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|THE COSTA RICA COAT OF ARMS|
Location of Costa Rica within the continent of Central America and the Caribbean
Map of Costa Rica
Flag Description of Costa Rica:The flag of Costa Rica was officially adopted on September 29, 1848. The blue and white are the original colors used by the United Provinces of Central America, while the combined red, white and blue are modeled after the colors of the French Tricolore. The country's coat of arms is found on the red panel and the three volcanoes in the country are featured.
In 1502, on his fourth and last voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus made the first European landfall in the area. Settlement of Costa Rica began in 1522.
Official name República de Costa Rica (Republic of Costa Rica)
Form of government unitary multiparty republic with one legislative house (Legislative Assembly )
Head of state and government President: Luis Guillermo Solís
Capital San José
Official language Spanish
Official religion Roman Catholicism
Monetary unit Costa Rican colón (₡)
Population (2013 est.) 4,402,000COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 19,730
Total area (sq km) 51,100
- Urban: (2009) 63.9%
- Rural: (2009) 36.1%
Life expectancy at birth
- Male: (2011) 76.9 years
- Female: (2011) 81.8 years
Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate
- Male: (2008) 95.7%
- Female: (2008) 96.2%
GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2013) 9,550
BACKGROUND OF COSTA RICA
COSTA RICA AT A GLANCE
Costa Rica is one of the oldest democracies in the Americas. It is a country proud of its heritage and tradition of negotiation over confrontation, social development over military spending and tolerance over hostility. It is the home to many international organizations such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the University for Peace of the United Nations and the Earth Council.
In 1502, on his fourth and last voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus made the first European landfall in the area. Settlement of Costa Rica began in 1522. The Spanish optimistically called the place "Rich Coast." Finding little gold or other valuable minerals in Costa Rica, however, the Spanish turned to agriculture.
For nearly three centuries, Spain administered the region as part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala under a military governor. The small landowners' relative poverty, the lack of a large indigenous labor force, the population's ethnic and linguistic homogeneity, and Costa Rica's isolation from the Spanish colonial centers in Mexico and the Andes all contributed to the development of an autonomous and individualistic agrarian society. An egalitarian tradition also arose. This tradition survived the widened class distinctions brought on by the 19th-century introduction of banana and coffee cultivation and consequent accumulations of local wealth. Costa Rica joined other Central American provinces in 1821 in a joint declaration of independence from Spain.
Costa Rica abolished its military forces in 1949 and since then has devoted substantial resources to investment in health and education. It is a country that has placed a high priority in investing in public education, including the university system, as well as technical and vocational training. Its population of 4.4 million people enjoys a literacy rate of 96% and a life expectancy of 79.3 years.
The Costa Rican government is ruled by a series of constitutional controls. The executive responsibilities rest on the President, supported by two Vice-presidents and a 57 Congressmen cabinet; all of them are elected every 4 years. The country has a strong legal system managed by the ‘Judicial Power’, which ensures law compliancen and covers both nationals and foreigners within the country’s territory.
The 2008 World Bank Study for Global Governance Indicators ranks Costa Rica in the first place within Latin America for political stability.
Costa Rica is blessed with impressive scenic beauty a fact that is not lost on the more than one million tourists that visit each year. Located in Central America in an area that covers 51.000 square kilometers (19.729 square miles), Costa Rica possesses approximately 6% of the world’s biodiversity. Because of Costa Rica’s small size, a diverse array of fabulous sites is within easy access. A trip to Costa Rica affords the opportunity to visit 12 different life zones, 20 national parks, 26 protected areas, nine forest reserves, eight biological reserves and seven wildlife sanctuaries. Costa Rica is the birthplace of ecotourism. The country is often cited as a model for conservation in harmony with community development and economic growth.
Today Costa Rica is one of the only developing countries to have adopted a tax on hydrocarbons, partially funding the only national system of payment for environmental services, and becoming the largest buyer of forest carbon in the world. Moreover, Costa Rica has set the goal to become a carbon-neutral country by 2021.
It is not surprising that tourism is Costa Rica’s main source of income and hard currency. Costa Rica receives over 1.7 million tourists per year, the majority of whom come from the United States and Canada. Earnings from tourism amount to more than $1.7 billion US dollars per year. It is estimated that up to 80% of all visitors to the country come to do eco-tourism related activities.
One of the pillars of Costa Rica's economic development has been trade liberalization, which has allowed exports to surpass its 30% ratio of GDP in 1980 to a current 50% rate. This trade liberalization has been followed by a series of structural changes resulting in productivity growth, diversification of the economy and a higher level of investment. Today, Costa Rica exports thousands of distinctive products to the world and is highly recognized as one of the top 30 leading exporters of high-tech products. Foreign investors remain attracted by the country’s political stability and high education levels. All these changes have translated into important social achievements. In the last 20 years poverty was reduced from 40% to less than 20%.
In 2009, Costa Rica was considered the country with the highest rate of happiness (Happy Planet Index).
Geography of Costa Rica
This Central American country lies between Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south. Its area slightly exceeds that of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. It has a narrow Pacific coastal region. Cocos Island (10 sq mi; 26 sq km), about 300 mi (483 km) off the Pacific Coast, is under Costa Rican sovereignty.
Extending from northwest to southeast, Costa Rica is bounded by Nicaragua to the north, by the Caribbean Sea along the 185-mile (300-km) northeastern coastline, by Panama to the southeast, and by the Pacific Ocean along the 630-mile (1,015-km) southwestern coastline. At the country’s narrowest point, the distance between the Pacific and the Caribbean is only about 75 miles (120 km).
Two mountain chains together run almost the entire length of Costa Rica. These are, in the north, the Cordillera Volcánica, noted for its volcanic activity, as the name implies, and, in the south, the Cordillera de Talamanca. The Cordillera Volcánica may be divided into three ranges, from northwest to southeast: the Cordillera de Guanacaste, the Cordillera de Tilarán, and the Cordillera Central. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983, the Cordillera de Talamanca is a massive granite batholith, quite different geologically from the volcanically active northern ranges. Costa Rica’s highest point, Mount Chirripó (12,530 feet [3,819 metres]), is in the Talamanca system. Two of the highest peaks in the Cordillera Volcánica, Irazú (11,260 feet [3,432 metres]) and Poás (8,871 feet [2,704 metres]), have paved roads reaching to the rims of their active craters. These volcanoes, overlooking the Valle Central, pose a serious natural hazard, as do earthquakes for most of the country. Arenal Volcano (5,358 feet [1,633 metres]), about 56 miles (90 km) northwest of San José, is the country’s youngest stratovolcano. Its last major eruption, in 1968, destroyed two villages, and the volcano continued to spew lava and breccia into the early 21st century.
The Valle Central is separated into two parts by the continental divide. The eastern part is drained by the Reventazón River to the Caribbean, and the western sector forms part of the basin of the Grande de Tárcoles River, which flows into the Pacific. Another large structural valley, the Valle del General, lies at the base of the Cordillera de Talamanca in the southern part of the country. To the north and east of the mountainous central spine lie the Caribbean lowlands, constituting about one-fifth of the country and reaching less than 400 feet (120 metres) in elevation. The Pacific lowlands, which contain several small valleys and plains, include only about one-tenth of Costa Rica’s territory.
Thermal convection and onshore breezes bring abundant rains to the Pacific coast in the wet season, generally May to October in the north and April to December in the south. Northeasterly trade winds on the Caribbean provide ample year-round precipitation for the country’s east coast, with the heaviest amounts occurring in the Barra del Colorado region. The higher mountain ranges have warm temperate climates, and the Pacific slopes have alternating wet and dry seasons.
Situated in the Valle Central at an elevation of 3,800 feet (1,160 metres), San José enjoys moderate temperatures and ample rainfall. Average monthly rainfall there ranges from well under 1 inch (25 mm) in February to more than 12 inches (300 mm) in September, with a yearly average of more than 70 inches (1,800 mm). Temperatures vary with elevation. San José has a mean temperature of 69 °F (21 °C), while means of 59 °F (15 °C) and 80 °F (27 °C) have been reported at stations located at 7,665 feet (2,340 metres) and 682 feet (210 metres), respectively.
- Plant and animal life
Dense broad-leaved evergreen forest, which includes mahogany and tropical cedar trees, covers about one-third of Costa Rica’s landscape. On the Talamanca range grow numerous evergreen oaks and, above the timberline, mountain scrub and grasses. The northwest, with the longest dry season, contains open deciduous forest. Palm trees are common on the Caribbean coastline, and mangroves grow on the shallow protected shores of the Nicoya and Dulce gulfs along the Pacific. Mosses, orchids, and other tropical plants are abundant. Many of the world’s tropical biologists have carried out studies at the various research stations of the Organization for Tropical Studies, which has its headquarters in San Pedro, a suburb of San José, as well as at the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Centre (Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza; CATIE) in Turrialba.
Costa Rica’s numerous and varied life zones make the country attractive to biologists. Mammalian life is both abundant and varied and has major ties to South and North American populations. The South American species include monkeys, anteaters, and sloths, and the North American species include deer, wildcats, weasels, otters, coyotes, and foxes. There is a wide variety of tropical birds in the lowlands, and reptiles, such as snakes and iguanas, and frogs are common.
Demography of Costa Rica
- Ethnic groups
Nearly four-fifths of Costa Rica’s population is of European descent, and, as a result, Costa Rica has the largest percentage of people of Spanish descent in Central America. The Valle Central, with more than half the country’s population, is the most predominantly Spanish region in both its manner of living and its ancestry. The next largest group consists of mestizos (people of mixed indigenous and European ancestry), who constitute close to one-fifth of the country’s inhabitants.
The roughly one-tenth of the country’s inhabitants who live in Guanacaste provincia (province) are a blend of the descendants of colonial Spanish, indigenous, and African peoples; the Spanish they speak is more like that of Nicaragua than that of the Valle Central.
People of African ancestry, who comprise an even smaller percentage of the total population, live mostly in the Caribbean lowland of Limón province. The descendants of workers brought from the West Indies (mainly from Jamaica) in the 19th century to build the Atlantic Railroad and work on banana plantations, they were the targets of racism, and for many years residence laws restricted them to��>� Caribbean coast. Moreover, in the late 1930s, when Panama disease hit the banana crop on the Atlantic coast and operations shifted to the Pacific coast, forcing many of Limón’s inhabitants to seek work elsewhere, some Costa Ricans lobbied for laws barring the employment of blacks. Costa Rica’s president signed a law in 1935 prohibiting banana plantation owners on the Pacific coast from employing “coloured” people, claiming that their relocation would upset the racial balance of the country. It was not until 1949 that the government abolished what was in effect Costa Rica’s version of apartheid and allowed black residents of Limón to travel, enter the Valle Central region, and become citizens. Discrimination is still present in Costa Rica (though less obvious than before); many among the country’s Spanish-descended majority consider blacks inferior because of economic, cultural, and perceived “racial” differences. Because of these circumstances, the black community remains isolated from the national culture and faces many economic and social barriers.
There is a small Chinese population, many of whom are also the descendants of imported labourers. The Chinese community has its own social clubs, although it has assimilated into mainstream culture. Many Costa Ricans of Chinese descent own businesses in the retail and hospitality industries.
Less than 1 percent of Costa Rica’s population today are indigenous people—usually referred to as Indians. Although estimates indicate that about 400,000 indigenous people lived in what is now Costa Rica before the Spanish conquest, that number was drastically reduced by the conquest itself, disease, and slave-raiding expeditions. The Bribrí and Cabécar reside in the Cordillera de Talamanca, and the Boruca (Brunca) and Térraba live in the hills around the Valle del General. A small number of Guatuso reside on the northern plains in Alajuela province. Most of Costa Rica’s Indians are rapidly becoming assimilated, but those on the Caribbean side in the southern Talamanca region maintain their separate ways, including their animistic religions. Although Costa Rica’s indigenous groups are legally assigned to protected reserves, the land is infertile, and most survive through subsistence agriculture. They are among the country’s poorest people.
Spanish in Costa Rica is spoken with a distinctive national accent and employs peculiar usages. Costa Ricans replace the diminutive ending -tito with -tico (hence their nickname), a practice known elsewhere but uncommon in Central America. Descendants of Africans in Limón province speak both Spanish and Limonese Creole, which resembles Jamaican English. The principal Indian languages spoken in Costa Rica are part of the Chibchan language family and include Bribrí, Cabécar, Maléku Jaíka, Boruca, and Térraba.
Slightly less than nine-tenths of Costa Ricans are Roman Catholics. Roman Catholicism is the official religion, and it is supported with a small part of the national budget; however, the constitution of 1949 provides for freedom of religion. Most of the remaining population is Protestant, the majority of whom live in Limón province. A transplanted community of Quakers from the U.S. state of Alabama moved to Costa Rica in the 1950s and founded the town of Monteverde. They were essential in the creation of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. A small Jewish community resides mostly in or near San José. An extremely small group of Mennonites lives in the Sarapiqui area, at the base of the Cordillera Volcánica.
- Settlement patterns
Since the beginnings of European colonization, the Valle Central has been the heartland of Costa Rica. In the 19th century, settlement slowly expanded from the core areas around Cartago and San José into the western parts of the valley. This expansion was based on coffee production from small family farms. Such farms still prevail but had become less numerous by the second half of the 19th century, when Costa Rica started to export coffee beans. Only large farms had the capacity and labour to prepare and package the coffee for shipment. Small properties were bought and integrated into larger landholdings. Nevertheless, more than half of Costa Rica’s coffee farms are 10 acres (4 hectares) or less in size, a factor that contributes to the democratic heritage for which the country is famed.
During the 20th century, Costa Rica’s settlement frontiers expanded outward rapidly from the Valle Central to incorporate peripheral areas, until virtually all the suitable lands in the country were settled and the spread of population effectively ended.
In the Caribbean lowlands the banana industry thrived from the 1880s until the 1920s, when Panama disease forced closure of the plantations. New disease-resistant varieties of bananas allowed reestablishment of the Caribbean plantations in the late 1950s, thus reviving the economy. The southern Pacific coastal region was opened for banana production about 1938 by the development of plantations around Parrita and Golfito. After World War II, competition from other banana-producing countries increased, causing national production to decline, and the last company-owned plantations in the Pacific region were closed or replanted with oil palms by 1985. Elsewhere in the south, habitation of the Valle del General increased rapidly following construction of the Inter-American Highway during World War II and into the 1950s.
The San Carlos Plain, part of the northern lowlands, was settled mainly after 1945, when roads were built that connected it with the Valle Central. In the 1970s and ’80s more new roads brought additional expansion of agriculture and cattle grazing to this fertile area.
The northwestern province of Guanacaste—where many people work on large cattle ranches, or haciendas, while also maintaining small agricultural plots of their own—was once a part of Nicaragua and still retains a variety of Nicaraguan cultural influences. In many ways, this is the least traditionally Costa Rican part of the country.
San José is the only true metropolitan area in Costa Rica. The congested downtown contains major stores, government buildings, and the offices of many businesses. The few high-rise buildings are located in this city centre. Outside the downtown, San José has expanded outward to incorporate surrounding towns. The San José metropolitan area, which contains overall about one-fourth of Costa Rica’s population, is a functionally integrated urban region that reaches from Alajuela and Heredia on the west to Cartago on the east.
- Demographic trends
In the mid-20th century, Costa Rica’s population growth rate was among the highest in the world. As general prosperity and urbanization increased, however, the population growth rate decreased despite a drop in both the general and infant mortality rates. This decrease in the population growth rate was largely attributable to the fact that, by the late 20th century, middle-class Costa Rican families were having fewer children than previous generations. Life expectancy in Costa Rica is substantially longer than in most other Central American countries and is more comparable to life expectancies in developed countries.
European immigration and customs have helped to mold Costa Rican history and influence its character. German, Italian, and British immigrants in the 19th century left an imprint on Costa Rican education, science, and culture. In the 1970s immigrants mainly came from Argentina, Chile, and Colombia. However, in the 1980s immigrants and refugees arrived from nearby countries. Economic problems and political and armed conflict in Nicaragua and other Central American countries drove thousands of refugees (mainly mestizos) into Costa Rica, altering the ethnic composition of the country. Since the 1990s there has been a constant flow into Costa Rica of Nicaraguans, more than 400,000 of whom were estimated to be living in the country in the early 2000s. Many of these immigrants face barriers in housing, education, and health care and live in run-down neighbourhoods. During Nicaragua’s dictatorship and civil war in the 1980s, the Costa Rican government set up refugee camps to aid its neighbours. Furthermore, after Hurricane Mitch in 1998, Costa Rica granted asylum to many Nicaraguan refugees. In the early 2000s, however, the government enforced harsher measures to control illegal immigration, including tighter border controls and fines for businesses that employed undocumented workers. It is estimated that one-tenth of the Nicaraguans in Costa Rica are illegal aliens. Nationwide polls show that many Costa Ricans possess negative stereotypes of Nicaraguans. Costa Rica has also become a mecca for retirees from the United States, tens of thousands of whom now live there.
Economy of Costa Rica
Costa Rica is neither rich, as its name (“Rich Coast”) implies, nor as poor as many of its neighbours. The country’s wealth is better distributed among all social classes than elsewhere in Central America. During the 1980s the Costa Rican standard of living declined somewhat as a result of economic stagnation and inflation, but by the 1990s and into the 21st century the country was again vying with Panama and Belize for Central America’s highest per capita gross national product (GNP).
The government controls key utilities, including electricity, water, fixed-line telephone, and port and rail facilities, and the entire population is eligible for free medical care, but private enterprise is still strong and influential in policy making. Continuous efforts to diversify the economy have succeeded in reducing the traditional dependence on agricultural exports, particularly coffee, bananas, and beef. Despite stringent efforts to reduce spending, the Costa Rican government operates at a deficit, a condition that has fed the country’s already large international debt. The economy rebounded after the economic stagnation of the 1980s; by the beginning of the 21st century, the rate of annual GNP growth was above the Central American average and was double the world average, while the country’s chronic inflation had been brought largely under control. Per capita national debt, however, is among the largest in Central America.
- Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
Notwithstanding the country’s traditional dependence on agriculture, less than one-sixth of economically active Costa Ricans work in the agricultural sector, which contributes about one-tenth of GNP. Sugar and coffee, from the highlands; bananas, produced mainly in the Caribbean lowlands; and pineapples, grown in farms located throughout the country, are some of the most important crops, accounting for nearly half the total value of all exports. Nontraditional agricultural products such as cut flowers, gourmet coffee, herbs, and macadamia nuts have increased in importance, and manufactured food products, fertilizer, handicrafts, garments, and publishing also have made inroads in the traditional economy. Palm oil for domestic consumption is an important product from the southern Pacific lowlands. Costa Rica has the capacity to feed itself but dedicates a large share of its land to the production of export crops.
Extensive deforestation went unchecked in the last few decades of the 20th century, when much of Costa Rica’s timber reserves were cleared to make way for pasture or cropland. But by the end of the century the government had taken measures to limit use of trees for wood and fuel, had joined the private sector in further managing forest harvesting, and was compensating owners of woodlands for the environmental benefits of maintaining their forests. The best remaining stands of tropical hardwoods are in protected parks and forest reserves.
Costa Rica’s fishing industry, concentrated mostly on the Pacific coast and focusing primarily on tuna and shrimp, supplies both the domestic market and exports. Tilapia fish farming, which grew significantly in the 1990s, has made Costa Rica the principal supplier of tilapia to the United States.
- Resources and power
Costa Rica’s agricultural land and climate are its most important natural resources. The country has few mineral resources. The most important are the yet-unexploited bauxite deposits in the General and Coto Brus valleys and copper in the Cordillera de Talamanca. There is manganese on and near the Nicoya Peninsula, gold on the Osa Peninsula and parts of the Pacific slopes, and magnetite on scattered beaches, particularly on the southern Caribbean coastline. Geologic conditions are promising for petroleum in the southern Caribbean coast, but exploration has proved disappointing. For many years a number of hydroelectric plants have supplied domestic needs and provided a surplus for export. In fact, by the early 21st century about four-fifths of the country’s electricity was produced from these plants, which do not emit greenhouse gases. The Angostura hydroelectric plant in central Costa Rica, which began operations in 2000, is the country’s largest.
Government and Society of Costa Rica
- Constitutional framework
Costa Rica is governed by its constitution of November 1949, the 10th in its history. A president, two vice presidents, and a unicameral Legislative Assembly are elected at the same time for a term of four years, the assembly by proportional representation. Presidents may not run for immediate reelection, though they are eligible to serve again after sitting out two successive presidential terms.
Since the adoption of the constitution of 1949, Costa Rica has given an unusual degree of power to autonomous agencies, including state-financed universities and regional development institutes such as the National Insurance Institute, the Social Security Institute, and the Costa Rica Tourist Institute. These agencies provide additional opportunity for participation in government, but because of powers independent of the central administration they have made central planning more challenging.
- Local government
The country’s seven provinces are administered by governors appointed by the president. The provinces represent judicial and electoral jurisdictions; most government agencies with their own administrative branches may not account for provincial boundaries. Each province is divided into cantones (cantons), and each canton is divided into distritos (districts). Councilmen for the cantons are elected locally, but budgets for all political units are approved by the national government, which controls nearly all the funds available to local governments.
In the Costa Rican system of justice, cases may be decided by a single judge or by a panel of judges; the jury system is not used, but the courts are generally noted for their fairness. Capital punishment is banned, and sentences to the penitentiary must be for a stated number of years. The highest court is the Supreme Court of Justice. Magistrates of the Supreme Court are chosen by the assembly for eight-year terms and automatically continue for a second eight-year term unless removed by a two-thirds vote. An independent Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which has extraordinary powers during elections, oversees the election process.
- Political process
All citizens over age 18 are obliged to register to vote and to participate in elections. Voter turnout has traditionally been high, averaging about four-fifths of eligible voters from the 1960s through 1994, before falling thereafter. Costa Rica has a stable democratic government. The fairness of national elections has been indicated by the fact that almost every four-year period since the mid-20th century has seen a change in the party winning the presidency. Two parties have traditionally dominated: the National Liberation Party (Partido Liberación Nacional; PLN), which since 1949 has controlled the National Assembly more often than not, and the Social Christian Unity Party (Partido Unidad Social Cristiana; PUSC). The former, founded by the moderate socialist José Figueres Ferrer in 1948, was largely responsible for establishing the health, education, and welfare reforms for which Costa Rica is noted. The PUSC, a four-party coalition formed in 1977, is more conservative and business-oriented than the PLN. In 2000 the Citizen Action Party (Partido Acción Ciudadana; PAC) was founded as an alternative.
Costa Rica has no army and promotes demilitarization elsewhere as a part of its foreign policy. It maintains a nonconscripted civil guard that has police duties. There also are district police.
- Health and welfare
Costa Rica has greatly reduced the incidence of diseases associated with tropical climates. Malaria has been virtually eliminated except in the border areas with Nicaragua; waterborne diseases are rare; and mortality rates are low. The incidence of cancer and heart disease has risen, however. Costa Rica’s Social Security Institute, founded in the 1940s, is often considered a model for other Latin American countries.
A number of agencies promoting human rights have established headquarters in San José, including the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights. The Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress, created in 1988 by Óscar Arias Sánchez following his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, lobbies for gender equity and equal opportunity and peace and security and includes a higher education and research division.
The constitution provides for free and compulsory education. The central government oversees school attendance, curricula, and other educational matters. About one-fourth of the country’s budget is allocated to education, and more than nine-tenths of the population is literate. School attendance is relatively high, with more than nine-tenths of children age 6 to 11 enrolled in primary schools and more than three-fifths of students age 12 to 16 enrolled in secondary schools.
The University of Costa Rica (1941) has a well-planned, functional main campus in San Pedro, a suburb of San José, as well as a number of branches in outlying cities; the National University has a smaller campus in Heredia; and the “open” university, Universidad Estatal a Distancia (1977), offers courses by television from offices in San José. The Autonomous University of Central America (1976) is also located in San José, as are several private institutions of higher education. Through the initiative of Pres. Rodrigo Carazo Odio (1978–82), Costa Rica became the home of the University for Peace in 1980. The Technological Institute of Costa Rica (Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica [ITCR]; founded in 1971 in Cartago) provides engineering and other technical training. Scores of foreign universities maintain exchange programs with Costa Rica’s universities.
Culture Life of Costa Rica
- Cultural milieu
Most Costa Rican diversions are cosmopolitan rather than nationalistic in nature. Ticos attend films with great frequency, enjoying international cinema. They listen to an extraordinary variety of music, especially from the many radio stations in the country. Cable television enables them to keep up with global events. Residents of the Valle Central attend the National Theatre, where the music played and the drama performed may come from any part of the world. Extended family and other personal connections through school, business, political, or religious associations are very important to ticos.
As a predominantly Roman Catholic country, Costa Rica observes many holy days and feasts. Among the most important are Semana Santa, or Holy Week, when most of the country’s towns suspend business for several days of ceremonies and parades, and the Day of the Virgin of Los Angeles (August 2), which honours Costa Rica’s patron saint and is marked by fireworks and feasting. On a secular level, Juan Santamaría Day (April 11) celebrates the Costa Rican patriot who organized a volunteer army to turn back the invading American adventurer William Walker in 1856. The Guanacaste region, in Costa Rica’s northwest, is known for raising cattle, and in late July several of its towns hold fairs that feature bullfighting, dancing, equestrian competitions, and cavalcades. Celebrations in San José draw crowds to its unique collection of plazas—notably the Democracy, Culture, Free Elections, and Social Guarantees plazas.
- The arts
Costa Ricans take a strong interest in their pre-Columbian art, which includes large stone statues from the Pacific northwest of the country, exquisitely carved stone spheres (probably cemetery markers) from the Pacific southwest region, and fine figurines of gold and jade. The fine arts have seldom flourished in Costa Rica, but they have received some impetus from government support, particularly with the creation in 1970 of the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports. Painting, sculpture, and music all showed considerable development in the latter part of the 20th century. Particular pride was taken in the growth of the National Symphony Orchestra since 1971, with the ensemble playing large halls and also taking music to the countryside. Costa Ricans have been marginally active in the field of literature. Roberto Brenes Mesén and Ricardo Fernández Guardia were widely known in the early 20th century as independent thinkers in the fields of education and history, respectively. Fabián Dobles and Carlos Luis Fallas have attracted international attention as writers of novels with social protest themes. Carmen Naranjo is one of several noted female writers. Among the folk arts, Costa Rica is most famous for its highly decorated oxcarts and wood carvings.
- Cultural institutions
Most of the country’s cultural institutions are centred in and around the capital. The country’s architectural crown jewel, the Renaissance-style National Theatre (1897), on the south side of the Plaza of Culture, features statues, marble staircases, magnificent murals depicting Costa Rican life, and a ceiling fresco. The National Museum in downtown San José houses the country’s largest collection of pre-Columbian art. A fine collection of gold objects can be found in the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, located beneath the Plaza of Culture. The Fidel Tristan Jade Museum contains the largest collection of jade in the Americas. Outside of San José, Guayabo National Park, near Turrialba, features the country’s only preserved pre-Columbian archaeological site. Because of the small population in the colonial period and the absence of significant wealth at that time, genuine colonial architecture is rather scarce, the most famed example being a 17th-century mission in the town of Orosí. Cartago’s older buildings, destroyed by earthquakes, have in some cases been restored; new ones like them have also been built.
- Sports and recreation
As elsewhere in Central America, football (soccer) is the Costa Rican national pastime, and there are dozens of local and provincial teams. The sport was introduced to the country by English settlers in the early 20th century, and succeeding generations have refined an aggressive style of play that has repeatedly earned Costa Rica’s national team the Central American Soccer Union (Unión Centroamericana de Futbol; UNCAF) Nations Cup as the champions of Central America. Although its Olympic committee was not founded until 1953, Costa Rica participated in the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin, and Costa Rican athletes have attended every Summer Games since 1956, finding their greatest success in football. But it was swimmer Claudia Poll Ahrens who won the country’s first gold medal, in the 200-metre freestyle event at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta.
Costa Rica has developed the largest national park system, relative to its size, of any Latin American country. These parks include a sweeping range of tropical ecosystems, such as tropical rainforest (Corcovado National Park; Manuel Antonio National Park), cloud forest (Monteverde), dry forest, and elfin forest. Other parks include active volcanoes, turtle nesting sites (Tortuguero National Park, Playa Grande, and Ostional National Wildlife Refuge), and coral reefs (Cahuita National Park). International tourists are attracted by these parks, some of which are noted worldwide for their vegetation and wildlife. The country’s national beaches are a major attraction for Costa Ricans as well, who flock to them on weekends and major holidays. Popular beaches include Manuel Antonio, Conchal, Flamingo, Tamarindo, and Grande.
Although it features picturesque uncrowded beaches on both its Caribbean and Pacific coasts, Costa Rica was somewhat late in developing an ocean sports industry. That changed when Costa Rica’s Pacific beaches were prominently featured in the 1994 American film The Endless Summer 2. Surfers from around the world began to descend on such magnificent surfing spots as El Potrero, Roca Bruja, Pico Pequeño, Callejones, Mal País, and Puerto Viejo. The last, lying alongside a tall coral reef, offers especially challenging surfing. Others flock to the same beaches for their outstanding diving sites and clear, warm waters. Sportfishing on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts is popular with tourists.
- Media and publishing
Numerous publishing houses operate in the country, issuing both fiction and nonfiction on a wide range of topics. The government-operated Editorial Costa Rica and publishing outlets of major universities are the most prolific of the publishing houses. Both the number and variety of publications available in Costa Rican bookstores surpass those of any other Central American country and some South American countries as well. La Nación (“The Nation”), an independent but conservative daily, is the most widely read of Costa Rica’s newspapers. It is balanced by La Républica (“The Republic”) and La Prensa Libre (“The Free Press”), independents that lean more toward reform ideas. The Tico Times, an English-language newspaper, has established a reputation for its investigative reporting. There are several television stations, one of which is government-owned.
Costa Rica was inhabited by an estimated 400,000 Indians when Columbus explored it in 1502. The Spanish conquest began in 1524. The region grew slowly and was administered as a Spanish province. Costa Rica achieved independence in 1821 but was absorbed for two years by Agustín de Iturbide in his Mexican empire. It became a republic in 1848. Except for the military dictatorship of Tomás Guardia from 1870 to 1882, Costa Rica has enjoyed one of the most democratic governments in Latin America.
In the 1970s, rising oil prices, falling international commodity prices, and inflation hurt the economy. Efforts have since been made to reduce reliance on coffee, banana, and beef exports. Tourism is now a major business. Óscar Arias Sánchez worked to simultaneously heal his country's economic woes and foster peace in Central America.
José Maria Figueres Olsen of the National Liberation Party became president in 1994. He opposed economic suggestions made by the International Monetary Fund, instead favoring greater government intervention in the economy. The World Bank subsequently withheld $100 million of financing. In 1998, Miguel Angel Rodríguez of the Social Christian Unity Party became president, pledging economic reforms, such as privatization. In 2000, Costa Rica and Nicaragua resolved a long-standing dispute over navigation of the San Juan River, which forms their shared border. A psychiatrist, Abel Pacheco, also of the Social Christian Unity Party, won the presidency in elections held in April 2002. In May 2003, several national strikes took place, by energy and telecommunications workers over
A Brief History
Costa Rica has become a household name in terms of tourist destinations within Latin America. Gracefully posing as the bridge between Mesoamerican and Andean cultures', as well as the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, this little country beckons the patronage of approximately 1.5 million tourists a year, nearly half of whom are Americans. There are many reasons why Costa Rica calls the attention of foreign travelers and investors while the rest of the region struggles for stability.
Beginning by establishing a national park system that makes up 25% of the entire country, Costa Rica is able to protect lush and exotic flora and fauna that make up 5% of the world's biodiversity (the country itself makes up only 1% of the worlds land mass). They have paved the way for and encourage the spread of ecotourism: a more people and planet friendly way to enjoy what the country has to offer. By nationally protecting the vast riches that the country naturally possesses and laying the foundation for tourism to flourish in a more natural, eco-friendly manner, Costa Rica exudes an openness and hospitality not easily found in other developing countries.
Other things catch one's eye when noticing the warmth of the country; one of those being the fact that Costa Rica was the first nation in the world to voluntarily abolish its army. Under the presidency of Jose Figueres Ferrer, the abolition of the national army was engraved into the constitution in 1949, allowing its funds to be redirected towards education and culture, and its official building revamped into the National Museum of Costa Rica. This act became hugely significant in the years to come by nearly abolishing its illiteracy rate (95% of its population is literate), and allowing the country to focus on humanitarian and environmental efforts, on both domestic and global levels, rather than the country's security.
In Latin America's colonial era, Costa Rica was the southern most province in what was known as Captaincy General of Guatemala. When independence from Spain was declared in 1821, Costa Rica was the last to know, thus any form of physical upheaval was unnecessary and their independence was gained without any human sacrifice. This, along with the fact that its population is largely monochromatic (94% European/Mestizo with only 3% African and 1.7% Indigenous), leaves little room for the scuffles that its Central American neighbors seem to be presented with. Nonetheless, massive immigration mostly from Nicaragua, Colombia and Taiwan, especially during the last decade, is significantly changing the ethnic panorama of the country into a more multicultural society.
Costa Rica is also a huge advocate for peace and humanitarianism holding a seat in the United Nations, the Organization of American States and the International Criminal Court. It's current President, Oscar Arias received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his work in the Esquipulas II Peace Agreement promoting democracy and peace in Central America.
The Threat of Globalization It is important to point out the negative effects of globalization that is now threatening Costa Rica's peace tradition and historical progress. In more recent decades, Costa Rica's "Pura Vida" (translated pure life) approach has become threatened due to many factors. The harmony of local communities is being transformed due to the ramifications of the tourist trade, the importation of technology, and the threats of privatization through trade agreements.
Its economic dependence on tourism has encouraged a rapid growth of large scale beach resorts and real estate development, especially on its west coast, thus generating conflict between local communities and developers over the use of water, (a resource that is becoming increasingly scarce in the region) as well as generating land disputes as a result of public land privatization.
Because of its educational level, Costa Rica has become a hotspot for technology and pharmaceutical development. Previously Costa Rica focused on its agricultural sector but has recently announced a 7 year plan for technological development giving tax credits to companies like Intel and Proctor & Gamble, which sees in the country's location the key factor for their choice: Costa Rica has direct ocean access to the rest of Latin America, the US, Western Europe, South-East Asia, and Russia.
The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) with the USA (at this point not ratified yet by the Congress due to public pressure) has become one of the issues of controversy and division among the population. Costa Ricans' especially treasure the state-run telecommunications and power companies, as well as their universal health insurance system, which could be negatively impacted by the action of transnational corporations favored by CAFTA.
Costa Rica maintains a positive global reputation due to its continued commitment to peace, human rights and the environment. Due to accords such as CAFTA, and other booms in private development, this reputation could be in jeopardy. A significant number of Costa Rican citizens are afraid that their successful development model based on social security and solidarity will become drastically transformed.
Nobel Peace Prize Winner Again Gains Presidency
- osta Rica has a reputation as one of the most stable, prosperous, and least corrupt Latin American countries. But in fall 2004, three former Costa Rican presidents (José Maria Figueres Olsen, Miguel Angel Rodríguez, and Rafael Angel Calderon) were investigated on corruption charges. In 2006, Óscar Arias Sánchez was elected president. Arias, who had served as president once before (1986–1990), won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for fostering peace talks that eventually ended the civil wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua.
The Costa Rican government voted in November 2008 to implement the Central American Free Trade Agreement that voters had approved in October 2007.
First Woman Elected President
- In February 2010, Laura Chinchilla became the country's first woman to be elected president, taking 47% of the vote. She's a protégé of outgoing centrist president Oscar Arias. Due to Article 132 of Costa Rica's Constitution, Chinchilla was ineligible to run for a second consecutive term.
- Luis Guillermo Solís was elected president in May 2014. A member of the center-left Citizens' Action Party, Solís easily won the presidency after first round runner-up, San José Mayor Johnny Araya Monge stopped actively campaigning.
Costa Rica Area: 51,100 sq km (19,730 sq mi) Population (2005 est.): 4,221,000 Capital: San José Head of state and government: President Abel Pacheco de la Espriella Corruption scandals, trade ...>>>Read On<<<<
Costa Rica Area: 51,100 sq km (19,730 sq mi) Population (2004 est.): 4,252,000 Capital: San José Head of state and government: President Abel Pacheco de la Espriella For much of 2004, national...>>>Read On<<<<
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