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Costa Rica



Republic of Costa Rica

República de Costa Rica


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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%).


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.


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.


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.


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%
   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%.


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%.


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, 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).


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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Costa Rica


Republic of Costa Rica

Major City:
San José

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


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 for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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 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 at 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.


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


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



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.

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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.

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Costa Rica

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.


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.


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

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Costa Rica


Republic of Costa Rica

República de Costa Rica



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.


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).


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.


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.


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

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 ( 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.


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 .


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Costa Rica has no territories or colonies.


"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." <>. Accessed January 2001.

Bolsa Nacional de Valores de Costa Rica. "Estadísticas." <>. Accessed January 2001.

Cámara de Industrias de Costa Rica. "Crecimiento de las empresas industriales formales e informales." <>. Accessed 15 January 2001.

Corporación Bananera Nacional. "Realidad bananera en CostaRica." <>. Accessed January 2001.

Costa Rica Tourist Board. <>. Accessed January 2001.

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

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

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Ministerio de Planificación Nacional y Política Económica (MIDEPLAN). "Sistema de Indicadores sobre Desarrollo Sostenible (SIDES)." <>. Accessed January 2001.

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

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Ludovico Feoli


San José.


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.


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


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


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


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

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Costa Rica

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.


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.


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.


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

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Costa Ricans

Costa Ricans

ETHNONYM: Tico (after a diminutive suffix Costa Ricans often add to Spanish adjectives and nouns)


Identification. The country's name is attributed to Columbus's visit in 1502 and that of Gil González in 1522. "Rich Coast" (Costa Rica) was suggested by the abundant gold ornaments the Indians were wearing. By 1539, the territory had become officially known as Costa Rica. It borders with Nicaragua on the north and with Panama in the southeast, with the Atlantic Ocean on the north and east and the Pacific Ocean on the south and west. Tico culture is identified with that of the dominant Hispanic majority. There are social-class and regional variations as well as the influences of other distinctive cultural traditions of the country.

Location. The country lies 10 degrees north of the equator. The land area is 51,100 square kilometers. There is great diversity of elevations. The volcanic mountain ranges Guanacaste, Tilarán, and Central rise, in that order, from the northwest to the center. From the center to the southeast lies the higher, Talamanca range whose highest peak is Chirripó, 3,820 meters above sea level. Fifty-two percent of Costa Ricans live in the central part (3.83 percent of the country's surface), now called Central Valley (formerly Central Plateau), at elevations between 800 and 1,500 meters. At lower elevations, there are plains in the Caribbean lowlands to the north (Alajuela and Limón provinces) and the Pacific lowlands to the west (Guanacaste Province), whereas valleys characterize the south Pacific region. The main rivers are the Tempisque, the Grande de Tárcoles, the Reventazón, the San Juan, the Diquís, and the Sixaola, but smaller rivers and creeks are plentiful. Plant and animal life is diverse and abundant. The main cities are the provincial capitals: San José (also the country's capital), Heredia, Alajuela, Cartago, Liberia, Puerto Puntarenas, and Puerto Limón.

Demography. In 1991 the population was 3,087,700; it is projected to rise to 3,710,656 by the year 2000, and to 5,250,122 by the year 2025. In 1992 population density was 62.0 persons per square kilometer, and life expectancy at birth was 75 for men and 79 for women. The birthrate from 1985 to 1990 was 29.7 and general death rate was 3.9 per thousand; annual growth was 2.6 percent. The infant-mortality rate per 1,000 was 12 in 1992, and household average size 4.4. The literacy rate is 93 percent. In 1992 one out of every four Costa Rican households was classified as being below the poverty line. In genetic terms, Costa Rica has a trihybrid population. The three racial stocks from which this hybrid is derived are the Mongoloid Amerindian, the African Negroid, and the European and Near Eastern Caucasoid. The gene flow for this fusion has taken place over the course of the past 500 years. A study of genetic markers has shown that the Caucasoid component varies between 40 and 60 percent, the Negroid component varies between 10 and 20 percent, and the Amerindian component varies between 15 and 35 percent. In specific samples, the variations of these percentages are explained by regional and socioeconomic conditions.

Linguistic Affiliation. Spanish is the official language. The national dialect is non-Castillian. It uses the pronoun vos rather than tú and particular verb endings for this second-person singular form of address. There are regional and urban-rural variations. English is the foreign language most widely known.

History and Cultural Relations

The Indian chiefdoms found by the Spaniards had achieved considerable skill in government, trade, agriculture, gold- and stonework, pottery, and weaving cotton textiles. After 18 September 1502, when Columbus landed in Limón, Spanish expeditions stayed close to the shoreline. Then, in 1562, Juan Vázquez de Coronado founded the first capital in Cartago. The Central Valley slowly became the nucleus of the nation. The Costa Rican political elite, to a great extent, has been proven to be descendants of Vázquez de Coronado and his companions. From 1569 to the end of the seventeenth century, the encomienda system was in place, and it had at least two major effects on Costa Rican society. First, it divided the Spanish into two main classes: an elite of wealthy, dominant merchants and a larger class of poor campesino criollos (Central Valley peasantry of Spanish descent). Second, the Indian population, already diminished by the epidemics, battles, and various slavery policies of the early sixteenth century, grew even smaller under the encomienda system. Mestizos were not supposed to pay tribute, and intermarriage with Indians was not encouraged. For this reason, among others, there was not an important process of mestizaje (mestizoization) at the time Indians were living in the Central Valley.

Throughout the colonial period, Costa Rica was a poor, neglected, and isolated province of small farmers. The Spanish Crown decreed that no colony was allowed to trade with any country, except Spain. Foreigners were not permitted to enter. Restrictions on commerce were greatly responsible for this poverty. Costa Rica became independent from Spain in 1821. In 1829, the first newspaper appeared. By 1844, a university had been established, and, in the 1840s, a coffee-export and marketing structure built upon British shipping and credit was organized. From that time forward, the coffee economy has influenced all aspects of daily life from personal routines to government regimes, involving all aspects of international relations. The republican type of government and a sense of nationalism developed in the nineteenth century. In spite of national unity, class divisions were marked, from the oligarchy (the coffee-exporting elite) to the rural peasantry. A railroad to the Caribbean coast, built from 1876 to 1883, made commercial growing of bananas feasible. Bananas, like coffee, were dependent on foreign investment and markets. This crop increased economic dependence on the United States, as coffee had done with respect to England.

In the 1880s there began to predominate an ideology of government called democracia liberal. Its leaders were conservatives who stood for individual liberties, the separation of church and state, and the spread of formal secular education to all sectors. Many institutions and laws date from that time, such as the National Civil Registry, the National Museum, the National Theater, and the Civil Code. The full achievement of electoral democracy is attributed to the events of 1889. The election held that year had not been rigged by the government, and candidates had sought the popular vote. The president, however, tried to impose his candidate. Peasants angrily marched on the capital, demanding respect for their choice. The 1930s and 1940s brought the decline of the liberales and the new trends of democracia social, which meant activist government and the welfare state, especially after the armed revolt in 1948, when new institutions marked a break with the past. The banking system was nationalized, taxes were imposed on wealth, the army was abolished, the civil service was institutionalized, an impartial electoral system was crafted, the franchise was extended to women, and autonomous institutions (public corporations) were created to perform basic services. From the 1960s to the 1990s, the country has experienced different development schemes that have stressed diversified agriculture, industrialization, and state socioeconomic planning. The late 1980s and the 1990s have been characterized by policies of economía neoliberal and democracia participativa ; these are attempts to reduce the role of government in the economy, limit state social programs, expand the free-market economy, join global markets, and obtain more citizen participation in decisions on public issues and solutions to national problems.


Costa Rica's seven provinces are divided into cantones (townships), and the townships into districts. Each provincial capital is the largest city in the province. The townships' seats are smaller cities or towns in the central districts. The outlying districts had been more rural than urban; in the 1990s this pattern may be observed in the peripheral areas of the country, but it is uncommon in the Central Valley. Urbanization of the whole country has proceeded very rapidly. Even remote areas have electricity, piped water, bus service, telephones, and television. Some may even have computers in public facilities or in some homes. In rural areas as well as in urban ones, however, great differences in levels of income show in the homes and general life-style of the residents. In urbanized areas the neighborhoods are identified as barrios; in sparsely populated rural areas, the neighborhoods are called caseríos. The sense of community is associated more with these smaller units than with the larger towns or cities. San José dominates the rest of the country in politics, economic pursuits, and services. The city has grown haphazardly. Planning and zoning have not been very effective against crowded motor and pedestrian traffic, pollution, and constant razing and rebuilding. Most Ticos live in painted wooden or cement-block houses that have metal roofs and wood or tile floors. People prefer to own, rather than rent, their homes; a shortage of adequate housing is one of the problems addressed by government projects.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Ticos have mainly depended on agriculture, whether as a subsistence activity or as a large export business. Maize, beans, plantains, garden vegetables, cocoa, coffee, bananas, and flowers are examples of the crops. In addition, there is animal husbandry: beef and milk cattle, horses, pigs, goats, and birds (chickens, turkeys and, at present, even ostriches) are examples. Fishing has evolved into a major industry. In 1992 the gross national product showed the following percentage structure: primary sector (agriculture, forestry, mining, and fishing) 25.5; secondary sector (industrial) 19.3, and tertiary sector (services) 55.2. Agriculture generates over 28 percent of employment and accounts for close to 70 percent of exports. Tourism was the third source of income in 1989 and first in 1994.

Industrial Arts. Industry was mostly artisanal until the 1950s. One of its products, the painted wooden oxcart, became a symbol of the country. In 1957, 64.7 percent of industrial production and 68.5 percent of employment came from foods, shoemaking, clothing, and lumber products, with an average of three to ten employees per shop or factory. Larger industrial concerns were involved in printing and publishing, rubber products, and brewing plants. By 1963, Costa Rica had become fully integrated into the Central American Common Market. Industrial production became more mechanized in the 1960s and 1970s and grew rapidly. Chemical products, rubber, paper, and metal and electric items gained in importance. Foreign investment also influenced change; in the late 1950s it was 0.6 percent of total investment. By 1969 it was 21.1 percent of that total. By 1978 industry accounted for 24 percent of the gross national product, in contrast to 1 percent in 1950. By 1992, however, it accounted for only 19.3 percent. Costa Rica's Chamber of Industry was founded in July 1943. It had 700 affiliates in 1994, including business associations of the following industries: plastics, metals, vehicles, transportation, pharmaceuticals, shoes, textiles, foods, cosmetics, clothing, and graphic arts.

Trade. In the 1960s Costa Rica greatly increased the exportation of "traditional" products such as coffee, bananas, sugar, and beef, plus some manufactured products. By 1970, however, industry demanded the importation of 76.9 percent of the value of raw materials and 98.6 of the value of capital goods. The rise of oil prices after 1973 increased the country's trade deficit. Economic growth was reduced in 1974 and afterward. Inflation and public debt increased greatly. The 1980s were marked by a severe economic crisis. The search for new markets became more imperative than in the seventies. By 1975 over half of manufactured goods came from abroad (10 percent from Central America and 43 percent from outside the Isthmus), whereas only 20 percent of industrial production was exported. In 1980 manufactured goods exported to Central America totaled U.S.$255 million but diminished to U.S.$160 million by 1982. Even in 1992, the 1980 value had not been recovered. Exports to markets outside the Isthmus, however, have increased. From 1984 to 1989, the main exported manufactured goods were clothing, jewelry and similar items, machinery and electrical appliances, canned fruits and vegetables, leather, tires, and seafood. In 1990, 25 percent of these "nontraditional" exports went to Central America, and 75 percent went to the rest of the world. The challenge faced in the nineties is to increase production and access to foreign markets, especially those of Mexico, the Caribbean, the United States, and Canada.

Division of Labor. In the generally prevailing pattern, women devote their time and training to their homes, husband, and children, and men to jobs outside the home. Specific variations of this pattern are numerous, however, for several reasons. Costa Rican laws are considered among the most advanced regarding equality of men and women. The gender movement toward making these laws apply in daily life is strong. Women increasingly combine wife-mother roles with student and work roles outside the home. They have entered practically all the trades, businesses, professions, and careers besides the traditional ones of jobs at home, teaching, social work, nursing, and office work. They have been appointed or elected to high political office; however, at this upper level men greatly outnumber women. Increasingly, men are helping with domestic chores, especially among young, well-educated couples.

Land Tenure. Private ownership is the norm. Arable land is unequally and inefficiently distributed, although programs for the redistribution of farmlands have been implemented since about the mid-twentieth century. The importance of small landholdings held by independent farmers is often mentioned as a main cause of the Tico cultural distinctiveness; about half the farmers are in the smallholder category. The greatest amount of land surface, however, is taken up by large holdings in the hands of less than 10 percent of all owners. A pattern of large landholdings is known as latifundismo. The trend continues toward land concentration and toward tinier plots for the greatest number of owners (minifundismo ). Wage laborers with miniplots or no land at all are many. Land invasions by "squatters" occur in rural and urban areas. For instance, in 1985 there were 936 cases of invasion.


Kin Groups and Descent. Nuclear-family households are predominant, but extended households are also wide-spread, and extended-family groups act as units in politics, business, and social affairs. Separate but related nuclear families attend christenings, weddings and, above all, funerals. The descent system is bilateral; people use both the paternal and maternal surnames.

Kinship Terminology. Tico Spanish sibling-cousin terminology is of the Eskimo type: the same terms are used for cousins on the father's and the mother's side, and cousins are differentiated from siblings.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Legal marriages are civil or religious. Free unions comprise roughly one-quarter of the couples living together. The proportion of children born outside legal marriage is close to 40 percent. Ideals of mutual aid expected of family members (spouses, children, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents) are formally required by the Family Code of the country. Some forms of family behavior are attributed to machismo and to marianismo (moral and spiritual superiority of women), as well as to vestiges of the Spanish traditional sex roles. Modernity has brought changes in authority patterns. Divorce is no longer the scandal it once was; separation and desertion are common. For the most part, families take care of the aged, but a trend of placing them in homes for the elderly has arisen. The churches and the government have programs addressed to family life.

Inheritance. The law requires that a surviving spouse inherit half of the possessions of the couple and the other half be divided among the offspring; other relatives may inherit if there are no spouses or children. There is a strong tendency toward equal inheritance.

Socialization. Most Costa Ricans love and desire children. A child's first birthday is a great occasion. Besides parents, other relatives participate in the care of children. There may also be helpers for this task. The services of nursery schools and kindergartens are increasingly sought. In rural areas, 5and 6-year-olds are given duties such as running errands or picking coffee. Eight-to 10-year-old girls may perform all the household chores. Young girls are expected to help around the house more than boys are. Punishments are less harsh in the late twentieth century than they were in mid-century. The Family Code obliges parents to be moderate. Upper-class parents emphasize responsibility, honor, loyalty, and self-esteem. The middle class stresses the values of occupational success, personal realization, individual independence, honesty, and generosity. Working-class parents expect obedience, respect, self-discipline, and honesty. Girls' fifteenth birthdays (quinceañeras ) are well-defined rites of passage, celebrated with a religious ceremony and a party. School graduations of both sexes are likewise celebrated. Legal maturity is at age 18. Young men and women usually stay with their families until they get married. If they remain single, they are not asked to leave but may do so.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Ticos are oriented primarily to family, village, and neighborhood. Their community activities center around church, school, and sports. Informal groups for solving immediate problems are common, but Costa Ricans also cooperate through boards and committees, clubs, charity organizations, and community-development organizations. Registered associations for different purposes numbered more than 8,000 in 1991. Costa Ricans, however, are not characterized as joiners; individualism is said to be a trait of their national character, as is localism. Other values attributed to Tico culture are formal education, equality, democracy, freedom, peace, moderation, compromise, conformity, conservatism, caution, amiability, and courtesy.

Political Organization. Presidents are elected by direct popular vote every four years, as are fifty-seven congressional representatives. Citizens of both sexes over eighteen are required to vote. The president appoints the ministers. Each of the provinces has a governor, also appointed by the president. The eighty townships elect their municipal councils. The constitution is highly respected. Reelection of presidents is not allowed. The Supreme Court of Justice is composed of seventeen magistrates chosen by the legislature for eight-year terms. The fourth power is the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. Government is characterized by a well-developed system of checks and balances.

Social Control. Informally, the strongest social control is fear of what others will say. Gossip and choteo (mockery) keep people in line without violence. Choteo ranges from friendly to prejudicial statements. It may be done with humor or with unpleasant ridicule. The importance of making a good impression is another check on behavior. Religion is also widely regarded as such a check. Rates of crime, theft, burglary, narcotics offenses, and corruption have increased with cosmopolitanism. Police corps and the courts handle these problems.

Conflict. Ticos tend strongly to avoid overt conflict in interpersonal relations. Decision making implies constant bargaining in an effort to avoid conflict. When inevitable, domestic conflict (e.g., abandonment of children, alcoholism, child abuse, battering of women) is referred to special agencies that cope with the situation at family and community levels. Communities take collective action against immoral teachers or priests; they may set up road blocks to protest government inefficiency or lack of response to their needs. Everywhere in the country, some moderate political and religious rivalry may be observed. There is a free press in which problems and policies are discussed. Conflict is handled formally, through the judicial system. The dejensoría de los habitantes (office for the defense of the inhabitants) controls or checks the exercise of public power. Its basic task is the defense of fundamental human rights. An administrative organization whose recommendations may be taken into account by the judiciary or other branches of government, it has access to all official files except state secrets.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Costa Ricans take pride in religious tolerance, and support of ecumenism is widespread. The constitution guarantees freedom for all faiths. Catholicism is the dominant and official religion. Different Protestant denominations have relatively large memberships. There are all degrees of belief and practice among Catholics, but, nevertheless, it may be said that their religion permeates Tico culture. Some people become deeply faithful and committed to the church. Others simply express faith in God. The "will of God" is a guiding and explanatory concept. The cult of the saints, as intermediaries between supplicants and God, is a feature of the country's Catholicism. Villages and towns are named for saints, and major celebrations are conducted for each patron saint. Pilgrimages to some of the sanctuaries of the Virgin Mary and Christ on the cross are major events. Religious education is required in the public schools. Women are considered more devout than men. A minority believes in the efficacy of witchcraft in matters relating to love, illness, and misfortune. Clients and practitioners may be accused before the courts, however, because witchcraft is forbidden by law. In this matter, as in established religion, there are degrees of belief and practice.

Religious Practitioners. Costa Rica is organized into four Catholic dioceses, each with a bishop; the bishop of San José is the archbishop. There are diocesan priests and religious orders. Priests are scarceprobably one for about every 6,000 Catholics. In 1979 the first lay deacons were authorized to preach sermons, baptize, and give Communion to the sick in the absence of a priest. There are twenty-six congregations of nuns. In the late twentieth century, training for priests, nuns, and the laity emphasized that religion is concerned not only with prayer, ritual, and salvation but also with social justice, community service, and awareness ofand solutions tosocial problems.

Death and Afterlife. When a death occurs, friends and relatives are notified by telephone, by announcements in the newspapers, or by radio stations. Mourners attend a wake at the home of the deceased or at a funeral parlor. Funerals are usually held the day following the death. After the church service, mourners accompany the hearse or pallbearers to the cemetery. Someone may say a few words in praise of the deceased or lead a last prayer just before the coffin is placed in a niche or lowered into the grave. When the coffin is covered, the mourners leave. Religious and memorial ceremonies follow for nine days at home and at church, then every month, and again when a year has passed. Some families make public announcements of memorial masses for a few years after the first one. Black is the color of mourning. On 2 November, the Day of the Dead, flowers are placed on graves. Most people believe the life of the soul is eternal.


Biesanz, Richard, Karen Zubris Biesanz, and Mavis Hiltunen Biesanz (1982). The Costa Ricans. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Fondo de Población de las Naciones Unidas (1993). Situación demográfica y políticas de población en Costa Rica. Informe para la Conferencia Internacional sobre la Población y el Desarrollo. El Cairo, Egipto, setiembre 1994. San José: Ministerio de Planificación y Política Económca (MIDEPLAN).

Morera-Brenes B., and Ramiro Barrantes (1994). "Estimación de la mezcla racial en la población de Costa Rica mediante marcadores genéticos." Memorias del Onceavo Congreso Latinoamericano de Genética, Puerto Vallaría, Mexico.

Sibaja, Luis F., Jorge Rovira, Anabelle Ulate, and Carlos Araya (1993). La industria: Su evolución histórica y su aporte a la sociedad costarricense. Cámara de Industrias. San José: Litografía e Imprenta Lil.


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Costa Rica

Costa Rica

Official name : Republic of Costa Rica

Area: 51,100 square kilometers (19,730 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Cerro Chirripó (3,810 meters/2,500 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Western

Time zone: 6 a.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 464 kilometers (288 miles) from north to south and 274 kilometers (170 miles) from east to west

Land boundaries: 639 kilometers (399 miles) total boundary length; Nicaragua 309 kilometers (193 miles); Panama 330 kilometers (206 miles)

Coastline: Total: 1290 kilometers (805 miles); Caribbean Sea 212 kilometers (132 miles); Pacific Ocean 1,016 kilometers (633 miles); Cocos Island (Isla de Coco) 62 kilometers (40 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers ( 12 nautical miles)


Costa Rica is located in Central America, which is between the North and South American continents. Nicaragua lies to the north, the Caribbean Sea to the east, Panama to the southeast, and the Pacific Ocean to the southwest and west. With an area of about 51,100 square kilometers (19,730 square miles), it is the second-smallest Central American country, slightly smaller than the state of West Virginia. Costa Rica is divided into seven provinces.


Cocos Island is a dependency of Costa Rica. It is located approximately 480 kilometers (300 miles) off the Pacific coast.


Most of Costa Rica has two seasons: the wet season from May to November (winter months) and the dry season from December to April (summer months). Although the country lies completely within the tropics, elevation plays a role in the variations of its climate. Temperature is also determined by proximity to the coasts. The area known as the tierra caliente (hot country) in the coastal and northern plains, experiences daytime temperatures between 29 and 32°C (85 to 90°F). The tierra templada (temperate country), including the central valleys and plains, has average daytime temperatures from 24 to 27°C (75 to 80°F). The tierra fría (cold country) composes the land above 1,524 meters (5,000 feet) and has daytime temperatures from 24 to 27°C (75 to 80°F), but nighttime temperatures of 10 to 13°C (50 to 55°F).

The tierra caliente is characterized by heavy rains; the tierra templada receives regular rains from April through November; and the tierra fría is less rainy but more windy than the temperate regions. The average rainfall for Costa Rica is more than 250 centimeters (100 inches). Natural disasters that befall the country include occasional earthquakes, hurricanes along Atlantic coast, frequent flooding of lowlands at the beginning of the rainy season, landslides, and volcanic eruptions.


The landscape of Costa Rica varies from seasonally snow-capped mountains to seasonal marshlands to lush rain forests. The central highlands extend from northwest to southeast. The Atlantic and Pacific coastal lowlands are low, swampy, and heavily forested.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

Costa Rica is bordered on the east by the Pacific Ocean and on the west by the Caribbean Sea. The country sits at the boundary where the Cocos Plate in the Pacifica piece of Earth's crust about 510 kilometers (316 miles) widemeets the tectonic plate underlying the Caribbean Sea. The Cocos Plate moves east at a rate of about 10 centimeters (4 inches) per year, causing occasional earthquakes in the country.

Sea Inlets and Straits

Though there are a number of small inlets along the shore of the Pacific Ocean, the two major ones are the Nicoya Gulf (Golfo de Nicoya) in the north and the Dulce Gulf (Golfo Dulce) in the south.

Islands and Archipelagos

Cocos Island is an uninhabited dependency of Costa Rica. This volcanic island, located about 480 kilometers (300 miles) southwest of Costa Rica in the Pacific Ocean, is covered with tropical rainforests.

There are a number of small sedimentary islands within the Nicoya Gulf, several of which are protected as wildlife refuges for roosting and nesting birds. Caño Island, located near the mouth of the Nicoya Gulf, is a 300-hectare (740-acre) wildlife refuge island that is covered with tropical rainforest and surrounded by coral platforms.

Coastal Features

Along the coasts, mainly where the rivers empty into the ocean, there are extensive mangrove forests and swamps. The rest of the coastline offers numerous beaches. The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is flat and open, with gray or black sand beaches, while the Pacific coast is irregular with hilly or mountainous peninsulas, coastal lowlands, bays, and deep gulfs.


With a surface area of about 85 square kilometers (33 square miles), the man-made Lake Arenal is the largest lake in Costa Rica. It is located in the northern part of the country near the Arenal volcano in the Arenal National Park.

Lake Cachí is another man-made lake located at the eastern end of the Reventazón River (Río Reventazón).

Lake Hule, south of San Miguel, is a natural lake set in a dormant volcanic crater. Lake Caño Negro is a seasonal lake (appearing during the wet season) near Costa Rica's northern border that is fed by the fresh waters of the Frío River (Río Frío).


The longest river in Costa Rica is the San Juan. It flows from Lake Nicaragua in Nicaragua along the border with Costa Rica to the Caribbean Sea, covering a total length of about 220 kilometers (140 miles). Tributaries to the San Juan rise in the volcanic highlands of Costa Rica. Although the San Juan River lies within Nicaraguan territory, Costa Rica has, by treaty, full rights of navigation.

The San Carlos and Chirripó Rivers, located near the border with Nicaragua, commonly flood during the wet season, turning the surrounding landscape into swampy marshlands.


There are no desert regions in Costa Rica.


The northern lowlands are broad and flat and, in some areas, they are cut off from the highlands by a virtually impassible hardwood forest. The region is made up of two separate llanuras (low-lying plains), the Llanura de los Guatusos in the west and the San Carlos Plains (Llanura de San Carlos) farther east. The llanuras make up one-fifth of Costa Rica's land area, and extend along the entire length of the San Juan River.

The Caribbean lowlands are covered with tropical evergreen rainforest. The Pacific lowland forests are typically dry, particularly in the northwest.

The most important area of Costa Rica is the Meseta Central. It contains two upland basins separated by low volcanic hills and is home to half of the population. Located in the temperate country, it lies between the Cordillera Central to the north and low mountains and hills to the south. The land surface of the Meseta is generally level or rolling, which is acceptable for agriculture.

The General Valley, drained by the General River, lies between the Cordillera de Talamanca to the north and the coastal mountains of the southwest. Almost as large as the Meseta Central, the General Valley is a relatively isolated structural depression that ranges in elevation from 183 to 1,066 meters (600 to 3,500 feet). River flood plains, terraces, rolling hills, and savannahs dominate the landscape.


Extending north and south throughout the center of Costa Rica are several distinct mountain ranges called "cordilleras." The Cordillera de Guanacaste, Cordillera Central, Cordillera de Tilarán, and Cordillera de Talamanca are all part of the Andean-Sierra Madre chain that runs along the western shore of the Americas.

The Cordillera de Guanacaste is volcanic in origin and stretches for 112 kilometers (70 miles) from the western border with Nicaragua to the Cordillera Central. The highest peak in the Guanacaste chain is the Miravalles volcano at 2,024 meters (6,640 feet).

To the southeast, the Cordillera de Tilarán is home to the Arenal volcano, one of the world's most active volcanoes. To the east lies Cordillera Central, which contains four volcanoes and the Meseta Central (which is also home to the capital city). Cordillera de Talamanca rises in the south, housing the country's highest point, Cerro Chirripó.

Lying at the heart of one of the most active volcanic regions on Earth, Costa Rica is home to seven active volcanoes, and sixty dormant or extinct ones. The active volcanoes of Irazú, Poás, Barba, and Turrialba rise near the capital city of San José. The remaining active to semi-active volcanoes are: Arenal, Miravalles, and Rincon de la Vieja.


The Caves of Venado are located south of Arenal Lake and Volcano. These seven-million-year-old caves were formed as water currents penetrated through the surrounding limestone rocks. About 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) in length, the caves contain at least four different species of bats and numerous types of spiders, many of which are endemic to the area.

About forty caves are located within the Barra Honda National Park in northern Costa Rica. The largest is Santa Ana Cave at 240 meters (787 feet) deep. The most popular among tourists are La Terciopelo, La Trampa, and La Santa Ana. These caverns house a large number of stalagmites, stalactites, pillars, cave earls, helicities, and other rock formations. The Barra Honda National Park was created specifically to protect these natural wonders.


There are no plateau regions in Costa Rica.


The man-made Lake Arenal was formed by construction of the Sangregado dam, located at the southeast end of the lake. The hydroelectric power created by this dam accounts for about 33 percent of Costa Rica's total electrical capacity.

Lake Cachí Dam, located at the eastern end of the Reventazón River, supplies hydroelectric power to San José, the capital city.


Cloud forestslush forests at high elevations where the heavy mist and clouds almost always hang in the airoccur on Costa Rica's mountaintops. Monte Verde Biological Cloud Forest Preserve covers twenty-six thousand acres of forest, and houses two thousand plant species, four hundred bird species, and one hundred different animal species.



Baker, Christopher. Costa Rica Handbook. 3rd ed. Chico, CA: Moon Publications, Inc., 1999.

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

Dunlop, Fiona. Fodor's Exploring Costa Rica. 3rd ed. New York: Fodor's Travel Publications, 2001.

Web Sites . (accessed February 26, 2003). . (accessed February 27, 2003).

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Costa Ricans

Costa Ricans



LOCATION: Costa Rica

POPULATION: 3.1 million

LANGUAGE: Spanish; English

RELIGION: Roman Catholicism (over 90 percent)


In 1502, Christopher Columbus became the first European to arrive in what is now Costa Rica, on his fourth and last voyage. Although they named the region "rich coast," it was never a source of great wealth for the Spanish. Costa Rica became an independent nation in 1838. Around that time, coffee became an all-important export and source of national wealth; bananas, introduced in 1871, also became a major export crop. Costa Rica's political life has generally been tranquil. However, in 1948, thousands died in a civil war. Since then, Costa Rica has held to a tradition of orderly, democratic rule.


Costa Rica is about the size of the state of West Virginia. Mountain ranges run the length of the country, reaching as high as 12,500 feet (3,810 meters) above sea level. The lowlands along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts are hot and rainy, with swamps and abundant forests.

Costa Rica has a population of over 3 million.


Spanish is the universal language. Costa Ricans call themselves "Ticos." Vos is often used in place of tú as the singular familiar pronoun. Costa Rican Spanish is influenced by Mexican television.


Amerindians (native people) in Costa Rica see the world as created by Sibu (God) and controlled by good and evil spirits. Traditional healers who cure with herbs and chants are called brujas (witches). They are always female and at least fifty years old.

Catholic folklore is plentiful. As in all of Latin America, saints are prayed to as a link with God. Statues and pictures of saints in the home are believed to confer good luck.


More than 90 percent of the population are baptized Roman Catholics. The constitution recognizes Catholicism as the national religion. A Catholic marriage is the only type of religious ceremony the state recognizes as binding. However, Costa Ricans generally do not observe rigid conformity to the doctrines and rules of the church.


Most of Costa Rica's fifteen public holidays are religious. Some businesses close for Holy Week, the week before Easter. Falling in late March or early April, it is commemorated with religious processions. Christmas Eve (December 24) is celebrated with visiting, drinking, dancing, and gift-giving as well as midnight Mass. The feast day of Our Lady of the Angels, Costa Rica's patron saint, occurs on August 2. On this day, La Negrita, a small black stone image of the Virgin, is carried in a solemn procession.

The most important secular holiday is Independence Day, on September 15.


Parents of newborn children receive gifts from relatives and neighbors. The godparents traditionally take the infant to church to be baptized. A child's first birthday is also a great occasion. Children enter school at age seven. A middle-or upper-class girl's fifteenth birthday is a special occasion (called the quince). It is marked by a large, elaborate party. Most adult Costa Ricans let their birthdays pass unnoticed. Couples celebrate their silver (twenty-five-year) and golden (fifty-year) wedding anniversaries.

Funerals are required by law to be held within twenty-four hours of death. Whenever possible, a church ceremony is held, and mourners then proceed to the cemetery for the burial.


Foreign visitors have described Costa Ricans as hospitable and gracious. Much socializing goes on in clubs or bars, or at fiestas or other community celebrations. However, many Costa Ricans socialize primarily with relatives.

Dating is not common. In rural areas and among more traditional urban families, girls under eighteen must still be chaperoned (accompanied by an adult) at night. If a boy and girl go out on a date even once, they are generally thought to be novios (boyfriend and girlfriend) who do not date anyone else.


Costa Rica and Panama enjoy the highest standard of living in Central America. Most Costa Ricans live in small wooden or cement-block houses. The floors are of wood or tile, and the roofs of zinc or corrugated iron. The urban poor generally live in overcrowded, usually rented, slum dwellings. Squatters' shanties (shacks) can be found on the fringes of the cities.


The extended family is the basis of Costa Rican society. Several generations may live under the same roof. Much of Costa Rican social life consists of visiting relatives on Sundays and joining them on special occasions. Family size has dropped sharply since 1960 because of birth control. Women form a growing proportion of the labor force. Divorce, once seen as a disgrace, occurs more frequently than in the past. However, separation and desertion remain far more common. Many women are also victims of domestic violence.


Costa Ricans wear modern, Western-style clothes. Clean, unwrinkled clothing is very important to urban working-class people. Many will skimp on food to buy stylish clothing. Jeans and tee-shirts are everyday wear for young people of all classes. Girls wear school uniforms.

Traditional women's clothes include a sheer, low-cut, frilly white blouse and a flowered, full cotton skirt. A fringed silk or cotton rebozo (shawl) is draped around the shoulders or over the head. Traditional men's clothes generally consist of dark trousers and a long-sleeved white shirt with a red knotted handkerchief at the neck and a colored sash around the waist


The Costa Rican diet is based on rice, beans, tortillas or bread, fried plantains, and strong black coffee. The midday meal is the main one.

Olla de carne, the traditional stew, is made with beef, potatoes, corn, plantains, squash, yucca, and other vegetables. Other popular main dishes include paella and zarzuelas (spicy seafood stews).


Elementary education is compulsory between the ages of six and fifteen. However, many graduates enter college unable to read or write well enough to meet the college standard. Well-to-do parents usually send their children to private schools, where instruction is at a higher level.

The main institutions of higher learning are the University of Costa Rica and the National Autonomous University.


Costa Rica has a national orchestra, opera house, and dance company. Alejandro Monastel is a classical composer who employs native folk themes. Among popular performers are Los Talolingas, who wrote "La Guaria Morada," regarded as the nation's "second national anthem."

Francisco Amighetti and Richard Kliefoth are among the nation's painters and graphic artists. Costa Rica's best writers have been mostly essayists and poets, including Justo Facio, Roberto Brenes Mesén, and Joaquín García Monge.


About three-quarters of all Costa Ricans are members of the working class. These include farm and domestic workers, gardeners, and janitors. As in most Latin American societies, work is seen as a necessity but not an end in itself. The work week is often cut short on Friday afternoon, and there are many holidays.


Soccer is the national sportor even national maniaof Costa Rica. Even the smallest village is likely to have at least one team. It is also by far the chief spectator sport. Like soccer, bicycling, boxing, and wrestling are popular working-class sports. Basketball, volleyball, and tennis are played mostly by upper-and upper-middle-class boys, and tennis and golf are played by their fathers.


Films are extremely popular, but most moviegoers are under twenty-five years of age. Portable radios are operated everywhere, most often tuned to stations playing popular music. Even the poorest homes are likely to have TV sets. Favorite programs include cartoons and old movies from the United States, and Mexican telenovelas (soap operas).


Because it has only a small native (Amerindian population), Costa Rica has little in the way of native arts and crafts. Elaborately painted wooden oxcarts, only crafted since about 1900, are decorated with brightly colored geometric patterns or designs such as flowers. Similar designs are painted on some storefronts.


Costa Rica has maintained democracy, avoiding the armed conflicts and dictatorships that have gripped other Central American countries. However, poverty grips as much as one-third of Costa Rica's population. Most farmers own only tiny plots of land or none at all. Crime-control is hampered by the lack of a professional police force.

The environment is threatened by slash-and-burn agriculture and the cutting of forests. Slash-and-burn agriculture involves clearing land by cutting down all the trees, and then burning anything that is left to allow crops to be planted.


Biesanz, Richard, et al. The Costa Ricans. 2d ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1987.

Foley, Erin. Costa Rica. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1997.

Haynes, Tricia. Let's Visit Costa Rica. Bridgeport, Conn.: Burke Publishing, 1985.


Amerisol. Costa Rica. [Online] Available, 1998.

Costa Rica Handbook. [Online] Available, 1998.

Green Arrow Advertising. Costa Rica. [Online] Available, 1998.

World Travel Guide. Costa Rica. [Online] Available, 1998.

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Costa Rica

Costa Rica (kŏs´tə rē´kə), officially Republic of Costa Rica, republic (2005 est. pop. 4,016,000), 19,575 sq mi (50,700 sq km), Central America. It is bounded on the north by Nicaragua, on the east by the Caribbean Sea, on the southeast by Panama, and on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean. The capital and largest city is San José. In addition to the capital, other important cities are Alajuela, Heredia, Puntarenas, and Cartago.

Land and People

The coastal plains are low, hot, and heavily forested. Bananas, cocoa, and sugarcane are cultivated there. In the northwest is the Nicoya peninsula, a semiarid plain where cattle and grain are raised. A massive cordillera, with peaks over 12,000 ft (3,658 m) high, cuts the country from northwest to southeast. Within it, under the shadow of volcanoes such as Irazú, lies the Central Valley, with a perennially springlike climate. This valley is the heart of the country, where coffee is cultivated and most of the population and market facilities are located.

One of the most stable countries in Latin America, Costa Rica has a long democratic tradition and no regular military forces. The population is largely of Spanish and mestizo descent. The official language is Spanish, and English is also spoken. About 75% of the people are Roman Catholics; there is a large Protestant minority.

Economy and Government

Costa Rica is an agricultural country, although tourism and industry are being developed at a moderate pace. Industries include food processing and the manufacture of electronic components, textiles and clothing, construction materials, fertilizer, and plastics. Bananas, pineapples, coffee, melons, sugar, and beef are exported, as well as manufactured goods such as textiles, electronics, and medical equipment. Raw materials, consumer goods, capital equipment, and petroleum are imported. The United States is the largest trading partner.

The country is governed under the 1949 constitution. The president, who is both the chief of state and head of government, is elected to a single four-year term. Members of the unicameral 57-seat Legislative Assembly are also elected for four years. Administratively, the country is divided into seven provinces.


Early History through the Nineteenth Century

Although Columbus skirted the Costa Rican coast in 1502, resistance by the indigenous inhabitants and disease prevented the Spanish from establishing a permanent settlement until 1563, when Cartago was founded. The region was administered as part of the captaincy general of Guatemala. Few of the native inhabitants survived, and the colonists, unable to establish a hacienda system based on slave labor, generally became small landowners. From Cartago, westward expansion into the plateau began in the 18th cent.

Costa Rica became independent from Spain in 1821. From 1822 to 1823 it was part of the Mexican Empire of Augustín de Iturbide. It then became part of the Central American Federation until 1838, when the sovereign republic of Costa Rica was proclaimed. In 1857, Costa Rica participated in the defeat of the filibuster William Walker, who had taken over Nicaragua.

The cultivation of coffee, introduced in the 19th cent., led to the creation of a landed oligarchy that dominated the country until the administration of Tomás Guardia (1870–82). In 1874, Minor Cooper Keith founded Limón and introduced banana cultivation. Keith also started the United Fruit Company. Later many tracts had to be abandoned because of leaf blight. Costa Rica's history of orderly, democratic government began in the late 19th cent.

The Twentieth Century

The orderly pattern was broken in 1917, when Federico Tinoco overthrew the elected president, Alfredo González. The majority of Costa Ricans, as well as the United States, opposed Tinoco, and he was deposed in 1919. Costa Rica cooperated with the United States during World War II and after the war joined the United Nations and other international organizations. Following the war, United Fruit started new plantations on the Pacific coast.

In 1948 there was a second breakdown of the political system. In a close presidential election Otilio Ulate appeared to have defeated a former president, Dr. Rafael Calderón. But the incumbent, Teodoro Picado, accused Ulate's supporters of fraud and obtained a congressional invalidation of the election. A six-week civil war ensued, at the conclusion of which a junta led by José Figueres Ferrer, a backer of Ulate, assumed power. Picado was exiled and the armed forces were disbanded, to be replaced by a civil guard. Forces from Nicaragua backed Picado, and the Organization of American States (OAS) was called upon to mediate between the two countries.

In 1949 a new constitution was adopted, and the junta transferred power to Ulate as the elected president. Figueres was elected his successor in 1953. In UN-supervised elections in 1958, Mario Enchadi Jiménez defeated Figueres's candidate. Politics remained stable in the 1960s. The Irazú volcano erupted in 1963–64 and caused serious damage to agriculture; another volcano, Arenal, erupted in 1968 for the first time in hundreds of years, killing many. Figueres was again elected president in 1970, and Daniel Oduber Quiros was elected president in 1974, but the ruling National Liberation Party (PLN) lost its majority in the legislature for the first time in 25 years. In the late 1970s the country entered a recession and found itself surrounded by increasingly unstable neighbors.

In the early 1980s the PLN returned to power. Oscar Arias Sánchez, the PLN candidate elected in 1986, worked to preserve his nation's neutrality. The economy continued to worsen, however, and in 1990 Rafael Angel Calderón Fournier of the Social Christian Unity party (PUSC) was elected to the presidency by a 3% margin. José María Figueres Olsen, the PLN candidate and son of José Figueres Ferrer, was elected president in 1994. In 1998, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría of the PUSC won the presidency; he was succeeded by fellow party member Abel Pacheco de la Espriella in 2002.

The country was shaken in 2004 by charges that Presidents Calderón and Rodríguez had received illegal kickbacks from government contracts and that, after leaving office, President Figueres had received large consulting fees relating to government contracts. Calderón was convicted of embezzlement in 2009; Rodríguez was convicted of instigating corruption in 2011, but his conviction was overturned in 2012. Former president Oscar Arias Sánchez was elected to a second term in 2006. In Oct., 2007, Costa Ricans approved joining the Central American Free Trade Agreement (signed in 2004), but its accession was delayed until after legislation was enacted (Nov., 2008) that brought the nation into compliance with the accord.

In Feb., 2010, Arias Sánchez's vice president, Laura Chinchilla Miranda, was elected president. A center-leftist who is conservative on many social issues, Chinchilla was Costa Rica's first woman president. Tensions flared with Nicaragua in late 2010 over a disputed island at the San Juan River's mouth when Nicaraguan troops were sent there; the troops were not removed despite the Organization of American States' call for both sides to withdraw. Costa Rica subsequently brought the issue before the International Court of Justice; a 2011 interim ruling called on both sides to avoid the disputed area.

In the 2014 presidential election, Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera was elected unopposed after the second place finisher withdrew from the April runoff; a historian and former diplomat, Solís was the Citizen Action party candidate. In the early 21st cent. Costa Rica has found itself increasing beset by Mexican drug gangs that have used the country as a transfer point between Colombia to the south and Mexico and the United States to the north. The resulting increase in crime has led to a closer relationship between Costa Rican security forces and U.S. law enforcement agencies and military.


See R. Fernández Guardia, History of the Discovery and Conquest of Costa Rica (1913); J. P. Bell, Crisis in Costa Rica: The 1948 Revolution (1971); H. D. Nelson, ed., Costa Rica, a Country Study (1984); C. Hall, Costa Rica (1985); M. Edelman and J. Kenen, ed., The Costa Rica Reader (1989).

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Costa Rica

Costa Rica


51,100sq km (19,730sq mi)



capital (population):

San José (313,262)


Multiparty republic

ethnic groups:

White 85%, Mestizo 8%, Black and Mulatto 3%, East Asian (mostly Chinese) 3%


Spanish (official)


Christianity (Roman Catholic 81%)


Colón = 100 céntimos

Republic in Central America; the capital is San José.

Land and climate

Central Costa Rica consists of mountain ranges and plateaux with many volcanoes. In the se, the densely populated Meseta Central and Valle del General have rich, volcanic soils. The highlands descend to the Caribbean lowlands and the Pacific coast region. San José stands at c.1170m (3840ft) above sea level, and has a pleasant climate with an average annual temperature of 20°C (68°F), compared with more than 27°C (81°F) on the coast. The ne trade winds bring heavy rains to the Caribbean coast. Evergreen forests (including mahogany and tropical cedar) cover c.50% of Costa Rica. Oaks grow in the highlands, palm trees along the Caribbean coast, and mangrove swamps are common on the Pacific coast.


In 1502 Christopher Columbus sailed along the Caribbean shore and named the land Costa Rica. Spanish for ‘rich coast’. The first Spanish colonizers arrive in 1561. Spain ruled the country until 1821, when Spain's Central American colonies broke away to join the Mexican empire. In 1823, the Central American states broke from Mexico and set up the Central American Federation. This union gradually disintegrated and Costa Rica achieved independence in 1838. In the 20th century, Costa Rica's reputation for stable, parliamentary government has twice been threatened. First, General Tinoco formed a dictatorship (1917–19). Second, a revolt in 1948 led to the abolition of the armed forces. José Figures served as President from 1953 to 1958 and again from 1970 to 1974. In 1987, President Oscar Arias Sánchez was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the civil wars in Central America. In 2002 Abel Pancha won the Presidential elections.


Costa Rica is a lower-middle-income developing country. It is one of the most prosperous nations in Central America (2000 GDP per capita, US$6700). The country has high literacy and life expectancy (average 73.5 years). Agriculture employs 24% of the workforce. Major crops include coffee, bananas and sugar (all exported). Other crops include beans, citrus fruits, cocoa and maize. Cattle ranching is important. Costa Rica has rich timber resources, but lacks minerals (except bauxite and manganese). Tourism is a fast-growing industry.

Political map

Physical map


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Costa Rica

Costa Rica

Culture Name

Costa Rican

Alternative Names



Identification. In 1502, Columbus stopped near present-day Limón, Costa Rica. Natives with "golden mirrors around their necks" told of "many places . . . [with] gold and mines." Subsequent chroniclers called the region "Costa Rica"Rich Coastalthough it turned out to be among the poorest of Spain's colonies.

Costa Ricans are called ticos, which derives from their appending the Spanish -ico diminutive to the standard -ito.

Location and Geography. Costa Rica is located in Central America with Nicaragua to its north and Panama to its south. Its territory is 19,652 square miles (51,022 square kilometers). Volcanic mountainsseveral of which produce sporadic eruptions run northwest to southeast, dividing Costa Rica into Pacific and Atlantic zones. There are frequent earthquakes.

The capital, San José, is on the meseta central, a plateau twenty-five miles by twelve miles (40 kilometers by 20 kilometers). The meseta is in the Central Valleyan area five times as large as the plateau which includes three other cities in addition to San José.

Temperature varies with altitude, averaging over 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) in the coastal lowlands, but only 64 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius) at the higher elevations. The Atlantic zone receives trade winds and has high rainfall year-round. The Pacific zone has fertile volcanic and alluvial soils and distinct wet and dry seasons. The northern Pacific suffers frequent droughts, associated with the Niño phenomenon.

There are many rivers, but few are navigable. Pacific ports include Puntarenas, Quepos, and Golfito. Two modern ports, Caldera and Punta Morales, were built near Puntarenas in the 1980s. The major Atlantic port, Limón, is unprotected from tropical storms. Moín, north of Limón, has container and petroleum facilities.

Costa Rica's broken topography creates myriad microenvironments. One-quarter of the territory endures practically in its wild state with rainforests, dry tropical forest, and savannas. Costa Rica has a level of biodiversity4 to 7 percent of the world totalunmatched by any other nation its size.

Demography. In 2000, Costa Rica's population was four million, with 60 percent living in the Central Valley in and around Cartago, San José, Heredia, and Alajuela. Thirty-two percent of the population was 14 years old or under, while 5 percent was 65 or older. Annual population growth was 2.03 percent.

The country had 21.9 births and 4.0 deaths per 1,000 population in 2000, and a net migration rate of 2.4. Average fertility was 2.7, down from 5.4 in 1973 and 7.3 in 1960. The drop in birth rates was attributed to rising female literacy, to a decline in the proportion of the population working in agriculture, and to increased access to family planning. Despite the influential Catholic Church's opposition to contraception, in 1990, 86 percent of sexually active women of childbearing age used birth control.

Linguistic Affiliation. Spanish is the official language, but the variant spoken has features particular to Costa Rica. On the Atlantic coast, however, descendants of Caribbean immigrants speak English, as do many others throughout the country who learned it to better their employment prospects.

Symbolism. The national flag, a partial imitation of the French tricolor, consists of blue horizontal stripes on the top and bottom of the flag and two white inner stripes divided by a wide red stripe, which contains the national coat of arms to the left of center. Aside from the flag and religious icons, important symbols include flags of the major political parties (green and white for the National Liberation Party; red and blue for the Social Christians) and of the most popular soccer teams.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Costa Rica gained independence from Spain as part of the Mexican Empire (18211823) and the Central American Federation (18231838). In 1824 it annexed much of the province of Guanacaste from Nicaragua. In the 1850s, Costa Rican troops joined Nicaraguans and Hondurans to defeat William Walker's pro-slavery filibusters. This campaign sparked proto-nationalist sentiment, and it was only then that the term nación began to be used to refer to Costa Rica rather than to all of Central America.

National Identity. Elites had to improvise a national identity following independence. The main hero of the campaign against the United States filibusters, martyred drummer boy Juan Santamaría, was "discovered" as a national icon decades after the conflict ended. Border disputes with Nicaragua and Colombia (to which Panama belonged until 1903) fanned feelings of distinctiveness in the late nineteenth century, as did the creation of a national school system.

Costa Ricans pride themselves on having a society "different" from the rest of Central America. They point to their country's high levels of education and health, its renowned national parks, and its history of democracy and political stability. Despite this "exceptionalism," the country shares many social, economic, and environmental problems with its neighbors.

Ethnic Relations. As much as 95 percent of Costa Ricans consider themselves "white." "Whiteness" figures importantly in national identity. The indigenous population that survived the conquest was small and, for the most part, rapidly became Hispanic. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, successful males of African, Indian, or mixed ancestry married poorer "Spanish" women, using "whitening" to assure their children's upward mobility. In the nineteenth century, immigration from Europe and the United States "whitened" the population, particularly the elite. During the twentieth century, the definition of "whiteness" became more inclusive, as elites sought to convince mestizos that they were part of a "homogeneous" nation distinct from the "Indians" elsewhere in Central America.

In Guanacaste and northern Puntarenas, much of the population is descended from Indians and colonial-era slaves. They are Hispanic in culture and language, though their pronunciation resembles Nicaraguan more than central Costa Rican Spanish.

Concentrated in Limón Province, Afro-Costa Ricansthe descendants of Jamaican and other British West Indians who immigrated in the nineteenth century for work on the Atlantic Railroad, plantations, and docksare more widely perceived as "black." (These Afro-Costa Ricans are part of an English-speaking Protestant group extending along the entire Caribbean coast of Central America.) Blacksdenied Costa Rican nationality until 1948were blocked by law and discrimination from working elsewhere, so Limón remained culturally distinct until the mid-twentieth century.

On the Atlantic side of the Talamanca mountains, the Bribri and Cabécarthe largest indigenous groupsspeak related languages and share a culture that varies only slightly from one locality to another, depending on the degree of contact with Hispanic society. They maintain clan marriage rules, collective agricultural production, and a religion centered around the deity Sibö the Creator. The six reserves on the Pacific side of the Talamanca cordillera and in the nearby lowlands also are home to the Bribris and Cabécares and to smaller numbers of Borucas (or Bruncas) and Teribes (or Térrabas), the latter two groups having assimilated into the peasant population.

Guaymí Indians live in southern Puntarenas. Many move between these communities and Panama, and until 1991 those born in Costa Rica lacked identity documents and access to state services. The Guaymíes maintain their language and distinct way of life, despite growing reliance on wage labor.

At the end of the twentieth century, five hundred Indiansdescendants of a group that numbered well over one thousand in the late nineteenth centurylived in the north along the Río Frío in Alajuela Province. The Guatusos (or Malecus) violently repulsed outsiders' incursions until the 1870s when rubber tappers began to kill Indian men and kidnap women and children, who were sold as slaves in Nicaragua. The population plummeted to below two hundred, never recovering even half its pre-contact size.

Matambú, in Guanacaste, is the only indigenous reserve in the northern Pacific area once populated by peoples whose culture resembled that of central Mexico. The Chorotegas practiced maize agriculture and were among the first targets of the Spanish conquest in the area that became Costa Rica. Culturally, members of the Matambú community are indistinguishable from the surrounding peasantry, participating in saints' brotherhoods (something emblematic of "Indian" identity) and producing ceramics with indigenous motifs for tourists.

Many of the first Spanish colonists in Costa Rica may have been Jewish converts to Christianity who were expelled from Spain in 1492 and fled to colonial backwaters to avoid the Inquisition. The first sizable group of self-identified Jews immigrated from Poland, beginning in 1929. From the 1930s to the early 1950s, journalistic and official anti-Semitic campaigns fueled harassment of Jews; however, by the 1950s and 1960s, the immigrants won greater acceptance. Most of the 2,000 Costa Rican Jews today are not highly observant, but they remain largely endogamous.

In 1873 the Atlantic Railroad imported 653 Chinese indentured laborers, hoping to duplicate the success of rail projects that used Chinese labor in Peru, Cuba, and the United States. Many Chinese fled the snake-infested lowlands, while others died from malaria, landslides, and overseers' brutality. In 1897 the government banned Chinese immigration and anti-Chinese feeling did not subside until World War II.

Other Central Americans had long come to Costa Rica to work in agriculture, especially in the banana zones. In the 1980s, Nicaraguans and Salvadorans fled violence and economic crises to work as farmhands, laborers, servants, and street vendors.

Many foreigners have taken advantage of the Pensionado Law, which grants residency to investors and exempts them from import duties. Most are retired United States citizens, but Chinese, Iranians, Arabs, Europeans, and Latin Americans also settled in Costa Rica under this law.

By the late twentieth century, allusions in textbooks and political discourse to "whiteness," or to Spain as the "mother country" of all Costa Ricans, were diminishing, replaced with a recognition of the multiplicity of peoples that make up the nation.

Urbanism,Architecture, and the Use of Space

Almost all towns have a central plaza with a Catholic church, government buildings, bandstand, and benches. Rural villages have grassy squares that double as soccer fields. Beyond the downtown grids are "urbanizations" that resemble U.S. subdivisions and then rural homesteads. There is little notable architecture aside from San José's ornate neo-classical National Theater. Few colonial constructions survive, and many contemporary buildings would elsewhere be considered kitsch. The cities suffer from severe air, water, and noise pollution.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Maize is consumed as tortillas, which accompany rice and beanstypically eaten three times a day with eggs, cheese, meat, or chicken and with chayote stew or salad at lunch or supper. The midday meal was once the largest, but the long lunch break has succumbed to a fondness for fast food.

Beverages include coffee, sugary fruit drinks, and soda. Alcohol consumption is high.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Salty appetizers are served at parties and at bars and restaurants. Maize tamales are prepared by hand for Christmas. Other special occasions (birthdays, graduations, marriages) may merit a roasted pig, an elaborate cake, or other sweets.

Basic Economy. Until the 1960s, Costa Rica depended on coffee and bananas for most of its export earnings. Coffee income was well distributed, which fueled a dynamic commercial sector. After the 1948 Civil War, nationalized banks channeled subsidized loans to neglected regions and new activities. In the 1960s, beef and sugar assumed greater importance, and the country began to industrialize, protected by Central American Common Market tariffs. Following a debt crisis in the early 1980s, the state reduced its role in the economy and promoted export-oriented agriculture and industries. Since the late 1990s, tourism has been the second largest source of dollars, after bananas.

Land Tenure and Property. Costa Rica has an image as an "agrarian democracy," but land distribution is highly unequal. Coffee farms are mostly small, but sugar, banana, rice, and cattle farms may reach 24,700 or more acres (ten thousand hectares). Land reform programs in the 1960s and 1970s broke up some estates and distributed plots to peasants. Conflicts between large farmers and squatters are frequent and sometime result in violence.

Commercial Activities. City and town residents now rely on supermarkets rather than neighborhood stores and farmers' markets. Growing consumerism has spurred construction of malls where the affluent acquire the latest fashions and gadgets and the poor come to gawk and marvel at the high prices.

Major Industries. Since the mid-1980s, Costa Rica has become a center for factories that assemble garments, electronic components, and other goods for export. Other key manufactures include baseballs, agricultural chemicals, and processed foods. The economy is increasingly integrated into global circuits of trade, production, and finance.

Trade. Coffee and bananas are the country's chief agricultural exports, along with beef, sugar, flowers, nuts, and root vegetables.

Division of Labor. The economy diversified after 1950, and new groups emerged. In 1997, agriculture accounted for 19 percent of employment and 15 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), under half of 1950 levels.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Many upper-class families are descended from a few Spanish conquistadores. Levels of interaction between social classes were nonetheless high well into the twentieth century. Members of prominent families intermarried with other groups, especially wealthy European, Latin American, and North American immigrants. In Guanacaste and northern Puntarenas more rigid patterns of class relations are the norm.

The coffee elite, which dominated politics and society from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, derived most of its wealth from coffee processing and the export trade, not from ownership of plantations. Coffee also gave rise to a rural middle class. The Costa Rican middle class constitutes a larger proportion of the population perhaps one-quarterthan in other Central American countries.

Costa Rica is no longer a country of peasants. The opening of the University of Costa Rica in 1940 and the expansion of the public sector after 1948 provided new opportunities for upwardly mobile young people. Yet poverty remained significant, affecting one-fifth of the population at the close of the twentieth century. Nonetheless, in 1999, the United Nations ranked Costa Rica fourth among developing nations worldwide that have made progress in eliminating severe poverty.

Symbols of Social Stratification. The culture of consumptionin which clothes, cars, houses, and trips abroad are markers of statusis most conspicuous among members of the upper middle class, roughly 10 percent of the population.

Political Life

Government. The government has four branches: the executive, the unicameral Legislative Assembly, the judiciary, and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. In addition, many autonomous public sector institutions were created in the 1960s and 1970s. Most were privatized, downsized, or abolished in the 1980s and 1990s.

Leadership and Political Officials. Presidential and legislative elections are held every four years. Presidents generally appoint cabinet ministers and many other central government officials and employees. Legislative deputies consolidate support through dispensing special budget appropriations (partidas específicas) in their districts.

Costa Ricans are passionate about party loyalties, which often run in families and generally date to the 1940s when a social democratic insurgency overthrew a Catholic-Communist reformist coalition government and ushered in the modern welfare state. The National Liberation Party (PLN) was social democratic, but embraced free-market policies in the 1980s. The Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) has roots in social Christian reformism, but became more conservative than the PLN. Leftist parties declined. Regionalist parties occasionally elected legislative deputies or local officials.

Social Problems and Control. With the economic crisis of the early 1980s, violent street crime skyrocketed and remains high today. Firearms from wars elsewhere in Central America were easily acquired. Costa Rica became a transshipment point for Colombian cocaine bound for the United States. The emergence of private financial institutions in the 1980s facilitated money laundering.

Military Activity. The military was abolished following the 1948 Civil War. Security forces include the Civil Guard, Rural Guard, Judicial Police, and several smaller intelligence units. Private guards protect businesses and middle- and upper-class communities.

In the 1970s and 1980s, northern Costa Rica served as a base for armed Nicaraguan Sandinistas and then for anti-Sandinistas.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Costa Rica has made remarkable strides in improving living standards. Most Costa Ricans enjoy access to free health care, basic education, and social services. Free-market policies have forced reductions in spending, but health and education indicators remain impressive.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Costa Rica hosts dozens of nongovernmental organizations, many of which operate throughout Central America. The business elite is organized in sectoral cámaras (chambers), which exercise enormous political influence. Public-sector and banana-worker unions were important until the 1980s. Since then, employee-sponsored solidarista associationswhich provide loans and other benefits have replaced many unions.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Women are still responsible for food preparation, childcare, and cleaning. Men rely on mothers and wives or hired help. The middle and upper classes employ servants for housework and childcare. Heavy agricultural labor is performed by men and adolescent boys. Women harvest coffee, cotton, and vegetables.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Gender relations are similar to those elsewhere in Latin America, although women have achieved greater equality than in some other countries. "Macho" practicesflirtatious remarks on the street, physical violence in the homeare widespread.

Gender relations are in flux, with marked differences between generations and social groups. Women increasingly combine traditional responsibilities with work and education. Men dominate business and politics, but many women have held cabinet posts or are prominent in arts and professions. A 1994 Law for Promoting the Women's Social Equality prohibited discrimination and established a women's rights office.

Marriage,Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Costa Ricans' median age at first union is twenty-one for women and twenty-four for men. Premarital sex, expected of men, has become more common for women. Divorce and separation are frequent. Many upper-class men maintain mistresses and second families. The National Child Welfare Board garnishes wages of men who fail to pay child support and blocks them from traveling abroad.

Domestic Unit. Most families are in practice extended, with elderly or other kin in the household and other relatives nearby. Female-headed, multi-generational households are common among the poor.

Inheritance. Costa Ricans use their fathers' and mothers' last names to reckon descent. Inheritance is partible, but practiced with flexibility. Since 1994, the property of unmarried couples must be registered in the woman's name.


Infant Care. Infants are dressed warmly, because "air" is considered harmful. Girls have their ears pierced shortly after birth. Almost half of mothers no longer breast feed. Most parents request that a friend or affluent neighbor be a godparent to their newborn.

Child Rearing and Education. Children are treated with indulgence until age four or five, when they tend to be disciplined more consistently. Disciplinary practices vary greatly, from corporal punishment to withholding treats. Poor children often help with chores at an early age. Primary school attendance is universal; secondary school enrollment rates are very high. The educational system emphasizes rote learning and memorization, rather than analytical thinking. The adult literacy rate is 95.1 percent (1997).

Higher Education. One-quarter of the universityage population enrolls in higher education. Four public universities enroll four-fifths of the students; the rest attend three dozen private institutions. The undergraduate curriculum consists of a year of education in liberal arts and sciences followed by three or four years of specialized courses, leading to a university bachelor's degree. Students may opt for a year of additional work, involving a written thesis, that leads to a licenciatura, the main credential required for most advanced positions. Medicine and law are undergraduate careers.


Costa Ricans consider themselves "cultured" and polite. Children, parents, and age-mates are often addressed in the formal second-person. Men greet each other with a handshake, while women greet female and male friends and relatives with a kiss. Dating and courtship, once highly ritualized, are approaching U.S. patterns. Much socializing goes on in restaurants and bars. Malicious gossip is common and a source of both delight and apprehension.


Religious Beliefs. The Catholic heritage remains important in everyday language and culture. Cristiano is used as a synonym for "human being." Even those who are not religious like to have a religious medallion or picture of a saint in their cars or homes.

Costa Ricans demonstrate their Catholic faith mainly at baptisms, weddings, and funerals or during holy week and on saints' days. Although the official religion and a required subject in schools, Catholicism nevertheless coexists with other supernatural beliefs such as spirits and spells, even among the highly educated.

The principal challenge facing Catholicism is the rise of evangelical Protestantism, which now claims the loyalty of more than one-tenth of the population. Adherents report finding the participatory evangelical services more satisfying than staid Catholic liturgy. Converts generally abstain from alcohol and abide by stern codes of conduct.

Religious Practitioners. In the 1940s, the Church was involved in social reform. Following the 1948 Civil War and the defeat of the Catholic-Communist alliance, the Church abandoned activism. The broad reach of the welfare state meant that the Church did not have to be as concerned with social questions as its counterparts elsewhere. Some priests participated in action campaigns among peasants and shantytown dwellers, but most Church institutions remained conservative, with the Catholic hierarchy keeping a low profile.

Rituals and Holy Places. On the eve of the 2 August celebration for the national patron saint Our Lady of the Angelspilgrims throughout the country fulfilling "promises" to her hike to Cartago's Basílica of Our Lady of Los Angeles. Most churches sponsor local saints' celebrations, which are smaller and more secular in comparison with the national holiday for Our Lady of Los Angeles.

Death and the Afterlife. Catholics are typically buried following a church funeral. Wakes are held in the home of the deceased or in a funeral parlor. When a middle- or upper-class person dies, family members and associates place condolence advertisements in newspapers. Masses are held and rosaries recited at regular intervals after the event.

Medicine and Health Care

Costa Rica leads Central America in health, largely because of the extension to the entire population of free care through the Health Ministry and Social Security System. (The affluent, however, prefer to use private clinics.) Costa Rica's disease profile increasingly parallels that of industrialized societies. By the early 1990s, Costa Rica had as many doctors per one thousand population as the United States.

Secular Celebrations

Secular celebrations occur at regular intervals election days, soccer championshipsand when a Costa Rican team or individual attains international prominence. Festivities are marked by caravans of automobiles flying flags and blaring horns.

Middle- and upper-class girls often have fifteenth-year celebrations marking their formal entrances into society. Rodeos, with equestrian and bull-riding competitions, are held in many towns, sometimes in connection with religious celebrations.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. Beginning in the 1950s, the state provided extensive support for the arts and arts education, funding a National Symphony and Youth Orchestra, a major publishing house, dance and theater troupes, and several major museums, as well as offering awards and prizes in numerous fields. With the economic cut backs that began in the 1980s, the Ministry of Culture's budget plummeted, although many arts institutions and artists have managed to survive through private donations, concerts or gallery sales, and tourist patronage.

Literature. In the early twentieth century, Joaquin Garcia Monge edited the literary journal Repertorio Americano, which was widely read throughout Latin America. Costa Rica's most distinguished early twentieth-century writers, such as novelists Carlos Luis Fallas, Joaquin Gutiérrez, Fabián Dobles, and Luisa González, as well as more contemporary ones, such as novelists Carmen Naranjo and Alfonso Chase and poet Jorge Debravo, have focused on social protest as a major theme. Political essays and biographies are also quite common, traditionally, as is sentimental, regionalist fiction that evokes a largely problem-free, idyllic past.

Graphic Arts. Costa Rica has little of the artisan or craft production so noticeable in Mexico or Guatemala. The "traditional" painted oxcart that is featured in tourist shops actually dates only to the early twentieth century.

Graphic artists Francisco Amighetti, Manuel de la Cruz González, and Margarita Berthau are among those who have attained an international following. Sculptor Francisco Zúñiga also has an international reputation, although he lived most of his life in Mexico and emphasizes Mexican topics in his work.

Performance Arts. The world of Costa Rica drama expanded significantly in the 1970s with the arrival of exiled Argentine and Chilean actors, playwrights, and directors, who founded new theater companies that had a more contemporary and broader repertoire. Several small theater companies have significant public followings, as do the productions staged at the major universities. In addition to the small, but vibrant, classical music scene, there are several folk groups devoted to Latin American "new song" and to recording and performing the country's vanishing heritage of Caribbean calypso, Spanish-style peasant ballads, and labor songs. American-, Brazilian-, and Cuban-influenced jazz combos enjoy a small but dedicated following. Modern dance has become popular since the 1970s, reflecting in part a breakdown of traditional inhibitions about exhibitions of physicality and the body.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

The University of Costa Rica is the main research institution. Other public universities are the Technological Institute, the National University whose religion department became an important center for Latin American liberation theology advocatesand the State University at a Distance, which provides correspondence courses. Specialized institutions include the Central American Business Administration Institute, the Peace University, and the Center for Tropical Agronomic Research and Teaching. Since the mid 1980s, private universities have proliferated, specializing in law, business administration, tourism, and technical programs.


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Bozzoli de Wille, María E. El indígena costarricense y su ambiente natural, 1986.

Chomsky, Aviva. West Indian Workers and the United Fruit Company in Costa Rica 18701940, 1996.

Edelman, Marc. The Logic of the Latifundio: The Large Estates of Northwestern Costa Rica Since the Late Nineteenth Century, 1992.

. Peasants Against Globalization: Rural Social Movements in Costa Rica, 1999.

, and Joanne Kenen (eds.). The Costa Rica Reader, 1989.

Evans, Sterling. The Green Republic: A Conservation History of Costa Rica, 1999.

Gudmundson, Lowell. Costa Rica Before Coffee: Society and Economy on the Eve of the Export Boom, 1986.

Honey, Martha. Hostile Acts: U.S. Policy in Costa Rica in the 1980s, 1994.

Janzen, Daniel H. (ed.) Costa Rican Natural History, 1983.

Lara, Silvia, Tom Barry, and Peter Simonson. Inside Costa Rica: The Essential Guide to its Politics, Economy, Society, and Environment, 1995.

Leitinger, Ilse Abshagen (ed.). The Costa Rican Women's Movement: A Reader, 1997.

Molina, Iván, and Steven Palmer. The History of Costa Rica: Brief, Up-to-Date and Illustrated, 1998.

Morales, Abelardo, and Carlos Castro. Inmigración laboral nicaragüense en Costa Rica, 1999.

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Marc Edelman

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Costa Rica

Costa Rica


The population of Coast Rica is primarily of Spanish descent, with a small mestizo (mixed white and native or Amerindian) minority (about 7 percent). The remainder are blacks (3 percent), East Asians (2 percent), and Amerindians (1 percent). The blacks are mostly of Jamaican descent.

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Costa Rica

Costa Ricaacre, baker, breaker, Chandrasekhar, faker, forsaker, Jamaica, Laker, maker, nacre, partaker, Quaker, raker, saker, shaker, staker, taker, undertaker, waker •bellyacher • matchmaker • bedmaker •dressmaker •haymaker, playmaker •sailmaker • rainmaker •lacemaker, pacemaker •peacemaker • filmmaker • kingmaker •printmaker • holidaymaker •cabinetmaker • moneymaker •merrymaker • watchmaker •clockmaker • lawmaker • homemaker •bookmaker • troublemaker •boilermaker • heartbreaker •safebreaker • Windbreaker •tie-breaker • strikebreaker •icebreaker • jawbreaker •housebreaker • muckraker •boneshaker • caretaker • piss-taker •stavesacre • wiseacre •beaker, Costa Rica, Dominica, eureka, Frederica, Griqua, leaker, loudspeaker, seeker, shrieker, sika, sneaker, speaker, squeaker, streaker, Tanganyika, theca, tikka, Topeka, wreaker

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