ploy by thieves involves the surreptitious puncturing of tires of rental cars, often near restaurants or tourist attractions, or close to the car rental agencies themselves. When the travelers pull over, "good Samaritans" quickly appear to change the tire—and just as quickly remove valuables from the car, sometimes brandishing weapons. Drivers with flat tires are advised to drive, if at all possible, to the nearest service station or other public area, and change the tire themselves, watching their valuables at all times.

Travelers can reduce their risk by keeping valuables out of sight, by not wearing jewelry, and by traveling in groups. Travelers should also minimize travel after dark. Before renting a car, travelers should ask the rental company their specific policy regarding damage to a tire or wheel rim due to driving on a flat tire. Some rental car companies may cover the costs of the damaged tire and wheel rim if the occupants feared for their safety and drove to the nearest public area to change the flat tire.

Travelers should purchase an adequate level of locally valid theft insurance when renting vehicles. One should park in secured lots whenever possible, and should never leave valuables in the vehicle. The U.S. Embassy receives reports daily of valuables, identity documents, and other items stolen from locked vehicles. In many of these cases, the stolen items were hidden under the seat, in the glove compartment, or secured in the trunk. Thefts from parked cars commonly occur in downtown San Jose, at beaches, in the airport and bus station parking lots, and at national parks and other tourist attractions.

Money changers on the street have been known to pass off counterfeit U.S. dollars and local currency. Credit card fraud (either using stolen credit cards or the account number alone following copying of the number) is on the rise. Travelers should retain all their credit card receipts and check their accounts regularly to help prevent unauthorized use of their credit cards. Avoid using debit cards for point-of-sale purchases, as a skimmed number can be used to clean out an account.

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

U.S. citizens can refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad, for ways to promote troublefree travel. The pamphlet is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402; via the Internet at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.

Assistance to Victims of Crime: Persons who are victims of crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, should contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can help crime victims find appropriate medical care and contact family members or friends. They can also explain how to transfer funds from the U.S. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help a victim of crime to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Costa Rica has a 911 system for reporting emergencies. Crimes that are no longer in progress should be reported in person at the nearest police station. In the event of a traffic accident, vehicles must be left where they are, and not moved out of the way. Both the Transito (Traffic Police) and the Insurance Investigator must make accident reports before the vehicles are moved. Although sometimes slow to respond after notification, these officials will come to the accident scene.

Medical Facilities: Medical care in San Jose is adequate, but may be more limited in areas outside of San Jose. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services, and U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. A list of local doctors and medical facilities can be found at the website of the U.S. Embassy in San Jose, at http://usembassy.or.cr.

Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as medical evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas, including emergency services such as medical evacuation.

When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service, and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties. When consulting with an insurer prior to a trip, ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider or whether the traveler is reimbursed later for expenses incurred. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page.

Other Health Information: Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. Incidents of dengue fever and malaria are rising in Costa Rica. For information about this and about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization's website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Costa Rica is provided for general reference only, and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: Fair
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair to Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair to Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Fair to Poor

Traffic laws and speed limits are often ignored; turns across one or two lanes of traffic are common, and pedestrians are not given the right of way. Although improving, roads are often in poor condition, and large potholes with the potential to cause significant damage to vehicles are common. Traffic signs, even on major highways, are often inadequate. All of the above, in addition to poor visibility because of heavy fog or rain, makes driving at night especially treacherous. In the rainy season, landslides are common, especially on the highway between San Jose and the Caribbean city of Limon. All types of motor vehicles are appropriate for the main highways and principal roads in the major cities. However, some roads to beaches and other rural locations are not paved, and some out-of-the-way destinations are accessible only with high clearance, rugged suspension four-wheel drive vehicles. Travelers are advised to call ahead to their hotels to ask about the current status of access roads.

Travelers should avoid responding in kind to provocative driving behavior or road-rage. In case of an accident, travelers are advised to remain in their car until police arrive. Travelers are further advised to keep all doors locked and to drive to a well-populated area before stopping to change a flat tire.

Costa Rican law requires that drivers and passengers wear seatbelts in all cars, including taxis, and police are authorized to issue tickets. Traffic enforcement in Costa Rica is the responsibility of the Transit Police ("Transitos"), who are distinguished by a light blue uniform shirt and dark blue trousers. They use light blue cars or motorcycles equipped with blue lights. They often wave vehicles to the side of the road for inspection. Drivers are commonly asked to produce a driver's license, vehicle registration and insurance information. Third-party coverage is mandatory in Costa Rica. Infractions will result in the issuance of a summons. Fines are not supposed to be collected on the spot, although reports of officers attempting to collect money are common. Persons involved in vehicular accidents are advised not to move their vehicle until instructed to do so by a Transit Officer, who will respond to the scene together with a representative of the National Insurance Company (known by its local acronym, BCIS.) Accidents may be reported by dialing 911.

For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/travel/abroad_roadsafety.html.

Aviation Safety Oversight: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Costa Rica's civil aviation authority as Category 1—in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Costa Rica's air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet website at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/index.cfm.

Since 2000, several American citizens have died in domestic air accidents. Local investigations have judged pilot error to be the cause in the majority of the accidents. Private air taxi services have been involved in a disproportionate number of crashes. The Government of Costa Rica's civil aviation authority has responded by dedicating additional resources to the oversight of the pilots, procedures, and aircraft of air taxi operators.

Customs Regulations: Costa Rica customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Costa Rica of items such as cars, household effects, and merchandise. These regulations can be quite complicated and include the application of local tax laws. In addition, Costa Rican customs officials often require documentation that has been certified by the Costa Rican Embassy/Consulate in the country of origin. This is especially true for automobiles that are to be imported. The Government of Costa Rica has instituted strict emissions requirements for these cars and will not release them without an emissions statement from the country of origin. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Costa Rica in Washington or one of Costa Rica's Consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements before shipping any items. Their website is located at http://www.costarica-embassy.org.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. A current list of those countries with serious problems in this regard can be found here.

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States, and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Costa Rican law, even unknowingly, may be arrested, imprisoned, fined and/or expelled.

Soliciting the services of a minor for sexual purposes is illegal in Costa Rica, and is punishable by imprisonment. The Costa Rican government has established an aggressive program to discourage sexual tourism and to punish severely those who engage in sexual activity with minors. These acts are also illegal under U.S. law, even if the act takes place abroad. Several U.S. citizens are serving long sentences in Costa Rica following conviction of crimes related to sexual activity with minors.

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.

Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.

Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Costa Rica are strict, and convicted offenders can expect lengthy jail sentences and fines. In addition to the criminal penalties they may face, tourists who purchase or sell illegal drugs or use the services of prostitutes greatly increase their risk of personal harm. Several Americans have died in Costa Rica in recent years in incidents related to drug use or patronage of prostitutes.

Under Costa Rican law, suspects in criminal cases may be held in jail until the investigation is completed and the prosecutor is ready to proceed to trial. This pretrial detention can last two years, and in some cases, longer.

Special issues

Borders: There have been disagreements regarding navigational rights in the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border area. Nicaragua and Costa Rica signed a three-year agreement in September of 2002 to defer presenting these issues before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for resolution. Meanwhile, the governments of Nicaragua and Costa Rica have agreed to work towards an amicable solution and to jointly fund community development projects in the border area.

Land Ownership, Expropriations, Squatters, Shoreline Property: U.S. citizens are urged to use caution when making real estate purchases, and should consult reputable legal counsel and investigate thoroughly all aspects before entering into a contract.

Irregular Land Registrations: Due to irregular enforcement of property laws, investors should exercise extreme caution before investing in real estate. There is a long history of investment and real estate scams and frauds perpetrated against U.S. citizens and other international visitors. There have been numerous instances of duly registered properties reverting to previously unknown owners who have shown they possess clear title and parallel registration.

Expropriations: A few cases remain in which U.S. citizens have yet to be compensated for land expropriated by the government in the 1970s or 1980s. Unexecuted expropriation claims cloud title in other cases. However, changes to Costa Rican law in 1995 place more restrictions on the government's ability to expropriate land and require compensation prior to expropriation. The new law also provides for arbitration in the event of a dispute.

Squatters: Organized squatter groups have on occasion invaded properties in various parts of the country. These squatter groups, often supported by politically active persons and non-governmental organizations, take advantage of legal provisions that allow people without land to gain title to unused agricultural property. This phenomenon is particularly common in rural areas, where local courts show considerable sympathy for the squatters. Victims of squatters have reported threats of violence, harassment, or actual violence.

Restrictions on Shoreline Property: The Maritime Terrestrial Zone Law governs the use and ownership of most land up to 200 meters from the waterfront (mean high tide level) on both coasts of Costa Rica, including estuaries and river mouths. The first 50 meters from the waterfront is public land and normally may not be developed. The next 150 meters can be privately developed and occupied under five-to-twenty year concessions from the local municipality, provided the land has been zoned for the intended use. Strict residency requirements apply to foreigners who seek concessions.

Investments, Loans, Lotteries and Sweepstakes: U.S. citizens are urged to use caution when investing or lending money, and should consult reputable legal counsel and investigate thoroughly all requirements before entering into a contract. Additionally, U.S. citizens should be wary of lotteries or sweepstakes that require the deposit of money to secure winnings.

Investments and Loans: Persons planning to make investments in Costa Rica are advised to exercise the same caution they would before making investments in the U.S., including consulting their investment advisor and tax accountant. Several U.S. citizens have lost appreciable amounts of money in local investment or lending schemes that "sounded too good to be true." Some of these are believed to have been "Ponzi" schemes with little or no assets behind the "investment" or "loan." Persons offered an investment opportunity in Costa Rica promising interest above that generally available may wish to check with the Costa Rican government's Superintendencia General de Valores, which lists investment opportunities that are legally registered and authorized to offer investments. That office can be contacted at (506) 243-4700 or http://www.sugeval.fi.cr

Lottery and Sweepstake fraud schemes: The Embassy has received several complaints from U.S. citizens in the United States who said they were victims of sweepstake or lottery fraud originating in Costa Rica. In these schemes, the victims are contacted by criminals (who may even claim to be employees of the U.S. Embassy) advising them that they have won a lottery or sweepstake, but that they must provide personal funds to secure the winnings or to pay local taxes or administrative costs.

Disaster Preparedness: Costa Rica is located in an earthquake, hurricane and volcanic zone. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.

Children's Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to the Department of State's Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/family/index.html or telephone Overseas Citizens Services at 1-888-407-4747. This number is available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). Callers who are unable to use tollfree numbers, such as those calling from overseas, may obtain information and assistance during these hours by calling 1-317-472-2328.

Registration/Embassy Location: The Department of State invites American citizens to register their travel on the Internet-Based Registration System (IBRS) on line at: https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ or http://travel.state.gov. IBRS provides a convenient means for American citizens traveling or residing overseas to provide important contact data, useful in the event of emergencies, and to instantly receive up-to-the-minute travel and safety information for the regions or countries on their travel itineraries, on the website or through optional email lists. Even American citizens who have registered previously but did not do it using the IBRS online program may now wish to register online to update their records. U.S. citizens may also register in person at the Embassy, which is located in Pavas, San Jose, and may be reached at (506) 519-2000; the extension for the Consular Section is 2453. The Embassy is open Monday through Friday, and is closed on Costa Rican and U.S. holidays. For emergencies arising outside normal business hours, U.S. citizens may call (506) 220-3127 and ask for the duty officer.

International Adoption

January 2005

The information below has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family.

Disclaimer: The following is intended as a very general guide to assist U.S. citizens who plan to adopt a child in Costa Rica and apply for an immigrant visa for the child to come to the United States. The information in this flier relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is based on public sources and our current understanding. It does not necessarily reflect the actual state of the laws of Costa Rica and is provided for general information only.

Please Note: Costa Rica's adoption procedures are in flux at the moment, due to a moratorium on some international adoptions processed through the child welfare office, and the existence of a private channel to international adoption that may soon be abolished.

The Costa Rican National Council on Adoptions has instituted a moratorium on any adoptions through its offices to countries that have not fully implemented the Hague Adoption Convention. At this time, the United States has not fully implemented the Convention, and this moratorium is therefore in effect for the United States, prohibiting the adoption through government offices of Costa Rican children by U.S. citizens who do not reside in Costa Rica. (U.S. citizens who have legal residence in Costa Rica, as well as persons who have both U.S. and Costa Rican citizenship, are still permitted to adopt Costa Rican children through government offices.) Those adoption cases that were already in the Costa Rican governmental adjudication process at the time the moratorium took effect have been permitted to proceed, but no new cases are being accepted.

For the duration of this moratorium, the following information about adoption of Costa Rican children through Costa Rican government offices pertains to U.S. citizens who have legal residence in Costa Rica, or who hold both U.S. and Costa Rican citizenship.

Throughout this document, the acronym USCIS refers to the Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the acronym PANI refers to the Costa Rican child welfare authority, the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia.

Patterns of Immigration of Adopted Orphans to the U.S.: Recent U.S. immigrant visa statistics reflect the following pattern for visa issuance to orphans

Fiscal Year: Number of Immigrant Visas Issued

FY 2003: 3
FY 2002: 4
FY 2001: 9
FY 2000: 17
FY 1999: 5

Adoption Authority in Costa Rica: The Patronato Nacional de la Infancia (PANI), the Costa Rican child welfare authority, oversees adoptions of abandoned orphans who are in public institutions, and plays a consultative role in private adoptions, as well. PANI may be contacted as follows:

Patronato Nacional de La Infancia
P.O. Box 5000
San Jose, Costa Rica
phone: (506) 233-0005
or (506) 222-0443
fax: (506) 233-2414
e-mail: [email protected]

PANI contacts a prospective adoptive family when they identify a child for adoption, even calling collect if authorized by the family. Pictures and related information about the child will be sent by airmail. Note that there is a backlog in pending cases.

Civil Status: Costa Rican law permits adoption by married and single persons. A foreign couple must have been married for at least five years in order to be able to adopt a child from Costa Rica.

Age: Prospective adoptive parents must be at least 25 and under 60 years of age.

Residential Requirements: Costa Rican law requires that, at the initial stage of the adoption process, both prospective adoptive parents must be in Costa Rica to sign the official consent documents before the Costa Rican court. In the case of adoption by a single parent, that parent must be present to sign the documents. At least 15 days should be allowed for this initial trip. At the end of the process, one of the adoptive parents, or the sole parent if it is a single parent adoption, must be in Costa Rica to finish the paperwork for the adoption, obtain a travel document for the child, and complete immigration procedures at the U.S. Embassy. Since the length of time for the entire adoption process may vary (it can take as long as four months to a year), many prospective adoptive parents make two trips to Costa Rica; others prefer to remain in Costa Rica for the entire process.

While in Costa Rica, the adopting parents need to take the following steps to satisfy adoption requirements:

  • Meet the child;
  • Give formal consent for the adoption at the court;
  • Obtain a decree of abandonment;
  • Obtain a certified copy of the final adoption decree from the court;
  • Register the adoption at the local Civil Registry;
  • Obtain a birth certificate from the Civil Registry with the new name of the child;
  • Obtain PANI authorization for the child to leave the country;
  • Obtain a passport for the child.

Time Frame: An adoption in Costa Rica generally takes from four to twelve months from the time a decree of abandonment has been issued or an official request for adoption of a specific child is placed before the court.

Adoption Agencies and Attorneys: At the current time, adoptions in Costa Rica can be arranged through the government agency, PANI, or through private channels. PANI works with international adoption agencies accredited in Costa Rica to place abandoned children. In private adoptions, where children are released by their parents directly to a private attorney, PANI is consulted and will give an opinion on the adoption, but the judge is not bound to act in accordance with that opinion. There have been allegations of fraud in connection with private adoptions, and the Costa Rican National Council on Adoptions strongly discourages them.

Adoption Fees in Costa Rica: Official fees for an adoption are set at a minimum of $250.00, which represents the total court costs when an adoption is processed through PANI. Payments to parents or guardians are illegal under Costa Rican law and could be subject to investigation and possible prosecution. The fees generally charged in private adoptions can be as high as $15,000. It is useful for American adoptive parents to notify the Embassy and the Department of State of exorbitant fees for adoptions.

Adoption Procedures: Costa Rican adoption law provides for two types of adoptions: those arranged through PANI, and private adoptions.

In foreign adoptions overseen by PANI, current policy prohibits adoption of children under four years of age, except in cases in which the child is part of a family group, or is difficult to place.

In private adoptions, there is no limit on the age of the children. A child is released to a private attorney, who then arranges the adoption. The court reviews the qualifications of the adoptive parents, with PANI playing a consultative role. Virtually all complaints and allegations of adoption fraud in Costa Rica focus on private adoptions.

Foreigners must complete the adoption process in Costa Rica and the adoption must be formally registered in the civil registry before permission is given for the child to leave the country. Because of Costa Rican concerns about child smuggling and the need for follow-up in the adoption process, permission is rarely granted for a child to leave Costa Rica in the custody of an prospective adoptive parent for the purpose of being finally adopted in another country.

Adopted children do not need to be orphans under Costa Rican law. They must, however, be abandoned or irrevocably surrendered for adoption.

Documents Required for Adoption in Costa Rica: The following documentation is normally required.

  • Certified and authenticated copies of the adoptive parent(s)' birth certificate(s);
  • Certified and authenticated copy of the adoptive parent(s)' marriage certificate (if applicable) and proof of termination of any previous marriages (certified copy of spouse's death certificate or divorce decree);
  • Medical certificate(s) for adoptive parent(s) notarized by physician and authenticated;
  • A certificate of good conduct/no criminal record for each adoptive parent from a local police department notarized or bearing police department seal and authenticated. An FBI report is acceptable in lieu of local police record. This is separate from the FBI check conducted by the USCIS as part of the petition process;
  • Verification of employment and salary, notarized and authenticated;
  • Two letters of reference notarized and authenticated;
  • A certified and authenticated copy of property trusts deeds, if applicable;
  • A home study prepared by an authorized and licensed social agency, certified and authenticated;
  • Bank statements; notarized/certified and authenticated;
  • Family letter of intent to adopt, describing child adoptive parent(s) is/are willing to adopt, notarized and authenticated;

Note: additional documentation and procedures may be required.

Authenticating U.S. Documents To Be Used Abroad: Costa Rica is not a party to the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement for Legalization of Foreign Public Documents, so the Legalization Convention "apostille" certificate should not be used for documents to be presented in Costa Rica. Instead, the "chain authentication method" will be used to authenticate documents for Costa Rica. Please visit our Web site at travel.state.gov for additional information about authentication procedures.

Costa Rican Embassy and Consulates in the United States: The Costa Rican Embassy in the United States is located at 2114 S Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (telephone (202) 234-2945/46, fax (202) 265-4795). Costa Rican consulates are located in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Puerto Rico, San Antonio, and San Francisco. The Embassy of Costa Rica also maintains a web site at http://www.costarica-embassy.org/.

Applying for a Visa for Your Child at the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica: It is advisable to contact the U.S. Embassy at least three working days in advance of the adoption in order to check whether the documents are in order and to set an appointment to file the immigration petition (I-600) application and schedule the immigrant visa interview. Since the documentation required is slightly different from that required for the I-600A, adoptive parents should contact the Embassy early in the adoption process to request a packet of instructions listing the documents necessary for immigrant visa issuance. Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at travel.state.gov/family

U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica: As soon as prospective adopting parents arrive in Costa Rica, they should contact the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in order to register their presence in Costa Rica. The Embassy is located on Pavas Road in the Rohrmoser section of San Jose. The telephone number of the Consular section is (506) 519-2000; ask for extension 2466. The immigrant visa unit is open for walk-in information and assistance between the hours of 12:00 to 13:30 p.m. at window "D" any Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday, or you may telephone directly Monday through Friday from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. to inquire about your visa petition and adoption case.

Additional Information: Specific questions about adoption in Costa Rica may be addressed to the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica. General questions regarding international adoption may be addressed to the Office of Children's Issues, U.S. Department of State, CA/OCS/CI, SA-29, 4 th Floor, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818, tollfree Tel: 1-888-404-4747.

views updated

Costa Rica

Basic Data
Official Country Name: Republic of Costa Rica
Region: North & Central America
Population: 3,710,558
Language(s): Spanish, English
Literacy Rate: 94.8%
Number of Primary Schools: 3,711
Compulsory Schooling: 10 years
Public Expenditure on Education: 5.4%
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 529,637
  Secondary: 202,415
  Higher: 88,324
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 104%
  Secondary: 47%
Teachers: Primary: 19,235
  Secondary: 10,943
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 29:1
  Secondary: 20:1
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 103%
  Secondary: 49%

History & Background

Costa Rica has the highest standard of living in Central America, the highest level of education, and the most stable political structure. The 1948 revolution eliminated the national army and established national health care and education systems with funds that were no longer needed for the army. As a result, Costa Rica has the most highly developed welfare state in Central America, and, consequently, the largest middle class in Central America.

The Costa Rican population is one of the most schooled and literate in Latin America. Approximately one-third of the national budget is directed towards education. Of 192 countries in the world, Costa Rica ranks 89th on the schooling index, 62nd on the education index, and 28th on the human development index. Adult literacy is 93 percent. Primary and secondary education is free. Primary education is compulsory from the ages of 6 to 15. Study of a foreign language, usually English or French, is mandatory. Costa Rica achieved universal primary education in 1980. Twenty-five students per 1000 attend universities, which is double the rate of university enrollment in Mexico. Economic difficulties, nonetheless, may create challenges in the future, since Costa Rica was ranked among the top thirty debtors in the world in the 1990s. Families with money increasingly place their children in private educational institutions.

Costa Rica is 51,000 square kilometers, approximately the same size as West Virginia. Nicaragua borders Costa Rica to the north and Panama to the south. It remains the only country in Central and South America without an army. Political and economic refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua moved to Costa Rica in the 1980s. The U.S. financing of the Contra war in Nicaragua and of military regimes in Central America contributed to the growth in refugees. Costa Rica has more teachers than soldiers and spends more of its federal budget for education than for its military. It spends about one-third of the national budget on education.

About 50 percent of the population lives in urban areas, including the capital of San Jose, which is located in the Central Valley. The population is approximately 3.4 million people, with 52 percent residing in urban areas and 48 percent in rural locations. Spanish is the official language.

The Costa Rican population is estimated to be 80 percent white, primarily of Spanish, Italian, German, and other European ancestry; 17 percent Mestizo; 2 percent English-speaking Afro-Caribbean, and less than 1 percent indigenous Indians. At 0.6 percent, Costa Rica has the lowest percentage of indigenous population of any nation in Central America. Somewhere between 10,000 and 70,000 Afro-Caribbeans speak an English Creole language. The indigenous population of Amerindians, estimated at 27,200 people in 1522 when the Spanish arrived in the area, was reduced by 1800 to 8,281 people. Meanwhile the Spanish, Mestizo, and Afro-Caribbean population increased from 0 to 44,310 people in the same period. In rural areas, 8 different indigenous groups inhabit 22 reservations with a total population around 21,200 people. The primary Amerindian group is the Talamanquenos, with three subgroups: the Bribri, Cabecar, and Teribe. All subgroups have similar culture and language patterns. The Bribri find the Cabecar language difficult to understand, but the Cabecars are bilingual in Bribri and Cabecar. The Bribri population is approximately 7,500 people at Talamancca and 3,650 people at other locations.

Costa Rica maintains strong ties to the United States, its principal trading partner. The current economy is based on agriculture and tourism. The most important commodity exports are coffee, bananas, and sugar. Tourism is a large industry constituting about 21 percent of the national income.

Costa Rica industrialized more slowly than other Central American nations. Approximately 16 percent of its workforce is employed in manufacturing, a greater number than in the rest of Central America. The agricultural sector, 29 percent, employs fewer numbers than the rest of Central America.

Costa Rica encounters many of the same socioeconomic difficulties of other Central American countries but experiences them less severely. Costa Rica had a severe recession in the 1980s, but it remains more economically viable than the rest of Central America. Its GDP per capita of $2,283 in 1994 was 55 percent higher than the next highest in the region, which was in Guatemala. Costa Rica experienced a recession in the 1980s with a 9 percent decline in GDP from 1981 to 1987, but again this was the least severe in the region, which averaged a 17 percent GDP decline during the same period. From 1990 to 1994 Costa Rica's GDP per capita recovered 10 percent, double the regional average.

Income distribution is more equitable in Costa Rica than the rest of Central America. The average income of the poorest fifth of Costa Ricans is $177 per year, which is 85 percent above the regional average. The average income for the poorest fifth of U.S. citizens is 12 to 15 times greater than that in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica's literacy rate of 90 percent is 23 percent higher than the regional average, and university enrollment per capita is four times higher than the Central American average. The patterns of mortality and morbidity are similar to developed countries. Infant mortality per 1,000 births in 1993 was 14; the mean for the region is 55. The rest of Central America has more than three times this rate of infant mortality, with 62 per 1000 on average. Thirty-eight percent of children ages 0 to 4 suffer from malnutrition, compared to an average of 58.5 percent for Central America in general. Life expectancy of Costa Ricans is 76 years, which is 9 years longer than the regional average.

The higher life expectancy is based in part on public policy. Costa Rica's ratio of spending for human services to defense ranges around 20:1 in favor of human services; in other Central American countries, ratios between spending for human services and defense range from 1:1 to no higher than 4:1.

Costa Rica self-describes itself as the Switzerland of the Americas. Unlike other Latin American countries, Costa Rica has a long established history of democracy. Equality of land distribution, racial homogeneity, and a tradition of nonviolence characterize Costa Rica. During its first 300 years, inhabitants of Costa Rica embraced an agrarian democracy. Costa Rican history is comprised of three periods: the colonial era until independence in 1821, independence to the revolution in 1948, and 1948 to the present.

Christopher Columbus landed in Costa Rica in 1502 at Puerto Limon. The indigenous population at the time consisted of the Grin Nicolas of northwestern Costa Rica and smaller tribes of Chichi origin in the southern and Atlantic regions. When they saw Indians wearing gold jewelry, they named the territory Costa Rica, meaning Rich Coast. Costa Rica had no gold of its own. The gold jewelry had been acquired through trade. This lack of gold meant that few conquistadors were drawn to the area. Around 1560, the first Spanish settlements were made in the central mountains. In 1564, the capital city of Cartago was founded. San Jose, the eventual capital and largest city, was not founded until 1755.

Unlike the rest of Central America, Costa Rica developed a democracy based on agrarian farmers, not a feudal hacienda system controlled by a European aristocracy with large tracts of land supported by the army and police. The economy was based on farming. Catholic priests first arrived with the Spanish in 1522. There were about 38 priests in Costa Rica by the close of the sixteenth century.

During the period of early national life, from 1821 to 1905, Costa Rica had a weak military and an economy based on coffee cultivation. Their colonial status ended without any local combat in 1821 when Mexico won independence. The farmers of Costa Rica declared their independence from Spain in 1821. The first constitution of Costa Rica was drafted on December 1, 1821. In 1882, anticlerical polices were enacted to counter the growing strength of the Catholic Church. The Liberal Laws of 1884 provided for secular, compulsory, and free education. The Jesuits were expelled. Marriages and cemeteries were secularized at this time and divorce was legalized.


Constitutional & Legal Foundations

Private donations and separate municipalities provided the first support for primary schools. The first public school was established in 1807. The Franciscans were the most numerous clergy in Costa Rica; they ran a number of private parochial schools in and around the capital of San Jose, and they converted the indigenous population.

Higher education was developed in Costa Rica just 23 years after independence from Spain. The Casa de Ensenanza de Santo Tomas (School of St. Thomas) opened in April 1814. Its basis was religious education, but the curriculum included mathematics and writing. Ten years later, the government assumed funding of this institution. The school of Santo Tomas was the first primary through higher education school in Costa Rica. The school opened in San Jose to provide an alternative to foreign education. Santo Tomas initially focused on primary education: reading, writing, grammar, and theology. After independence, the emphasis was on secondary education, and three departments were added: theology, jurisprudence, and medicine. In 1843, the school became a university.

The 1823 Declaration of the Supreme Juanta claimed, "the provision of education is the essential foundation of individual happiness and the prosperity of all." Many early government leaders, including the first president of Costa Rica, Jose Maria Castro, were former teachers.

During the administration of Juan Mora Fernandez from 1824 to 1833, the government affirmed the municipal character of primary schooling and assumed the operating responsibilities for the Casa de Ensenanza de Santo Tomas. Additionally, the Escuela de Primeras Lecturas School of literature was located in Cartago, the colonial capital of Costa Rica.

The Law of Bases legislation passed in 1841 placed the control of schools under the state and established five regional departments. This was the first time education in Costa Rica became centralized. In 1843, the University of St. Thomas was created by an executive decree. Legislative Decree Number 11 in 1843 made Casa de Ensenanza the official University of Santo Tomas. The chief of State, Don Jose Afar, and the Minister of State Don Jose Castro Madras, directed it. The University began granting degrees in literature and studies in medicine. In 1843, liberals created the Universidad de Santo Tomas to train future leaders of the country and to stop dependence on the Universidad de San Ramon in Leon, Nicaragua. The Universidad de Santo Tomas was closed 14 years later in 1888 by the congress of Costa Rica because the higher education system had been under the influence of foreign educators who came from Europe. In 1888, the university in Costa Rica was closed by order of President Bernardo Soto, so students now pursued higher education outside the country.

The constitutions of 1844 and 1847 provided specifics for the development of the education system. In 1849, legislation was passed to support the building of schools and to guarantee the right of all Costa Ricans, including females, to receive free primary education. A unified school system was created. The law of 1852 repealed the exclusive role that the Catholic Church had played in education. It made education independent of the church and expelled Jesuits from Costa Rica.

In 1853, a conservative government transformed the Universidad de Santo Tomas into a Pontifical University under the direction of Pope Pius IX. The Universidad de San Carlos in Guatemala then took the place of the Universidad de San Ramon for professional education. In the 1860s, most students seeking higher education attended European universities. The constitution of 1869 established free compulsory public education.

After the closing of the University of St. Thomas in 1888, there were no opportunities for university education within Costa Rica until the University of Costa Rica was established in 1940. During this period, Costa Rican students attended universities in Nicaragua, Guatemala, South America, and Europe.

Santo Tomas University closed in 1888, just 45 years after opening when Fernandez decided to focus on secondary school education. Students who earned a bachillerato at the end of their secondary schooling had a degree that was comparable to two years of college. The law school continued, however, and during the next 50 years, schools were also established for the fine arts, pharmacy, education, and agriculture. Another university was not established in Costa Rica until 1940 when the University of Costa Rica was founded. Despite these achievements, 70 percent of the population remained illiterate at the end of the nineteenth century.

Reforms from 1882 to 1888, called the "Liberal Laws," prohibited priests from attacking public education because it was secular in nature. The General Law of Common Education passed in February 1886 supported the creation of an army of teachers to meet educational needs. Laws were drafted in 1899 to define the teacher's role in Costa Rica.

An 1890 decree to dissolve the university was nullified. The legislative assembly decided instead to reestablish the university, but steps to reopen it were not taken. In 1895, a school of pharmacy was opened, then a school of fine arts in 1897, and a normal school in 1914.

The influence of Latin American Marxist thinkers called for higher public education that was free. The Reform of Cordoba in 1918 sought to open universities to an emerging middle class. Until Cordoba, the Napoleonic University model, a collection of independent professional schools, had dominated higher education in Costa Rica.

A national school of agriculture opened in the suburbs of San Jose in 1926. This site would become the main campus of the University of Costa Rica. In 1940, President Calderon's administration created the University of Costa Rica. The normal school, or teacher-training college, became the school of education. In 1942, a school of dentistry was added, and in 1960, a school of medicine opened. The constitution of 1949, as well as recent amendments, guaranteed university autonomy and state funding for state educational institutions.

The new University of Costa Rica opened in March 1941 with schools of law, engineering, and pharmacology. It later incorporated the school of education and became the University of Costa Rica (UCR). UCR was the only institution of its kind in the country for 32 years until the Technology Institute was created in 1972. The Technological Institute, Universidad Nacional (UNNA), and the Universidad Estatal a Distancia (UNED) were founded in 1971, 1973, and 1977, respectively.

In the 1970s, reform movements in education worked to transform the University of Costa Rica from an elite institution to an open one. The purpose of this reform was to offer all people equal opportunity to access higher education. Within 10 years, the percentage of students pursuing higher education increased from 8 percent of the population to 27 percent. In the interests of democratizing higher education in Costa Rica, three community colleges were also founded in the 1970s.

Law established the University of Costa Rica in 1940. The social Christian and social democratic governments of the 1940s sought to extend social benefits to all Costa Ricans. Social benefits included a public university, national health insurance program, and abolition of the army. When UCR opened in 1941, it consisted of the professional schools of agriculture, fine arts, law, and pharmacology, as well as a normal school. New academic units of philosophy, letters, and engineering were added within a few years. In the constitution of 1949, approved after the revolution of 1948, article 77 made primary and secondary education free and primary education compulsory. A peaceful coup in 1948 by Jose Figueres abolished the army and gave women the right to vote. In the 1970s, student-led, anti-imperialist protests began.


Educational SystemOverview

The 1869 constitution made education free, mandatory, and tax supported. Costa Rica was one of the first nations in the world to make this provision. The education system of Costa Rica is similar to systems in other parts of Latin America. Typically, preschool consists of two years; primary school, six years; secondary school, five or six years. The academic year begins on the first Monday in March and concludes on the last Saturday in November. Classes meet six days a week for a total of 36 weeks or 210 days of instruction, and Spanish is the language of instruction.

Dr. Angel Calderon Guardia, an education reformer, was president of Costa Rica in 1940 when the University of Costa Rica was created under Law number 362. The constitution of 1949 had 13 sections pertaining to Education, including that a primary education of six years is mandatory, both primary and secondary education is free and funded by the government, and university education is supported by scholarships for needy students. The constitution also mandates that the government is responsible for providing needy students at all levels in the education system with food and clothing. The government is also mandated to provide adult education in order to eliminate illiteracy.

The Universidad Nacional was created by the General Assembly in January 1973 through the issuance of plan 5182 during the administration of President Jose Figueres Ferrer. This law mandated that the Escuela Normal de Costa Rica and the Escuela Normal Superior merge to form a new university.


Preprimary & Primary Education

The government placed a priority on primary education, so few preprimary programs are available. The largest number of preprimary programs are found in the capital city of San Jose. Children from the ages of two through six are enrolled in instructional programs, and two meals a day are provided. Preprimary educational curriculum consists of instruction in arts, crafts, music, and language development.

Children enter school at the age of six years and six months. The academic year begins in March. Based on special testing or attendance at preschool programs, age requirements may be waived by three months. Currently, 525,273 children attend kindergarten to sixth grade in 3,671 primary schools. Current figures indicate that 96 percent of school-age children are enrolled in primary schools. In rural schools, only 50 percent of enrolled students might attend on any given day because attendance depends on whether or not the students are needed at home to work for their families.

Students receive a certificate called a "Conclusion of Cycle" after grades three and six. The grading scale for the standardized tests is based on a scale from 0 to 100 percent. Students must score at least 65 percent for a minimum, passing grade. The Ministeriod de Educacion (Ministry of Education), establishes the contents of the exam. Students must pass standardized Ministry of Education tests in fifth, ninth, and eleventh grades to receive a high school diploma.

The number of students enrolled in elementary schooling increased dramatically within the two decades after the 1948 revolution. In 1950, 66.5 percent of school age children were enrolled in primary education. That number rose to 92.6 percent by 1960, and 100 percent by 1970.

Although the primary language in Costa Rica is Spanish, daily English lessons are offered to most students beginning in preschool. By high school, most students take English language lessons for 80 minutes a day. School classes, however, are taught in Spanish.

Since 1972, under executive directive 3333E of the National Plan for Educational Development, students are given mandatory education for nine years, consisting of three cycles of three years each. This education is compulsory and funded by the government. The first two cycles correspond to primary education in the United States, and a certificate is awarded on completion. The third cycle corresponds to the junior high school years of secondary education in the United States.

Classes are half a day with some grades attending in the mornings, while others attend only in the afternoons. Grades are combined in some schools. Taking into account recess and lunchtime, students spend as little as three hours a day in the classroom. Costa Rica has one of the shortest school years in the world: 180 days. Teachers teach different classes and different grades in the morning and in the afternoon. The curriculum is developed by the Ministry of Education and is identical throughout the country.

Because of cutbacks in government funding in the 1980s, parents now contribute an average of 1000 colones annually for each child. By the 1990s, the total family contribution to send a child to public primary school was about 7000 colones annually. Parents directly bear about 30 percent of the public primary school costs. Urban schools often have 50 students in a classroom. Rural schools have the fewest computers, libraries, and supplies. Though children are required to wear school uniforms, many come to school without the uniform, often an indication of lower socio-economic status.

Costs for attending school include uniforms, notebooks, pencils, pens, rulers, and transportation. Additionally, students in primary schools provide their own lunches and/or snack. Students in high school pay for all their food and bus transportation. Unfortunately, most schools do not have enough textbooks for all their students. Schools lack books, notebooks, audiovisual equipment, libraries, gymnasiums, and workshops.

Costa Rica has excellent primary education in most areas. At the secondary level, the coverage is lower than some other Latin American countries. Only two of every three enrolled students in first grade complete sixth grade, and only one in every three students complete secondary education. These enrollment percentages drop with declining family incomes in all age groups. The grading scale in Costa Rica consists of: SSobreasaliente (outstanding); NNotable ; SufSuficiente (sufficient); and IInsuficiente (insufficient).


The qualifications for primary teachers are higher in Costa Rica than in many other Latin American countries. In Costa Rica, teacher education takes place in universities rather than secondary schools. Primary-teacher candidates must earn a high school diploma before gaining admission to the two-year normal school teacher education program or to the School of Education at the University of Costa Rica.

The first special education school was established in 1939, the Centro Nacional de Enzenanza Especial Fernando Centeno Guell. In 1968 a special education department opened in the Ministry of Public education. By 1986, there were 19 special education schools and more than 200 regular schools developed special education classes. In 2001 more than 400 regular schools integrate special education classes, and 15 special education schools exist. Two main universities, the University of Costa Rica and UNI, offer bachelor degrees in special education. The University of Costa Rica also offers masters degrees in integral rehabilitation. While most teachers average 14.1 years of experience, special education teachers average 3.5 years of experience.


Secondary Education

The first modern secondary school was opened in San Jose in 1887. Those pursuing university educations before the end of World War II had, on the whole, achieved a secondary education. The secondary education program was restructured into two cycles by 1964. During the first three years, all students take course work in Spanish, social studies, mathematics, science, music, and religion. The next cycle is comprised of two or three years of study. Students can take two additional years of courses in the humanities or sciences, or they can take a three-year professional program in agriculture, industrial arts, or office skills.

Education through eleventh grade is mandatory, but only 47 percent of age-appropriate children attend. Currently, 220,151 secondary students attend 342 high schools. The percentage of students at the secondary level in 1970 was 23.7 percent, which increased to 40 percent by 1980, far above the average for Latin America.

The exams had been discontinued for 15 years, but Minister Francisco Pacheco reinstated them in 1988. The cost to administer the exams was a big part of the total educational budget. In 1991, 33.7 percent of students taking secondary school exams failed the math exams; 4.4 percent failed science; 5.9 percent failed Spanish; and 4.5 percent failed social studies. Since students must pass all parts of the exam, 48.3 percent of the students failed the exam and could not go to college. In remote regions like Guapiles and Liberia, 62.3 percent do not pass the exams and 56.4 percent do not graduate.

The cost of sending two children to attend colegion is about 1000 colones or US$5.00 a day, which is 25 percent of the average family income. There are more boys than girls in the upper grades. Education for girls is not considered necessary. Many girls take care of younger children in their families, especially in rural areas. Even if they do not drop out of school, girls have many household and childcare responsibilities that interfere with their studies.

Teachers rely on rote learning methods. Generally, teachers write on blackboards and students copy from the board or from a textbook. Textbooks are limited, so children generally work in groups, with one child reading from the text while others copy from it. Books are scarce, and school libraries are either non-existent or filled with very old books. Few extra materials are available and books are never taken home for study. Additionally, most schools do not have paper for children to use, and teachers must buy their own chalk and other teaching tools.

After nine years of basic education, students enter specialized education that lasts three years in the technical track and two years in the academic track. In 1988, provisions were passed that now require students to take an examination to obtain their diploma in secondary education, a prerequisite for university admission. The diploma is similar to a high school diploma in the United States. Admission tests are also required at some institutions like the University of Costa Rica and the Technological Institute of Costa Rica. There is no restriction on foreign student enrollment and many foreign students in Costa Rica come from Central American countries.

In 1990, approximately 97 percent of graduating secondary students planned to continue with higher education. The University of Costa Rica was their first choice. Finances were the number one problem for 58 percent of public students and 34 percent of private secondary students who planned to pursue higher education. For male graduates, their choices for higher education were 84 percent for public universities, 9 percent for private universities, and 7 percent for foreign universities. Female students' choices were 78 percent for public universities, 17 percent for private universities, and 5 percent for foreign universities. Graduates from private secondary schools earn the bachillerato and gain admission to universities at higher rates.

In 1968, a normal school of secondary-teacher training was opened due to a shortage of teachers that the University of Costa Rica program could not combat. Only 10 percent of students attend private schools; most private schooling is available at the secondary and higher education levels. At the highest quintile, 40 percent of students attend private institutions. The percentage of students who fail exams is higher at public schools than at private schools. By 1989, there were 4,089 primary and secondary schools; 49 semi-private, publicly supported private schools; and 316 private schools.

Students who attend vocational school during their last two secondary years of school have a reduced academic load and increased vocational instruction. In 1956, two previously private vocational schools became public schools. Commercial vocational schools have the highest student enrollments, followed by industrial, agricultural, and technical programs. The first school of agriculture was not opened until 1962. Many agricultural schools are located in rural areas and offer a five-year course of study. Students who complete the technical track in school obtain the tecnico medio (mid-level technician diploma), which allows them to practice particular trades.


Higher Education

Higher educational institutions in Costa Rica fall into several categories: state universities, private universities, and parauniversities, both state and private. In the category of state institutions there are four primary universities: the University of Costa Rica, established in 1940, with its central campus in San Jose and regional campuses in Guanacaste, San Ramon, Turrialba, and Limon; the National University, established in 1973, with a central campus in Heredia and regional campuses in Perez, Zeledon, and Liberia; and the State University at Distance, distance education established in 1977 with a central campus in San Jose and 31 satellite branches. There is also the Technical Institute of San Jose, established in 1973.

Public universities were expanded in the 1970s, and private universities were increased in the 1980s. Public universities traditionally defined their role as offering liberal arts education to future professionals, while private universities emphasized technical training. The public higher education system began in 1940 with the founding of the University of Costa Rica (UCR). This marked a shift away from a monopoly by a small oligarchy of elites in higher education. The remaining three public universities were founded in the 1970s: the Instituto Tecnologico de Costa Rica in 1973, the Universidad Nacional in 1973, and the Universidad Estatal de Distancia in 1977.

The University of Costa Rica started in 1941 with 8 small schools, a few professors, and 700 students. The first public alternative to the University of Costa Rica, the Instituto Tecnologico de Costa Rica (ITCR), was opened in 1973 with an orientation in science and technology.

Applicants to the University of Costa Rica and the Technological Institute of Costa Rica are required to pass an entrance exam. Some fields have additional special requirements. The National University and the State University at Distance have an open admissions policy. The University of Costa Rica, created by law in 1940, had increases in enrollments by 58 percent from 1960 to 1966. Enrollments increased again by 109 percent from 1966 to 1969. The university system grew from a population of 12,913 students in 1970 to 44,818 students in 1979. In the 1970s, the expansion of higher education in Costa Rica increased student populations from 9 out of 100 age-appropriate students in 1970 to 25 out of 100 by 1980. The student population grew three times as rapidly as the total population.

More than 50 percent of high school graduates, particularly from rural areas, cannot enter the university. The University of Costa Rica limited its student population to 18,000. Only 8 percent of the students at the University of Costa Rica come from working class and peasant backgrounds. The University of Costa Rica has more upper-class students than the university system as a whole. The University of Costa Rica is 29 percent upper class, 54 percent middle class, and 17 percent lower class. At the ITCR, 8 percent of students are higher class, 63 percent middle class, and 29 percent lower class.

The University of Costa Rica went from a single campus in San Jose to a multi-campus system. Distance learning, using the British Open University model, was instituted. The teacher-training college, normal superior located in Heredia, was upgraded to the Universidad Nacional. The National Library was established in 1888.

Ninety-three percent of the students at the University of Costa Rica come from Central America and 77 percent of university students are male. The University of Costa Rica is the newest national university in Central America. It opened with eight schools: agriculture, fine arts, sciences, law, pharmacology, philosophy, engineering, and education. The School of Dentistry opened in 1942, the School of Economics in 1943, and the School of Medicine in 1960. In the last two decades, a school of sciences and letters, a laboratory, and library facilities have been added. The central campus is located in San Jose. Students are graded on a scale of 0 to 10 with a minimum of 7 on the scale being the requirement to pass a course.

A rector presides over the university. Rectors are elected every three years and may be reelected by the University Assembly, which is comprised of directors of departments, as well as professors and members of national professional and student associations. The governing board of the university is the University Council, which consists of the rector and vice rectors, the minister of education, the deans, and two student representatives. This group approves curriculum, budgets, and university policies. Professors within the school, as well as the student representatives, elect the deans.

Academic rank is divided into five categories. The lowest rank is instructor, followed by assistant professors (profesor adjunto ), associate professors (profesor asociade ), and full professors (catedratico ). Promotion through the ranks is based on degrees, publications, and length of service. Tenure can be earned after three years; fifteen years of employment are required to meet the rank of full professor. Not all faculty members have earned doctoral or terminal degrees and hiring part-time faculty is common. Most faculty research is conducted only when funds are acquired from international organizations.

Many students leave the university before acquiring their degrees, most often citing the need to gain employment. Only 5 percent of the students earn their degrees after the required five or six years of study. Current student enrollment exceeds 30,000 enrollees. Some students have trouble registering for required classes. In 1967, the university student association demonstrated for a larger school budget in front of the presidential palace and the legislative assembly.

The bachillerato (bachelor's degree) takes four years of study. The school semester lasts 16 weeks. Oral public defense of studies is required for graduation. Graduate studies leading to master and doctoral degrees are available at the University of Costa Rica in a variety of fields, including biology, microbiology, philosophy, law, medicine, public administration, and education. Required standards are comparable to those in North American universities regarding requisite credits, length of study, and other requirements for graduation. Higher education is free for nearly 50 percent of the enrolled students.

The University of Costa Rica's Carolost Monge Alfare Library is the best university library in Central America. The University of Costa Rica also has the best teaching conditions, followed by the Technological Institute and the Open University.

The Universidad Nacional (UNA) was created in 1973 with a curriculum similar to the University of Costa Rica but a normal school legacy. In 1977, the Universidad Estatal a Distancia was established, a university without walls. Parauniversity colleges, legalized in 1980, offered short programs. Three parauniversties were created in Cartago, Alajuela, and Puntarenas. Until the end of the 1960s, the University of Costa Rica was the only university and remained the premier university of the country. Today it offers 72 programs and has the largest enrollment of any institution of higher education.

In 1973, a new university, Universidad Nacional Autonoma was established in Heredia, which is about 15 minutes from San Jose. The University of Costa Rica is still considered a most prestigious college and the first choice for secondary school graduates. Degrees earned at foreign universities have more prestige, as well.

The Federation of Costa Rican Students (FECR) is the largest student organization. After two additional years of schooling beyond the bachillerato, students write a thesis and can then write "Lic" (licenciade ) before their names. The general studies programs (estudios generales ) of public universities have been criticized in light of the shorter period in which private universities, which forgo liberal arts education, are able to train managers for industry.

In the 1990s, a requirement of trabajo comunal universitario (TCU) was implemented. TCU required students to complete 150 to 300 hours of community service. This program gave students an opportunity to apply professional knowledge to national problems. In 1987, an Interdisciplinary Gender Studies Program (Programa Interdisiplinario de Estudios de Genero (PRIEG) was created in the Division of Social Sciences. In 1987, Cora Fiero, dean of the school of philosophy, founded El programa Interdisciplinario de Estudios de la Mujer (The Interdisciplinary Women Studies Program) at La Universidad Autonoma de Costa Rica. It has focused, thus far, on training human service providers for marginalized women. The program used visiting Fulbright scholars on several occasions. The program was an immediate success and each course had more than 40 students enrolled with a waiting lists of many more interested students. The program now includes three full-time faculty members and other related faculty throughout the university.

The first private university, the Universidad Autonoma de Centro America, was founded in 1975. A few international universities, established by governments or businesses outside Costa Rica, have been established as well. Executive decree number 5622-EO202 called for the opening of the first private university, the Universidad Autonoma de Centro America, in December 1975. By 1990, seven private universities existed and, by 1992, seven more had been opened.

In 2001, about 10 private universities and 14 parauniversities (technical schools) existed. Private and parauniversities enroll approximately 35,000 studentsabout half the number of the four public universities. Thirty-one parauniversities, similar to community and junior colleges in the United States, exist in Costa Rica. Today Costa Rica has 22 private universities, but most of them have small enrollments. As the family income level rises, students are more likely to seek private educations. In 2001, 13 private noninternational universities exist. The Universidad InterAmericana de Costa Rica, which began offering an MBA program in 1985, enrolls around 90 students. The institution appeals to working people who want to upgrade their skills.

The Costa Rican private sector of higher education lacks prestige. It was created primarily to meet higher education needs at lower costs. The parauniversity offers short study courses that take two or three years. This course of study, which is public or private, prepares students for a technical or administrative position. It grants diplomas but not university level degrees. The total public sector enrollments consisted of 28,336 students in 1974, or 100 percent of total enrollments. By 1992, this share had dropped to 68 percent of total enrollments or 60,892 students.

Private Universities include the Universidad Autonoma de Centro America, established in 1975; Universidad Internacional de Las Americas, established in 1985; the Universidad Adventista de Centro America, established in 1986; the Universidad Latin Americana de Ciencia y Technologia, established in 1987; the Universidad PanaAmericana, established in 1988; Universidad Latina de Costa Rica, established in 1990; the Universidad InterAmericana de Costa Rica, established in 1990; the Universidad Central Costarricense, established in 1990; the Universidad Hispano Americana, established in 1992; the Universidad de San Jose, established in 1992; Universidad Nazarena, established in 1992; Universidad Libre de Costa Rica, established in 1993; Universidad Anselmo Llorente y Lafuente, established in 1993; and the Universidad del Diseno, established in 1993.

Private sector enrollments were first measured in 1977 when they constituted 1 percent of total enrollments. By 1992, that percentage had risen to 32 percent of total enrollments.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

The Organization of the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and the Organization of the Ministry of Higher Education are the two administrative sections of the educational system in Costa Rica.

About one-fourth of the national government budget is devoted to education with two-thirds of this allotted to primary education. About 4 percent of Costa Rica's Gross National Product (GNP) is spent on education, a rate comparable to many industrialized nations. The traditionally strong anti-militarist policy allows more money to be spent on education in Costa Rica than in other Latin American countries.

In 1995, government spending by the ministry department listed 20.0 percent of the money spent on education, 39.0 percent on finance, 6.0 percent on works, 3.5 percent on public health, 9.9 percent on public labor, and 2.2 percent on public housing.

The Ministry of Education regulates the school system and heads the national school board. The educational system is directed by the National Education council presided over by the minister of education. Each school district has a board of education appointed by the municipality. Employees of the ministry of education and all school employees have civil service status. Of all the government ministries, the ministry of education has the largest number of employees28,000. The ministry of education has separate departments of finance, teacher preparation, personnel, and the national library. Seven provinces in Costa Rica each have their own local administrator and school boards.

The Officinal de Educacion Indigena is the institutional counterpart of community groups that concern themselves with educating Amerindians. The Commision Nacional Indigenista works to preserve culture and maintain indigenous languages through the public school system. The school system is broken down administratively by regions and subdivided by districts. A community needs 25 eligible children to establish a school. Public spending on education is financed from Costa Rica's general budget, which is primarily generated by indirect taxes. Increasingly, the cost of higher education is borne by the Costa Rican people. Schools are funded at the national level, not at the local level.

Ninety percent of Costa Rican educational funds are spent on salaries. Under Costa Rican law, the country changes the president and presidential administration every four years, as well as high and medium level officials. The percentage of the national budget devoted to public education dropped from 30 percent to 18 percent from the mid-1970s to the 1980s. A special tax levy allowed vocational education to expand in the mid-1970s to mid-1980s. The National Liberation Party (PLN) social democratic governments of Luis Monge from 1982 to 1986 and Oscar Arias from 1986 to 1990 limited the development of higher education to the private sector due to economic pressures the country faced. During the Arias Sanchez administration in 1990, more resources were devoted to education (approximately 25 percent of the national budget in 1990).

Fees are charged at higher educational institutions, but all institutions have a system of scholarships. The National Commission for Educational Assistance offers financing for study in priority subject areas. In 1974, the public university set up the council of coordinating bodies for state universities.

The constitution of 1949 established state financing of university education with no less than 10 percent of the annual national budget diverted to this purpose. In 1982, the national, higher-education, planning office was created to provide technical support to the council of state universities. In 1990, 33.4 percent of students in the University of Costa Rica and 63.8 percent in the UNA paid no tuition.

A coordinating commission consists of the ministers of home affairs, education, and planning, as well as representatives from the Office of Higher Education Planning, and the rectors of the four state universities oversee the funding for higher education. The rectors of state universities also form the National Council of Rectors, which is attached to the Office of Planning. This group coordinates decision-making regarding state university policies in the country.

The National Council of Higher Education, which oversees coordination related to private institutions, governs private universities. Parauniversity institutions of higher education (colegios universitarios and institutos ) are organized under the provisions of Law number 9541, which was passed in 1980.

Direct payment by students is less than 10 percent of the university budget. The government, as dictated in the constitution, funds the University of Costa Rica. In order to finance educational reforms, Costa Rica has gotten loans from the Inter-American Development Bank. From 1962 to 1966 the university also received funds from the United States and from the Ford, Kellogg, and Rockefeller Foundations.

Transfers from the Ministry of Public Education finance university and parauniversity higher education. Direct payments by university students account for less than 10 percent of total expenditures. In 1995, the total public expenditure on education was 5.0 percent of the national budget. Basic education accounted for 2.8 percent of the national budget, with 1.9 percent being spent on primary education and 15.0 on secondary education. Public expenditures on higher education accounted for 1.7 percent of the national budget, with 1.6 percent directed to universities, and.1 percent to parauniversities.

The minister of education serves as chair of the Higher Council of Education. The budget of the University of Costa Rica is to be no less than 10 percent of the budget of the minister of education. The Higher Council of Education makes decisions concerning curriculum, budget, textbook selection, teacher certification, supervision, and other policy decisions.

Nonformal Education

The Higher Council of Education oversees state and private training institutes aimed at increasing technical skills. These private institutes offer shorter programs, and their graduation requirements are less stringent than universities. In addition to the National Apprentice Institution, a special cultural and educational channel focuses on informal education. A State Distance University was established in 1977 to allow adult and rural populations to continue their educations after completion of their secondary diplomas. Courses are offered for credit through the medium of radio and television. Most courses offered are in management.


Teaching Profession

Dr. Jose Castro Madriza established the normal school in the capital of San Jose in May 1887 to train teachers. The program was five and a half years in length with five years mandatory teaching after graduation for students who had received financial aid. In 1968, a new normal school was founded in Heredia next to a previously existing one, but the new school had the purpose of educating teachers specifically for secondary schools. This Escuela Normal Superior lasted until 1973 when the Universidad Nacional was created and absorbed the program.

Reductions in teacher salaries caused many to leave the profession. Many teachers had to work at second jobs. Some worked at markets on weekends. When teacher's salaries were cut in the 1980s, teachers went on strike to bring their salaries back to 1970 levels. They were successful, but little progress has been made since then. The Ministry of Education has been forced to hire aspirants, probationary teachers who are recent secondary school graduates. This has affected the quality of education, especially in rural areas. Books, supplies, maps, and libraries are scarce in many rural and inner-city schools.

State universities in Costa Rica are also responsible for training teachers, and three state universities offer this course of study. Students can obtain the title of professor or teacher after two years of training at the university. Two more years lead to the bachiller degree in education. The licenciatura degree education can be obtained after a further period of two years of study with specialization in educational administration, preschool education, primary education, and teaching curriculum development.

Ninety percent of primary school teachers are female. The low salaries for primary teachers draw few males to the profession. More males teach at the secondary level and occupy administrative positions. Teacher salaries account for more than 50 percent of the education budget, but the salaries are low when compared to those of other public employees. Additionally, many teachers must buy supplies and pay for school repairs out of their own salaries.

Teachers are classified by their level of preparation. Profesores titulados (teachers with titles) occupy the highest rank and posses university degrees. Profesores autorizados (authorized teachers) do not posses a degree for teaching, but have other education or qualifications beyond secondary schooling. Profesores aspirantes (aspiring teachers) have only a secondary school degree.

The largest teacher association, the National Association of Educators (ANDE) was founded in 1941. Two additional professional organizations, the Association of Professors of Secondary Education founded in 1955, and the Syndicate of Costa Rican Educators, exist as well. In the mid-1970s, the government supported the construction of housing for teachers in order to draw more qualified candidates into the field. Local communities were asked to donate land and lay the foundation for a home. The national government then erected prefabricated houses large enough for a family of six.


Summary

Inadequate efforts to provide higher education in Limon, with its large Afro-Caribbean population, is still not close to parity with the schooling available in the central valley. An increased emphasis on privatization has led to an increase in the number of private institutions in recent years. Expenditures declined during the 1980s and 1990s. The affects of this reduced funding could result in increased illiteracy or lower graduation rates. The school system experiences a high number of dropouts, which contributes to an increase in illiteracy.

Private spending on education in 1995 differed significantly in terms of income. Of those in the top quintile, 49 percent were spending funds on private education; in the next to the top quintile, 24 percent; in the middle quintile, 13 percent; in the next to lowest quintile, 7.5 percent; at the lowest quintile, only 5 percent spent funds on private education. Attendance at public and private educational institutions differs significantly depending on income. At the top quintile, 60 percent attend public institutions and 40 percent private; at the second highest quintile, 82 percent attend public institutions and 19 percent private; at the middle quintile, 90 percent attend public institutions, and 10 percent attend private; at the second to lowest quintile, 98 percent attend public and 2 percent private; at the lowest quintile, 99 percent attend public and 1 percent attend private.

When data on students who are passed, held back, or failed in basic education is compared between public and private institutions, stratification is apparent. At the primary levels, 87 percent of public school students pass exams, compared to 95 percent of private students. Students who fail at the primary level comprise 8 percent in public schools and 2 percent in private schools. At the secondary level, 56 percent of public school students pass exams compared to 72 percent of private school students. Failure rates at the secondary level are 12 percent for public school students compared to 6 percent at the private schools.

Differences appear regarding school attendance by age group and income level. In the top quintile, 68 percent attend preschool; 52 percent at the second highest quintile; 41 percent at the middle quintile; 34 percent at the second lowest quintile; 29 percent at the lowest quintile. In primary education, 99 percent attend at the highest quintile; 98 percent at the second quintile; 96 percent at the middle quintile; 92 percent at the second to lowest quintile; 39 percent at the lowest quintile. At the secondary level, the numbers range from 85 percent attending at the highest quintile to 50 percent attending at the lowest quintile. With regard to university education, 52 percent of those at the highest quintile attend universities; 32 percent at the second highest; 22 percent at the middle level; 17 percent at the second lowest quintile; 13 percent at the lowest quintile.

School attendance by age group and geographical setting indicates that, at the preschool level, an average of 39 percent attends school55 percent in urban areas and 25 percent in rural areas. At the primary level, an average of 94 percent attends school95 percent in urban areas and 92 percent in rural areas. At the secondary level, a clear difference emerges with an average of 60 percent attending school, translating as 75 percent in urban areas and 45 percent in rural areas. At the university level, an average of 27 percent attends school, meaning 39 percent in urban areas and only 14 percent from rural areas. Schooling is obviously not adequate to meet the needs in rural areas.


Bibliography

Castillo-Serrano, Deyanira. Afro-Caribbean Schools in Costa Rica, 1934-1948. Ph.D. diss., University of Texas, Austin, 1998.

Cravath, Jay. "Elementary Education." Social Education 64 (2000): 297.

Frost, Lynda Elizabeth. Policy development and the implementation of educational reform: A study in human rights education. Ph.D. diss., University of Iowa, 1996.

Funkhouser, Edward. "Changes In The Returns To Education In Costa Rica." Journal of Development Economics 57 (1998): 289.

Funkhouse, Edward. "Cyclical Economic Conditions and School Attendance in Costa Rica." Economics of Education Review, 18:31 (1999).

Gutierrez, Miguel. Evaluation and the change process in higher education: A case study in Costa Rica. Ed.D. diss., East Carolina University, 1998.

Heffington, Douglas. "Sustainable Development in Costa Rican." Social Education 63 (1999): 80.

Leitinger, Ilse Abshagen, ed., The Costa Rican's Women's Movement. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997.

Potter, Elsa. The primary education of bilingual indigenous children on the Talamanca Bribri Reservation in Limon Province of Costa Rica. Ph.D. diss., Texas A & M University, Kingsville, 1998.

Rodino, Ana Maria. Determinants of Writing Performance and Performance Difficultures in Costa Rican Adults with High Levels of Schooling, 1997.

Thompson, Julie Ann. The politics of educational policy-making in Costa Rica. Ph.D. diss., University Of California, Los Angeles, 1998.

Twombly, Susan. "Curricular Reform And The Changing Social Role Of Public Higher Education In Costa Rica." Higher Education 33 (1997): 1.


Donna Langston

views updated

COSTA RICA

Compiled from the October 2005 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:
Republic of Costa Rica


PROFILE

Geography

Area:

51,100 sq. km (19,730 sq. mi.) about the size of the states of Vermont and New Hampshire combined.

Cities:

Capital—San Jose (greater metropolitan area pop. 2.1 million, the greater metropolitan area as defined by the Ministry of Planning and Economic Policy includes the cities of Alajuela, Cartago, and Heredia). Other major cities outside the San Jose capital area—Puntarenas, Limon.

Terrain:

A rugged, central range separates the eastern and western coastal plains.

Climate:

Mild in the central highlands, tropical and subtropical in coastal areas.

People

Nationality:

Noun and adjective—Costa Rican(s).

Population (July 2005 est.):

4.02 million.

Annual growth rate (2005 est.):

1.48%.

Ethnic groups:

European and some mestizo 94%, African origin 3%, Chinese 1%, indigenous 1%, other 1%.

Religion:

Roman Catholic 76.3%, Protestant approx. 15.7%, others 4.8%, none 3.2%.

Language:

Spanish, with a southwestern Caribbean Creole dialect of English spoken around the Limon area.

Education:

Years compulsory—9. Attendance—99% grades 1-6, 71% grades 7-9. Literacy—96%.

Health:

Infant mortality rate—9.95/1,000. Life expectancy—men 74.26 yrs., women 79.55 yrs.

Work force (2004 est., 1.81 million):

Services—71.3%; agriculture—14.6%; industry—14%.

Government

Type:

Democratic republic.

Independence:

September 15, 1821.

Constitution:

November 7, 1949.

Branches:

Executive—president (head of government and chief of state) elected for one 4-year term, two vice presidents, Cabinet (15 ministers, one of whom also is vice president). Legislative—57-deputy unicameral Legislative Assembly elected at 4-year intervals. Judicial—Supreme Court of Justice (22 magistrates elected by Legislative Assembly for renewable 8-year terms). The offices of the Ombudsman, Comptroller General, and Procurator General assert autonomous oversight of the government.

Subdivisions:

Seven provinces, divided into 81 cantons, subdivided into 421 districts.

Political parties:

Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), National Liberation Party (PLN), Citizen's Action Party (PAC), Libertarian Movement Party (PML), Costa Rican Renovation Party (PRC), and other smaller parties.

Suffrage:

Universal and compulsory at age 18.

Economy

GDP (2004):

$18.4 billion.

GDP PPP (2004 est.):

$37.97 billion.

Inflation (2005 est.):

14%.

Real growth rate (2004 est.):

3.9%.

Per capita income (2004):

$4,670. (PPP $9,600—2004 est.)

Unemployment (2004 est.):

6.6%.

Currency:

Costa Rica Colon (CRC).

Natural resources:

Hydroelectric power, forest products, fisheries products.

Agriculture (8.5% of GDP):

Products—bananas, coffee, beef, sugar-cane, rice, dairy products, vegetables, fruits and ornamental plants.

Industry (29.7% of GDP):

Types—electronic components, food processing, textiles and apparel, construction materials, cement, fertilizer.

Commerce and tourism (61.8% of GDP):

Hotels, restaurants, tourist services, banks, and insurance.

Trade (2004 est.):

Exports—$6.18 billion: Integrated circuits, bananas, pineapples, optical/medical equipment, knit and woven apparel, coffee, fish and seafood. Major markets—U.S. 44.1%, Europe 21%, Central America 9%. Imports—$7.84 billion: electronic components, machinery, vehicles, consumer goods, raw materials, chemicals, petroleum products, foods, and fertilizer. Major suppliers—U.S. 45.9%, Europe 10%, Mexico 3.7% Central America 5%, Japan 4.8%, Venezuela 4%.


PEOPLE

Unlike many of their Central American neighbors, present-day Costa Ricans are largely of European rather than mestizo descent; Spain was the primary country of origin. However, an estimated 10% to 15% of the population is Nicaraguan, of fairly recent arrival and primarily of mestizo origin. Descendants of 19th-century Jamaican immigrant workers constitute an English-speaking minority and—at 3% of the population—number about 119,000. Few of the native Indians survived European contact; the indigenous population today numbers about 29,000 or less than 1% of the population.


HISTORY

In 1502, on his fourth and last voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus made the first European landfall in the area. Settlement of Costa Rica began in 1522. For nearly three centuries, Spain administered the region as part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala under a military governor. The Spanish optimistically called the country "Rich Coast." Finding little gold or other valuable minerals in Costa Rica, however, the Spanish turned to agriculture.

The small landowners' relative poverty, the lack of a large indigenous labor force, the population's ethnic and linguistic homogeneity, and Costa Rica's isolation from the Spanish colonial centers in Mexico and the Andes all contributed to the development of an autonomous and individualistic agrarian society. An egalitarian tradition also arose. This tradition survived the widened class distinctions brought on by the 19th-century introduction of banana and coffee cultivation and consequent accumulations of local wealth.

Costa Rica joined other Central American provinces in 1821 in a joint declaration of independence from Spain. Although the newly independent provinces formed a Federation, border disputes broke out among them, adding to the region's turbulent history and conditions. Costa Rica's northern Guanacaste Province was annexed from Nicaragua in one such regional dispute. In 1838, long after the Central American Federation ceased to function in practice, Costa Rica formally withdrew and proclaimed itself sovereign.

An era of peaceful democracy in Costa Rica began in 1899 with elections considered the first truly free and honest ones in the country's history. This began a trend continued until today with only two lapses: in 1917-19, Federico Tinoco ruled as a dictator, and, in 1948, Jose Figueres led an armed uprising in the wake of a disputed presidential election.

With more than 2,000 dead, the 44-day civil war resulting from this uprising was the bloodiest event in 20th-century Costa Rican history, but the victorious junta drafted a constitution guaranteeing free elections with universal suffrage and the abolition of the military. Figueres became a national hero, winning the first election under the new constitution in 1953. Since then, Costa Rica has held 13 presidential elections, the latest in 2002.


GOVERNMENT

Costa Rica is a democratic republic with a strong system of constitutional checks and balances. Executive responsibilities are vested in a president, who is the country's center of power. There also are two vice presidents and a 15-member cabinet. The president and 57 Legislative Assembly deputies are elected for 4-year terms. In April 2003, the Costa Rican Constitutional Court annulled a constitutional reform enacted by the legislative assembly in 1969 barring presidents from running for reelection. The law reverted back to the 1949 Constitution, which states that ex-presidents may run for reelection after they have been out of office for two presidential terms, or eight years. Deputies may run for reelection after sitting out one term, or four years.

The electoral process is supervised by an independent Supreme Electoral Tribunal—a commission of three principal magistrates and six alternates selected by the Supreme Court of Justice. Judicial power is exercised by the Supreme Court of Justice, composed of 22 magistrates selected for renewable 8-year terms by the Legislative Assembly, and subsidiary courts. A Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, established in 1989, reviews the constitutionality of legislation and executive decrees and all habeas corpus warrants.

The offices of the Comptroller General of the Republic, the Solicitor General, and the Ombudsman exercise oversight of the government. The Comptroller General's office has a statutory responsibility to scrutinize all but the smallest public sector contracts and strictly enforces procedural requirements.

There are provincial boundaries for administrative purposes, but no elected provincial officials. Costa Rica held its first mayoral elections in December 2002, whereby mayors were elected by popular vote through general elections. Prior to 2002, the office of mayor did not exist and the president of the municipal council was responsible for the administration of each municipality. The most significant change has been to transfer the governing authority from a position filled via an indirect popular vote to one filled by a direct popular vote. Municipal council presidents are elected through internal elections conducted by council members each year, but mayors are elected directly by the populace through general elections. All council members are elected in a general election process. Autonomous state agencies enjoy

considerable operational independence; they include the telecommunications and electrical power monopoly, the state petroleum refinery, the nationalized commercial banks, the state insurance monopoly, and the social security agency. Costa Rica has no military and maintains only domestic police and security forces for internal security. A professional Coast Guard was established in 2000.

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 10/4/2005

President: Abel PACHECO
First Vice Pres.: Lineth SABORIO
Second Vice Pres.:
Min. of Agriculture & Livestock: Rodolfo COTO
Min. of Culture, Youth, & Sports: Guido SAENZ Gonzalez
Min. of Economy & Industry: Gilberto BARRANTES
Min. of Education: Manuel BOLANOS
Min. of Environment & Energy: Carlos Manuel RODRIGUEZ
Min. of Finance: David FUENTES
Min. of Foreign Relations & Religion: Roberto TOVAR Faja
Min. of Foreign Trade: Manuel GONZALEZ
Min. of Health: Maria del Rocio SAENZ
Min. of Housing: Angelo ALTAMURA
Min. of Justice: Patricia VEGA
Min. of Labor & Social Security: Fernando TREJOS
Min. of Planning: Lineth SABORIO
Min. of the Presidency: Lineth SABORIO
Min. of Public Security, Government, & Police: Rogelio Vicente RAMOS Martinez
Min. of Public Works & Transportation: Jorge POLINARIS
Min. of Science & Technology: Fernando GUTIERREZ
Min. of Tourism: Rodrigo CASTRO
Min. of Women's Issues: Georgina VARGAS
Min. Without Portfolio (National Council on Childhood): Rosalia GIL
Pres., Central Bank: Francisco DE PAULA
Ambassador to the US: Tomas DUENAS
Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Bruno STAGNO Ugarde

Costa Rica maintains an embassy in the United States at 2114 S Street NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-234-2945 and 202-234-2946).


POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Costa Rica has long emphasized the development of democracy and respect for human rights. Until recently, the country's political system has contrasted sharply with many of its Central American neighbors; it has steadily developed and maintained democratic institutions and an orderly, constitutional scheme for government succession. Several factors have contributed to this tendency, including enlightened government leaders, comparative prosperity, flexible class lines, educational opportunities that have created a stable middle class, and high social indicators. Also, because Costa Rica has no armed forces, it has avoided the possibility of political intrusiveness by the military that other countries in the region have experienced.

In May 2002, President Abel Pacheco of the Social Christian Union Party (PUSC) assumed office after defeating National Liberation Party (PLN) candidate Rolando Araya in the first-ever second-round runoff election. The April 2002 runoff election was necessitated by the failure of any one candidate to obtain the constitutionally required 40% of the popular vote in the February first-round election. Pacheco continues to seek a fiscal reform package and can count the successful negotiation of a U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement (U.S.-CAFTA) and an improved economy among his significant accomplishments. The 57-member unicameral Legislative Assembly has five principal party factions, with the governing party, PUSC, having only a 19-seat plurality. As a result, legislative action has been slow.


ECONOMY

After four years of slow economic growth, the Costa Rican economy grew at nearly 4% in 2004. Compared with its Central American neighbors, Costa Rica has achieved a high standard of living, with a per capita income of about U.S. $4,700, and an unemployment rate of 6.6%. The annual inflation rate hovers around 14% as the Costa Rican Government seeks to reduce a large fiscal deficit.

Controlling the budget deficit remains the single-biggest challenge for the country's economic policymakers, as interest costs on the accumulated central government consumed the equivalent of 32.1% in 2003 of the government's total revenues. About 18.9% of the national budget was financed by public borrowing. This limits the resources available for investments in the country's deteriorated public infrastructure.

Costa Rica's major economic resources are its fertile land and frequent rainfall, its well-educated population, and its location in the Central American isthmus, which provides easy access to North and South American markets and direct ocean access to the European and Asian Continents. One-fourth of Costa Rica's land is dedicated to national forests, often adjoining picturesque beaches, which has made the country a popular destination for affluent retirees and eco-tourists.

Costa Rica used to be known principally as a producer of bananas and coffee, but pineapples have surpassed coffee as the number two agricultural export. In recent years, Costa Rica has successfully attracted important investments by such companies as Intel Corporation, which employs nearly 2,000 people at its $300 million microprocessor plant; Proctor and Gamble, which employs nearly 1,000 people in its administrative center for the Western Hemisphere; and Hospira and Baxter Healthcare from the health care products industry. Manufacturing and industry's contribution to GDP overtook agriculture over the course of the 1990s, led by foreign investment in Costa Rica's free trade zone. Well over half of that investment has come from the United States. Dole and Chiquita have a large presence in the banana industry. Two-way trade exceeded U.S. $6.6 billion in 2004.

Costa Rica has oil deposits off its Atlantic Coast, but the Pacheco administration decided not to develop the deposits for environmental reasons. The country's mountainous terrain and abundant rainfall have permitted the construction of a dozen hydroelectric power plants, making it largely self-sufficient in electricity, but it is completely reliant on imports for liquid fuels. Costa Rica has the potential to become a major electricity exporter if plans for new generating plants and a regional distribution grid are realized. Mild climate and trade winds make neither heating nor cooling necessary, particularly in the highland cities and towns where some 90% of the population lives.

Costa Rica's infrastructure has suffered from a lack of maintenance and new investment. The country has an extensive road system of more than 30,000 kilometers, although much of it is in disrepair. Most parts of the country are accessible by road. Costa Rica has sought to widen its economic and trade ties, both within and out-side the region. Costa Rica signed a bilateral trade agreement with Mexico in 1994, which was later amended to cover a wider range of products. Costa Rica joined other Central American countries, plus the Dominican Republic, in establishing a Trade and Investment Council with the United States in March 1998. Costa Rica has signed trade agreements with Canada, Chile, the Dominican Republic, and is negotiating trade agreements with Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago. Costa Rica concluded negotiations with the U.S. to participate in the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement (U.S.CAFTA) in January 2004. CAFTA is expected to bring about the partial opening of the state telecommunications monopoly and a substantial opening of the state-run insurance sector. While CAFTA has been ratified by the U.S. and four other countries, the president of Costa Rica has yet to send it to the Costa Rican legislature so that the debate can begin. Costa Rica is an active participant in the negotiation of the hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americas as well as a member of the Cairns Group, which is pursuing global agricultural trade liberalization within the World Trade Organization.


FOREIGN RELATIONS

Costa Rica is an active member of the international community and, in 1993, proclaimed its permanent neutrality. Its record on the environment, human rights, and advocacy of peaceful settlement of disputes give it a weight in world affairs far beyond its size. The country lobbied aggressively for the establishment of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and became the first nation to recognize the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Human Rights Court, based in San Jose.

During the tumultuous 1980s, then President Oscar Arias authored a regional peace plan in 1987 that served as the basis for the Esquipulas Peace Agreement. Arias' efforts earned him the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize. Subsequent agreements, supported by the United States, led to the Nicaraguan election of 1990 and the end of civil war in Nicaragua. Costa Rica also hosted several rounds of negotiations between the Salvadoran Government and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), aiding El Salvador's efforts to emerge from civil war and culminating in that country's 1994 free and fair elections. Costa Rica has been a strong proponent of regional arms limitation agreements.


U.S.-COSTA RICAN RELATIONS

The United States and Costa Rica have a history of close and friendly relations based on respect for democratic government, human freedoms, free trade, and other shared values. The country consistently supports the U.S. in international fora, especially in the areas of democracy and human rights. Costa Rica co-sponsored the Resolution on Cuba at the 60th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights. Law enforcement cooperation, particularly efforts to stem the flow of illegal drugs to the U.S., has been exemplary.

The United States is Costa Rica's most important trading partner. The U.S. accounts for over half of Costa Rica's exports, imports, and tourism, and more than two-thirds of its foreign investment. The two countries share growing concerns for the environment and want to preserve Costa Rica's important tropical resources and prevent environmental degradation.

The United States responded to Costa Rica's economic needs in the 1980s with significant economic and development assistance programs. Through provision of more than $1.1 billion in assistance, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) supported Costa Rican efforts to stabilize its economy and broaden and accelerate economic growth through policy reforms and trade liberalization. Assistance initiatives in the 1990s concentrated on democratic policies, modernizing the administration of justice, and sustainable development.

For decades, Peace Corps Volunteers have provided technical assistance in the areas of environmental education, natural resources, management, small business development, basic business education, urban youth, and community education. USAID completed a $9 million project in 2000-01 to support refugees of Hurricane Mitch residing in Costa Rica.

Upwards of 20,000 private American citizens, including many retirees, reside in the country and more than 600,000 American citizens visit Costa Rica annually. There have been some vexing issues in the U.S.-Costa Rican relationship, principal among them longstanding expropriation and other U.S. citizen investment disputes, which have hurt Costa Rica's investment climate and produced bilateral tensions. Land invasions from organized squatter groups who target foreign landowners also have occurred, and some have turned violent. The U.S. Government has made clear to Costa Rica its concern that Costa Rican inattention to these issues has left U.S. citizens vulnerable to harm and loss of their property.

The United States and Costa Rica signed the bilateral Maritime Counter-Drug Agreement, the first of its kind in Central America, which entered into force in late 1999. The agreement permits bilateral cooperation on stopping drug trafficking through Costa Rican waters. The agreement has resulted in a growing number of narcotics seizures, illegal fishing cases, and search-and-rescue missions.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

SAN JOSE (E) Address: Pavas, San Jose; APO/FPO: Unit 2501 APO AA34020; Phone: (506) 519-2000; Fax: (506) 519-2305; Workweek: Monday - Friday, 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.; Website: usembassy.or.cr

AMB:Mark Langdale
AMB OMS:Michelle Nichols
DCM:Russell L. Frisbie
DCM OMS:Dominique Emery
CG:David Dreher
POL:Frederick Kaplan
MGT:Scott D. McAdoo
AGR:Katherine Nishiura
APHIS:John Stewart
CLO:Gwendolynne Simmons
DEA:Paul Knierim
ECO:Whitney J. Witteman
FCS:James McCarthy
FMO:Carmen Castro
GSO:Panfilo Marquez
IMO:Jasper R. Daniels
IPO:Richard Johnson
PAO:Laurie Weitzenkorn
RSO:Michael E. Wilkins
Last Updated: 11/4/2005

Other Contact Information

U.S. Department of Commerce Trade Information Center International Trade Administration
14th and Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20320
Tel: 800-USA-TRADE
www.ita.doc.gov

Costa Rican American Chamber of Commerce
c/o Aerocasillas
P.O. Box 025216, Dept 1576
Miami, Florida 33102-5216
Tel: 506-22-0-22-00
Fax: 506-22-0-23-00
Email: [email protected]


TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet

May 26, 2005

Country Description:

Costa Rica is a middle-income, developing country with a strong democratic tradition. Tourist facilities are extensive and generally adequate. The capital is San Jose. English is a second language for many Costa Ricans.

Entry and Exit Requirements:

On December 31, 2005, the U.S. Government will begin to phase in new passport requirements for U.S. citizens traveling in the Western Hemisphere. By December 31, 2007, all U.S. citizens will be expected to depart and enter the United States on a valid passport or other authorized document establishing identity and U.S. citizenship. The Department of State strongly encourages travelers to obtain passports well in advance of any planned travel. Routine passport applications by mail take up to six weeks to be issued. For further information, go to the State Department's Consular website: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_2223.html.

For entry into the country, Costa Rican authorities require that U.S. citizens present valid passports that will not expire for at least thirty days after arrival.

Costa Rican authorities generally permit U.S. citizens to stay up to ninety days; to stay legally beyond the period granted, travelers will need to submit an application for an extension to the Office of Temporary Permits in the Costa Rican Department of Immigration. Tourist visas are usually not extended except under special circumstances, such as academic, employment, or medical grounds, and extension requests are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

In a modification to a legal requirement that foreigners carry their passports on their persons at all times, Costa Rican migration authorities have stated that U.S. citizens may carry simply photocopies of the passport data page and of the Costa Rican entry stamp on their persons, and leave the original passport in a hotel safe or other secure place. (U.S. citizens must still, however, present their passports for entry into and exit from Costa Rica.) Due to the high incidence of theft of passports, travelers who do carry their passports on them are urged to place them securely in an inside pocket, and to keep a copy of the passport data page in a separate place to facilitate the issuance of an emergency replacement passport.

There is a departure tax for short-term visitors. Tourists who stay over ninety days may experience some delay at the airport. Persons who have overstayed previously may be denied entry to Costa Rica.

In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated special procedures for minors at entry and exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of the child's relationship to the accompanying parents and, if one of the parents is not traveling with the child, permission from the non-traveling parent for the child's travel. Having such documentation on hand may facilitate entry and departure.

Dual U.S./Costa Rican citizens are required by Costa Rican authorities to comply with entry and exit laws that pertain to Costa Rican citizens. This means that dual citizen children (children who hold both U.S. and Costa Rican citizenship), who might normally travel on U.S. passports, will be required to comply with entry and exit requirements applicable to Costa Rican children. Some American parents may not be aware that their child acquired Costa Rican citizenship through birth in Costa Rica or because the other parent is Costa Rican. American parents of minors who may have obtained Costa Rican citizenship through birth in Costa Rica or to a Costa Rican parent should be aware that these children may only depart Costa Rica upon presentation of an exit permit issued by the Costa Rican immigration office. This office may be closed for several weeks during holiday periods. Parents of dual citizen children are advised to consult with the Costa Rican Embassy or Consulate in the U.S. about entry and exit requirements before travel to Costa Rica. For general information about dual nationality, see the Consular Affairs home page on the Internet at http://travel.state.gov.

The most authoritative and up-to-date information on Costa Rican entry and exit requirements may be obtained from the Consular Section of the Embassy of Costa Rica at 2112 "S" Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 328-6628, fax (202) 234-6950, or from a Costa Rican consulate in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Juan (Puerto Rico), San Francisco, or Tampa. The Embassy of Costa Rica also maintains a web site: http://www.costarica-embassy.org/, as does the Costa Rican immigration agency: http://www.migracion.go.cr.

Safety and Security:

On both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, currents are swift and dangerous, and there are no lifeguards or signs warning of dangerous beaches. Several American citizens drown in Costa Rica each year.

Adventure tourism is increasingly popular in Costa Rica, and many companies provide white-water rafting, bungee jumping, jungle canopy tours, deep sea diving, and other out-door attractions. In recent years, several Americans have died on Costa Rica's flood-swollen rivers in white-water rafting accidents. Others have died trying to reach the mouths of active volcanoes after being assured by tour guides that this dangerous activity is safe. Americans are urged to use caution in selecting adventure tourism companies, and are advised to avoid small, "cut-rate" companies that do not have the track record of more established companies. The government of Costa Rica has passed legislation to regulate and monitor the safety of adventure tourism companies; enforcement of these laws is overseen by the Ministry of Health. To be granted official operating permits, registered tourism companies must meet safety standards and have insurance coverage.

Demonstrations or strikes, related to labor disputes or other local issues, occur occasionally in Costa Rica. Past demonstrations have resulted in port closures, roadblocks, and sporadic gasoline shortages. These protests have not targeted U.S. citizens or U.S. interests, and are typically non-violent. Travelers are advised to avoid areas where demonstrations are taking place and to keep informed by following the local news and consulting hotel personnel and tour guides. Additional information about demonstrations may be obtained from the Consular Section at the U.S. Embassy, or on the Embassy website.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements may be found.

Up to date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States, or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Crime:

Crime is increasing and tourists are frequent victims. Criminals usually operate in small groups. While most crimes are non-violent, criminals, including juveniles, have shown a greater tendency in recent years to use violence and to carry handguns or shoulder weapons. All criminals should be considered armed with firearms or knives. Criminals, if challenged or threatened, will quickly use their weapons. U.S. citizens are encouraged to exercise the same level of caution that they would in major cities or tourist areas throughout the world, and to be aware that the same types of crime found elsewhere are also found here, whether of a violent nature (e.g., robbery) or furtive (e.g., identity theft). Local law enforcement agencies have limited capabilities and do not act according to U.S. standards, especially outside of San Jose.

Americans should avoid areas with high concentrations of bars and nightclubs, especially at night, and should also steer clear of deserted properties or undeveloped land. For safety reasons, the Embassy does not place its official visitors in hotels in the city center, but instead puts them at the larger hotels in the outlying suburbs. Americans should walk or exercise with a companion, and should bear in mind that crowded tourist attractions and resort areas popular with foreign tourists are also common venues for criminal activities. Travelers should avoid responding in kind to verbal harassment, and should avoid carrying large amounts of cash, jewelry or expensive photo-graphic equipment.

In recent years, several Americans have been murdered in Costa Rica in urban, rural and resort locations. U.S. citizens have been victims of sexual assaults both in cities and in rural areas. In some of these cases, the victim has known the assailant. There have been several sexual assaults by taxi drivers. Travelers should be careful to use licensed taxis, which are red and have medallions (yellow triangles containing numbers) painted on the side. Licensed taxis at the airport are painted orange, rather than red. All taxis should have working door handles, locks, meters (called "marias"), and seatbelts. Passengers are required by law to wear seat belts. Passengers should not ride in the front seat with the driver. If the taxi meter is not working, a price should be agreed upon before the trip begins. When traveling by bus, avoid putting bags or other personal belongings in the storage bins. Thieves will take property from the bins when the bus makes its periodic stops. A good rule to follow is always to have your belongings in your line of sight or in your possession at all times.

There have been reports that unsuspecting patrons of bars and nightclubs have been drugged and later assaulted or robbed. Americans should always be aware of their surroundings, and should not consume food or drinks they have left untended. Americans may find it safer to seek entertainment in groups to help avoid being targeted, especially in urban areas.

Although unusual, there have been a number of kidnappings reported over the past several years, including the kidnappings of Americans and other foreigners. Some of these cases have been so-called "express kidnappings," in which victims are held for several hours as the kidnappers transport them to various automated bank teller machines in an effort to take as much money as possible from the victims' bank accounts. Carjackings have also increased, and motorists have been confronted at gunpoint while stopped at traffic lights or upon arrival at their homes. Late model sports utility vehicles and high-end car models are popular with carjackers. One method of initiating kidnappings and carjackings is to bump the victim's car from behind; the unsuspecting victim stops, believing he or she has been involved in a minor car accident, and is taken hostage. Americans should remain vigilant to these types of incidents, and use caution if bumped from behind on an isolated stretch of road.

Another common ploy by thieves involves the surreptitious puncturing of tires of rental cars, often near restaurants, tourist attractions, airports, or close to the car rental agencies themselves. When the travelers pull over, "good Samaritans" quickly appear to change the tireand just as quickly remove valuables from the car, sometimes brandishing weapons. Drivers with flat tires are advised to drive, if at all possible, to the nearest service station or other public area, and change the tire themselves, watching their valuables at all times. Travelers can reduce their risk by keeping valuables out of sight, by not wearing jewelry, and by traveling in groups. Travelers should also minimize travel after dark. Before renting a car, travelers should ask the rental company their specific policy regarding damage to a tire or wheel rim due to driving on a flat tire. Some rental car companies may cover the costs of the damaged tire and wheel rim if the occupants feared for their safety and drove to the nearest public area to change the flat tire.

Travelers should purchase an adequate level of locally valid theft insurance when renting vehicles. One should park in secured lots whenever possible, and should never leave valuables in the vehicle. The U.S. Embassy receives reports daily of valuables, identity documents, and other items stolen from locked vehicles. In many of these cases, the stolen items were hidden under the seat, in the glove compartment, or secured in the trunk. Thefts from parked cars commonly occur in downtown San Jose, at beaches, in the airport and bus station parking lots, and at national parks and other tourist attractions.

Money changers on the street have been known to pass off counterfeit U.S. dollars and local currency. Credit card fraud (either using stolen credit cards or the account number alone following copying of the number) is on the rise. Travelers should retain all their credit card receipts and check their accounts regularly to help prevent unauthorized use of their credit cards. Avoid using debit cards for point-of-sale purchases, as a skimmed number can be used to clean out an account.

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and to the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy. If the police will not accept the report, as sometimes happens when only the passport is stolen, the traveler should in any case report the theft to the U.S. Embassy to help avoid use by criminals or other identity theft.

U.S. citizens can refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad, for ways to promote trouble-free travel. The pamphlet is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402; via the Internet at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.

Assistance to Victims of Crime:

Persons, who are victims of crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, should contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can help crime victims find appropriate medical care and contact family members or friends. They can also explain how to transfer funds from the U.S. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help a victim of crime to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Costa Rica has a 911 system for reporting emergencies. Crimes that are no longer in progress should be reported in person at the nearest police station. In the event of a traffic accident, vehicles must be left where they are, and not moved out of the way. Both the Transito (Traffic Police) and the Insurance Investigator must make accident reports before the vehicles are moved. Although sometimes slow to respond after notification, these officials will come to the accident scene.

Medical Facilities:

Medical care in San Jose is adequate, but may be more limited in areas outside of San Jose. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services, and U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. A list of local doctors and medical facilities can be found at the website of the U.S. Embassy in San Jose, at http://usembassy.or.cr. An ambulance may be summoned by calling 911. The best equipped ambulances are called "unaided avanzada."

Medical Insurance:

The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as medical evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas, including emergency services such as medical evacuation.

When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service, and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties. When consulting with an insurer prior to a trip, ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider or whether the traveler is reimbursed later for expenses incurred. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page.

Other Health Information:

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. Incidents of dengue fever and malaria are rising in Costa Rica. For information about this and about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization's website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions:

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Costa Rica is provided for general reference only, and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Costa Rica has one of the highest vehicle accident rates in the world. Even the most experienced drivers are challenged by the disregard for traffic laws and driving safety. Traffic laws and speed limits are often ignored; turns across one or two lanes of traffic are common, and pedestrians are not given the right of way. Although improving, roads are often in poor condition, and large potholes with the potential to cause significant damage to vehicles are common. Pedestrians, cyclists, and farm animals may use the main roads. Traffic signs, even on major highways, are often inadequate. All of the above, in addition to poor visibility because of heavy fog or rain, makes driving at night especially treacherous. In the rainy season, landslides are common, especially on the highway between San Jose and the Caribbean city of Limon. All types of motor vehicles are appropriate for the main highways and principal roads in the major cities. However, some roads to beaches and other rural locations are not paved, and some out-of-the-way destinations are accessible only with high clearance, rugged suspension four-wheel drive vehicles. Travelers are advised to call ahead to their hotels to ask about the current status of access roads.

Travelers should avoid responding in kind to provocative driving behavior or road-rage. In case of an accident, travelers are advised to remain in their car until police arrive. Travelers are further advised to keep all doors locked and to drive to a well-populated area before stopping to change a flat tire.

Costa Rican law requires that drivers and passengers wear seatbelts in all cars, including taxis, and police are authorized to issue tickets. Traffic enforcement in Costa Rica is the responsibility of the Transit Police ("Transitos"), who are distinguished by a light blue uniform shirt and dark blue trousers. They use light blue cars or motorcycles equipped with blue lights. They often wave vehicles to the side of the road for inspection. Drivers are commonly asked to produce a driver's license, vehicle registration and insurance information. Third-party coverage is mandatory in Costa Rica. Infractions will result in the issuance of a summons. Fines are not supposed to be collected on the spot, although reports of officers attempting to collect money are common. Persons involved in vehicular accidents are advised not to move their vehicle until instructed to do so by a Transit Officer, who will respond to the scene together with a representative of the National Insurance Company (known by its local acronym, INS.) Accidents may be reported by dialing 911.

For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/safety/safety_1179.html.

Aviation Safety Oversight:

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Costa Rica's civil aviation authority as Category 1 -in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Costa Rica's air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet website at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/index.cfm.

Since 2000, several American citizens have died in domestic air accidents. Local investigations have judged pilot error to be the cause in the majority of the accidents. Private air taxi services have been involved in a disproportionate number of crashes. The Government of Costa Rica's civil aviation authority has responded by dedicating additional resources to the oversight of the pilots, procedures, and aircraft of air taxi operators.

Customs Regulations:

Costa Rica customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Costa Rica of items such as cars, household effects, and merchandise. These regulations can be quite complicated and include the application of local tax laws. In addition, Costa Rican customs officials often require documentation that has been certified by the Costa Rican Embassy/Consulate in the country of origin. This is especially true for automobiles that are to be imported. The Government of Costa Rica has instituted strict emissions requirements for these cars and will not release them without an emissions statement from the country of origin. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Costa Rica in Washington or one of Costa Rica's Consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements before shipping any items. Their web-site is located at http://www.costarica-embassy.org.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. A current list of those countries with serious problems in this regard can be found at http://www.ustr.gov/Document_Library/Reports_Publications/2005/2005_Special_301/Section_Index.html.

Criminal Penalties:

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States, and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Costa Rican law, even unknowingly, may be arrested, imprisoned, fined and/or expelled.

Soliciting the services of a minor for sexual purposes is illegal in Costa Rica, and is punishable by imprisonment. The Costa Rican government has established an aggressive program to discourage sexual tourism and to punish severely those who engage in sexual activity with minors. Several U.S. citizens are serving long sentences in Costa Rica following conviction of crimes related to sexual activity with minors. These acts are also illegal under U.S. law, even if the act takes place abroad.

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.

Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.

Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Costa Rica are strict, and convicted offenders can expect lengthy jail sentences and fines. In addition to the criminal penalties they may face, tourists who purchase or sell illegal drugs or use the services of prostitutes greatly increase their risk of personal harm. Several Americans have died in Costa Rica in recent years in incidents related to drug use or patronage of prostitutes.

Under Costa Rican law, suspects in criminal cases may be held in jail until the investigation is completed and the prosecutor is ready to proceed to trial. This pretrial detention can last two years, and in some cases, longer.

Borders:

There have been disagreements regarding navigational rights in the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border area. Nicaragua and Costa Rica signed a three-year agreement in September of 2002 to defer presenting these issues before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for resolution. Meanwhile, the governments of Nicaragua and Costa Rica have agreed to work towards an amicable solution and to jointly fund community development projects in the border area.

Land Ownership, Expropriations, Squatters, Shoreline Property:

U.S. citizens are urged to use caution when making real estate purchases, and should consult reputable legal counsel and investigate thoroughly all aspects before entering into a contract.

Irregular Land Registrations:

Due to irregular enforcement of property laws, investors should exercise extreme caution before investing in real estate. There is a long history of investment and real estate scams and frauds perpetrated against U.S. citizens and other international visitors. There have been numerous instances of duly registered properties reverting to previously unknown owners who have shown they possess clear title and parallel registration.

Expropriations:

A few cases remain in which U.S. citizens have yet to be compensated for land expropriated by the government in the 1970s or 1980s. Unexecuted expropriation claims cloud title in other cases. However, changes to Costa Rican law in 1995 place more restrictions on the government's ability to expropriate land and require compensation prior to expropriation. The new law also provides for arbitration in the event of a dispute.

Squatters:

Organized squatter groups have on occasion invaded properties in various parts of the country. These squatter groups, often supported by politically active persons and non-governmental organizations, take advantage of legal provisions that allow people without land to gain title to unused agricultural property. This phenomenon is particularly common in rural areas, where local courts show considerable sympathy for the squatters. Victims of squatters have reported threats of violence, harassment, or actual violence.

Restrictions on Shoreline Property:

The Maritime Terrestrial Zone Law governs the use and ownership of most land up to 200 meters from the waterfront (mean high tide level) on both coasts of Costa Rica, including estuaries and river mouths. The first 50 meters from the waterfront is public land and normally may not be developed. The next 150 meters can be privately developed and occupied under five-to-twenty year concessions from the local municipality, provided the land has been zoned for the intended use. Strict residency requirements apply to foreigners who seek concessions.

Investments and Loans:

Persons planning to make investments in Costa Rica are advised to exercise the same caution they would before making investments in the U.S., including consulting their investment advisor and tax accountant. Several U.S. citizens have lost appreciable amounts of money in local investment or lending schemes that "sounded too good to be true." Some of these are believed to have been "Ponzi" schemes with few or no assets behind the "investment" or "loan." Persons offered an investment opportunity in Costa Rica promising interest above that generally available may wish to check with the Costa Rican government's Super-intendencia General de Valores, which lists investment opportunities that are legally registered and authorized to offer investments. That office can be contacted at (506) 243-4700 or http://www.sugeval.fi.cr

Lottery and Sweepstake Fraud Schemes:

The Embassy has received several complaints from U.S. citizens in the United States who said they were victims of sweepstake or lottery fraud originating in Costa Rica. In these schemes, the victims are contacted by criminals (who may even claim to be employees of the U.S. Embassy) advising them that they have won a lottery or sweepstake, but that they must provide personal funds to secure the winnings or to pay local taxes or administrative costs.

Disaster Preparedness:

Costa Rica is located in an earthquake, hurricane and volcanic zone. Costa Rica is also a country of microclimates and travelers to Costa Rica should check the projected rainfall amounts for the area in Costa Rica they intend to visit. Serious flooding occurs annually on the Caribbean side near the port city of Limon, but flooding could occur in other parts of Costa Rica as well, depending on the time of year and projected rainfall in that region. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.

Children's Issues:

For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to the Department of State's Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/family/family_1732.html or telephone Overseas Citizens Services at 1-888-407-4747. This number is available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Registration/Embassy Location:

The Department of State invites American citizens to register their travel on the Internet-Based Registration System (IBRS) on line at: https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/or http://travel.state.gov. IBRS provides a convenient means for American citizens traveling or residing overseas to provide important contact data, useful in the event of emergencies, and to instantly receive up-to-the-minute travel and safety information for the regions or countries on their travel itineraries, on the website or through optional email lists. Even American citizens who have registered previously but did not do it using the IBRS online program may now wish to register online to update their records. U.S. citizens may also register in person at the Embassy, which is located in Pavas, San Jose, and may be reached at (506) 519-2000; the extension for the Consular Section is 2453. The Embassy is open Monday through Friday, and is closed on Costa Rican and U.S. holidays. For emergencies arising outside normal business hours, U.S. citizens may call (506) 220-3127 and ask for the duty officer.

International Adoption

July 2005

The information below has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family

Disclaimer:

The information in this flyer relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is based on public sources and our current understanding. Questions involving foreign and U.S. immigration laws and legal interpretation should be addressed respectively to qualified foreign or U.S. legal counsel.

Please Note:

Costa Rica's adoption procedures are in flux at the moment, due to a moratorium on some international adoptions processed through the child welfare office, and the existence of a private channel to international adoption that may soon be abolished: The Costa Rican National Council on Adoptions has instituted a moratorium on any adoptions through its offices to countries that have not fully implemented the Hague Adoption Convention. At this time, the United States has not fully implemented the Convention, and this moratorium is therefore in effect for the United States, prohibiting the adoption through government offices of Costa Rican children by U.S. citizens who do not reside in Costa Rica. (U.S. citizens who have legal residence in Costa Rica, as well as persons who have both U.S. and Costa Rican citizenship, are still permitted to adopt Costa Rican children through government offices.) Those adoption cases that were already in the Costa Rican governmental adjudication process at the time the moratorium took effect have been permitted to proceed, but no new cases are being accepted.

For the duration of this moratorium, the following information about adoption of Costa Rican children through Costa Rican government offices pertains to U.S. citizens who have legal residence in Costa Rica, or who hold both U.S. and Costa Rican citizenship.

Throughout this document, the acronym USCIS refers to the Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the acronym PANI refers to the Costa Rican child welfare authority, the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia.

Patterns of Immigration of Adopted Orphans to the U.S.:

Recent U.S. immigrant visa statistics reflect the following pattern for visa issuance to orphans

Fiscal Year: Number of Immigrant Visas Issued
FY 2004: 10
FY 2003: 3
FY 2002: 4
FY 2001: 9
FY 2000: 17

Adoption Authority in Costa Rica:

The Patronato Nacional de la Infancia (PANI), the Costa Rican child welfare authority, oversees adoptions of abandoned orphans who are in public institutions, and plays a consultative role in private adoptions, as well. PANI may be contacted as follows:

Patronato Nacional de La Infancia
P.O. Box 5000
San Jose, Costa Rica
phone: (506) 233-0005 or
(506) 222-0443
fax: (506) 233-2414
e-mail: [email protected]

PANI contacts a prospective adoptive family when they identify a child for adoption, even calling collect if authorized by the family. Pictures and related information about the child will be sent by airmail. Note that there is a backlog in pending cases.

Eligibility Requirements for Adoptive Parents:

Costa Rican law permits adoption by married and single persons. A foreign couple must have been married for at least five years in order to be able to adopt a child from Costa Rica. Prospective adoptive parents must be at least 25 and under 60 years of age.

Residential Requirements:

Costa Rican law requires that, at the initial stage of the adoption process, both prospective adoptive parents must be in Costa Rica to sign the official consent documents before the Costa Rican court. In the case of adoption by a single parent, that parent must be present to sign the documents. At least 15 days should be allowed for this initial trip. At the end of the process, one of the adoptive parents, or the sole parent if it is a single parent adoption, must be in Costa Rica to finish the paperwork for the adoption, obtain a travel document for the child, and complete immigration procedures at the U.S. Embassy. Since the length of time for the entire adoption process may vary (it can take as long as four months to a year), many prospective adoptive parents make two trips to Costa Rica; others prefer to remain in Costa Rica for the entire process.

While in Costa Rica, the adopting parents need to take the following steps to satisfy adoption requirements:

  • Meet the child;
  • Give formal consent for the adoption at the court;
  • Obtain a decree of abandonment;
  • Obtain a certified copy of the final adoption decree from the court;
  • Register the adoption at the local Civil Registry;
  • Obtain a birth certificate from the Civil Registry with the new name of the child;
  • Obtain PANI authorization for the child to leave the country;
  • Obtain a passport for the child.

Time Frame:

An adoption in Costa Rica generally takes from four to twelve months from the time a decree of abandonment has been issued or an official request for adoption of a specific child is placed before the court.

Adoption Agencies and Attorneys:

At the current time, adoptions in Costa Rica can be arranged through the government agency, PANI, or through private channels. PANI works with international adoption agencies accredited in Costa Rica to place abandoned children. In private adoptions, where children are released by their parents directly to a private attorney, PANI is consulted and will give an opinion on the adoption, but the judge is not bound to act in accordance with that opinion. There have been allegations of fraud in connection with private adoptions, and the Costa Rican National Council on Adoptions strongly discourages them.

Locating and adopting children abroad can be a frustrating and time-consuming experience. The U.S. Embassy has found that parents who employ the services of an adoption agency accredited in Costa Rica, or who work directly with PANI, have had an advantage in the smooth processing of adoption applications.

Adoption Fees in Costa Rica:

Official fees for an adoption are set at a minimum of $250.00, which represents the total court costs when an adoption is processed through PANI. Payments to parents or guardians are illegal under Costa Rican law and could be subject to investigation and possible prosecution. The fees generally charged in private adoptions can be as high as $15,000. It is useful for American adoptive parents to notify the Embassy and the Department of State of exorbitant fees for adoptions.

Adoption Procedures:

Costa Rican adoption law provides for two types of adoptions: those arranged through PANI, and private adoptions.

In foreign adoptions overseen by PANI, current policy prohibits adoption of children under four years of age, except in cases in which the child is part of a family group, or is difficult to place.

In private adoptions, there is no limit on the age of the children. A child is released to a private attorney, who then arranges the adoption. The court reviews the qualifications of the adoptive parents, with PANI playing a consultative role. Virtually all complaints and allegations of adoption fraud in Costa Rica focus on private adoptions.

Foreigners must complete the adoption process in Costa Rica and the adoption must be formally registered in the civil registry before permission is given for the child to leave the country. Because of Costa Rican concerns about child smuggling and the need for follow-up in the adoption process, permission is rarely granted for a child to leave Costa Rica in the custody of an prospective adoptive parent for the purpose of being finally adopted in another country.

Adopted children do not need to be orphans under Costa Rican law. They must, however, be abandoned or irrevocably surrendered for adoption. Abandoned children may be living in a government facility, be lodged in a private orphanage or foster home or be placed in the custody of a relative or friend. Children may also remain in the custody of a biological parent prior to formal relinquishment of custody before a judge. (Important: see requirements of U.S. immigration law regarding the definition of an orphan for U.S. visa purposes; a child who does not meet the U.S. legal definition will not be permitted to immigrate to the U.S. even if Costa Rica permits the adoption to take place, and even if the adoptive parents are U.S. citizens).

Documents Required for Adoption in Costa Rica:

The following documentation is normally required.

  • Certified and authenticated copies of the adoptive parent(s)' birth certificate(s);
  • Certified and authenticated copy of the adoptive parent(s)' marriage certificate (if applicable) and proof of termination of any previous marriages (certified copy of spouse's death certificate or divorce decree);
  • Medical certificate(s) for adoptive parent(s) notarized by physician and authenticated;
  • A certificate of good conduct/no criminal record for each adoptive parent from a local police department notarized or bearing police department seal and authenticated. An FBI report is acceptable in lieu of local police record. This is separate from the FBI check conducted by the USCIS as part of the petition process;
  • Verification of employment and salary, notarized and authenticated;
  • Two letters of reference notarized and authenticated;
  • A certified and authenticated copy of property trusts deeds, if applicable;
  • A home study prepared by an authorized and licensed social agency, certified and authenticated;
  • Bank statements; notarized/certified and authenticated;
  • Family letter of intent to adopt, describing child adoptive parent(s) is/are willing to adopt, notarized and authenticated;

Note:

additional documentation and procedures may be required.

Authenticating U.S. Documents to be Used Abroad:

Costa Rica is not a party to the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement for Legalization of Foreign Public Documents, so the Legalization Convention "apostille" certificate should not be used for documents to be presented in Costa Rica. Instead, the "chain authentication method" will be used to authenticate documents for Costa Rica. Visit the State Department website at travel.state.gov for additional information about authentication procedures.

Costa Rican Embassy and Consulates in the United States:

The Costa Rican Embassy in the United States is located at 2114 S Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (telephone (202) 234-2945/46, fax (202) 265-4795). Costa Rican consulates are located in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Puerto Rico, San Antonio, and San Francisco. The Embassy of Costa Rica also maintains a web site at http://www.costarica-embassy.org/.

U.S. Immigration Requirements:

Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at travel.state.gov/family

Applying for a Visa for Your Child at the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica:

It is advisable to contact the U.S. Embassy at least three working days in advance of the adoption in order to check whether the documents are in order and to set an appointment to file the immigration petition (I-600) application and schedule the immigrant visa interview. Since the documentation required is slightly different from that required for the I-600A, adoptive parents should contact the Embassy early in the adoption process to request a packet of instructions listing the documents necessary for immigrant visa issuance. Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at travel.state.gov/family

U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica:

Pavas Road in the Rohrmoser section of San Jose. The telephone number of the Consular section is (506) 519-2000; ask for extension 2466. The immigrant visa unit is open for walk-in information and assistance between the hours of 12:00 to 13:30 p.m. at window "D" any Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday, or you may telephone directly Monday through Friday from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. to inquire about your visa petition and adoption case.

Additional Information:

Specific questions about adoption in Costa Rica may be addressed to the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica. General questions regarding international adoption may be addressed to the Office of Children's Issues, U.S. Department of State, CA/OCS/CI, SA-29, 4 th Floor, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818, toll-free Tel: 1-888-404-4747.

views updated

Costa Rica

Basic Data

Official Country Name: Republic of Costa Rica
Region (Map name): North & Central America
Population: 3,773,057
Language(s): Spanish (official), English spoken around Puerto Limon
Literacy rate: 94.8%
Area: 51,100 sq km
GDP: 15,851 (US$ millions)
Number of Daily Newspapers: 6
Total Circulation: 275,000
Circulation per 1,000: 99
Number of Nondaily Newspapers: 27
Total Circulation: 149,000
Circulation per 1,000: 54
Total Newspaper Ad Receipts: 18,408 (Colones millions)
As % of All Ad Expenditures: 36.00
Number of Television Stations: 6
Number of Television Sets: 525,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 139.1
Number of Cable Subscribers: 72,580
Cable Subscribers per 1,000: 19.1
Number of Radio Stations: 112
Number of Radio Receivers: 980,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 259.7
Number of Individuals with Computers: 600,000
Computers per 1,000: 159.0
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 250,000
Internet Access per 1,000: 66.3

Background & General Characteristics

Costa Rica is a nation of 3.7 million people that boasts a long history of democracy, no army, and relatively peaceful political development, which is in stark contrast with the war-torn legacies of most of its Central American neighbors. Long thought a stellar democracy wherein the press basked in unlimited freedom, the murder of a popular radio journalist in 2001 revealed a darker side to the country that has often been referred to as the Switzerland of Central America.

Costa Rica covers 51,000 square kilometers and is divided into seven provinces. The nation's capital, San José, is home to one-third of all Costa Ricans. The vast majority, 97 percent, of Costa Ricans are of European or mestizo (mixed European and Native American) descent, although a growing number of immigrants from neighboring Nicaragua are slowly beginning to transform the nation's homogenous demographics. Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion but evangelical Protestantism is growing at a rapid pace. In San José, the number of evangelicals doubled in the 1980s and it is estimated that by 2010, 20 percent of the population will be Protestant.

In July 2001 the murder of the popular radio journalist, Parmenio Medina, shocked the nation. Medina was murdered the night he was to receive an award from a Costa Rican nonprofit organization for defending freedom of expression. He was shot three times at close range and died on the way to the hospital. Medina, Colombian by birth, was well known for his 28-year-old radio program, La Patada (A Kick in the Pants) that often denounced official corruption. Medina's muckraking approach to journalism left him with many potential enemies. He had recently aired accusations about alleged fiscal improprieties at a local Catholic radio station, Radio María. His reporting led to the station's closure and an investigation into the actions of its former director. Some believed that Medina could have been killed for investigating money-laundering activities by a large drug-smuggling cartel. A year after his murder no one has yet been brought to trial although national TV and newspapers have reported that four members of a criminal gang are suspected of having been paid to assassinate Medina.

A survey taken by the nation's leading newspaper, La Nación a month before Medina's murder, found that 55 percent of the 97 journalists polled said they had received some kind of threat during their careers. Though some threats were physical, most journalists were threatened with defamation suits. Some journalists have said that they are reluctant to investigate important cases, such as Medina's murder, because Costa Rica has a harsh penal code that could lead to imprisonment or heavy fines.

These recent events are a strict departure from the typical belief that Costa Rica is an oasis of peace and stability in the historically war-torn and impoverished region of Central America. Latin America's longest-standing democracy, Costa Rica is more known for its eco-tourism trips, as a U.S. retirement community, and the Nobel Peace Prize-winning former president, Oscar Arias, than for political violence. The nation has had little violence despite its proximity to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, all countries that suffered from devastating civil wars in the 1980s. Costa Rica has one of the highest literacy rates in the region with 95 percent of the adult population considered to be literate. Indeed, Costa Rica has a historical precedent for supporting education, beginning universal free public education in 1879. It has the region's highest standard of living, and a life expectancy comparable to that of the United States. In general, an educated public with higher per capita average than the region's norm at US$3,960 has enabled the rapid development and expansion of all forms of media.

Although Columbus stopped over briefly on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast in 1502, for most of the colonial era, Costa Rica remained a forgotten backwater since it had little that the Spanish colonialists were looking for, namely, a significant labor supply and/or mineral wealth. An isolated and neglected province of the kingdom of Guatemala, Costa Rica did not have much in the way of publishing. Guatemala was the center of publishing for two hundred years having had its first press installed there in 1641.

In 1824 an elected congress chose Juan Mora Fernandez as the first chief of state. The first newspaper appeared shortly after his re-election in 1829 although a local citizen had to subsidize the purchase of an English printing press. The first regular weekly newspaper, Noticioso Universal, was issued on January 4, 1833. Noticioso Universal closed after two years because the early development of the press in Costa Rica had three strikes against it: there was not a sufficient literate and economically viable audience to sustain a local newspaper; the weekly in existence had to compete with the more established newspapers arriving from Guatemala and South America; and finally, there was little available and affordable paper on which to print the news. Between 1833 and 1860, ten different newspapers existed in Costa Rica, none of them lasting for more than two years. The government began operating its own press in 1837, primarily printing decrees, orders, and laws.

It was not until the introduction of coffee in 1808 that Costa Rica began to attract a significant population. Coffee brought wealth, a class structure, and linked the nation to the world economic system. The coffee barons, whose growing prosperity led to rivalries between the wealthiest family factions, vied with each other for political dominance. In 1849, members of the coffee industry elite conspired to overthrow the country's first president, José María Castro, who had established a newspaper and a university. The President believed that ignorance was the root of all evil and that freedom of the press was a sacred right. Unfortunately, Castro's rule was interrupted by William Walker, the U.S. citizen who believed in the manifest destiny of the United States to rule other peoples. Walker already controlled Nicaragua in 1855 and he invaded Costa Rica the following year. His unintended role in Costa Rican history was to help unite its people, who roundly ousted him the same year.

During the 1880s the national leadership was under the helm of the liberal elite who stressed the values of the enlightenment, although charismatic leaders often held sway over political ideologies and programs. The free press, however, increasingly guided public opinion, and Costa Ricans became accustomed to hearing critical discussions of ideas as well as the ideas of political candidates. Yet political rivalries often resulted in moments where the press was repressed. For example, in 1889 the new president Jose Joaquin Rodriguez, caught between the country's liberal and conservative factions, suspended civil liberties, including the closure of opposition papers. He dissolved congress in 1892 and imprisoned a number of journalists. Rafael Iglesias, Rodriguez's successor, did much to beautify the capital, but he also declared that the violently critical newspapers had turned his people against him and he clamped down on the press, even going so far as to flog some of his detractors publicly. During the first century of the country's independence, the freedom and the power of the press was seen as a double-edged sword by many of the nation's leaders. In this context, in 1902 one of the nation's longest lasting press laws was established which protected the "honor" of individuals from being attacked in the press.

The intertwined role of the media and politics is a strong theme in recent Costa Rican history. For example, a 1942 speech broadcast on radio by future president, José Figueres, against the communist-affiliated president, Rafael Calderón, proved to be pivotal to the latter's political demise. The press was generally critical of Calderón's successor, Teodoro Picado, and frequently charged his government with tyranny and oppression. The press remained free to the point that newspapers even printed personal attacks against the president with little repercussions. The publisher of the daily newspaper Diario de Costa Rica, Otilio Ulate, was politically prominent and served as president in the 1950s. Ever since the presidencies of Figueres and Ulate, the position has rotated between the country's two primary parties: the PLN (National Liberation Party) and the PUSC (Social Christian Unity Party).

Costa Rica has six daily newspapers nationwide. The total circulation is 88 papers per one thousand inhabitants. The largest newspaper, La Nación, was started in 1946 and represented the commercial interests of the business elite. La Nación was close to the Nicaraguan Contras and served as a voice for their cause during the U.S.-backed Contra-Sandinista war of the 1980s. La Nación distributed a weekly supplement called Nicaragua Hoy, directed from Miami, Florida, by Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, son of the murdered editor of the Nicaraguan daily, La Prensa.La Nación also publishes a number of magazines including Perfil, Rumbo, and Ancora. The paper had a circulation of 110,000 in 1997.

The nation's two other dailies, La Prensa Libre and La República share the conservative tendencies of La Nación. Both newspapers were originally seen as alternatives to the nation's premiere daily, but both have moved to the right since their founding. The morning paper, La República was founded in the 1950s and was sympathetic to President Figueres, and for years represented a true counterpart to the ideological stance of La Nación. In the mid-1990s it had a circulation of 55,000 and is known for being only slightly less conservative than La Nación.La Prensa Libre is an afternoon paper with a circulation of about 45,000. It was founded in the 1960s. One of the only newspapers to originate outside of San José is El Sol de Osa, a general interest newspaper published in Puerto Jimenez.

Some smaller papers offer a more liberal view but their influence is limited by their relatively small circulation. Semanario Universidad, is the official paper of the University of Costa Rica and it has gained an international reputation for its coverage of politics and the arts. It is characterized by a leftist editorial perspective. In late 1988 the newsweekly Esta Semana appeared. All of these publications originate in San José, Costa Rica's capital. A number of supplements are published on a weekly basis. These include Sunday's Revista Dominical, an events showcase with interviews of local personalities. An educational supplement Zurqui appears on Wednesdays and targets a younger audience; on Thursdays two other supplements appear. En forma (In Shape) reports on health and wellness issues; and Tiempo libre (Free Time) lists the calendar of social events in the capital. Other daily newspapers include El Heraldo and Extra.

The nation's primary English language newspaper, the Tico Times, was founded by Elisabeth Dyer in 1956. According to the paper's first editorial, it was "begun in order that young people interested in journalism could receive practical, on the job training, and in so doing to provide the English speaking public of Costa Rica with a newspaper of special interest to the American and British colonies and Costa Ricans who know, or are learning, English." For its first four years, the Times was a volunteer effort, produced by members of the English-speaking community, including high school students. The paper's circulation has grown to 14,500 and is printed in Costa Rica and California and distributed free. The paper remains a training ground for journalists and for those who want work experience in Latin America, and many of its former volunteers have gone on to influential media positions in the United States and Europe.

By 1980, the Times was respected internationally for its investigative journalism and its coverage of Central America, especially of the Nicaraguan revolution and the Iran-Contra affair. The Times' reporter Linda Frazier was among those killed in the May 1984 bombing of the Nicaraguan contra leader Edén Pastora's press conference on the Nicaraguan border and the paper campaigned vigorously to expose the truth behind the bombing. With civil unrest diminishing in Central America the paper's special interests have centered on tourism and environmental concerns, at times an uneasy balance, as much of the paper's advertising revenue is from real estate developers.

Costa Rica's relative prosperity in Latin America provides a large and literate audience to sustain a number of magazines, whose topics range from glossy tourism monthlies, to evangelical Christian publications, to conservation issues. Eco-tourism publications have acquired a growing number of international subscribers. Gente 10, a magazine that targets a gay and lesbian audience, was founded in 1995. Scholarly journals are also published, including Káñnina (past tense of "to dawn" in the indigenous Bribrí language) published by the University of Costa Rica, which showcases scholarship in fine arts, the humanities, and the social sciences.

San José has long dominated Costa Rican society and the vast majority of the nation's publications originate there. Radio, however, is more important than daily newspapers outside of the nation's capital as the primary way in which people receive information. All of the newspapers follow the tabloid-sized format.

Economic Framework

Costa Rica's economy is based primarily on agriculture, light industry, and tourism. Traditionally considered to the strongest economy in Central America, Costa Rica's gross domestic product in 2001 grew only 0.3 percent and inflation stood at around 11 percent, triggered by low world coffee prices. The last 20 years have seen Costa Rica move away from its social welfare past and into the free market reforms of present-day Latin America. The nation has also faced economic crises and increasing distance between the social classes. In the mid-1980s, for example, the top 10 percent of society received 37 percent of the wealth while the bottom 10 percent had 1.5 percent. Costa Rica became the first underdeveloped country to suspend debt payments in 1981. The worst of the crisis was over by 2002, but the nation continued its "structural adjustments." From 1982 to 1990 the U.S. Agency for International Development gave over 1.3 billion U.S. dollars to Costa Rica. The foreign aid and economic recovery came with the imposition of harsh austerity measures, a restructuring of financial priorities, and a revamped development model.

The last four presidents, despite coming from two different political parties, have followed the same path of economic liberalism, stressing free trade, export promotion, and less money for the public sector. Hurricanes have also damaged the economy in recent years beginning with César in July 1996 that caused several dozen deaths and cut off much of southern Costa Rica from the rest of the country. The Inter-American Highway was closed for about two months and the overall damage was estimated at about US$100 million. In November of 1998 Hurricane Mitch caused substantial damage to Costa Rica, although not as much as in the northern-most Central American countries, Nicaragua and Honduras. That same year, the Social Christian Unity Party's Miguel Angel Rodríguez won the presidency. A conservative businessman who made the economy his priority, he went on to privatize state companies and encourage foreign investments in an effort to create jobs. By the time of the February 2002 elections, Costa Ricans were displeased with the lack of government transparency and the questionable deals between political figures. These misgivings resulted in a "no win" election, and voters returned in April 2002, choosing Abel Pacheco, also of the PUSC.

The majority of the media in Costa Rica is privately owned and there are a few media conglomerates that own the majority of the media in the entire nation. La Nación stockholders also hold interests in the daily paper, La República, as well as the popular radio stations, Radio Monumental and Radio Mil. The owners of the major media tend toward conservative politics and their power as media owners allows the news to lean to the conservative side of issues.

In the 1980s there was a good deal of concern that the ownership of the media in Costa Rica might have a tendency to deliver politically-biased news accounts. The discussion was brought to the forefront as the nearby war between the U.S.-backed Contras and the Marxist-inspired Sandinistas escalated in Nicaragua. Four of the five privately owned major TV stations broadcast a barrage of sensationalized news reports warning of the sandino-comunista threat. Analysis of news coverage in the 1980s found that national stations rarely ever interviewed Nicaraguan officials yet they gave considerable coverage to the Reagan administration's viewpoint. Former Nicaraguan contra leader Edgar Chamorro also testified in the World Court that CIA money was used to bribe journalists and broadcasters in both Costa Rica and Honduras.

Many journalists in Costa Rica argue that the media owners and the media in general are considerably to the right of the general population, but that alternative media has not been able to develop because of the conglomerate nature of the media. One journalist who tried to start up an alternative newspaper, commented that his efforts were hampered since media and business owners were "one and the same."

Press Laws

While the constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the government largely respects these rights, a number of outmoded press laws have caused controversy as well as internal and international pressure for reform. In 1999, President Miguel Angel Rodríguez presented a bill to congress that attempted to make improvements in press legislation. Specifically, it proposed the abolishment of Article 7 of the old Press Law from 1902 which makes publishers liable for offences by third persons in their news outlets. It would also increase to 15 days the time allowed to respond to a lawsuit and include a provision that exempts from responsibility those who have only provided the material means for publication or sale of slanderous, libelous or defamatory reports. The proposed changes also pushed for removing the burden of proof from the journalists to demonstrate that their published information is true.

In 2001 the murder of Parmenio Medina re-focused attention on the need to revamp the nation's antiquated press laws. But this was not the only event to spur legislative change since a few months before his murder, the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) analyzed the Costa Rican constitution in light of the Chapultepec Declaration of 1994 (also known as the Declaration of Free Speech for the Western Hemisphere) and found that four of the ten points recommended for guaranteeing freedom of the press were absent in Costa Rica. In effect, IAPA found that there was insufficient legal support for journalists to protect their sources, harsh repercussions for journalists who criticized public officials, restrictions on the free flow of information and censorship.

The most controversial aspect of Costa Rican legislation has been the long-standing desacato or "insult" law which protects public figures from critical journalists. The Legislative Assembly voted on March 26, 2002 to eliminate Article 309 of the Criminal Code which made it a crime to "insult" the dignity of the president and other public officials. This aligns the code with the "actual malice" standard, first articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1964. This standard requires plaintiffs to prove not only that published information about them is false, but also that the journalists knew or should have known it was false at the time of publication. Until the change in this law, journalists faced potential jail sentences of anywhere from a month to two years in prison, or as much as three years in prison if the offended party is a higher-ranking official such as the President.

The legislation also contains a neutral reporting standard, which says that journalists cannot be sued for accurately reproducing information from an explicitly mentioned source. For years, the international and local press communities and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had urged elimination of "insult" laws. The elimination of the law suggests greater press freedom will follow since journalists are no longer threatened with jail time for reporting on political or powerful personages in a less than flattering manner.

The World Free Press Committee (WFPC) is still pushing for the following changes in the Costa Rican legal code:

  • Article 149, which establishes the "evidence of truth" (prueba de la verdad ) as a necessary standard for journalists to prove. The WFPC recommends that the article should be revised to bring it into conformity with press freedom principles.
  • Article 151, which as it currently stands establishes some "exclusions" of responsibilities to people who have been accused. Reform would increase the number of such exclusions.
  • Article 152, which as it stands is most restrictive, penalizes the "reproduction of offenses." The WFPC suggest introducing instead the principle of "faithful reproduction," which is recognized by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Although the desacato law had been invoked infrequently, journalists say its existence had a chilling effect on news reporting. In 2001 another San José criminal court ordered Rogelio Benavides, editor of La Nación's TV supplement Teleguía, to pay a fine equivalent to 20 days' wages or face a jail sentence. Enrique González Jiménez, a beauty pageant promoter, sued Benavides based on a review of the pageant that appeared in a 1999 issue of Teleguía (TV Guide). While article 151 of the Penal Code holds that press reviews cannot be characterized as "offenses against honor" the court nonetheless convicted Benavides of libel and ordered that its ruling be published in Teleguía.

While welcoming repeal of the desacato law, many Costa Rican journalists say it is a minor obstacle to press freedom in Costa Rica. There is concern that repeal will lead lawmakers to claim that enough was done toward reform, and that officials will fail to act on the nation's far more troublesome and complex libel, slander, and defamation laws. Unlike those in most other democracies, Costa Rica's defamation laws are criminal, rather than civil statutes. This means that journalists can receive prison sentences and heavy monetary fines for convictions.

While not common, these statutes have been employed far more often than journalists would like. Up until the repeal of the desacato law, news media in Costa Rica had more than a dozen criminal defamation actions pending, with penalties totaling thousands of dollars. In June 2001, for example, the Costa Rican Supreme Court upheld a libel verdict against three journalists from La Nación. The case stemmed from a 1997 article reporting that a former justice minister had been accused of appropriating state-owned weapons and an official car for his personal use. The politician was awarded damages of US$34,000. The decision also required that La Nación publish the first seven pages of the decision in their entirety. One of the arguments used to justify such a large fine was that the articles were available on the Internet, and therefore reached a larger audience for a longer period of time. The court also ordered La Nación to remove all links from its web site that could lead the reader to the contested articles. The judges ruled that the journalist had shown malicious intent by continuing to investigate the case despite testimony from two former Costa Rican presidents who vouched for the politician's integrity.

Other problematic legislation includes the "right of response" law passed by congress in 1996. This law provides persons criticized in the media with an opportunity to reply with equal attention and at equal length. While the print and electronic media continued to criticize public figures, the law has proven difficult for media managers to administer. On occasion, some media outlets delayed printing responses because submissions were not clearly identified as replies to previously published items.

Costa Rica's government has also tried to foster political tolerance and dialogue through laws like the one that requires broadcasters to accept political ads during campaign periods. During the highly charged political climate of the 1980s, Costa Rica managed to maintain its democratic political tradition during the presidential campaign. With a battle raging in bordering Nicaragua, Costa Rica's right-wing candidate Rafael Angel Calderón Fournier, a godson of former Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza García, was shown talking one-on-one with Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II in televised advertisements. His opponent, Oscar Arias Sánchez, brought in liberal American consultants, who used polling to identify what was worrying the large bloc of undecided voters and refocus the campaign appropriately. By promising jobs, housing, and peace, Arias was able to overcome Calderón's wide lead in early polls to win the presidency in February. The fact that Arias was allowed to advertise on television indicates that the Costa Rican media carry a wider range of views than those of less democratic countries. There have been times, however, when there have been unconfirmed allegations that the government withheld advertising from some publications in order to influence or limit reporting.

Censorship

While little outright censorship exists, reports that journalists and editors are forced to monitor what they write and publish have been increasingly frequent. Editors say they censor themselves and their reporters routinely, for fear of incurring penalties that could mean imprisonment, loss of their jobs, or corporate bankruptcy. A survey done by La Nación which asked journalists a number of questions about their profession showed that many of them practiced some sort of self-censorship. Limiting access to information can be seen as a subtle form of information control and a number of journalists complained that public officials were not forthcoming in this regard. For example, a majority of the journalists interviewed said that while they had direct access to public officials, there were many ways in which these sources avoided their attempts to interview them. Often, it was difficult for journalists to make it through the "screen" of intermediaries (press secretaries, secretaries, assistants, and others). If an interview was obtained journalists complained that public officials pled ignorance or claimed confidentiality agreements prohibited an answer.

State-Press Relations

As mentioned before, many of the laws governing the press in Costa Rica have been designed to protect the honor of public officials, complicating the relationship between the state and the press. The ability of the press to be critical of the state without repercussions is not secure. The strict libel laws, for example, resulted in the firing of two reporters who investigated fraudulent business deals related to PLN President-elect José María Figueres in 1993: one reporter from Channel 7 was reportedly dismissed from her job because of pressure from the PLN after she reported on private sector corruption; a reporter from La República said that he had left his editorial position because of alleged pressure from officials close to the President-elect. The reporter had been working on several articles that linked Figueres to alleged fraudulent mining deals.

In 1995 the Tico Times reported that the popular television program, "Diagnóstico" had been cancelled by the government-run National Radio and Television System (SINART). Critics of the decision to cancel the program, which aired weekly on Channel 13 and had been running for 10 years, alleged that it was one of the few shows where guests felt free to discuss a number of important issues in Costa Rica. The show's host, a politician named Alvaro Montero, referred to it as the most liberal program in the country and said that he had to struggle for years to keep it on the air. According to the Tico Times, the administration of President Rafael Angel Calderón Jr. first tried to shut down the program by terminating an airing in mid show. The Figueres administration SINART officials reportedly tried to end the program by cutting off its funding. Montero financed the show out of his own pocket for two years. The government claimed the show was cancelled out of a conflict of interest given that Montero was a potential candidate for president in the 2002 elections.

Attitude toward Foreign Media

The nation's democratic political structure, tourism industry, and large retirement community from the United States make it very receptive to foreign media. The international station, Radio For Peace International (RFPI), has studios and transmitters located in El Rodeo, Costa Rica, and with the revocation of the colegio law in 1995, there are no longer any restrictions on foreign journalists working in Costa Rica. The end of civil wars in Central America has also made the entire region safer for foreign journalists reporting there.

Until 1994 there were legal limits to the ownership of national media by foreigners. After the government revoked this law, it opened up the way for the Hollinger group, headquartered in Canada, to buy the newspaper La República. Foreign ownership, however, is subject to a number of bureaucratic constraints.

With the advent of cable, satellite dishes, and the Internet, foreign media entered Costa Rican society with substantial force over the last two decades of the twentieth century. Foreign-funded periodicals have left their imprint on Costa Rican media. Primarily sponsored by aide organizations, such publications have made an important contribution to the dissemination of information. The merging of local and foreign media is representative of many joint ventures here. For example, in 1994 an international council began funding a far-reaching demographic analysis of Costa Rican society and the resulting publication appears annually as Estado de la Nación (State of the Nation) and appears on the Internet. Costa Ricans watch Venezuelan and Mexican soap operas, soccer matches, and dubbed U.S. programs on commercial channels. Despite a law limiting imported programs to 75 percent of broadcast schedules, about 90 percent are imports. In addition, U.S. programs dominate the cable channel offerings in parts of the capital, San José.

News Agencies

There are a number of news services that operate in Costa Rica. These include Agence France Presse, Telenoticias, Rainforest Alliance, Diario La Nación, and the Tico Times. The Internet also provides rapid information access to news desks.

Broadcast Media

Radio is extremely popular in Costa Rica and is especially important for those Ticos who live outside of the capital city. In 2002 about 130 radio stations existed. Daily radio programming included talk shows and soap operas, political and social commentary, educational and religious programming, and sports coverage. Until Medina's murder, La Patada was one of the most popular radio programs in Costa Rica. It generally provided a light-hearted perspective on the news mixed with humor and political criticism. Another show, La Opinion, offers serious news commentary and is broadcast on Radio Reloj.

Evangelical Christian stations have blossomed since the 1980s. American missionaries were the first to broadcast the Protestant message by radio and television. The radio station Faro del Caribe, for example, has been broadcasting since the 1940s and includes programs targeted for the instruction and entertainment of children, mothers, and young people through Bible study, radio theater, advice, and music. Radio programming has also fulfilled other goals. In 1993 the government established the Costa Rican Institute of Radio Education in an effort to provide access to education to residents in rural areas. Programs such as "The Teacher in Your House" are broadcast from 12 noncommercial stations and complement correspondence courses in public schools. Lessons in English are also immensely popular.

Of the many radio stations in Costa Rica, Radio Reloj has the most listeners and it is also fairly conservative in nature. The news station Radio Monumental is also quite conservative and reflects the right-leaning opinions of its owners. Many radio stations carry Voice of America (VOA) and other U.S. Information Service programs including Radio Costa Rica which devotes about half its broadcast time to VOA programming. VOA's "Buenos Dias, America" feeds to 28 radio stations in Costa Rica. The most liberal station currently broadcasting is Radio America Latina which has proved responsive to the concerns of the popular movement.

Costa Rican television transmission began in the 1950s and today there are a dozen commercial stations and one government-run station. The most viewed stations are Channel 4 Multimedia, Channels 6 and 9 Repretel, Channel 7 Teletica, and Channel 2 Univisión. The Picado family owns the cable network, Cable Tica, and Channel 7. Angel Gonzalez, who is based in Florida, partially backs Channels 4 and 9. The other channels are privately owned with the exception of the national television network which is publicly owned and SINART (Channel 13), a government-controlled cultural channel.

Over 90 percent of Costa Rican households have at least one television set. Cablecolor, the local cable service, broadcasts the U.S. government's daily program as well as CNN's 24-hour news service. Channel 7 leads the others in terms of viewers, and is trying to assert full control of the medium through the professionalization of its "Telenoticias" news program. Channel 7, formerly owned by ABC, is of the same ideological stripe as the major print media. Channel 4 has gained in popularity over the last few years, perhaps due to offering a left-leaning political perspective, and hence, a contrast to the majority of Costa Rican media. A public station founded by the PLN during a previous period in power, Channel 13 offers a more liberal take on current events and offers a wide array of cultural programming. Costa Rican television also broadcasts programs from the rest of Latin America.

There has been little interference with the operation of television stations, with some exceptions. A Costa Rican court decision made in 2001 required a privately owned station to invite all 13 presidential candidates to appear, rather than just the frontrunners. The Inter-American Press Association called the court order a "fla-grant interference in the news media's editorial and journalistic independence." The order was issued by a majority of justices of the Costa Rica Supreme Electoral Tribunal, upholding a request for injunction filed by three minority political party candidates to the Costa Rican presidency who had not been invited to take part in a debate scheduled to be aired by the privately-owned Channel 7 TV. The station only invited the four leading candidates, who between them were estimated to account for 95 percent of the public vote.

Electronic News Media

By 2000 about 150,000 people in Costa Rica, or 3.9 percent of the population, were Internet users, accessing it through either one legal or two illegal Internet service providers. Most of the important newspapers also have an online presence, as do many of the national magazines.

La Nación publishes an online summary of news events in English and has news archived since 1995. AM Costa Rica is a website updated Monday through Friday targeting the English-speaking retired community in Costa Rica. It is published by Consultantes Río Colorado, S.A., a Costa Rican corporation.

The following newspapers and magazines have web-sites:

These radio stations are broadcast over the Internet:

Education & TRAINING

To professionalize its media Costa Rica passed a law in 1969 that required national news reporters to graduate from the University of Costa Rica's journalism school (colegio de periodismo ). The so-called colegio law has been controversial almost from the outset since it acts, at times, as a restrictive licensing measure. Furthermore, during the first few years after the law's inception, the University of Costa Rica did not have a journalism program in operation making the law impossible to uphold. As a result, journalists were allowed to be members of the colegio if they had at least five years of consecutive journalistic experience or ten years intermittent experience.

The colegio system has been controversial throughout Latin America since it has been interpreted as a professional licensing board that can curtail the freedom of individual journalists to exercise their profession. In 2001 La Nación published an article detailing the history of thecolegio and its many failures to support journalists over the last 25 years. Most of the charges included instances of aggression against the press when the colegio failed to back individual journalists, radio and television stations, and newspapers, motivated by the licensing board members' conservative political alliances with the national government.

In 1994 the colegio began lobbying for passage of a constitutional amendment to permanently ensure its ability to define who exercises journalism in the country. The amendment would have protected the colegio from international criticism such as that issued by the inter-American Human Rights Court which ruled the licensing practice a violation of press freedom. Colegio leadership argues that the body serves to create professional standards, minimize cultural imperials and protect journalists' rights. The colegio has a code of ethics with 17 articles that was approved by the organization's general assembly in October 1991.

The Tico Times successfully took a case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights over a Costa Rican law requiring the licensing of journalists. The Times claimed harassment by the colegio for over 20 years even though the colegio admitted it was unable to supply enough qualified journalists. In 1995, the Costa Rican Supreme Court addressed the problems inherent to the colegio system and declared the licensing of journalists unconstitutional. This was seen as a major victory for advancing legislative support of freedom of expression in the country.

Journalism degrees are awarded by the University of Costa Rica and the Latin University of Costa Rica. In addition a number of organizations sponsor seminars and conferences related to the practice of journalism. Costa Rica is one of the most popular spots for international journalistic conferences dealing with Latin America. The International Center for Journalists sponsored seminars on the media and freedom of expression in the Americas in Costa Rica. The Costa Rican colegio also organized conferences and workshops on social communication, human rights and the media, taking place frequently in San José. The city often hosts special courses to train media specialists in radio and television. A radio station from the Netherlands, Radio Hilversum, held a series of such workshops in San José open to all Latin American and Caribbean journalists. The World Bank Institute's Governance and Finance Unit and Radio Nederland Training Center, located in Costa Rica, also organized a course in investigative journalism conducted over the Internet.

Summary

The Costa Rican mass communications industry can support both pessimistic and optimistic predictions. For the pessimist, it is easy to point out that a popular muck-raking journalist was killed in cold-blood and that his attackers have yet to be officially identified or tried. Costa Rica's press freedom and development is also limited by the concentration of the media in the hands of a powerful few, and an increase in U.S. influence in the country, both economically and also culturally. For the optimist, the openness with which La Nación conducts and publishes interviews with journalists about their profession suggests that there is indeed a greater level of freedom of expression than one would imagine given the survey's critical findings. Also, during most of the 1990s, the media in Costa Rica was becoming more aggressive in its interrogation of government officials suspected of incompetence, corruption, and influence peddling. In addition, the repeal of the colegio law in 1995 and the recent repeal of the "insult" law also suggests that the protection of the rights of journalists to practice their profession without the fear of being fined, imprisoned, or expelled is being institutionalized.

Historically, the nation's emphasis on both education and freedom of the press have resulted in a great resistance to any attempt to restrict these rights and even greater resilience to bounce back quickly from those moments when such rights have been constrained. Medina's murder has resulted in greater discussion about freedom of the press and changes to provide the legislative teeth to ensure those freedoms. The nation's literacy rate, the public's increasing access to the Internet, and the rich opportunities for journalists and other media professionals to receive on-going training, suggests that the press in Costa Rica will endure.

Significant Dates

  • 1995: Costa Rican Supreme Court issues a decision saying that the licensing of journalists was unconstitutional.
  • 1996: Legislative Assembly passes "right of response" law which provides persons criticized in the media with an opportunity to reply with equal attention and at equal length. The law has proven difficult to enforce and administer.
  • 1999: President Miguel Angel Rodríguez proposed a bill to the Costa Rican legislature, the Law to Protect Press Freedom, intended to make important improvements in press legislation.
  • 2001: Popular radio journalist Parmenio Medina was murdered in what is assumed to have been retaliation for Medina's investigative journalism. No one had been arrested for his murder as of 2002. The tragedy sent shockwaves through the nation and spurred on legislative attempts to update outmoded legislation.

Bibliography

Alemán, Eduardo, Ortega, José Guadalupe, and Wilkie, James W., eds. Statistical Abstract of Latin America. Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center Publications, 2001.

Attacks on the Press: A Worldwide Survey. New York: Committee to Protect Journalists, 1994.

Baldivia, Hernán, ed. La formación de los periodistas en América Latina: México, Chile, Costa Rica. México D.F.: CEESTEM, 1981.

Biesanz, Mavis Hiltunen, Biesanz, Richard and Biesanz, Karen Zubris. The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica. Boulder and London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1999.

Borders Without Frontiers, Costa Rica Annual Report 2002.

Helmuth, Chalene. Culture and Customs of Costa Rica. Westport, CT and London: Greenwood Press, 2000.

IPI Report, The International Journalism Magazine (November/December 1995).

Lara, Silvia, with Barry, Tom, and Simonson, Peter. Inside Costa Rica: The Essential Guide to its Politics, Economy, Society, and Environment. Albuquerque, New Mexico: Resource Center Press, 1995.

Marshall, Oliver. The English-Language Press in Latin America. London: Institute of Latin American Studies, University of London, 1997.

Martínez, Reynaldo. "Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa (SIP) considera que en nuestro país se violentan cuatro principios que garantizan este derecho." La República, July 2, 2001.

Skidmore, Thomas E. and Smith, Peter H. Modern Latin America. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Solano Carboni, Montserrat. "The Silence: A Year Later the Murder of a Popular Costa Rican Journalist Remains Unsolved." New York: Committee to Protect Journalists, July 2, 2002.

Uribe, Hernán O. Ética Periodística en América Latina: Deontología y estatuto professional. México D.F.: Universidad Naciónal Autónoma de México, 1984.

Vega Jiménez, Patricia. De la Imprenta al Periodico: Los inicios de la comunicación impresa en Costa Rica 1821-1850. San José, Costa Rica: Editorial Porvenir, 1995.

World Press Freedom Review, 2000.

Kristen McCleary

views updated

Costa Rica

PROFILE
PEOPLE
HISTORY
GOVERNMENT
POLITICAL CONDITIONS
ECONOMY
FOREIGN RELATIONS
U.S.-COSTA RICAN RELATIONS
TRAVEL

Compiled from the January 2008 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:

Republic of Costa Rica

PROFILE

Geography

Area: 51,100 sq. km (19,730 sq. mi.) about the size of the states of Vermont and New Hampshire combined.

Cities: Capital—San Jose (greater metropolitan area pop. 2.1 million, the greater metropolitan area as defined by the Ministry of Planning and Economic Policy includes the cities of Alajuela, Cartago, and Heredia). Other major cities outside the San Jose capital area—Puntare-nas, Limon, and Liberia.

Terrain: A rugged, central range separates the eastern and western coastal plains.

Climate: Mild in the central highlands, tropical and subtropical in coastal areas.

People

Nationality: Noun and adjective—Costa Rican(s).

Population: (2006) 4.299 million.

Annual growth rate: (2006 est.) 1.3%.

Ethnic groups: European and some mestizo 94%, African origin 3%, Chinese 1%, Amerindian 1%, other 1%.

Religions: Roman Catholic 76.3%, Evangelical 13.7%, Jehovah's Witnesses 1.3%, other Protestant 0.7%, other 4.8%, none 3.2%.

Languages: Spanish, with a southwestern Caribbean Creole dialect of English spoken around the Limon area.

Education: Years compulsory—9. Attendance—99% grades 1-6, 71% grades 7-9. Literacy—96%.

Health: Infant mortality rate—9.45/ 1,000. Life expectancy—men 74.61 yrs., women 79.94 yrs.

Work force: (2006 est., 1.866 million; this official estimate excludes Nicaraguans living in Costa Rica legally and illegally) Agriculture—13%; industry—22%; services—64%.

Government

Type: Democratic republic.

Independence: September 15, 1821.

Constitution: November 7, 1949.

Government branches: Executive—president (head of government and chief of state) elected for one 4-year term, two vice presidents, Cabinet (15 ministers, two of whom are also vice presidents). Legislative—57-deputy unicameral Legislative Assembly elected at 4-year intervals. Judicial—Supreme Court of Justice (22 magistrates elected by Legislative Assembly for renewable 8-year terms). The offices of the Ombudsman, Comptroller General, and Procurator General assert autonomous oversight of the government.

Political subdivisions: Seven provinces, divided into 81 cantons, subdivided into 421 districts.

Political parties: National Liberation Party (PLN), Citizen's Action Party (PAC), Libertarian Movement Party (PML), Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), and other smaller parties.

Suffrage: Universal and compulsory at age 18.

Economy

GDP: (2006) $21.47 billion.

GDP PPP: (2006 est.) $52.22 billion.

Inflation: (2006 est.) 11.5%.

Real growth rate: (2006 est.) 7.9%.

Per capita income: (2006) $5,100. (PPP $11,862, 2006 est.)

Unemployment: (2007 est.) 4.6%.

Currency: Costa Rica Colon (CRC).

Natural resources: Hydroelectric power, forest products, fisheries products.

Agriculture: (8.7% of GDP) Products—bananas, pineapples, coffee, beef, sugar, rice, dairy products, vegetables, fruits and ornamental plants.

Industry: (28.9% of GDP) Types—electronic components, food processing, textiles and apparel, construction materials, fertilizer, medical equipment.

Commerce, tourism, and services: (62.4% of GDP) Hotels, restaurants, tourist services, banks, and insurance.

Trade: (2006 est.) Exports—$8.198 billion: integrated circuits, medical equipment, bananas, pineapples, coffee, melons, ornamental plants, sugar, textiles, electronic components, medical equipment. Major markets—U.S. 38.6%, China 6.8%, Hong Kong 6.4%, Netherlands 6.1%, Guatemala 4.0%. Imports—$11.576 billion: raw materials, consumer goods, capital equipment, petroleum. Major suppliers—U.S. 39.3%, Japan 5.1%, Venezuela 5.0%, Mexico 5.2%, China 4.8%, Ireland 4.5%, Brazil 3.4%.

PEOPLE

Unlike many of their Central American neighbors, present-day Costa Ricans are largely of European rather than mestizo descent; Spain was the primary country of origin. However, an estimated 10% to 15% of the population is Nicaraguan, of fairly recent arrival and primarily of mestizo origin. Descendants of 19th-century Jamaican immigrant workers constitute an English-speaking minority and—at 3% of the population—number about 119,000. Few of the native Indians survived European contact; the indigenous population today numbers about 29,000 or less than 1% of the population.

HISTORY

In 1502, on his fourth and last voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus made the first European landfall in the area. Settlement of Costa Rica began in 1522. For nearly three centuries, Spain administered the region as part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala under a military governor. The Spanish optimistically called the country “Rich Coast.” Finding little gold or other valuable minerals in Costa Rica, however, the Spanish turned to agriculture.

The small landowners’ relative poverty, the lack of a large indigenous labor force, the population's ethnic and linguistic homogeneity, and Costa Rica's isolation from the Spanish colonial centers in Mexico and the Andes all contributed to the development of an autonomous and individualistic agrarian society. An egalitarian tradition also arose. This tradition survived the widened class distinctions brought on by the 19th-century introduction of banana and coffee cultivation and consequent accumulations of local wealth.

Costa Rica joined other Central American provinces in 1821 in a joint declaration of independence from Spain. Although the newly independent provinces formed a Federation, border disputes broke out among them, adding to the region's turbulent history and conditions. Costa Rica's northern Guanacaste Province was annexed from Nicaragua in one such regional dispute. In 1838, long after the Central American Federation ceased to function in practice, Costa Rica formally withdrew and proclaimed itself sovereign.

An era of peaceful democracy in Costa Rica began in 1899 with elections considered the first truly free and honest ones in the country's history. This began a trend that continued until today with only two lapses: in 1917-19, Federico Tinoco ruled as a dictator, and, in 1948, Jose Figueres led an armed uprising in the wake of a disputed presidential election.

With more than 2,000 dead, the 44-day civil war resulting from this uprising was the bloodiest event in 20th-century Costa Rican history, but the victorious junta drafted a constitution guaranteeing free elections with universal suffrage and the abolition of the military. Figueres became a national hero, winning the first election under the new constitution in 1953. Since then, Costa Rica has held 14 presidential elections, the latest in 2006.

GOVERNMENT

Costa Rica is a democratic republic with a very strong system of constitutional checks and balances. Executive responsibilities are vested in a president, who is the country's center of power. There also are two vice presidents and a 15-member cabinet. The president and 57 Legislative Assembly deputies are elected for 4-year terms. In April 2003, the Costa Rican Constitutional Court annulled a 1969 constitutional reform which had barred presidents from running for reelection. As a result, the law reverted back to the 1949 Constitution, which permits ex-presidents to run for reelection after they have been out of office for two presidential terms, or eight years. Deputies may run for reelection after sitting out one term, or four years. In October 2007, the country ratified the U.S.-Central American-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) by a slender margin in its first national referendum.

The electoral process is supervised by an independent Supreme Electoral Tribunal—a commission of three principal magistrates and six alternates selected by the Supreme Court of Justice. Judicial power is exercised by the Supreme Court of Justice, composed of 22 magistrates selected for renewable 8-year terms by the Legislative Assembly, and subsidiary courts. A Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV), established in 1989, reviews the constitutionality of legislation and executive decrees and all habeas corpus warrants. The next national elections will take place in February 2010.

The offices of the Comptroller General of the Republic, the Solicitor General, and the Ombudsman exercise oversight of the government. The Comptroller General's office has a statutory responsibility to scrutinize all but the smallest public sector contracts and strictly enforces procedural requirements. Along with the Sala IV, these institutions are playing an increasingly prominent role in governing Costa Rica.

There are provincial boundaries for administrative purposes, but no elected provincial officials. Costa Rica held its first mayoral elections in December 2002, whereby mayors were elected to 4-year terms by popular vote through general elections. Prior to 2002, the office of mayor did not exist, and the president of each

municipal council was responsible for the administration of his/her municipality. The most recent nationwide mayoral elections took place in December 2006. Autonomous state agencies enjoy considerable operational independence; they include the telecommunications and electrical power monopoly, the state petroleum refinery, the nationalized commercial banks, the state insurance monopoly, and the social security agency. Costa Rica has no military and maintains only domestic police and security forces. A professional Coast Guard was established in 2000.

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 2/1/2008

President: Oscar ARIAS Sanchez

First Vice Pres.: Laura CHINCHILLA

Second Vice Pres.

Min. of Culture, Youth, & Sports: Maria Elena CARBALLO

Min. of Education: Leonardo GARNIER

Min. of Environment & Energy: Roberto DOBLES

Min. of Finance: Guillermo ZUNIGA

Min. of Foreign Relations: Bruno STAGNO Ugarte

Min. of Foreign Trade: Marco Vinicio RUIZ

Min. of Health: Maria Luisa AVILA

Min. of Housing: Fernando ZUMBADO

Min. of Justice: Laura CHINCHILLA

Min. of Labor & Social Security: Francisco MORALES

Min. of Planning & Economic Policy: Roberto GALLARDO

Min. of the Presidency: Rodrigo ARIAS

Min. of Production: Alfredo VOLIO Perez

Min. of Public Security, Government, & Police: Fernando BERROCAL

Min. of Public Works & Transportation: Karla GONZALES

Min. of Science & Technology: Eugenia FLORES

Min. of Tourism: Carlos Ricardo BENAVIDES

Pres., Central Bank: Francisco DE PAUL Gutierrez

Ambassador to the US: Tomas DUENAS

Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Jorge URBINA Ortega

Costa Rica maintains an embassy in the United States at 2114 S Street NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-234-2945 and 202-234-2946).

POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Costa Rica has long emphasized the development of democracy and respect for human rights. The country's political system has steadily developed, maintaining democratic institutions and an orderly, constitutional scheme for government succession. Several factors have contributed to this trend, including enlightened leadership, comparative prosperity, flexible class lines, educational opportunities that have created a stable middle class, and high social indicators. Also, because Costa Rica has no armed forces, it has avoided military involvement in political affairs, unlike other countries in the region. In May 2006, President Oscar Arias of the National Liberation Party (PLN) assumed office, defeating principal rival Ottón Solis of the Civil Action Party by roughly 2% of the vote. Arias listed passage of the CAFTA-DR, along with fiscal reform, infrastructure improvements, improving education, and improving security as primary goals for his presidency. The 57-member unicameral Legislative Assembly has four principal party factions, with the governing party, PLN, having a 25-seat plurality.

ECONOMY

After experiencing 7.9 % growth in 2006, the Costa Rican economy settled down to an estimated 6.5% in 2007. Compared with its Central American neighbors, Costa Rica has achieved a high standard of living, with a per capita income of about U.S. $5,100, and an unemployment rate of 4.6%. During 2007 the annual inflation rate rose to 11.5% as the Costa Rican Government sought to reduce its large fiscal deficit.

Implementing CAFTA-DR, passing fiscal reform, and creating an effective concessions process are the biggest challenges for the country's economic policymakers. Costa Rica ranks 115th out of 175 countries in the World Bank's Doing Business Index. This hampers the flow of investment and resources badly needed to repair and rebuild the country's deteriorated public infrastructure.

Costa Rica's major economic resources are its fertile land and frequent rainfall, its well-educated population, and its location in the Central American isthmus, which provides easy access to North and South American markets and direct ocean access to the European and Asian Continents.

One-fourth of Costa Rica's land is dedicated to national forests, often adjoining picturesque beaches, which has made the country a popular destination for affluent retirees and eco-tourists despite increasing crime.

Costa Rica used to be known principally as a producer of bananas and coffee, but pineapples have surpassed coffee as the number two agricultural export. In recent years, Costa Rica has successfully attracted important investments by such companies as Intel Corporation, which employs nearly 2,000 people at its $300 million microprocessor plant; Proctor and Gamble, which employs nearly 1,000 people in its administrative center for the Western Hemisphere; and Hospira and Baxter Healthcare from the health care products industry. Manufacturing and industry's contribution to GDP overtook agriculture over the course of the 1990s, led by foreign investment in Costa Rica's free trade zone. Well over half of that investment has come from the United States. Dole and Chiquita have a large presence in the banana and pineapple industries. Two-way trade between the U.S. and Costa Rica exceeded $7.9 billion in 2006.

Costa Rica has oil deposits off its Atlantic Coast, but the Pacheco administration (2002-2006) decided not to develop the deposits for environmental reasons. The country's mountainous terrain and abundant rainfall have permitted the construction of a dozen hydroelectric power plants, making it largely self-sufficient in electricity, but it is completely reliant on imports for liquid fuels. Costa Rica has the potential to become a major electricity exporter if plans for new generating plants and a regional distribution grid are realized. Its mild climate and trade winds make neither heating nor cooling necessary, particularly in the highland cities and towns where some 90% of the population lives.

Costa Rica's public infrastructure has suffered from a lack of maintenance and new investment. Most parts of the country are accessible through an extensive road system of more than 30,000 kilometers, although much of the system has fallen into disrepair. An antiquated infrastructure system results in treatment of less than 3% of the country's sewage and the possibility of infectious outbreaks near the contaminated lakes, rivers, and beaches where waste is disposed. In 2007, Costa Rica experienced nationwide blackouts resulting from a severe dry season (which limited hydroelectric resources) and the state electricity monopoly's inadequate investment in maintenance and capacity increases.

Costa Rica has sought to widen its economic and trade ties within and outside the region. Costa Rica signed a bilateral trade agreement with Mexico in 1994, which was later amended to cover a wider range of products. Costa Rica joined other Central American countries, and the Dominican Republic, in establishing a Trade and Investment Council with the United States in March 1998. Costa Rica has signed trade agreements with Canada, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama, and several Caribbean Community countries. It began negotiating a regional Central American-EU trade agreement in October 2007. Costa Rica was an active participant in the negotiation of the hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americas and is active in the Cairns Group, which is pursuing global agricultural trade liberalization within the World Trade Organization.

Costa Rica concluded negotiations with the U.S. to participate in CAFTA-DR in January 2004 but is the only CAFTA-DR partner not to have yet entered the agreement into force. In October 2007, a slender majority of Costa Ricans voted to ratify the agreement, which will enter into force after the Legislative Assembly passes corresponding legislation. Once implemented, CAFTA will partially open the state telecommunications monopoly and substantially open the state-run insurance sector.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

Costa Rica is an active member of the international community and, in 1993, proclaimed its permanent neutrality. Its record on the environment and human rights and advocacy of peaceful settlement of disputes give it a weight in world affairs far beyond its size. The country lobbied aggressively for the establishment of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and became the first nation to recognize the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Human Rights Court, based in San Jose. In 2007 Costa Rica was elected for the third time to serve as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (January 2008-December 2009).

During the tumultuous 1980s, then-President Oscar Arias authored a regional peace plan that served as the basis for the Esquipulas Peace Agreement. Arias’ efforts earned him the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize. Subsequent agreements, supported by the United States, led to the Nicaraguan election of 1990 and the end of civil war in Nicaragua. Costa Rica also hosted several rounds of negotiations between the Salvadoran Government and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), aiding El Salvador's efforts to emerge from civil war and culminating in that country's 1994 free and fair elections. Costa Rica has been a strong proponent of regional arms limitation agreements. President Arias has publicly supported self-determination in Cuba and expressed concern about eroding democratic institutions in Venezuela. In 2007 Costa Rica established diplomatic ties with China, ending nearly 60 years of diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

U.S.-COSTA RICAN RELATIONS

The United States and Costa Rica have a history of close and friendly relations based on respect for democratic government, human freedoms, free trade, and other shared values. The country generally supports the U.S. in international fora, especially in the areas of democracy and human rights.

The United States is Costa Rica's most important trading partner. The U.S. accounts for almost half of Costa Rica's exports, imports, and tourism, and more than two-thirds of its foreign investment. The two countries share growing concerns for the environment and want to preserve Costa Rica's important tropical resources and prevent environmental degradation. In 2007, the United States reduced Costa Rica's debt in exchange for protection and conservation of Costa Rican forests through a debt for nature swap under the auspices of the Tropical Forest Conservation Act. This is the largest such agreement of its kind to date.

The United States responded to Costa Rica's economic needs in the 1980s with significant economic and development assistance programs. Through provision of more than $1.1 billion in assistance, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) supported Costa Rican efforts to stabilize its economy and broaden and accelerate economic growth through policy reforms and trade liberalization. Assistance initiatives in the 1990s concentrated on democratic policies, modernizing the administration of justice, and sustainable development. Once the country had graduated from most forms of U.S. assistance, the USAID Mission in Costa Rica closed in 1996. However, USAID completed a $9 million project in 2000-01 to support refugees of Hurricane Mitch residing in Costa Rica.

For decades, Peace Corps Volunteers have provided technical assistance in the areas of environmental education, natural resources, management, small business development, microfinance, basic business education, urban youth, and community education. Between 30,000-50,000 private American citizens, including many retirees, reside in the country and more than 700,000 American citizens visit Costa Rica annually. A few vexing expropriation and U.S. citizen investment disputes have hurt Costa Rica's investment climate and have occasionally produced bilateral friction.

The U.S.-Costa Rica Maritime Cooperation Agreement, the first of its kind in Central America, entered into force in late 1999. The agreement, which facilitates cooperation between the Coast Guard of Costa Rica and the U.S. Coast Guard, has resulted in a growing number of narcotics seizures, illegal migrant rescues, illegal fishing seizures, and search-and-rescue missions. Bilateral Costa Rican law enforcement cooperation, particularly against narcotrafficking, has been exemplary.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

Last Updated: 2/19/2008

SAN JOSE (E) Pavas, San Jose, APO/FPO Unit 2501 APO AA 34020, (506) 519-2000, Fax (506) 519-2305, Workweek: Monday-Friday, 8:00a.m.-4:30 p.m., Website: http://sanjose.usembassy.gov.

DCM OMS:Jean M. Smith
CM OMS:Viviana Guerrero
ECO:Mark Kissel
FCS:James McCarthy
FM:Ron Saunders
HRO:Maryanne Masterson
MGT:Brian Wilson
AMB:Mark Langdale
CG:David Dreher
DCM:Peter M Brennan
PAO:Magda Siekert
GSO:Ramon BEST:
RSO:Dewitt Stephen
AGR:Katherine Nishiura
APHIS:Vacant
CLO:Barbara Dreher
DEA:Paul Knierim
FMO:Carmen Castro
ICASS:Chair Mccarthy, James
IMO:Peter Butler
IPO:Fleenor, Charles
ISO:Peterson, Jon
POL:David E. Henifin

Other Contact Information

U.S. Department of Commerce
Trade Information Center
International Trade Administration
14th and Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20320
Tel: 800-USA-TRADE
www.trade.gov.

Costa Rican American Chamber of Commerce
c/o Aerocasillas
P.O. Box 025216, Dept 1576
Miami, Florida 33102-5216

Tel: 506-22-0-22-00
Fax: 506-22-0-23-00
Email: [email protected]

TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet

September 12, 2007

Country Description: Costa Rica is a middle-income, developing country with a strong democratic tradition. Tourist facilities are extensive and generally adequate. The capital is San Jose. English is a second language for many Costa Ricans.

Entry Requirements: For entry into Costa Rica, U.S. citizens must present valid passports that will not expire for at least thirty days after arrival, and a roundtrip/outbound ticket. Some U.S. airlines may not permit passengers to board flights to Costa Rica without such a ticket. Passports should be in good condition; Costa Rican immigration will deny entry if the passport is damaged in any way. Costa Rican authorities generally permit U.S. citizens to stay up to ninety days; to stay beyond the period granted, travelers must submit an application for an extension to the Office of Temporary Permits in the Costa Rican Department of Immigration. Tourist visas are usually not extended except under special circumstances, and extension requests are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. There is a departure tax for short-term visitors. Tourists who stay over ninety days may experience a delay at the airport when departing. Persons who overstayed previously may be denied entry to Costa Rica.

Persons traveling to Costa Rica from some countries in South America and Sub-Saharan Africa must provide evidence of a valid yellow fever vaccination prior to entry. The South American countries include Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela.

The most authoritative and up-to-date information on Costa Rican entry and exit requirements, including visa information, may be obtained from the Consular Section of the Embassy of Costa Rica at 2114 “S” Street, NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 234-2945/46, fax (202) 265-4795, e-mail [email protected], web site http://www.costarica-embassy.org, or from the Costa Rican consulates in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Juan (Puerto Rico), San Francisco, and Tampa. The Costa Rican immigration agency maintains a web site at: http://www.migracion.go.cr. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Costa Rica in Washington or one of Costa Rica's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements before shipping any items.

Safety and Security: There have been no recent acts of terrorism in Costa Rica. Visitors to Costa Rica may experience the effects of civil disturbances such as work stoppages and strikes. Although infrequent, these acts can create inconveniences for visitors. On both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, currents are swift and dangerous, and there are few lifeguards or signs warning of dangerous beaches. Every year eight to twelve American citizens drown in Costa Rica due to riptides or sudden drop-offs while in shallow water. Extreme caution is advised.

Adventure tourism is popular in Costa Rica, and many companies offer white-water rafting, bungee jumping, jungle canopy tours, deep sea diving, and other outdoor attractions. Americans are urged to use caution in selecting adventure tourism companies. The government of Costa Rica regulates and monitors the safety of adventure tourism companies; enforcement of safety laws is overseen by the Ministry of Health. Registered tourism companies with operating permits must meet safety standards and have insurance coverage. The safety regulations enforced in Costa Rica are not the same as safety regulations enforced in the United States.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution Travel Alert, Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.

Crime: Over one and a half million foreign tourists, the majority American, visit Costa Rica annually. All are potential targets for criminals, primarily thieves looking for cash, jewelry, credit cards, electronic items and passports. U.S. citizens are encouraged to exercise the same level of caution they would in major cities or tourist areas throughout the world. Local law enforcement agencies have limited capabilities and do not act according to U.S. standards. Travelers should minimize driving at night, especially outside urban areas.

Americans should avoid areas with high concentrations of bars and nightclubs, especially at night, and steer clear of deserted properties or undeveloped land. For safety reasons, the Embassy does not place its official visitors in hotels in the San Jose city center, but instead puts them at the larger hotels in the outlying suburbs. Americans should walk or exercise with a companion, bearing in mind that crowded tourist attractions and resort areas popular with foreign tourists are common venues for criminal activities. Travelers should ignore any verbal harassment, and avoid carrying passports, large amounts of cash, jewelry or expensive photographic equipment. Tourists are encouraged to carry photocopies of the passport data page and Costa Rican entry stamp on their persons, and leave the original passport in a hotel safe or other secure place.

Travelers should purchase an adequate level of locally valid theft insurance when renting vehicles, park in secured lots whenever possible, and never leave valuables in the vehicle. The U.S. Embassy receives several reports daily of valuables, identity documents, and other items stolen from locked vehicles, primarily rental vehicles. Thefts from parked cars occur in downtown San Jose, at beaches, in the airport and bus station parking lots, and at national parks and other tourist attractions.

Travelers should use licensed taxis, which are red with medallions (yellow triangles containing numbers) painted on the side. Licensed taxis at the airport are painted orange. All licensed taxis should have working door handles, locks, seatbelts and meters (called “marias”); passengers are required to use seatbelts. When traveling by bus, avoid putting bags or other personal belongings in the storage bins. At all times have your belongings in your line of sight or in your possession.

Thieves usually work in groups of two to four. A common scam has one person drop change in a crowded area, such as on a bus, and when the victim tries to assist, a wallet or other item is taken. The most common scam involves the surreptitious puncturing of tires of rental cars, often near restaurants, tourist attractions, airports, or close to the car rental agencies themselves. When the travelers pull over, “good Samaritans” quickly appear to change the tire and just as quickly remove valuables from the car, sometimes brandishing weapons. Drivers with flat tires are advised to drive, if at all possible, to the nearest service station or other public area, and change the tire themselves, watching valuables at all times.

In late 2006, the government of Costa Rica established a Tourist Police force, and units were established in popular tourist areas throughout the country. The Tourist Police can assist with the reporting of a crime, which can be difficult for victims due to language barriers and the requirement that only investigative police can accept crime reports. In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. More information on this serious problem is available at www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm.

Information for Victims of Crime: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Medical Facilities and Health Information: Medical care in San Jose is adequate, but is limited in areas outside of San Jose. Most prescription and over-the-counter medications are available throughout Costa Rica. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services, and U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. A list of local doctors and medical facilities can be found at the website of the U.S. Embassy in San Jose, at http://sanjose.usembassy.gov. An ambulance may be summoned by calling 911. The best-equipped ambulances are called “unidad avanzada.” Ambulance service in Costa Rica does not meet U.S. standards, and response time is unreliable.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC's Internet site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Costa Rica is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Costa Rica has one of the highest vehicle accident rates in the world. The fatality rate for pedestrians and those riding bicycles and motorcycles is disproportionately high. Traffic laws and speed limits are often ignored, turns across one or two lanes of traffic are common, turn signals are rarely used, passing on dangerous stretches of highway is common, and pedestrians are not given the right of way. Roads are often in poor condition, and large potholes with the potential to cause significant damage to vehicles are common. Pedestrians, cyclists, and farm animals may use the main roads.

Traffic signs, even on major highways, are inadequate and few roads are lined. Shoulders are narrow or consist of drainage ditches. All of the above, in addition to poor visibility due to heavy fog or rain, makes driving at night especially treacherous. Landslides are common in the rainy season. All types of motor vehicles are appropriate for the main high-ways and principal roads in the major cities.

However, some roads to beaches and other rural locations are not paved, and many destinations are accessible only with high clearance, rugged suspension four-wheel drive vehicles. Travelers are advised to call ahead to their hotels to ask about the current status of access roads.

Costa Rica has a 911 system for reporting emergencies. In the event of a traffic accident, vehicles must/ must be left where they are. Both the Transito (Traffic Police) and the Insurance Investigator must make accident reports before the vehicles are moved.

Aviation Safety Oversight: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Costa Rica's Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Costa Rica's air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's website at http://www.faa.gov.

Land Ownership and Shoreline Property: U.S. citizens are urged to use caution when making real estate purchases, and consult reputable legal counsel and investigate thoroughly all aspects before entering into a contract. Coastal land within fifty meters of the high tide line is open to the public, and construction on the next one hundred fifty meters inland is possible only with the approval of the local municipality.

Squatters: Organized squatter groups have invaded properties in various parts of the country. These squatter groups, often supported by politically active persons and nongovernmental organizations, take advantage of legal provisions that allow people without land to gain title to unused agricultural property. Local courts may show considerable sympathy for the squatters. Victims of squatters have reported threats, harassment, and violence.

Documentation Requirements: Visitors are required to carry appropriate documentation at all times. However, due to the high incidence of passport theft, tourists are permitted and encouraged to carry photocopies of the datapage and entry stamp from the passport, leaving the passport in a hotel safe or other secure place. Tourists who carry passports are urged to place them securely in an inside pocket.

Exit Procedures for Costa Rican Citizens: Costa Rican children may only depart the country upon presentation of an exit permit issued by immigration authorities. This policy, designed to prevent international child abduction, applies to dual national U.S./Costa Rican citizens. Parents of minors who obtained Costa Rican citizenship through a parent or through birth in Costa Rica are advised to consult with appropriate Costa Rican authorities prior to travel to Costa Rica, especially if one (or both) parent(s) is not accompanying the child.

Disaster Preparedness: Costa Rica is located in an earthquake and volcanic zone. Serious flooding occurs annually on the Caribbean side near the port city of Limon, but flooding occurs in other parts of Costa Rica as well, depending on the time of year and rainfall. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov.

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Costa Rican laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Costa Rica are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Children's Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website at http://travel.state.gov/family.

Registration and Embassy Locations: Americans living or traveling in Costa Rica are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department's travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Costa Rica. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy is located in Pavas, San Jose, and may be reached at (506) 519-2000; the extension for the Consular Section is 2453. The Embassy is open Monday through Friday, and is closed on Costa Rican and U.S. holidays.

Those seeking information are strongly encouraged to utilize the Embassy web site: http://sanjose.usembassy.gov/ and can email [email protected] with any questions/concerns. For emergencies arising outside normal business hours, U.S. citizens may call (506) 220-3127 and ask for the duty officer.

International Adoption

March 2006

The information in this section has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family.

Disclaimer: The information in this flyer relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is based on public sources and current understanding. Questions involving foreign and U.S. immigration laws and legal interpretation should be addressed respectively to qualified foreign or U.S. legal counsel.

Please Note: Costa Rica's adoption procedures are in flux, due to a moratorium on some international adoptions processed through the child welfare office.

The Costa Rican National Council on Adoptions has instituted a moratorium on any adoptions through its offices to countries that have not fully implemented the Hague Adoption Convention. At this time, the United States has not fully implemented the Convention, and this moratorium is therefore in effect for the United States, prohibiting the adoption through government offices of Costa Rican children by U.S. citizens who do not reside in Costa Rica.

Complicating the picture, a law to abolish private adoptions (those that are not handled by the Costa Rican National Council on Adoptions, but which are arranged by an attorney and approved by a judge) was struck down on July 3, 2003 by the Costa Rican Constitutional Court.

The U.S. Embassy understands that the legislation will be revised and reintroduced, but does not know when, nor what will happen in cases that have been initiated through private channels but not completed if this law does go into effect. The Costa Rican Government could terminate these cases. There have been allegations of fraud in connection with private adoptions, and the Costa Rican National Council on Adoptions strongly discourages them.

For the duration of this moratorium, the following information about adoption of Costa Rican children through Costa Rican government offices pertains to U.S. citizens who have legal residence in Costa Rica, or who hold both U.S. and Costa Rican citizenship.

Patterns of Immigration: Please review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family.

Adoption Authority: The Patronato Nacional de la Infancia (PANI), the Costa Rican child welfare authority, oversees adoptions of abandoned orphans who are in public institutions, and plays a consultative role in private adoptions, as well. PANI may be contacted as follows:

Patronato Nacional de La Infancia
P.O. Box 5000
San Jose, Costa Rica
phone: (506) 233-0005 or
(506) 222-0443
fax: (506) 233-2414
e-mail: [email protected]

PANI contacts a prospective adoptive family when PANI identifies a child for adoption, even calling collect if authorized by the family. Pictures and related information about the child will be sent by airmail. Note that there is a backlog in pending cases.

Eligibility Requirements for Adoptive Parents: Costa Rican law permits adoption by married and single persons. A foreign couple must have been married for at least five years. Prospective adoptive parents must be at least 25 and under 60 years of age.

Residency Requirements: Costa Rican law requires that, at the initial stage of the adoption process, both prospective adoptive parents must be in Costa Rica to sign the official consent documents before the Costa Rican court. In the case of adoption by a single prospective adoptive parent, that individual must be present to sign the documents. At least 15 days should be allowed for this initial trip. At the end of the process, one of the adoptive parents, or the sole parent if it is a single-parent adoption, must be in Costa Rica to finish the paperwork for the adoption, obtain a travel document for the child, and complete immigration procedures at the U.S. Embassy. Since the length of time for the entire adoption process may vary (from four months to a year), many prospective adoptive parents make two trips to Costa Rica; others prefer to remain in Costa Rica for the entire process.

While in Costa Rica, the adopting parents need to take the following steps to satisfy local adoption requirements:

  • Meet the child;
  • Give formal consent for the adoption at the court;
  • Obtain a decree of abandonment;
  • Obtain a certified copy of the final adoption decree from the court;
  • Register the adoption at the local Civil Registry;
  • Obtain a birth certificate from the Civil Registry with the new name of the child;
  • Obtain PANI authorization for the child to leave the country;
  • btain a passport for the child.

Time Frame: An adoption in Costa Rica generally takes from four to twelve months from the time a decree of abandonment has been issued or an official request for adoption of a specific child is placed before the court.

Adoption Agencies and Attorneys:
Adoptions in Costa Rica can be arranged either through the government agency, PANI, or through private channels. PANI works with international adoption agencies accredited in Costa Rica to place abandoned children. In private adoptions, where children are released by their biological parents directly to a private attorney, PANI is consulted and will give an opinion on the adoption, but the judge is not bound to act in accordance with that opinion. There have been allegations of fraud in connection with private adoptions, and the Costa Rican National Council on Adoptions strongly discourages them.

Locating and adopting children abroad can be a frustrating and time-consuming experience. The U.S. Embassy in San Jose has found that parents who employ the services of an adoption agency accredited in Costa Rica, or who work directly with PANI, have had an advantage in the smooth processing of adoption applications.

Adoption Fees: Official fees for an adoption are set at a minimum of $250, which represents the total court costs when an adoption is processed through PANI. Payments to parents or guardians are illegal under Costa Rican law and prospective adoptive parents who make such payments could be subject to investigation and possible prosecution. The fees generally charged in private adoptions can be very high, running into the thousands of dollars. American adoptive parents may want to notify the Embassy and the Department of State if they feel they are being charged excessive fees.

Adoption Procedures: Costa Rican adoption law provides for two types of adoptions: those arranged through PANI, and private adoptions. In foreign adoptions overseen by PANI, current Costa Rican law prohibits adoption of children less than four years of age, except in cases in which the child is part of a family group, or is difficult to place.

In private adoptions, there is no limit on the age of the children. A child is released to a private attorney, who then arranges the adoption. The court reviews the qualifications of the prospective adoptive parents, with PANI playing a consultative role.Foreigners, including U.S. citizens, must complete the adoption process in Costa Rica and the adoption must be formally registered in the civil registry before the Costa Rican authorities will grant permission for the child to leave the country. Because of Costa Rican government concerns about child smuggling and the need for follow-up in the adoption process, permission is rarely granted for a child to leave Costa Rica in the custody of a prospective adoptive parent for the purpose of being finally adopted in another country.

Under Costa Rican law, adopted children do not need to be orphans (both birth parents deceased). They must, however, be abandoned or irrevocably surrendered for adoption. Abandoned children may be living in a government facility, in a private orphanage or foster home or in the custody of a relative or friend. Children may also remain in the custody of a biological parent prior to formal relinquishment of custody before a judge. Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family.

Required Documents: The following documentation is normally required:

  • Certified and authenticated copies of the adoptive parent(s)’ birth certificate(s);
  • Certified and authenticated copy of the adoptive parent(s)’ marriage certificate (if applicable) and proof of termination of any previous marriages (certified copy of spouse's death certificate or divorce decree);
  • Medical certificate(s) for adoptive parent(s) notarized by physician and authenticated;
  • A certificate of good conduct/no criminal record for each adoptive parent from a local police department, notarized or bearing police department seal and authenticated. An FBI report is acceptable in lieu of local police record. This is separate from the FBI check conducted by USCIS as part of the petition process;
  • Verification of employment and salary, notarized and authenticated;
  • Two letters of reference notarized and authenticated;
  • A certified and authenticated copy of property trusts deeds, if applicable;
  • home study prepared by an authorized and licensed social agency, certified and authenticated, may be required in some cases by the Costa Rican authorities if necessary information was not included on the USCIS (I-600A).
  • Bank statements, notarized/certified and authenticated;
  • Family letter of intent to adopt, which states any general preferences requested by the family, i.e. a certain age, sex, etc. notarized and authenticated.

Note: Additional documentation and procedures may be required.

The Costa Rican Embassy in the United States is located at 2112-S Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (telephone (202) 234-2945/46, fax (202) 265-4795). Costa Rican consulates are located in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Juan, San Francisco, and Tampa. The Embassy of Costa Rica also maintains a web site at http://www.costarica-embassy.org.

U.S. Immigration Requirements: Prospective adopting parents are strongly encouraged to consult USCIS publication M-249, The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adoptive Children, as well as the Department of State publication, International Adoptions. Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family.

Additional Information: Specific questions about adoption in Costa Rica may be addressed to the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica. General questions regarding international adoption may be addressed to the Office of Children's Issues, U.S. Department of State, CA/OCS/CI, SA-29, 4th Floor, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818, toll-free Tel: 1-888-407-4747.

views updated

Costa Rica

Compiled from the October 2006 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:
Republic of Costa Rica

PROFILE

PEOPLE

HISTORY

GOVERNMENT

POLITICAL CONDITIONS

ECONOMY

FOREIGN RELATIONS

U.S.-COSTA RICAN RELATIONS

TRAVEL

PROFILE

Geography

Area: 51,100 sq. km (19,730 sq. mi.) about the size of the states of Vermont and New Hampshire combined.

Cities: Capital—San Jose (greater metropolitan area pop. 2.1 million, the greater metropolitan area as defined by the Ministry of Planning and Economic Policy includes the cities of Alajuela, Cartago, and Heredia). Other major cities outside the San Jose capital area—Puntarenas, Limon.

Terrain: A rugged, central range separates the eastern and western coastal plains.

Climate: Mild in the central highlands, tropical and subtropical in coastal areas.

People

Nationality: Noun and adjective—Costa Rican(s).

Population: (July 2005 est.) 4.02 million.

Annual growth rate: (2005 est.) 1.48%.

Ethnic groups: European and some mestizo 94%, African origin 3%, Chinese 1%, indigenous 1%, other 1%.

Religion: Roman Catholic 76.3%, Protestant approx. 15.7%, others 4.8%, none 3.2%.

Languages: Spanish, with a southwestern Caribbean Creole dialect of English spoken around the Limon area.

Education: Years compulsory—9. Attendance—99% grades 1-6, 71% grades 7-9. Literacy—96%.

Health: Infant mortality rate—9.95/1,000. Life expectancy—men 74.26 yrs., women 79.55 yrs.

Work force: (2004 est., 1.81 million) Services—71.3%; agriculture—14.6%; industry—14%.

Government

Type: Democratic republic.

Independence: September 15, 1821.

Constitution: November 7, 1949.

Government branches: Executive—president (head of government and chief of state) elected for one 4-year term, two vice presidents, Cabinet (15 ministers, two of whom are also vice presidents). Legislative—57-deputy unicameral Legislative Assembly elected at 4-year intervals. Judicial—Supreme Court of Justice (22 magistrates elected by Legislative Assembly for renewable 8-year terms). The offices of the Ombudsman, Comptroller General, and Procurator General assert autonomous oversight of the government.

Political subdivisions: Seven provinces, divided into 81 cantons, subdivided into 421 districts.

Political parties: National Liberation Party (PLN), Citizen’s Action Party (PAC), Libertarian Movement Party (PML), Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), Costa Rican Renovation Party (PRC), and other smaller parties.

Suffrage: Universal and compulsory at age 18.

Economy

GDP: (2004) $18.4 billion.

GDP PPP: (2004 est.) $37.97 billion.

Inflation: (2005 est.) 14%.

Real growth rate (2004 est.) 3.9%.

Per capita income: (2004) $4,670. (PPP $9,600—2004 est.)

Unemployment: (2004 est.) 6.6%.

Currency: Costa Rica Colon (CRC).

Natural resources: Hydroelectric power, forest products, fisheries products.

Agriculture: (8.5% of GDP) Products—bananas, coffee, beef, sugarcane, rice, dairy products, vegetables, fruits and ornamental plants.

Industry: (29.7% of GDP) Types—electronic components, food processing, textiles and apparel, construction materials, cement, fertilizer.

Commerce and tourism: (61.8% of GDP) Hotels, restaurants, tourist services, banks, and insurance.

Trade: (2004 est.) Exports—$6.18 billion: Integrated circuits, bananas, pineapples, optical/medical equipment, knit and woven apparel, coffee, fish and seafood. Major markets—U.S. 44.1%, Europe 21%, Central America 9%. Imports—$7.84 billion: electronic components, machinery, vehicles, consumer goods, raw materials, chemicals, petroleum products, foods, and fertilizer. Major suppliers—U.S. 45.9%, Europe 10%, Mexico 3.7% Central America 5%, Japan 4.8%, Venezuela 4%.

PEOPLE

Unlike many of their Central American neighbors, present-day Costa Ricans are largely of European rather than mestizo descent; Spain was the primary country of origin. However, an estimated 10% to 15% of the population is Nicaraguan, of fairly recent arrival and primarily of mestizo origin. Descendants of 19th-century Jamaican immigrant workers constitute an English-speaking minority and—at 3% of the population—number about 119,000. Few of the native Indians survived European contact; the indigenous population today numbers about 29,000 or less than 1% of the population.

HISTORY

In 1502, on his fourth and last voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus made the first European landfall in the area. Settlement of Costa Rica began in 1522. For nearly three centuries, Spain administered the region as part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala under a military governor. The Spanish optimistically called the country “Rich Coast.” Finding little gold or other valuable minerals in Costa Rica, however, the Spanish turned to agriculture.

The small landowners’ relative poverty, the lack of a large indigenous labor force, the population’s ethnic and linguistic homogeneity, and Costa Rica’s isolation from the Spanish colonial centers in Mexico and the Andes all contributed to the development of an autonomous and individualistic agrarian society. An egalitarian tradition also arose. This tradition survived the widened class distinctions brought on by the 19th-century introduction of banana and coffee cultivation and consequent accumulations of local wealth.

Costa Rica joined other Central American provinces in 1821 in a joint declaration of independence from Spain. Although the newly independent provinces formed a Federation, border disputes broke out among them, adding to the region’s turbulent history and conditions. Costa Rica’s northern Guanacaste Province was annexed from Nicaragua in one such regional dispute. In 1838, long after the Central American Federation ceased to function in practice, Costa Rica formally withdrew and proclaimed itself sovereign.

An era of peaceful democracy in Costa Rica began in 1899 with elections considered the first truly free and honest ones in the country’s history. This began a trend continued until today with only two lapses: in 1917-19, Federico Tinoco ruled as a dictator, and, in 1948, Jose Figueres led an armed uprising in the wake of a disputed presidential election.

With more than 2,000 dead, the 44-day civil war resulting from this uprising was the bloodiest event in 20th-century Costa Rican history, but the victorious junta drafted a constitution guaranteeing free elections with universal suffrage and the abolition of the military. Figueres became a national hero, winning the first election under the new constitution in 1953. Since then, Costa Rica has held 14 presidential elections, the latest in 2006.

GOVERNMENT

Costa Rica is a democratic republic with a strong system of constitutional checks and balances. Executive responsibilities are vested in a president, who is the country’s center of power. There also are two vice presidents and a 15-member cabinet. The president and 57 Legislative Assembly deputies are elected for 4-year terms. In April 2003, the Costa Rican Constitutional Court annulled a constitutional reform enacted by the Legislative Assembly in 1969 barring presidents from running for reelection. The law reverted back to the 1949 Constitution, which states that ex-presidents may run for reelection after they have been out of office for two presidential terms, or eight years. Deputies may run for reelection after sitting out one term, or four years.

The electoral process is supervised by an independent Supreme Electoral Tribunal—a commission of three principal magistrates and six alternates selected by the Supreme Court of Justice. Judicial power is exercised by the Supreme Court of Justice, composed of 22 magistrates selected for renewable 8-year terms by the Legislative Assembly, and subsidiary courts. A Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, established in 1989, reviews the constitutionality of legislation and executive decrees and all habeas corpus warrants.

The offices of the Comptroller General of the Republic, the Solicitor General, and the Ombudsman exercise oversight of the government. The Comptroller General’s office has a statutory responsibility to scrutinize all but the smallest public sector contracts and strictly enforces procedural requirements.

There are provincial boundaries for administrative purposes, but no elected provincial officials. Costa Rica held its first mayoral elections in December 2002, whereby mayors were elected by popular vote through general elections. Prior to 2002, the office of mayor did not exist and the president of the municipal council was responsible for the administration of each municipality. The most significant change has been to transfer the governing authority from a position filled via an indirect popular vote to one filled by a direct popular vote. Municipal council presidents are elected through internal elections conducted by council members each year, but mayors are elected directly by the populace through general elections. All council members are elected in a general election process. Autonomous state agencies enjoy considerable operational independence; they

include the telecommunications and electrical power monopoly, the state petroleum refinery, the nationalized commercial banks, the state insurance monopoly, and the social security agency. Costa Rica has no military and maintains only domestic police and security forces for internal security. A professional Coast Guard was established in 2000.

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 8/9/2006

President: Oscar ARIAS Sanchez

First Vice Pres.: Laura CHINCHILLA

Second Vice Pres.: Kevin CASAS Zamora

Min. of Culture, Youth, & Sports: Maria Elena CARBALLO

Min. of Education: Leonardo GARNIER

Min. of Environment & Energy: Roberto DOBLES

Min. of Finance: Guillermo ZUNIGA

Min. of Foreign Relations: Bruno STAGNO Ugarte

Min. of Foreign Trade: Marco Vinicio RUIZ

Min. of Health: Maria Luisa AVILA

Min. of Housing: Fernando ZUMBADO

Min. of Justice: Laura CHINCHILLA

Min. of Labor & Social Security: Francisco MORALES

Min. of Planning & Economic Policy: Kevin CASAS Zamora

Min. of the Presidency: Rodrigo ARIAS

Min. of Production: Alfredo VOLIO Perez

Min. of Public Security, Government, & Police: Fernando BERROCAL

Min. of Public Works & Transportation: Karla GONZALES

Min. of Science & Technology: Eugenia FLORES

Min. of Tourism: Carlos Ricardo BENAVIDES

Pres., Central Bank: Francisco DE PAUL Gutierrez

Ambassador to the US: Tomas DUENAS

Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Jorge URBINA Ortega

Costa Rica maintains an embassy in the United States at 2114 S Street NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-234-2945 and 202-234-2946).

POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Costa Rica has long emphasized the development of democracy and respect for human rights. Until recently, the country’s political system has steadily developed and maintained democratic institutions and an orderly, constitutional scheme for government succession. Several factors have contributed to this tendency, including enlightened leadership, comparative prosperity, flexible class lines, educational opportunities that have created a stable middle class, and high social indicators. Also, because Costa Rica has no armed forces, it has avoided the possibility of political intrusiveness by the military that other countries in the region have experienced. In May 2006, President Oscar Arias of the National Liberation Party (PLN) assumed office, defeating principal rival Ottón Solis of the Civil Action Party by roughly 2% of the vote. Arias has listed passage of the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), along with fiscal reform, infrastructure improvements, furthering education, and improving security as primary goals for his presidency. The 57-member unicameral Legislative Assembly has five principal party factions, with the governing party, PLN, having a 25-seat plurality.

ECONOMY

After four years of slow economic growth, the Costa Rican economy grew at nearly 4% in 2004. Compared with its Central American neighbors, Costa Rica has achieved a high standard of living, with a per capita income of about U.S. $4,700, and an unemployment rate of 6.6%. The annual inflation rate hovers around 14% as the Costa Rican Government seeks to reduce a large fiscal deficit.

Controlling the budget deficit remains the single-biggest challenge for the country’s economic policymakers, as interest costs on the accumulated central government consumed the equivalent of 32.1% in 2003 of the government’s total revenues. About 18.9% of the national budget was financed by public borrowing. This limits the resources available for investments in the country’s deteriorated public infrastructure.

Costa Rica’s major economic resources are its fertile land and frequent rainfall, its well-educated population, and its location in the Central American isthmus, which provides easy access to North and South American markets and direct ocean access to the European and Asian Continents. One-fourth of Costa Rica’s land is dedicated to national forests, often adjoining picturesque beaches, which has made the country a popular destination for affluent retirees and eco-tourists. Costa Rica used to be known principally as a producer of bananas and coffee, but pineapples have surpassed coffee as the number two agricultural export. In recent years, Costa Rica has successfully attracted important investments by such companies as Intel Corporation, which employs nearly 2,000 people at its $300 million microprocessor plant; Proctor and Gamble, which employs nearly 1,000 people in its administrative center for the Western Hemisphere; and Hospira and Baxter Healthcare from the health care products industry. Manufacturing and industry’s contribution to GDP overtook agriculture over the course of the 1990s, led by foreign investment in Costa Rica’s free trade zone. Well over half of that investment has come from the United States. Dole and Chiquita have a large presence in the banana industry. Two-way trade exceeded U.S. $6.6 billion in 2004.

Costa Rica has oil deposits off its Atlantic Coast, but the Pacheco administration (2002-2006) decided not to develop the deposits for environmental reasons. The country’s mountainous terrain and abundant rainfall have permitted the construction of a dozen hydroelectric power plants, making it largely self-sufficient in electricity, but it is completely reliant on imports for liquid fuels. Costa Rica has the potential to become a major electricity exporter if plans for new generating plants and a regional distribution grid are realized. Mild climate and trade winds make neither heating nor cooling necessary, particularly in the highland cities and towns where some 90% of the population lives.

Costa Rica’s infrastructure has suffered from a lack of maintenance and new investment. The country has an extensive road system of more than 30,000 kilometers, although much of it is in disrepair. Most parts of the country are accessible by road. Costa Rica has sought to widen its economic and trade ties, both within and outside the region. Costa Rica signed a bilateral trade agreement with Mexico in 1994, which was later amended to cover a wider range of products.

Costa Rica joined other Central American countries, plus the Dominican Republic, in establishing a Trade and Investment Council with the United States in March 1998. Costa Rica has signed trade agreements with Canada, Chile, the Dominican Republic, and is negotiating trade agreements with Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago. Costa Rica concluded negotiations with the U.S. to participate in the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement (U.S.-CAFTA) in January 2004. CAFTA is expected to bring about the partial opening of the state telecommunications monopoly and a substantial opening of the state-run insurance sector. While CAFTA has been ratified by the U.S. and five other countries, the Costa Rican Legislative Assembly has not yet voted on it. Costa Rica is an active participant in the negotiation of the hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americas as well as a member of the Cairns Group, which is pursuing global agricultural trade liberalization within the World Trade Organization.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

Costa Rica is an active member of the international community and, in 1993, proclaimed its permanent neutrality. Its record on the environment, human rights, and advocacy of peaceful settlement of disputes give it a weight in world affairs far beyond its size. The country lobbied aggressively for the establishment of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and became the first nation to recognize the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Human Rights Court, based in San Jose.

During the tumultuous 1980s, then President Oscar Arias authored a regional peace plan in 1987 that served as the basis for the Esquipulas Peace Agreement. Arias’ efforts earned him the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize. Subsequent agreements, supported by the United States, led to the Nicaraguan election of 1990 and the end of civil war in Nicaragua. Costa Rica also hosted several rounds of negotiations between the Salvadoran Government and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), aiding El Salvador’s efforts to emerge from civil war and culminating in that country’s 1994 free and fair elections. Costa Rica has been a strong proponent of regional arms limitation agreements.

U.S.-COSTA RICAN RELATIONS

The United States and Costa Rica have a history of close and friendly relations based on respect for democratic government, human freedoms, free trade, and other shared values. The country consistently supports the U.S. in international fora, especially in the areas of democracy and human rights. Costa Rica co-sponsored the Resolution on Cuba at the 60th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights. Law enforcement cooperation, particularly efforts to stem the flow of illegal drugs to the U.S., has been exemplary.

The United States is Costa Rica’s most important trading partner. The U.S. accounts for over half of Costa Rica’s exports, imports, and tourism, and more than two-thirds of its foreign investment. The two countries share growing concerns for the environment and want to preserve Costa Rica’s important tropical resources and prevent environmental degradation.

The United States responded to Costa Rica’s economic needs in the 1980s with significant economic and development assistance programs. Through provision of more than $1.1 billion in assistance, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) supported Costa Rican efforts to stabilize its economy and broaden and accelerate economic growth through policy reforms and trade liberalization. Assistance initiatives in the 1990s concentrated on democratic policies, modernizing the administration of justice, and sustainable development.

For decades, Peace Corps Volunteers have provided technical assistance in the areas of environmental education, natural resources, management, small business development, basic business education, urban youth, and community education. USAID completed a $9 million project in 2000-01 to support refugees of Hurricane Mitch residing in Costa Rica.

Upwards of 20,000 private American citizens, including many retirees, reside in the country and more than 600,000 American citizens visit Costa Rica annually. There have been some vexing issues in the U.S.-Costa Rican relationship, principal among them longstanding expropriation and other U.S. citizen investment disputes, which have hurt Costa Rica’s investment climate and produced bilateral tensions. Land invasions from organized squatter groups who target foreign landowners also have occurred, and some have turned violent. The U.S. Government has made clear to Costa Rica its concern that Costa Rican inattention to these issues has left U.S. citizens vulnerable to harm and loss of their property.

The United States and Costa Rica signed the bilateral Maritime Counter-Drug Agreement, the first of its kind in Central America, which entered into force in late 1999. The agreement permits bilateral cooperation on stopping drug trafficking through Costa Rican waters. The agreement has resulted in a growing number of narcotics seizures, illegal fishing cases, and search-and-rescue missions.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

SAN JOSE (E) Address: Pavas, San Jose; APO/FPO: Unit 2501 APO AA 34020; Phone: (506) 519-2000; Fax: (506) 519-2305; Workweek: Monday– Friday, 8:00a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Website: usembassy.or.cr.

AMB:Mark Langdale
CM OMS:Viviana Guerrero
DCM:Russell L. Frisbie
DCM OMS:Jean m. Smith
CG:David Dreher
POL:David E. Henifin
MGT:Scott D. McAdoo
AGR:Katherine Nishiura
APHIS:John Stewart
CLO:Barbara Dreher
DEA:Paul Knierim
ECO:Whitney J. Witteman
FCS:James McCarthy
FMO:Carmen Castro
GSO:Panfilo Marquez
ICASS Chair:McCarthy, James
IMO:Jasper R. Daniels
IPO:Richard Johnson
PAO:Laurie Weitzenkorn
RSO:Michael E. Wilkins

Last Updated: 1/23/2007

Other Contact Information

U.S. Department of Commerce Trade Information Center International Trade Administration

14th and Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20320
Tel: 800-USA-TRADE
www.trade.gov

Costa Rican American Chamber of Commerce c/o Aerocasillas
P.O. Box 025216, Dept 1576
Miami, Florida 33102-5216
Tel: 506-22-0-22-00
Fax: 506-22-0-23-00
Email: [email protected]

TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet : October 10, 2006

Country Description: Costa Rica is a middle-income, developing country with a strong democratic tradition. Tourist facilities are extensive and generally adequate. The capital is San Jose. English is a second language for many Costa Ricans.

Entry/Exit Requirements: For entry into Costa Rica, U.S. citizens must present valid passports that will not expire for at least thirty days after arrival, and a roundtrip/outbound ticket. Passports should be in good condition; Costa Rican immigration will deny entry if the passport is damaged in any way. Costa Rican authorities generally permit U.S. citizens to stay up to ninety days; to stay beyond the period granted, travelers must submit an application for an extension to the Office of Temporary Permits in the Costa Rican Department of Immigration. Tourist visas are usually not extended except under special circumstances, and extension requests are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. There is a departure tax for short-term visitors. Tourists who stay over ninety days may experience a delay at the airport when departing. Persons who overstayed previously may be denied entry to Costa Rica.

Costa Rican immigration authorities permit tourists to carry photocopies of the passport data page and Costa Rican entry stamp on their persons, leaving the original passport in a hotel safe or other secure place. Due to the high incidence of theft of passports, travelers who carry their passports are urged to place them securely in an inside pocket, and to keep a copy of the passport data page in a separate place.

The most authoritative and up-to-date information on Costa Rican entry and exit requirements may be obtained from the Consular Section of the Embassy of Costa Rica at 2112 “S” Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 328-6628, fax (202) 234-6950, website http://www.costarica-embassy.org, or from the Costa Rican consulates in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Juan (Puerto Rico), San Francisco, and Tampa. The Costa Rican immigration agency maintains a website at: http://www.migracion.go.cr. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Costa Rica in Washington or one of Costa Rica’s consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements before shipping any items. In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated special procedures for minors at entry and exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of the child’s relationship to the accompanying parents and, if one of the parents is not traveling with the child, permission from the non-traveling parent for the child’s travel. Having such documentation on hand may facilitate entry in and departure from Costa Rica.

Dual U.S./Costa Rican citizens are required by Costa Rican authorities to comply with entry and exit laws that pertain to Costa Rican citizens. American parents of minors who obtained Costa Rican citizenship through birth in Costa Rica or to a Costa Rican parent should be aware that these children may only depart Costa Rica upon presentation of an exit permit issued by the Costa Rican immigration office. Parents of dual citizen children are advised to consult with the Costa Rican Embassy or consulate in the U.S. about entry and exit requirements before travel to Costa Rica.

Safety and Security: There have been no recent acts of terrorism in Costa Rica. Visitors to Costa Rica may experience the effects of civil disturbances such as work stoppages and strikes. Although infrequent, these acts can create inconveniences for visitors. On both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, currents are swift and dangerous, and there are few lifeguards or signs warning of dangerous beaches. Several American citizens drown in Costa Rica each year due to riptides or sudden drop-offs while in shallow water. Extreme caution is advised.

Adventure tourism is popular in Costa Rica, and many companies provide white-water rafting, bungee jumping, jungle canopy tours, deep sea diving, and other outdoor attractions. In recent years, several Americans have died on Costa Rica’s flood-swollen rivers in white-water rafting accidents. Others have died trying to reach the mouths of active volcanoes. Americans are urged to use caution in selecting adventure tourism companies. The government of Costa Rica regulates and monitors the safety of adventure tourism companies; enforcement of safety laws is overseen by the Ministry of Health. Registered tourism companies with operating permits must meet safety standards and have insurance coverage. The safety regulations enforced in Costa Rica are not the same as safety regulations enforced in the United States.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s Internet web site at where the current Travel Warnings and Public Announcements, including the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Crime: Costa Rica attracts over a million foreign tourists annually, all of whom are targets for criminals. Theft is common. Visitors should pay particular attention while using public transportation, and not leave personal belongings in rental cars. U.S. citizens are encouraged to exercise the same level of caution they would in major cities or tourist areas throughout the world. Local law enforcement agencies have limited capabilities and do not act according to U.S. standards. Travelers should minimize driving at night, especially outside urban areas.

From December 2005 to April 2006, the U.S. Embassy in San Jose received over twenty reports of robberies on the Inter-American Highway west of town. In a typical incident, four attackers, masked and armed with pistols, would force the vehicle of the victim off the road by pulling alongside and in front. In some instances, shots were fired at the tires. Most of the victims were tourists in rental cars coming from the Juan Santamaria International Airport between 10:00 PM and midnight, and were robbed of luggage and other valuables. While there have been few reports of similar robberies since April, the perpetrators have not been apprehended. Residents and visitors should take appropriate precautions if traveling late at night on dark or isolated streets in San Jose.

Americans should avoid areas with high concentrations of bars and nightclubs, especially at night, and steer clear of deserted properties or undeveloped land. For safety reasons, the Embassy does not place its official visitors in hotels in the San Jose city center, but instead puts them at the larger hotels in the outlying suburbs. Americans should walk or exercise with a companion, bearing in mind that crowded tourist attractions and resort areas popular with foreign tourists are common venues for criminal activities. Travelers should ignore any verbal harassment, and avoid carrying passports, large amounts of cash, jewelry or expensive photographic equipment. Tourists are encouraged to carry photocopies of the passport data page and Costa Rican entry stamp on their persons, and leave the original passport in a hotel safe or other secure place.

Travelers should purchase an adequate level of locally valid theft insurance when renting vehicles, park in secured lots whenever possible, and never leave valuables in the vehicle. The U.S. Embassy receives reports daily of valuables, identity documents, and other items stolen from locked vehicles. Thefts from parked cars occur in downtown San Jose, at beaches, in the airport and bus station parking lots, and at national parks and other tourist attractions.

Travelers should use licensed taxis, which are red with medallions (yellow triangles containing numbers) painted on the side. Licensed taxis at the airport are painted orange. All licensed taxis have working door handles, locks, seatbelts and meters (called “marias”); passengers are required to use seatbelts. When traveling by bus, avoid putting bags or other personal belongings in the storage bins. At all times have your belongings in your line of sight or in your possession.

A common scam involves the surreptitious puncturing of tires of rental cars, often near restaurants, tourist attractions, airports, or close to the car rental agencies themselves. When the travelers pull over, “good Samaritans” quickly appear to change the tire—and just as quickly remove valuables from the car, sometimes brandishing weapons. Drivers with flat tires are advised to drive, if at all possible, to the nearest service station or other public area, and change the tire themselves, watching valuables at all times.

Information for Victims of Crime: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Medical Facilities and Health Information: Medical care in San Jose is adequate, but may be more limited in areas outside of San Jose. Travelers may also find most prescription and over-the-counter medications available in San Jose. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services, and U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. A list of local doctors and medical facilities can be found at the website of the U.S. Embassy in San Jose, at http://usembassy.or.cr. An ambulance may be summoned by calling 911. The best-equipped ambulances are called “unidad avanzada.”

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Costa Rica is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Costa Rica has one of the highest vehicle accident rates in the world. The fatality rate for pedestrians and those riding bicycles and motorcycles is disproportionately high. Traffic laws and speed limits are often ignored, turns across one or two lanes of traffic are common, and pedestrians are not given the right of way. Roads are often in poor condition, and large potholes with the potential to cause significant damage to vehicles are common. Pedestrians, cyclists, and farm animals may use the main roads. Traffic signs, even on major highways, are inadequate and few roads are lined. Shoulders are narrow or consist of drainage ditches. All of the above, in addition to poor visibility due to heavy fog or rain, makes driving at night especially treacherous. Landslides are common in the rainy season. All types of motor vehicles are appropriate for the main highways and principal roads in the major cities. However, some roads to beaches and other rural locations are not paved, and many destinations are accessible only with high clearance, rugged suspension four-wheel drive vehicles. Travelers are advised to call ahead to their hotels to ask about the current status of access roads. Costa Rica has a 911 system for reporting emergencies. In the event of a traffic accident, vehicles must/must be left where they are, and not moved out of the way. Both the Transito (Traffic Police) and the Insurance Investigator must make accident reports before the vehicles are moved.

Aviation Safety Oversight: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Costa Rica as being in compliance with ICAO international aviation safety standards for oversight of Costa Rica’s air carrier operations. For more information, visit the FAA’s website at http://www.faa.gov.

Land Ownership and Shoreline Property: U.S. citizens are urged to use caution when making real estate purchases, and consult reputable legal counsel and investigate thoroughly all aspects before entering into a contract. Coastal land within fifty meters of the high tide line is open to the public, and construction on the next one hundred fifty meters inland is possible only with the approval of the local municipality.

Squatters: Organized squatter groups have invaded properties in various parts of the country. These squatter groups, often supported by politically active persons and nongovernmental organizations, take advantage of legal provisions that allow people without land to gain title to unused agricultural property. Local courts may show considerable sympathy for the squatters. Victims of squatters have reported threats, harassment, and violence.

Disaster Preparedness: Costa Rica is located in an earthquake and volcanic zone. Serious flooding occurs annually on the Caribbean side near the port city of Limon, but flooding occurs in other parts of Costa Rica as well, depending on the time of year and rainfall. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Costa Rican laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Costa Rica are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Children’s Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues website at http://travel.state.gov/family/family_1732.html.

Registration/Embassy Location: Americans living or traveling in Costa Rica are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration website and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Costa Rica. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located in Pavas, San Jose, and may be reached at (506) 519-2000; the extension for the Consular Section is 2453. The Embassy is open Monday through Friday, and is closed on Costa Rican and U.S. holidays. Those seeking information are strongly encouraged to utilize the embassy website: http://sanjose.usembassy.gov/, and can email [email protected] with any questions/concerns. For emergencies arising outside normal business hours, U.S. citizens may call (506) 220-3127 and ask for the duty officer.

International Adoption : March 2006

The information below has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family.

Disclaimer: The information in this flyer relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is based on public sources and current understanding. Questions involving foreign and U.S. immigration laws and legal interpretation should be addressed respectively to qualified foreign or U.S. legal counsel.

Please Note: Costa Rica’s adoption procedures are in flux, due to a moratorium on some international adoptions processed through the child welfare office. The Costa Rican National Council on Adoptions has instituted a moratorium on any adoptions through its offices to countries that have not fully implemented the Hague Adoption Convention. At this time, the United States has not fully implemented the Convention, and this moratorium is therefore in effect for the United States, prohibiting the adoption through government offices of Costa Rican children by U.S. citizens who do not reside in Costa Rica. (U.S. citizens who have legal residence in Costa Rica, as well as persons who have both U.S. and Costa Rican citizenship, are still permitted to adopt Costa Rican children through government offices.) Those adoption cases that were already in the Costa Rican governmental adjudication process at the time the moratorium took effect in October 2003 have been permitted to proceed, but no new cases are being accepted.

Complicating the picture, a law to abolish private adoptions (those that are not handled by the Costa Rican National Council on Adoptions, but which are arranged by an attorney and approved by a judge) was struck down on July 3, 2003 by the Costa Rican Constitutional Court. The U.S.

Embassy understands that the legislation will be revised and reintroduced, but does not know when, nor what will happen in cases that have been initiated through private channels but not completed if this law does go into effect. The Costa Rican Government could terminate these cases. There have been allegations of fraud in connection with private adoptions, and the Costa Rican National Council on Adoptions strongly discourages them.

For the duration of this moratorium, the following information about adoption of Costa Rican children through Costa Rican government offices pertains to U.S. citizens who have legal residence in Costa Rica, or who hold both U.S. and Costa Rican citizenship.

Patterns of Immigration: Please review current reports online at travel.state.gov/family.

Adoption Authority: The Patronato Nacional de la Infancia (PANI), the Costa Rican child welfare authority, oversees adoptions of abandoned orphans who are in public institutions, and plays a consultative role in private adoptions, as well. PANI may be contacted as follows:

Patronato Nacional de La Infancia
P.O. Box 5000
San Jose, Costa Rica
phone: (506) 233-0005
or (506) 222-0443
fax: (506) 233-2414
e-mail: [email protected]

PANI contacts a prospective adoptive family when PANI identifies a child for adoption, even calling collect if authorized by the family. Pictures and related information about the child will be sent by airmail. Note that there is a backlog in pending cases.

Eligibility Requirements for Adoptive Parents: Costa Rican law permits adoption by married and single persons. A foreign couple must have been married for at least five years. Prospective adoptive parents must be at least 25 and under 60 years of age.

Residency Requirements: Costa Rican law requires that, at the initial stage of the adoption process, both prospective adoptive parents must be in Costa Rica to sign the official consent documents before the Costa Rican court. In the case of adoption by a single prospective adoptive parent, that individual must be present to sign the documents. At least 15 days should be allowed for this initial trip. At the end of the process, one of the adoptive parents, or the sole parent if it is a single-parent adoption, must be in Costa Rica to finish the paperwork for the adoption, obtain a travel document for the child, and complete immigration procedures at the U.S. Embassy. Since the length of time for the entire adoption process may vary (from four months to a year), many prospective adoptive parents make two trips to Costa Rica; others prefer to remain in Costa Rica for the entire process.

While in Costa Rica, the adopting parents need to take the following steps to satisfy local adoption requirements:

  • Meet the child;
  • Give formal consent for the adoption at the court;
  • Obtain a decree of abandonment;
  • Obtain a certified copy of the final adoption decree from the court;
  • Register the adoption at the local Civil Registry;
  • Obtain a birth certificate from the Civil Registry with the new name of the child;
  • Obtain PANI authorization for the child to leave the country;
  • Obtain a passport for the child.

Time Frame: An adoption in Costa Rica generally takes from four to twelve months from the time a decree of abandonment has been issued or an official request for adoption of a specific child is placed before the court.

Adoption Agencies and Attorneys: Adoptions in Costa Rica can be arranged either through the government agency, PANI, or through private channels.

Adoption Fees: Official fees for an adoption are set at a minimum of $250, which represents the total court costs when an adoption is processed through PANI. Payments to parents or guardians are illegal under Costa Rican law and prospective adoptive parents who make such payments could be subject to investigation and possible prosecution. The fees generally charged in private adoptions can be very high, running into the thousands of dollars. American adoptive parents may want to notify the Embassy and the Department of State if they feel they are being charged excessive fees.

Adoption Procedures: Costa Rican adoption law provides for two types of adoptions: those arranged through PANI, and private adoptions.

In foreign adoptions overseen by PANI, current Costa Rican law prohibits adoption of children less than four years of age, except in cases in which the child is part of a family group, or is difficult to place.

In private adoptions, there is no limit on the age of the children. A child is released to a private attorney, who then arranges the adoption. The court reviews the qualifications of the prospective adoptive parents, with PANI playing a consultative role.

Foreigners, including U.S. citizens, must complete the adoption process in Costa Rica and the adoption must be formally registered in the civil registry before the Costa Rican authorities will grant permission for the child to leave the country. Because of Costa Rican government concerns about child smuggling and the need for follow-up in the adoption process, permission is rarely granted for a child to leave Costa Rica in the custody of a prospective adoptive parent for the purpose of being finally adopted in another country.

Under Costa Rican law, adopted children do not need to be orphans (both birth parents deceased). They must, however, be abandoned or irrevocably surrendered for adoption. Abandoned children may be living in a government facility, in a private orphanage or foster home or in the custody of a relative or friend. Children may also remain in the custody of a biological parent prior to formal relinquishment of custody before a judge. (Important: The preceding relates only to Costa Rican legal requirements. See the section of this flyer on U.S. immigration requirements regarding the definition of an orphan for U.S. visa purposes; a child who does not meet the U.S. legal definition will not be permitted to immigrate to the U.S. even if Costa Rica permits the adoption to take place, and even if the adoptive parents are U.S. citizens.)

Documentary Requirements: The following documentation is normally required:

  • Certified and authenticated copies of the adoptive parent(s)’ birth certificate(s);
  • Certified and authenticated copy of the adoptive parent(s)’ marriage certificate (if applicable) and proof of termination of any previous marriages (certified copy of spouse’s death certificate or divorce decree);
  • Medical certificate(s) for adoptive parent(s) notarized by physician and authenticated;
  • A certificate of good conduct/no criminal record for each adoptive parent from a local police department, notarized or bearing police department seal and authenticated. An FBI report is acceptable in lieu of local police record. This is separate from the FBI check conducted by USCIS as part of the petition process;
  • Verification of employment and salary, notarized and authenticated;
  • Two letters of reference notarized and authenticated;
  • A certified and authenticated copy of property trusts deeds, if applicable;
  • A home study prepared by an authorized and licensed social agency, certified and authenticated, may be required in some cases by the Costa Rican authorities if necessary information was not included on the USCIS (I-600A).
  • Bank statements, notarized/certified and authenticated;
  • Family letter of intent to adopt, which states any general preferences requested by the family, i.e. a certain age, sex, etc. notarized and authenticated.

Note: Additional documentation and procedures may be required.

Costa Rican Embassy and Consulate in the U.S.: The Costa Rican Embassy in the United States is located at 2112- S Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (telephone (202) 234-2945/46, fax (202) 265-4795). Costa Rican consulates are located in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Juan, San Francisco, and Tampa. The Embassy of Costa Rica also maintains a web site at http://www.costarica-embassy.org/.

U.S. Immigration Requirements: Prospective adopting parents are strongly encouraged to consult USCIS publication M-249, The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adopting Children, as well as the Department of State publication, International Adoptions. Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at travel.state. gov/family.

U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica: It is advisable to contact the U.S. Embassy at least three working days in advance of the adoption to check that documents are filled out correctly and that all required documents are present. The U.S. Embassy will also set an appointment to file the immigration petition (I-600) application and schedule the immigrant visa interview. Since the documentation required is slightly different from that required for the I-600A, adoptive parents should contact the Embassy early in the adoption process to request a packet of instructions listing the documents necessary for immigrant visa issuance.

Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at travel.state.gov/family.

Additional Information: Specific questions about adoption in Costa Rica may be addressed to the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica. General questions regarding international adoption may be addressed to the Office of Children’s Issues, U.S. Department of State, CA/OCS/CI, SA-29, 4th Floor, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818, toll-free Tel: 1-888-407-4747.

views updated

COSTA RICA

Compiled from the August 2003 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:
Republic of Costa Rica

PROFILE
PEOPLE AND HISTORY
GOVERNMENT
POLITICAL CONDITIONS
ECONOMY
FOREIGN RELATIONS
U.S.-COSTA RICAN RELATIONS
TRAVEL


PROFILE


Geography

Area: 51,032 sq. km. (19,652 sq. mi.); about twice the size of the state of Vermont.

Cities: Capital—San Jose (metropolitan area pop. 1.2 million). Other major cities—Puntarenas (300,000), Alajuela (250,000), Limon (150,000), Cartago (150,000).

Terrain: A rugged, central range separates the eastern and western coastal plains.

Climate: Mild in the central highlands, tropical and subtropical in coastal areas.


People

Nationality: Noun and adjective—Costa Rican(s).

Population: (2001 est.) 3.94 million.

Annual growth rate: (2001 est.) 2.3%.

Ethnic groups: European and some mestizo 94%, African origin 3%, Chinese 1%, indigenous 1%, other 1%.

Religion: Roman Catholic 76.3%, Evangelical Protestant approx. 13.7%, none 3.2%, others 6.8%.

Languages: Spanish, with Jamaican dialect of English spoken around Puerto Limon.

Education: Years compulsory—9. Attendance—99% grades 1-6, 71% grades 7-9. Literacy—95.5%.

Health: Infant mortality rate—10.8/1,000. Life expectancy—men 75.6 yrs., women 79.9 yrs.

Work force: (2000, 1.39 million) Services—58%; agriculture—20%; industry—22%.


Government

Type: Democratic republic.

Independence: September 15, 1821.

Constitution: November 7, 1949.

Branches: Executive—president (head of government and chief of state) elected for one 4-year term, two vice presidents, Cabinet (15 ministers, one of whom also is vice president). Legislative—57-deputy unicameral Legislative Assembly elected at 4-year intervals. Judicial—Supreme Court of Justice (22 magistrates elected by Legislative Assembly for renewable 8-year terms). The offices of the Ombudsman, Comptroller General, and Procurator General assert autonomous oversight of the government.

Sub divisions: Seven provinces, divided into 81 cantons, subdivided into 421 districts.

Political parties: Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), National Liberation Party (PLN), Citizen's Action Party (PAC), Libertarian Movement Party (PML), Costa Rican Renovation Party (PRC).

Suffrage: Obligatory at 18.

Economy

GDP: (2001) $15.2 billion.

GDP PPP: 2000: $32 billion.

Inflation: (2001) 11%.

Real growth rate: (2001) 0.7%.

Per capita income: (2001) $3,850.

Unemployment: (2001 est.) 6.1%.

Currency: Costa Rica Colon (CRC).

Natural resources: Hydroelectric power, forest products, fisheries products.

Agriculture: (11% of GDP) Products—bananas, coffee, beef, sugarcane, rice, dairy products, vegetables, fruits and ornamental plants.

Industry: (37% of GDP) Types—electronic components, food processing, textiles and apparel, construction materials, cement, fertilizer.

Commerce and tourism: (52% of GDP) Hotels, restaurants, tourist services, banks, and insurance.

Trade: (2000) Exports—$6.1 billion: electronic components, bananas, coffee, textiles and apparel, fruits, jewelry, flowers and ornamental plants, small appliances, shrimp. Major markets—U.S. 54%, Europe 21%, Central America 9%. Imports—$5.9 billion: electronic components, machinery, vehicles, consumer goods, chemicals, petroleum products, foods, and fertilizer. Major suppliers—U.S. 56%, Europe 10%, Mexico 5% Central America 5%, Japan 5%, Venezuela 4%.


PEOPLE AND HISTORY

Unlike many of their Central American neighbors, present-day Costa Ricans are largely of European rather than mestizo descent; Spain was the primary country of origin. However, an estimated 10% to 15% of the population is Nicaraguan, of fairly recent arrival and primarily of mestizo origin. Descendants of 19th-century Jamaican immigrant workers constitute an English-speaking minority and—at 3% of the population—number about 96,000. Few of the native Indians survived European contact; the indigenous population to day numbers about 29,000 or less than 1% of the population.


In 1502, on his fourth and last voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus made the first European landfall in the area. Settlement of Costa Rica began in 1522. For nearly three centuries, Spain administered the region as part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala under a military governor. The Spanish optimistically called the country "Rich Coast." Finding little gold or other valuable minerals in Costa Rica, however, the Spanish turned to agriculture.


The small landowners' relative poverty, the lack of a large indigenous labor force, the population's ethnic and linguistic homogeneity, and Costa Rica's isolation from the Spanish colonial centers in Mexico and the Andes all contributed to the development of an autonomous and individualistic agrarian society. An egalitarian tradition also arose. This tradition survived the widened class distinctions brought on by the 19th-century introduction of banana and coffee cultivation and consequent accumulations of local wealth.


Costa Rica joined other Central American provinces in 1821 in a joint declaration of independence from Spain. Although the newly independent provinces formed a Federation, border disputes broke out among them, adding to the region's turbulent history and conditions. Costa Rica's northern Guanacaste Province was annexed from Nicaragua in one such regional dispute. In 1838, long after the Central American Federation ceased to function in practice, Costa Rica formally withdrew and proclaimed itself sovereign.

An era of peaceful democracy in Costa Rica began in 1899 with elections considered the first truly free and honest ones in the country's history. This began a trend continued until today with only two lapses: in 1917-19, Federico Tinoco ruled as a dictator, and, in 1948,


Jose Figueres led an armed uprising in the wake of a disputed presidential election.


With more than 2,000 dead, the 44-day civil war resulting from this uprising was the bloodiest event in 20th-century Costa Rican history, but the victorious junta drafted a constitution guaranteeing free elections with universal suffrage and the abolition of the military. Figueres became a national hero, winning the first election under the new constitution in 1953. Since then, Costa Rica has held 13 presidential elections, the latest in 2002.


GOVERNMENT

Costa Rica is a democratic republic with a strong system of constitutional checks and balances. Executive responsibilities are vested in a president, who is the country's center of power. There also are two vice presidents and a 15-member cabinet. The president and 57 Legislative Assembly deputies are elected for 4-year terms. A constitutional amendment approved in 1969 limits presidents and deputies to one term, although a deputy may run again for an Assembly seat after sitting out a term.


The electoral process is supervised by an independent Supreme Electoral Tribunal—a commission of three principal magistrates and six alternates selected by the Supreme Court of Justice. Judicial power is exercised by the Supreme Court of Justice, composed of 22 magistrates selected for renewable 8-year terms by the Legislative Assembly, and subsidiary courts. A Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, established in 1989, reviews the constitutionality of legislation and executive decrees and all habeas corpus warrants.

The offices of the Comptroller General of the Republic, the Solicitor General, and the Ombudsman exercise oversight of the government. The Comptroller General's office has a statutory responsibility to scrutinize all but the smallest public sector contracts and strictly enforces procedural requirements.


Governors appointed by the president head the country's seven provinces, but they exercise little power. There are no provincial legislatures. Autonomous state agencies enjoy considerable operational independence; they include the telecommunications and electrical power monopoly, the state petroleum refinery, the nationalized commercial banks, the state insurance monopoly, and the social security agency. Costa Rica has no military and maintains only domestic police and security forces for internal security. A professional Coast Guard was established in 2000.


Principal Government Officials
Last Updated: 9/10/03


President: Pacheco, Abel

First Vice Pres.: Saborio, Lineth

Second Vice Pres.: Fishman, Luis

Min. of Agriculture & Livestock: Coto, Rodolfo

Min. of Culture, Youth, & Sports: Saenz Gonzalez, Guido

Min. of Economy & Industry: Barrantes, Gilberto

Min. of Education: Bolanos, Manuel

Min. of Environment & Energy: Rodriguez, Carlos Manuel

Min. of Finance: Dent, Alberto

Min. of Foreign Relations & Religion: Tovar Faja, Roberto

Min. of Foreign Trade: Trejos, Alberto

Min. of Health: Saenz, Maria del Rocio

Min. of Housing: Fallas Venegas, Helio

Min. of Justice: Villalobos, Jose Miguel

Min. of Labor & Social Security: Pacheco Salazar, Ovidio

Min. of Planning: Chaverri Soto, Danilo

Min. of the Presidency: Contreras Lopez, Rina

Min. of Public Security, Government, & Police: Ramos Martinez, Rogelio Vicente

Min. of Public Works & Transportation: Chaves Bolanos, Javier

Min. of Science & Technology: Pardo Evans, Rogelio

Min. of Tourism: Pacheco, Ruben

Min. of Women's Affairs: Valerin R., Gloria

Min. Without Portfolio (National Council on Childhood): Gil, Rosalia

Pres., Central Bank: De Paula, Francisco

Ambassador to the US: Daremblum Rosenstein, Jaime

Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Stagno Ugarde, Bruno



Costa Rica maintains an embassy in the United States at 2114 S Street NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-328-6628).


POLITICAL CONDITIONS


Costa Rica long has emphasized the development of democracy and respect for human rights. Until recently, the country's political system has contrasted sharply with many of its Central American neighbors; it has steadily developed and maintained democratic institutions and an orderly, constitutional scheme for government succession. Several factors have contributed to this tendency, including enlightened government leaders, comparative prosperity, flexible class lines, educational opportunities that have created a stable middle class, and high social indicators. Also, because Costa Rica has no armed forces, it has avoided the possibility of political intrusiveness by the military that some neighboring countries have experienced. Costa Rica experienced several unusual days of demonstrations and civil disturbance in early 2000 due to protests over legislation that would have permitted private sector participation in the telecommunications and electrical power sectors. These sectors currently are controlled by a state-owned monopoly. The legislation was withdrawn, but the underlying question of the appropriate role of the state in the provision of public services remains sensitive.

In May 2002 President Abel Pacheco of the Social Christian Union Party (PUSC) assumed office after defeating National Liberation Party (PLN) candidate Rolando Araya in the first-ever second-round runoff election. The April 2002 runoff election was necessitated by the failure of any one candidate to obtain the constitutionally required 40% of the popular vote in the February first-round election.


ECONOMY

Costa Rica's economy showed strong aggregate growth in 1998-99. The Central Bank attributes almost half of 1999 growth to the production of Intel Corporation's microprocessor assembly and testing plant. The strength in the nontraditional export and tourism sector is masking a relatively lackluster performance by traditional sectors, including agriculture. Inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, was 11% in 2001, up from 10.3% the year before. The central government deficit increased to 3.0% of GDP in 2001, up from 2.2% from the year before. On a consolidated basis, including Central Bank losses and parastatal enterprise profits, the public sector deficit was 2.8% of GDP.


Controlling the budget deficit remains the single-biggest challenge for the country's economic policy makers, as interest costs on the accumulated central government consumes the equivalent of 30% of the government's total revenues. About 42% of the 2001 national budget was financed by public borrowing. This limits the resources available for investments in the country's deteriorated public infrastructure.


Costa Rica's major economic resources are its fertile land and frequent rainfall, its well-educated population, and its location in the Central American isthmus, which provides easy access to North and South American markets and direct ocean access to the European and Asian Continents. One-fourth of Costa Rica's land is dedicated to national forests, often adjoining picturesque beaches, which has made the country a popular destination for affluent retirees and ecotourists.


Costa Rica used to be known principally as a producer of bananas and coffee. In recent years, Costa Rica has successfully attracted important investments by such companies as Intel Corporation, which employs nearly 2,000 people at its $300 million microprocessor plant; Proctor and Gamble, which employs nearly 1,000 people in its administrative center for the Western Hemisphere; and Abbott Laboratories and Baxter Healthcare from the health care products industry. Manufacturing and industry's contribution to GDP overtook agriculture over the course of the 1990s, led by foreign investment in Costa Rica's free trade zone. Well over half of that investment has come from the U.S. Dole and Chiquita have a large presence in the banana industry. Tourism remains the largest foreign exchange earner, although the industry suffered a 4% contraction following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the U.S.

The country has not discovered sources of fossil fuels—apart from minor coal deposits—but its mountainous terrain and abundant rainfall have permitted the construction of a dozen hydroelectric power plants, making it largely self-sufficient in most energy needs, except oil for transportation. Costa Rica exports electricity to Nicaragua and has the potential to become a major electricity exporter if plans for new generating plants and a regional distribution grid are realized. One challenge will be how to secure payment for these exports. Mild climate and trade winds make neither heating nor cooling necessary, particularly in the highland cities and towns where some 90% of the population lives.


Costa Rica's infrastructure has suffered from a lack of maintenance and new investment. The country has an extensive road system of more than 30,000 kilometers, although some of it is in disrepair. Most parts of the country are accessible by road. The main highland cities in the country's Central Valley are connected by paved all-weather roads with the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and by the Pan American Highway with Nicaragua and Panama, the neighboring countries to the North and the South. Costa Rica's ports are struggling to keep pace with growing trade. They have insufficient capacity, and their equipment is in poor condition. The railroad does not function, with the exception of a couple of spurs reactivated by a U.S.-owned banana company. The government opened the ports and the railroad to competitive bidding opportunities for private investment and management but U.S. companies chose not to participate in this process.

Costa Rica has sought to widen its economic and trade ties, both within and outside the region. Costa Rica signed a bilateral trade agreement with Mexico in 1994, which was later amended to cover a wider range of products. Costa Rica joined other Central American countries, plus the Dominican Republic, in establishing a Trade and Investment Council with the United States in March 1998. Costa Rica has signed trade agreements with Canada, Chile, the Dominican Republic, and is negotiating trade agreements with Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago. Costa Rica and its Central American neighbors are currently negotiating a free trade agreement with the U.S. Costa Rica also is an active participant in the negotiation of the hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americas, a process that the Costa Rican Government chaired in preparation for the April 1998 Summit of the Americas in Santiago, Chile. It also is a member of the so-called Cairns Group which is pursuing global agricultural trade liberalization in the World Trade Organization.


FOREIGN RELATIONS

Costa Rica is an active member of the international community and, in 1993, proclaimed its permanent neutrality. Its record on the environment, human rights, and advocacy of peaceful settlement of disputes give it a weight in world affairs far beyond its size. The country lobbied aggressively for the establishment of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and became the first nation to recognize the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Human Rights Court, based in San Jose.


Then-President Oscar Arias authored a regional peace plan in 1987 that served as the basis for the Esquipulas Peace Agreement. Arias' efforts earned him the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize. Subsequent agreements, supported by the United States, led to the Nicaraguan election of 1990 and the end of civil war in Nicaragua. Costa Rica also hosted several rounds of negotiations between the Salvadoran Government and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), aiding El Salvador's efforts to emerge from civil war and culminating in that country's 1994 free and fair elections. Costa Rica has been a strong proponent of regional arms limitation agreements. President Rodriguez recently proposed the abolition of all Central American militaries and the creation of a regional counter narcotics police force in their stead.


With the establishment of democratically elected governments in all Central American nations by the 1990s, Costa Rica turned its focus from regional conflicts to the pursuit of democratic and economic development on the isthmus. It was instrumental in drawing Panama into the Central American development process and participated in the multinational Partnership for Democracy and Development in Central America.


Regional political integration has not proven attractive to Costa Rica. The country debated its role in the Central American integration process under former President Calderon. Costa Rica has sought concrete economic ties with its Central American neighbors rather than the establishment of regional political institutions, and it chose not to join the Central American Parli ament. President Figueres promoted a higher profile for Costa Rica in regional and international fora. Costa Rica gained election as president of the Group of 77 in the United Nations in 1995.


That term ended in 1997 with the South-South Conference held in San Jose. Costa Rica occupied a nonpermanent seat in the Security Council from 1997 to 1999 and exercised a leadership role in confronting crises in the Middle East and Africa, as well as in the former Republic of Yugoslavia. It is currently a member of the UN Human Rights Commission. Costa Rica hosted the OAS General Assembly in San Jose in 2001 and assumed the presidency of the Rio Group in 2002.

Costa Rica broke relations with Cuba in 1961 to protest Cuban support of leftist subversion in Central America and has not renewed formal diplomatic ties with the Castro regime. Costa Rica established a consular office in Havana in 1995. Cuba opened a consular office in Costa Rica in 2001. Costa Rica withdrew its Consul General from Havana in 2001 and its consular office there is now operated by a single consul.


Costa Rica strongly backed efforts by the United States to implement UN Security Council Resolution 940, which led to the restoration of the democratically elected Government of Haiti in October 1994. Costa Rica was among the first to call for a postponement of the May 22 elections in Peru when international observer missions found electoral machinery not prepared for the vote count.


U.S.-COSTA RICAN RELATIONS

The United States and Costa Rica have a history of close and friendly relations based on respect for democratic government, human freedoms, free trade, and other shared values. During the crisis in Central America in the 1980s, Costa Rica and the United States worked for the restoration of peace and the establishment of democracy on the isthmus. Costa Rica works cooperatively with the United States and other nations in the international fight against narcotics trafficking.


The United States is Costa Rica's most important trading partner. The United States accounts for over half of Costa Rica's exports, imports, and tourism and more than two-thirds of its foreign investment. The two countries share growing concerns for the environment and want to preserve Costa Rica's important tropical resources and prevent environmental degradation.

The United States responded to Costa Rica's economic needs in the 1980s with significant economic and development assistance programs. Through provision of more than $1.1 billion in assistance, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) supported Costa Rican efforts to stabilize its economy and broaden and accelerate economic growth through policy reforms and trade liberalization. Assistance initiatives in the 1990s concentrated on democratic policies, modernizing the administration of justice, and sustainable development.


For decades, Peace Corps Volunteers have provided technical assistance in the areas of environmental education, natural resources, management, small business development, basic business education, urban youth, and community education. USAID completed a $9 million project in 2000-01 to support refugees of Hurricane Mitch residing in Costa Rica.


As many as 20,000 private American citizens, mostly retirees, reside in the country and an estimated 600,000 American citizens visit Costa Rica annually. There have been some vexing issues in the U.S.-Costa Rican relationship, principal among them longstanding expropriation and other U.S. citizen investment disputes, which have hurt Costa Rica's investment climate and produced bilateral tensions. However, all but two longstanding expropriation cases have been resolved. Land invasions from organized squatter groups who target foreign land owners also have occurred, and some have turned violent. The U.S. Government has made clear to Costa Rica its concern that Costa Rican inattention to these issues has left U.S. citizens vulnerable to harm and loss of their property.


The United States and Costa Rica signed the bilateral Maritime Counter-Drug Agreement, the first of its kind in Central America, which entered into force in late 1999. The agreement permits bilateral cooperation on stopping drug trafficking through Costa Rican waters. The agreement has resulted in a growing number of narcotics seizures, illegal fishing cases, and search-and-rescue missions.


Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

San Jose (E) , Pavas, San Jose • APO AA 34020, Tel (506) 220-3939, after-hours Tel 220-3127; ADM Fax 220-2305; APHIS Fax 296-3556; B&F Fax 231-7108; CON Fax 220-2455; ENVI Fax 290-8409; EXEC Fax 220-2470; FAS Fax 232-7709; FCS Fax 231-4783; ODR Fax 231-7094; OFDA Fax 231-4111; PAO Fax 232-7944; PC Fax 231-1494; POEC Fax 220-3128; RSO Fax 220-3505; SSA Fax 220-2476; IVG 220+ext. Embassy Website: http://usembassy.or.cr

AMB: John J. Danilovich
AMB OMS: Linda R. Ren
DCM: Douglas M. Barnes
MGT: Joseph B. Schreiber
APHIS/Screwworm:Mark Dulin
APHIS: Mark Dulin, Acting
CON: Robin J. Morritz
DEA: Dirk A. Lamagno
ENVIR HUB: David A. Alarid
FAS: Alan Hrapsky
FCS: Margaret Hanson-Muse
IMO: Jose M. Ortiz
ODR: CMDR Howard White
OFDA: Timothy Callaghan, Acting
PAO: Peter M. Brennan
PC: James Criste
POL/ECO: Frederick J. Kaplan
RSO: Stephen P. Brunette
SSA: Roberto Santis


Last Modified: Monday, December 15, 2003


Other Contact Information

U.S. Department of Commerce
Trade Information Center
International Trade Administration
14th and Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20320
Tel: 800-USA-TRADE
www.ita.doc.gov


Costa Rican American Chamber of Commerce
c/o Aerocasillas
P.O. Box 025216, Dept 1576
Miami, Florida 33102-5216
Tel: 506-22-0-22-00
Fax: 506-22-0-23-00
Email: [email protected]


TRAVEL


Consular Information Sheet
January 12, 2004


Country Description: Costa Rica is a middle-income, developing country with a strong democratic tradition. Tourist facilities are extensive and generally adequate. The capital is San Jose. English is widely spoken.


Entry and Exit Requirements: In a change to long-time practice, on November 18, 2003, the Government of Costa Rica began requiring that all U.S. citizens present passports valid for at least ninety days in order to enter Costa Rica.


U.S. citizens are generally permitted to stay up to ninety days; to stay legally beyond that period, travelers will need to submit an application for an extension to the Office of Temporary Permits in the Costa Rican Department of Immigration. Tourist visas are usually not extended except under special circumstances, such as academic, employment, or medical grounds. Extension requests are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.


Americans should always be prepared to present to Costa Rican authorities proof of their legal entry and stay in Costa Rica via their appropriately stamped passport. Under Costa Rican law, a photocopy alone of the U.S. passport and entry stamps is not sufficient to demonstrate proof of status. In recent times, Americans have been detained, deported, and fined due to their failure to demonstrate legal status in Costa Rica.


There is a departure tax for short-term visitors. Tourists who stay over ninety days without receiving a formal extension can expect to pay a higher departure tax at the airport or land border, and may experience some delay at the airport. Persons who have overstayed previously may be denied entry to Costa Rica.

In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated special procedures for minors at entry and exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand may facilitate entry or departure.


Dual U.S./Costa Rican citizens are required by Costa Rican authorities to comply with entry and exit laws that pertain to Costa Rican citizens. This means that even U.S. citizen minors who are also Costa Rican citizens, and who might normally travel on U.S. passports, will be required to comply with entry and exit requirements applicable to Costa Rican children. American parents of minors who may have obtained Costa Rican citizenship through birth in Costa Rica or to a Costa Rican parent should be aware that these children may only depart Costa Rica upon presentation of an exit permit issued by the Costa Rican immigration office. This office may be closed for several weeks during holiday periods. Parents of dual citizen children are advised to consult with the Costa Rican Embassy or Consulate in the U.S. about entry and exit requirements before travel to Costa Rica.


Additional information on entry and exit requirements may be obtained from the Consular Section of the Embassy of Costa Rica at 2114 S Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 234-2945/46, fax (202) 265-4795, or from a Costa Rican consulate in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Puerto Rico, San Antonio, or San Francisco. The Embassy of Costa Rica also maintains a website at http://www.costarica-embassy.org/.


Safety and Security: On both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, currents are swift and dangerous, and there are no lifeguards or signs warning of dangerous beaches. Several American citizens drown in Costa Rica each year.


Adventure tourism is increasingly popular in Costa Rica, and many companies provide white-water rafting, bungee jumping, jungle canopy tours and other outdoor attractions. In recent years, several Americans have died on Costa Rica's flood-swollen rivers in white-water rafting accidents. Americans are urged to use caution in selecting adventure tourism companies, and are advised to avoid small, "cut-rate" companies that do not have the track record of more established companies. The government of Costa Rica has passed legislation to regulate and monitor the safety of adventure tourism companies; enforcement of these laws is overseen by the Ministry of Health. To be granted official operating permits, registered tourism companies must meet safety standards and have insurance coverage.


Demonstrations or strikes, related to labor disputes or other local issues, occur occasionally in Costa Rica. Past demonstrations have resulted in port closures, roadblocks, and sporadic gasoline shortages. These protests have not targeted U.S. citizens or U.S. interests, and are typically non-violent. Travelers are advised to avoid areas where demonstrations are taking place and to keep informed by following the local news and consulting hotel personnel and tour guides. Additional information about demonstrations may be obtained from the American Citizen Services Unit at the U.S. Embassy, or on the Embassy website.


Crime: Crime is increasing and tourists are frequent victims. Criminals roam freely day and night, and usually operate in small groups. While most crimes are non-violent, criminals, including juveniles, have shown a greater tendency in recent years to use violence and to carry handguns or shoulder weapons. U.S. citizens are encouraged to use the same level of caution that they would exercise in major cities or tourist areas throughout the world. Americans should avoid urban areas that are known to have high crime rates, should avoid deserted properties or undeveloped land, should walk or exercise with a companion, should avoid responding in kind to verbal harassment, and should bear in mind that resort areas popular with foreign tourists are also common venues for criminal activities. Local law enforcement agencies have limited capabilities and do not act according to U.S. standards, especially outside of San Jose.

In recent years, several Americans have been murdered in Costa Rica in urban, rural and resort locations. Many of the perpetrators have been arrested, and some convicted. Other assailants remain at large. U.S. citizens have been victims of sexual assaults both in cities and in rural areas. In many of these cases, the victim has known the assailant. There have been several sexual assaults, including one rape, by taxi drivers. Travelers should be careful to use licensed taxis, which are red and have medallions painted on the side. Licensed taxis at the airport are painted orange, rather than red. All taxis should have working door handles, locks, and meters (called "marias"), and passengers should not ride in the front seat with the driver. If the taxi meter is not working, a price should be agreed upon before the trip begins.


There have been reports that unsuspecting patrons of bars and nightclubs have been drugged and later assaulted or robbed. Americans should always be aware of their surroundings, and should not consume food or drinks they have left untended. Americans may find it safer to seek entertainment in groups to help avoid being targeted, especially in urban areas.


Although Americans have not been specifically targeted, there have been several kidnappings, including those of foreigners. Carjackings have also increased, and motorists have been confronted at gunpoint while stopped at traffic lights or upon arrival at their homes. Late model sport utility vehicles and high-end car models are popular with carjackers.

Travelers should purchase an adequate level of locally valid theft insurance when renting vehicles. One should park in secured lots whenever possible, and should never leave valuables in the vehicle. Thefts from parked cars commonly occur in downtown San Jose, at beaches, in the airport and bus station parking lots, and at national parks and other tourist attractions. A common ploy by thieves involves the surreptitious puncturing of tires of rental cars, often close to the car rental agency itself. When the travelers pull over, "good Samaritans" quickly appear to change the tire - and just as quickly remove valuables from the car. Drivers with flat tires are advised to change the tire themselves or drive to the nearest service station, and watch their valuables at all times. Travelers can reduce their risk by keeping valuables out of sight, not wearing jewelry, and traveling in groups. Travelers should also minimize travel after dark.


Money exchangers on the street have been known to pass off counterfeit U.S. dollars and local currency. Credit card fraud is on the rise. Both theft and 'number skimming' are common. Travelers should retain all their credit card receipts and check their accounts regularly to help prevent unauthorized use of their credit cards. Avoid using debit cards for point of sale purchases, as a skimmed number can be used to clean out an account.


The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Costa Rican law requires that foreigners carry their passports on their persons at all times, and be able to demonstrate legal admission into the country through a valid entry stamp. Due to the high incidence of theft of passports, however, travelers are urged to carry their passport securely in an inside pocket. Travelers are also advised to keep a copy of their passport data page in a secure place to facilitate the issuance of an emergency replacement passport.

U.S. citizens can refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad, for ways to promote a trouble-free journey. The pamphlet is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402; via the Internet at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.


Medical Facilities: Medical facilities are available, but may be limited outside of urban areas. A list of local doctors and medical facilities can be found at the website of the U.S. Embassy in San Jose, at http://usembassy.or.cr.


Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as medical evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas, including emergency services such as medical evacuation.


When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service, and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties. When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page.


Other Health Information: Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, please consult the World Health Organization's website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.


Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Costa Rica is provided for general reference only, and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.


Safety of Public Transportation: Fair
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair to Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair to Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Fair to Poor


Traffic laws and speed limits are often ignored; turns across one or two lanes of traffic are common, and pedestrians are not given the right of way. Although improving, roads are often in poor condition, and large potholes with the potential to cause significant damage to vehicles are common. Traffic signs, even on major highways, are often inadequate. All of the above, in addition to poor visibility because of heavy fog or rain, makes driving at night especially treacherous. In the rainy season, landslides are common, especially on the highway between San Jose and the Caribbean city of Limon. All types of motor vehicles are appropriate for the main highways and principal roads in the major cities. However, some roads to beaches and other rural locations are not paved, and some out-of-the-way destinations are accessible only with high clearance, rugged suspension four-wheel drive vehicles. Travelers are advised to call ahead to their hotels to ask about the current status of access roads. Travelers should avoid responding in kind to provocative driving behavior or road-rage. In case of an accident, travelers are advised to remain in their car until police arrive.

Traffic enforcement in Costa Rica is the responsibility of the Transit Police ("Transitos"), who are distinguished by a light blue uniform shirt and dark blue trousers. They use light blue cars or motorcycles equipped with blue lights. They often wave vehicles to the side of the road for inspection. Drivers are commonly asked to produce a driver's license, vehicle registration and insurance information. Third-party coverage is mandatory in Costa Rica. Infractions will result in the issuance of a summons. Fines are not supposed to be collected on the spot, although reports of officers attempting to collect money are common. Persons involved in vehicular accidents are advised not to move their vehicle until instructed to do so by a Transit Officer, who will respond to the scene together with a representative of the National Insurance Company (known by its local acronym, BCIS.) Accidents may be reported by dialing 911.


Aviation Safety Oversight: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Costa Rica's civil aviation authority as Category 1 - in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Costa Rica's air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet website at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/.


The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.


Since 2000, several American citizens have died in domestic air accidents. Local investigations have judged pilot error to be the cause in the majority of the accidents. Private air taxi services have been involved in a disproportionate number of crashes. The Government of Costa Rica's civil aviation authority has responded by dedicating additional resources to the oversight of the pilots, procedures, and aircraft of air taxi operators.


Customs Regulations: Costa Rica customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Costa Rica of items such as cars, household effects, and merchandise. These regulations can be quite complicated and include the application of local tax laws. In addition, Costa Rican customs officials often require documentation that has been certified by the Costa Rican Embassy/Consulate in the country of origin. This is especially true for automobiles that are to be imported. The Government of Costa Rica has instituted strict emissions requirements for these cars and will not release them without an emissions statement from the country of origin. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Costa Rica in Washington or one of Costa Rica's Consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements before shipping any items. Their website is located at http://www.costarica-embassy.org


Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States, and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Costa Rican law, even unknowingly, may be arrested, imprisoned, fined and/or expelled.

The Costa Rican government has established an aggressive program to discourage sexual tourism and to punish severely those who engage in sexual activity with minors. Soliciting the services of a minor for sexual purposes is illegal in Costa Rica, and is punishable by imprisonment. In addition, exiting the United States for the purpose of engaging in sexual relations with minors is a violation of U.S. federal law, punishable by up to ten years in a U.S. prison.


Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Costa Rica are strict, and convicted offenders can expect lengthy jail sentences and fines. In addition to the criminal penalties they may face, tourists who purchase or sell illegal drugs or use the services of prostitutes greatly increase their risk of personal harm. Several Americans have died in Costa Rica in recent years in incidents related to drug use or patronage of prostitutes.


Investments, Loans, Lotteries and Sweepstakes: U.S. citizens are urged to use caution when investing or lending money, and should consult reputable legal counsel and investigate thoroughly all requirements before entering into a contract. Additionally, U.S. citizens should be wary of lotteries or sweepstakes that require the deposit of money to secure winnings.


Investments/Loans: Persons planning to make investments in Costa Rica are advised to exercise the same caution they would before making investments in the U.S., including consulting their investment advisor and tax accountant. Several U.S. citizens have lost appreciable amounts of money in local investment or lending schemes that "sounded too good to be true."


Lottery and Sweepstake fraud schemes: The Embassy has received several complaints from U.S. citizens in the United States who said they were victims of sweepstake or lottery fraud originating in Costa Rica. In these schemes, the victims are contacted by criminals advising them that they have won a lottery or sweepstake, but that they must provide personal funds to secure the winnings or to pay local taxes or administrative costs.

Irregular Land Registrations: Due to irregular enforcement of property laws, investors should exercise extreme caution before investing in real estate. There is a long history of investment and real estate scams and frauds perpetrated against U.S. citizens and other international visitors. There have been numerous instances of duly registered properties reverting to previously unknown owners who have shown they possess clear title and parallel registration.


Expropriations: A few cases remain in which U.S. citizens have yet to be compensated for land expropriated by the government in the 1970s or 1980s. Unexecuted expropriation claims cloud title in other cases. However, changes to Costa Rican law in 1995 place more restrictions on the government's ability to expropriate land and require compensation prior to expropriation. The new law also provides for arbitration in the event of a dispute.


Squatters: Organized squatter groups have on occasion invaded properties in various parts of the country. These squatter groups, often supported by politically active persons and non-governmental organizations, take advantage of a legal system that allows people without land to gain title to unused agricultural property. This phenomenon is particularly common in rural areas, where local courts show considerable sympathy for the squatters. Victims of squatters report threats of violence, harassment, or actual violence.


Restrictions on Shoreline Property: The Maritime Terrestrial Zone Law governs the use and ownership of most land up to 200 meters from the waterfront (mean high tide level) on both coasts of Costa Rica, including estuaries and river mouths. The first 50 meters from the waterfront is public land and normally may not be developed. The next 150 meters can be privately developed and occupied under five-to-twenty year concessions from the local municipality, provided the land has been zoned for the intended use. Strict residency requirements apply to foreigners who seek concessions.


Disaster Preparedness: Costa Rica is located in an earthquake, hurricane and volcanic zone. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.


Children's Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to the Department of State's Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone (202) 736-7000.

Registration/Embassy Location: Americans living in or visiting Costa Rica are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in San Jose and obtain updated information on travel and security within Costa Rica. The U.S. Embassy maintains a website at http://sanjose.usembassy.gov/. Americans visiting Costa Rica are encouraged to inform the Embassy of their itineraries and contact information via the website. This can also be accessed through the Department of State's website at http://www.state.gov. The U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica is located in Pavas, San Jose, telephone (506) 220-3050/3939; the extension for American Citizen Services is 2453. The Embassy is open Monday through Friday, and closed on Costa Rican and U.S. holidays. For emergencies arising outside normal business hours, U.S. citizens may call tel. (506) 220-3127 and ask for the duty officer.