Note: Costa Rica
of Costa Rica
51,100 sq. km (19,730 sq. mi.) about the size of the states of Vermont and New
Cities: Capital--San Jose (greater metropolitan
area pop. 2.1 million, the greater metropolitan area as defined by the Ministry
of Planning and Economic Policy includes the cities of Alajuela, Cartago, and
Heredia). Other major cities outside the San Jose capital area--Puntarenas, Limon.
Terrain: A rugged, central range separates the eastern and western coastal
Climate: Mild in the central highlands, tropical and subtropical in
Noun and adjective--Costa Rican(s).
Population (July 2005 est.): 4.02
Annual growth rate (2005 est.): 1.48%.
Ethnic groups: European
and some mestizo 94%, African origin 3%, Chinese 1%, indigenous 1%, other 1%.
Roman Catholic 76.3%, Protestant approx. 15.7%, others 4.8%, none 3.2%.
Spanish, with a southwestern Caribbean Creole dialect of English spoken around
the Limon area.
Education: Years compulsory--9. Attendance--99%
grades 1-6, 71% grades 7-9. Literacy--96%.
Health: Infant mortality
rate--9.95/1,000. Life expectancy--men 74.26 yrs., women 79.55 yrs.
force (2004 est., 1.81 million): Services--71.3%; agriculture--14.6%;
Type: Democratic republic.
Independence: September 15, 1821.
November 7, 1949.
Branches: Executive--president (head of government
and chief of state) elected for one 4-year term, two vice presidents, Cabinet
(15 ministers, two of whom are also vice presidents). Legislative--57-deputy
unicameral Legislative Assembly elected at 4-year intervals. Judicial--Supreme
Court of Justice (22 magistrates elected by Legislative Assembly for renewable
8-year terms). The offices of the Ombudsman, Comptroller General, and Procurator
General assert autonomous oversight of the government.
provinces, divided into 81 cantons, subdivided into 421 districts.
parties: National Liberation Party (PLN), Citizen's Action Party (PAC), Libertarian
Movement Party (PML), Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), Costa Rican Renovation
Party (PRC), and other smaller parties.
Suffrage: Universal and compulsory
at age 18.
GDP PPP (2004 est.): $37.97 billion.
Inflation (2005 est.):
Real growth rate (2004 est.): 3.9%.
Per capita income (2004): $4,670.
(PPP $9,600--2004 est.)
Unemployment (2004 est.): 6.6%.
Rica Colon (CRC).
Natural resources: Hydroelectric power, forest products,
Agriculture (8.5% of GDP): Products--bananas, coffee,
beef, sugarcane, rice, dairy products, vegetables, fruits and ornamental plants.
(29.7% of GDP): Types--electronic components, food processing, textiles
and apparel, construction materials, cement, fertilizer.
Commerce and tourism
(61.8% of GDP): Hotels, restaurants, tourist services, banks, and insurance.
(2004 est.): Exports--$6.18 billion: Integrated circuits, bananas, pineapples,
optical/medical equipment, knit and woven apparel, coffee, fish and seafood. Major
markets--U.S. 44.1%, Europe 21%, Central America 9%. Imports--$7.84
billion: electronic components, machinery, vehicles, consumer goods, raw materials,
chemicals, petroleum products, foods, and fertilizer. Major suppliers--U.S.
45.9%, Europe 10%, Mexico 3.7% Central America 5%, Japan 4.8%, Venezuela 4%.
Unlike many of their Central American neighbors, present-day Costa Ricans
are largely of European rather than mestizo descent; Spain was the primary country
of origin. However, an estimated 10% to 15% of the population is Nicaraguan, of
fairly recent arrival and primarily of mestizo origin. Descendants of 19th-century
Jamaican immigrant workers constitute an English-speaking minority and--at 3%
of the population--number about 119,000. Few of the native Indians survived European
contact; the indigenous population today numbers about 29,000 or less than 1%
of the population.
In 1502, on his fourth and last voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus
made the first European landfall in the area. Settlement of Costa Rica began in
1522. For nearly three centuries, Spain administered the region as part of the
Captaincy General of Guatemala under a military governor. The Spanish optimistically
called the country "Rich Coast." Finding little gold or other valuable minerals
in Costa Rica, however, the Spanish turned to agriculture.
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.
joined other Central American provinces in 1821 in a joint declaration of independence
from Spain. Although the newly independent provinces formed a Federation, border
disputes broke out among them, adding to the region's turbulent history and conditions.
Costa Rica's northern Guanacaste Province was annexed from Nicaragua in one such
regional dispute. In 1838, long after the Central American Federation ceased to
function in practice, Costa Rica formally withdrew and proclaimed itself sovereign.
An era of peaceful democracy in Costa Rica
began in 1899 with elections considered the first truly free and honest ones in
the country's history. This began a trend continued until today with only two
lapses: in 1917-19, Federico Tinoco ruled as a dictator, and, in 1948, Jose Figueres
led an armed uprising in the wake of a disputed presidential election.
more than 2,000 dead, the 44-day civil war resulting from this uprising was the
bloodiest event in 20th-century Costa Rican history, but the victorious junta
drafted a constitution guaranteeing free elections with universal suffrage and
the abolition of the military. Figueres became a national hero, winning the first
election under the new constitution in 1953. Since then, Costa Rica has held 14
presidential elections, the latest in 2006.
Rica is a democratic republic with a strong system of constitutional checks and
balances. Executive responsibilities are vested in a president, who is the country's
center of power. There also are two vice presidents and a 15-member cabinet. The
president and 57 Legislative Assembly deputies are elected for 4-year terms. In
April 2003, the Costa Rican Constitutional Court annulled a constitutional reform
enacted by the Legislative Assembly in 1969 barring presidents from running for
reelection. The law reverted back to the 1949 Constitution, which states that
ex-presidents may run for reelection after they have been out of office for two
presidential terms, or eight years. Deputies may run for reelection after sitting
out one term, or four years.
process is supervised by an independent Supreme Electoral Tribunal--a commission
of three principal magistrates and six alternates selected by the Supreme Court
of Justice. Judicial power is exercised by the Supreme Court of Justice, composed
of 22 magistrates selected for renewable 8-year terms by the Legislative Assembly,
and subsidiary courts. A Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, established
in 1989, reviews the constitutionality of legislation and executive decrees and
all habeas corpus warrants.
of the Comptroller General of the Republic, the Solicitor General, and the Ombudsman
exercise oversight of the government. The Comptroller General's office has a statutory
responsibility to scrutinize all but the smallest public sector contracts and
strictly enforces procedural requirements.
are provincial boundaries for administrative purposes, but no elected provincial
officials. Costa Rica held its first mayoral elections in December 2002, whereby
mayors were elected by popular vote through general elections. Prior to 2002,
the office of mayor did not exist and the president of the municipal council was
responsible for the administration of each municipality. The most significant
change has been to transfer the governing authority from a position filled via
an indirect popular vote to one filled by a direct popular vote. Municipal council
presidents are elected through internal elections conducted by council members
each year, but mayors are elected directly by the populace through general elections.
All council members are elected in a general election process. Autonomous state
agencies enjoy considerable operational independence; they include the telecommunications
and electrical power monopoly, the state petroleum refinery, the nationalized
commercial banks, the state insurance monopoly, and the social security agency.
Costa Rica has no military and maintains only domestic police and security forces
for internal security. A professional Coast Guard was established in 2000.
President--Oscar ARIAS Sanchez
Ambassador to the United States--Tomás DUEÑAS
the Organization of American States--Javier SANCHO Bonilla
Ambassador to the
United Nations-- Jorge URBINA
maintains an embassy in the United
States at 2114 S Street NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-234-2945 and 202-234-2946).
Rica has long emphasized the development of democracy and respect for human rights.
Until recently, the country's political system has steadily developed and maintained
democratic institutions and an orderly, constitutional scheme for government succession.
Several factors have contributed to this tendency, including enlightened leadership,
comparative prosperity, flexible class lines, educational opportunities that have
created a stable middle class, and high social indicators. Also, because Costa
Rica has no armed forces, it has avoided the possibility of political intrusiveness
by the military that other countries in the region have experienced.
May 2006, President Oscar Arias of the National Liberation Party (PLN) assumed
office, defeating principal rival Ottón Solis of the Civil Action Party by roughly
2% of the vote. Arias has listed passage of the Dominican Republic-Central American
Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), along with fiscal reform, infrastructure improvements,
furthering education, and improving security as primary goals for his presidency.
The 57-member unicameral Legislative Assembly has five principal party factions,
with the governing party, PLN, having a 25-seat plurality.
four years of slow economic growth, the Costa Rican economy grew at nearly 4%
in 2004. Compared with its Central American neighbors, Costa Rica has achieved
a high standard of living, with a per capita income of about U.S. $4,700, and
an unemployment rate of 6.6%. The annual inflation rate hovers around 14% as the
Costa Rican Government seeks to reduce a large fiscal deficit.
the budget deficit remains the single-biggest challenge for the country's economic
policymakers, as interest costs on the accumulated central government consumed
the equivalent of 32.1% in 2003 of the government's total revenues. About 18.9%
of the national budget was financed by public borrowing. This limits the resources
available for investments in the country's deteriorated public infrastructure.
Costa Rica's major economic resources are
its fertile land and frequent rainfall, its well-educated population, and its
location in the Central American isthmus, which provides easy access to North
and South American markets and direct ocean access to the European and Asian Continents.
One-fourth of Costa Rica's land is dedicated to national forests, often adjoining
picturesque beaches, which has made the country a popular destination for affluent
retirees and eco-tourists.
Costa Rica used
to be known principally as a producer of bananas and coffee, but pineapples have
surpassed coffee as the number two agricultural export. In recent years, Costa
Rica has successfully attracted important investments by such companies as Intel
Corporation, which employs nearly 2,000 people at its $300 million microprocessor
plant; Proctor and Gamble, which employs nearly 1,000 people in its administrative
center for the Western Hemisphere; and Hospira and Baxter Healthcare from the
health care products industry. Manufacturing and industry's contribution to GDP
overtook agriculture over the course of the 1990s, led by foreign investment in
Costa Rica's free trade zone. Well over half of that investment has come from
the United States. Dole and Chiquita have a large presence in the banana industry.
Two-way trade exceeded U.S. $6.6 billion in 2004.
Rica has oil deposits off its Atlantic Coast, but the Pacheco administration (2002-2006)
decided not to develop the deposits for environmental reasons. The country’s mountainous
terrain and abundant rainfall have permitted the construction of a dozen hydroelectric
power plants, making it largely self-sufficient in electricity, but it is completely
reliant on imports for liquid fuels. Costa Rica has the potential to become a
major electricity exporter if plans for new generating plants and a regional distribution
grid are realized. Mild climate and trade winds make neither heating nor cooling
necessary, particularly in the highland cities and towns where some 90% of the
Costa Rica's infrastructure
has suffered from a lack of maintenance and new investment. The country has an
extensive road system of more than 30,000 kilometers, although much of it is in
disrepair. Most parts of the country are accessible by road. Costa Rica has sought
to widen its economic and trade ties, both within and outside the region. Costa
Rica signed a bilateral trade agreement with Mexico in 1994, which was later amended
to cover a wider range of products. Costa Rica joined other Central American countries,
plus the Dominican Republic, in establishing a Trade and Investment Council with
the United States in March 1998. Costa Rica has signed trade agreements with Canada,
Chile, the Dominican Republic, and is negotiating trade agreements with Panama,
and Trinidad and Tobago. Costa Rica concluded negotiations with the U.S. to participate
in the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement (U.S.-CAFTA) in January 2004.
CAFTA is expected to bring about the partial opening of the state telecommunications
monopoly and a substantial opening of the state-run insurance sector. While CAFTA
has been ratified by the U.S. and five other countries, the Costa Rican Legislative
Assembly has not yet voted on it. Costa Rica is an active participant in the negotiation
of the hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americas as well as a member of the
Cairns Group, which is pursuing global agricultural trade liberalization within
the World Trade Organization.
Costa Rica is an active member of the international community
and, in 1993, proclaimed its permanent neutrality. Its record on the environment,
human rights, and advocacy of peaceful settlement of disputes give it a weight
in world affairs far beyond its size. The country lobbied aggressively for the
establishment of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and became the first
nation to recognize the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Human Rights Court,
based in San Jose.
During the tumultuous
1980s, then President Oscar Arias authored a regional peace plan in 1987 that
served as the basis for the Esquipulas Peace Agreement. Arias' efforts earned
him the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize. Subsequent agreements, supported by the United
States, led to the Nicaraguan election of 1990 and the end of civil war in Nicaragua.
Costa Rica also hosted several rounds of negotiations between the Salvadoran Government
and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), aiding El Salvador's
efforts to emerge from civil war and culminating in that country's 1994 free and
fair elections. Costa Rica has been a strong proponent of regional arms limitation
The United States and Costa Rica have a history of close
and friendly relations based on respect for democratic government, human freedoms,
free trade, and other shared values. The country consistently supports the U.S.
in international fora, especially in the areas of democracy and human rights.
Costa Rica co-sponsored the Resolution on Cuba at the 60th session of the UN Commission
on Human Rights. Law enforcement cooperation, particularly efforts to stem the
flow of illegal drugs to the U.S., has been exemplary.
United States is Costa Rica's most important trading partner. The U.S. accounts
for over half of Costa Rica's exports, imports, and tourism, and more than two-thirds
of its foreign investment. The two countries share growing concerns for the environment
and want to preserve Costa Rica's important tropical resources and prevent environmental
The United States responded
to Costa Rica's economic needs in the 1980s with significant economic and development
assistance programs. Through provision of more than $1.1 billion in assistance,
the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) supported Costa Rican efforts
to stabilize its economy and broaden and accelerate economic growth through policy
reforms and trade liberalization. Assistance initiatives in the 1990s concentrated
on democratic policies, modernizing the administration of justice, and sustainable
For decades, Peace
Corps Volunteers have provided technical assistance in the areas of environmental
education, natural resources, management, small business development, basic business
education, urban youth, and community education. USAID completed a $9 million
project in 2000-01 to support refugees of Hurricane Mitch residing in Costa Rica.
Upwards of 20,000 private American citizens,
including many retirees, reside in the country and more than 600,000 American
citizens visit Costa Rica annually. There have been some vexing issues in the
U.S.-Costa Rican relationship, principal among them longstanding expropriation
and other U.S. citizen investment disputes, which have hurt Costa Rica's investment
climate and produced bilateral tensions. Land invasions from organized squatter
groups who target foreign landowners also have occurred, and some have turned
violent. The U.S. Government has made clear to Costa Rica its concern that Costa
Rican inattention to these issues has left U.S. citizens vulnerable to harm and
loss of their property.
The United States
and Costa Rica signed the bilateral Maritime Counter-Drug Agreement, the first
of its kind in Central America, which entered into force in late 1999. The agreement
permits bilateral cooperation on stopping drug trafficking through Costa Rican
waters. The agreement has resulted in a growing number of narcotics seizures,
illegal fishing cases, and search-and-rescue missions.
U.S. Embassy Officials
Chief of Mission--Russell Frisbie
Political Counselor--David Henifin
Officer--Whitney J. Witteman
Consul General--David Dreher
Public Affairs Officer--Laurie Weitzenkorn
Commercial Attaché--James McCarthy
Environmental Hub--Bernard Link
Security Officer--Michael Wilkins
Drug Enforcement Administration--Paul Knierim
Peace Corps Director--Terry Grumley
U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica is located
in Pavas at Boulevard Pavas and Calle 120, San Jose, tel. (506) 519-2000 or (506)
Other Contact Information
Department of Commerce
Trade Information Center
International Trade Administration
and Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20320
Rican American Chamber of Commerce
P.O. Box 025216, Dept
Miami, Florida 33102-5216
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