Republic of Costa Rica
Area: 51,100 sq. km (19,730 sq. mi.) about the
size of the states of Vermont and New Hampshire
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
Terrain: A rugged, central range separates the
eastern and western coastal plains.
Climate: Mild in the central highlands, tropical
and subtropical in coastal areas.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Costa
Population (July 2005 est.): 4.02 million.
Annual growth rate (2005 est.): 1.48%.
Ethnic groups: European and some mestizo 94%,
African origin 3%, Chinese 1%, indigenous 1%,
Religion: Roman Catholic 76.3%, Protestant
approx. 15.7%, others 4.8%, none 3.2%.
Languages: Spanish, with a southwestern
Caribbean Creole dialect of English spoken
around the Limon area.
Education: Years compulsory--9.
Attendance--99% grades 1-6, 71% grades 7-9.
Health: Infant mortality rate--9.95/1,000.
Life expectancy--men 74.26 yrs., women
Work force (2004 est., 1.81 million):
Type: Democratic republic.
Independence: September 15, 1821.
Constitution: November 7, 1949.
Branches: Executive--president (head of
government and chief of state) elected for one
4-year term, two vice presidents, Cabinet (15
ministers, two of whom are also vice
unicameral Legislative Assembly elected at
4-year intervals. Judicial--Supreme Court
of Justice (22 magistrates elected by
Legislative Assembly for renewable 8-year
terms). The offices of the Ombudsman,
Comptroller General, and Procurator General
assert autonomous oversight of the government.
Subdivisions: Seven provinces, divided into 81
cantons, subdivided into 421 districts.
Political parties: 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 (2004): $18.4 billion.
GDP PPP (2004 est.): $37.97 billion.
Inflation (2005 est.): 14%.
Real growth rate (2004 est.): 3.9%.
Per capita income (2004): $4,670. (PPP
Unemployment (2004 est.): 6.6%.
Currency: Costa Rica Colon (CRC).
Natural resources: Hydroelectric power, forest
products, fisheries products.
Agriculture (8.5% of GDP): Products--bananas,
coffee, beef, sugarcane, rice, dairy products,
vegetables, fruits and ornamental plants.
Industry (29.7% of GDP): Types--electronic
components, food processing, textiles and
apparel, construction materials, cement,
Commerce and tourism (61.8% of GDP): Hotels,
restaurants, tourist services, banks, and
Trade (2004 est.): Exports--$6.18
billion: Integrated circuits, bananas,
pineapples, optical/medical equipment, knit and
woven apparel, coffee, fish and seafood.
Major markets--U.S. 44.1%, Europe 21%,
Central America 9%. Imports--$7.84
billion: electronic components, machinery,
vehicles, consumer goods, raw materials,
chemicals, petroleum products, foods, and
fertilizer. Major suppliers--U.S. 45.9%,
Europe 10%, Mexico 3.7% Central America 5%,
Japan 4.8%, Venezuela 4%.
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.
The small landowners' relative poverty, the
lack of a large indigenous labor force, the
population's ethnic and linguistic homogeneity,
and Costa Rica's isolation from the Spanish
colonial centers in Mexico and the Andes all
contributed to the development of an autonomous
and individualistic agrarian society. An
egalitarian tradition also arose. This tradition
survived the widened class distinctions brought
on by the 19th-century introduction of banana
and coffee cultivation and consequent
accumulations of local wealth.
Costa Rica joined other Central American
provinces in 1821 in a joint declaration of
independence from Spain. Although the newly
independent provinces formed a Federation,
border disputes broke out among them, adding to
the region's turbulent history and conditions.
Costa Rica's northern Guanacaste Province was
annexed from Nicaragua in one such regional
dispute. In 1838, long after the Central
American Federation ceased to function in
practice, Costa Rica formally withdrew and
proclaimed itself sovereign.
An era of peaceful democracy in Costa Rica
began in 1899 with elections considered the
first truly free and honest ones in the
country's history. This began a trend continued
until today with only two lapses: in 1917-19,
Federico Tinoco ruled as a dictator, and, in
1948, Jose Figueres led an armed uprising in the
wake of a disputed presidential election.
With more than 2,000 dead, the 44-day civil
war resulting from this uprising was the
bloodiest event in 20th-century Costa Rican
history, but the victorious junta drafted a
constitution guaranteeing free elections with
universal suffrage and the abolition of the
military. Figueres became a national hero,
winning the first election under the new
constitution in 1953. Since then, Costa Rica has
held 14 presidential elections, the latest in
Costa Rica is a democratic republic with a
strong system of constitutional checks and
balances. Executive responsibilities are vested
in a president, who is the country's center of
power. There also are two vice presidents and a
15-member cabinet. The president and 57
Legislative Assembly deputies are elected for
4-year terms. In April 2003, the Costa Rican
Constitutional Court annulled a constitutional
reform enacted by the Legislative Assembly in
1969 barring presidents from running for
reelection. The law reverted back to the 1949
Constitution, which states that ex-presidents
may run for reelection after they have been out
of office for two presidential terms, or eight
years. Deputies may run for reelection after
sitting out one term, or four years.
The electoral process is supervised by an
independent Supreme Electoral Tribunal--a
commission of three principal magistrates and
six alternates selected by the Supreme Court of
Justice. Judicial power is exercised by the
Supreme Court of Justice, composed of 22
magistrates selected for renewable 8-year terms
by the Legislative Assembly, and subsidiary
courts. A Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme
Court, established in 1989, reviews the
constitutionality of legislation and executive
decrees and all habeas corpus warrants.
The offices of the Comptroller General of the
Republic, the Solicitor General, and the
Ombudsman exercise oversight of the government.
The Comptroller General's office has a statutory
responsibility to scrutinize all but the
smallest public sector contracts and strictly
enforces procedural requirements.
There are provincial boundaries for
administrative purposes, but no elected
provincial officials. Costa Rica held its first
mayoral elections in December 2002, whereby
mayors were elected by popular vote through
general elections. Prior to 2002, the office of
mayor did not exist and the president of the
municipal council was responsible for the
administration of each municipality. The most
significant change has been to transfer the
governing authority from a position filled via
an indirect popular vote to one filled by a
direct popular vote. Municipal council
presidents are elected through internal
elections conducted by council members each
year, but mayors are elected directly by the
populace through general elections. All council
members are elected in a general election
process. Autonomous state agencies enjoy
considerable operational independence; they
include the telecommunications and electrical
power monopoly, the state petroleum refinery,
the nationalized commercial banks, the state
insurance monopoly, and the social security
agency. Costa Rica has no military and maintains
only domestic police and security forces for
internal security. A professional Coast Guard
was established in 2000.
Principal Government Officials
President--Oscar ARIAS Sanchez
Foreign Minister--Bruno STAGNO Ugarte
Ambassador to the United States--Tomás DUEÑAS
Ambassador to the Organization of American
States--Javier SANCHO Bonilla
Ambassador to the United Nations--Maria Elena
Costa Rica maintains an
embassy in the United States at 2114 S
Street NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel.
202-234-2945 and 202-234-2946).
Costa Rica has long emphasized the development
of democracy and respect for human rights. Until
recently, the country's political system has
steadily developed and maintained democratic
institutions and an orderly, constitutional
scheme for government succession. Several
factors have contributed to this tendency,
including enlightened leadership, comparative
prosperity, flexible class lines, educational
opportunities that have created a stable middle
class, and high social indicators. Also, because
Costa Rica has no armed forces, it has avoided
the possibility of political intrusiveness by
the military that other countries in the region
In May 2006, President Oscar Arias of the
National Liberation Party (PLN) assumed office,
defeating principal rival Ottón Solis of the
Civil Action Party by roughly 2% of the vote.
Arias has listed passage of the Dominican
Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement
(DR-CAFTA), along with fiscal reform,
infrastructure improvements, furthering
education, and improving security as primary
goals for his presidency. The 57-member
unicameral Legislative Assembly has five
principal party factions, with the governing
party, PLN, having a 25-seat plurality.
After four years of slow economic growth, the
Costa Rican economy grew at nearly 4% in 2004.
Compared with its Central American neighbors,
Costa Rica has achieved a high standard of
living, with a per capita income of about U.S.
$4,700, and an unemployment rate of 6.6%. The
annual inflation rate hovers around 14% as the
Costa Rican Government seeks to reduce a large
Controlling the budget deficit remains the
single-biggest challenge for the country's
economic policymakers, as interest costs on the
accumulated central government consumed the
equivalent of 32.1% in 2003 of the government's
total revenues. About 18.9% of the national
budget was financed by public borrowing. This
limits the resources available for investments
in the country's deteriorated public
Costa Rica's major economic resources are its
fertile land and frequent rainfall, its
well-educated population, and its location in
the Central American isthmus, which provides
easy access to North and South American markets
and direct ocean access to the European and
Asian Continents. One-fourth of Costa Rica's
land is dedicated to national forests, often
adjoining picturesque beaches, which has made
the country a popular destination for affluent
retirees and eco-tourists.
Costa Rica used to be known principally as a
producer of bananas and coffee, but pineapples
have surpassed coffee as the number two
agricultural export. In recent years, Costa Rica
has successfully attracted important investments
by such companies as Intel Corporation, which
employs nearly 2,000 people at its $300 million
microprocessor plant; Proctor and Gamble, which
employs nearly 1,000 people in its
administrative center for the Western
Hemisphere; and Hospira and Baxter Healthcare
from the health care products industry.
Manufacturing and industry's contribution to GDP
overtook agriculture over the course of the
1990s, led by foreign investment in Costa Rica's
free trade zone. Well over half of that
investment has come from the United States. Dole
and Chiquita have a large presence in the banana
industry. Two-way trade exceeded U.S. $6.6
billion in 2004.
Costa Rica has oil deposits off its Atlantic
Coast, but the Pacheco administration
(2002-2006) decided not to develop the deposits
for environmental reasons. The country’s
mountainous terrain and abundant rainfall have
permitted the construction of a dozen
hydroelectric power plants, making it largely
self-sufficient in electricity, but it is
completely reliant on imports for liquid fuels.
Costa Rica has the potential to become a major
electricity exporter if plans for new generating
plants and a regional distribution grid are
realized. Mild climate and trade winds make
neither heating nor cooling necessary,
particularly in the highland cities and towns
where some 90% of the population lives.
Costa Rica's infrastructure has suffered from
a lack of maintenance and new investment. The
country has an extensive road system of more
than 30,000 kilometers, although much of it is
in disrepair. Most parts of the country are
accessible by road. Costa Rica has sought to
widen its economic and trade ties, both within
and outside the region. Costa Rica signed a
bilateral trade agreement with Mexico in 1994,
which was later amended to cover a wider range
of products. Costa Rica joined other Central
American countries, plus the Dominican Republic,
in establishing a Trade and Investment Council
with the United States in March 1998. Costa Rica
has signed trade agreements with Canada, Chile,
the Dominican Republic, and is negotiating trade
agreements with Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Costa Rica concluded negotiations with the U.S.
to participate in the U.S.-Central America Free
Trade Agreement (U.S.-CAFTA) in January 2004.
CAFTA is expected to bring about the partial
opening of the state telecommunications monopoly
and a substantial opening of the state-run
insurance sector. While CAFTA has been ratified
by the U.S. and five other countries, the Costa
Rican Legislative Assembly has not yet voted on
it. Costa Rica is an active participant in the
negotiation of the hemispheric Free Trade Area
of the Americas as well as a member of the
Cairns Group, which is pursuing global
agricultural trade liberalization within the
World Trade Organization.
Costa Rica is an active member of the
international community and, in 1993, proclaimed
its permanent neutrality. Its record on the
environment, human rights, and advocacy of
peaceful settlement of disputes give it a weight
in world affairs far beyond its size. The
country lobbied aggressively for the
establishment of the UN High Commissioner for
Human Rights and became the first nation to
recognize the jurisdiction of the Inter-American
Human Rights Court, based in San Jose.
During the tumultuous 1980s, then President
Oscar Arias authored a regional peace plan in
1987 that served as the basis for the Esquipulas
Peace Agreement. Arias' efforts earned him the
1987 Nobel Peace Prize. Subsequent agreements,
supported by the United States, led to the
Nicaraguan election of 1990 and the end of civil
war in Nicaragua. Costa Rica also hosted several
rounds of negotiations between the Salvadoran
Government and the Farabundo Marti National
Liberation Front (FMLN), aiding El Salvador's
efforts to emerge from civil war and culminating
in that country's 1994 free and fair elections.
Costa Rica has been a strong proponent of
regional arms limitation agreements.
U.S.-COSTA RICAN RELATIONS
The United States and Costa Rica have a history
of close and friendly relations based on respect
for democratic government, human freedoms, free
trade, and other shared values. The country
consistently supports the U.S. in international
fora, especially in the areas of democracy and
human rights. Costa Rica co-sponsored the
Resolution on Cuba at the 60th session of the UN
Commission on Human Rights. Law enforcement
cooperation, particularly efforts to stem the
flow of illegal drugs to the U.S., has been
The United States is Costa Rica's most
important trading partner. The U.S. accounts for
over half of Costa Rica's exports, imports, and
tourism, and more than two-thirds of its foreign
investment. The two countries share growing
concerns for the environment and want to
preserve Costa Rica's important tropical
resources and prevent environmental degradation.
The United States responded to Costa Rica's
economic needs in the 1980s with significant
economic and development assistance programs.
Through provision of more than $1.1 billion in
assistance, the U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID) supported Costa Rican
efforts to stabilize its economy and broaden and
accelerate economic growth through policy
reforms and trade liberalization. Assistance
initiatives in the 1990s concentrated on
democratic policies, modernizing the
administration of justice, and sustainable
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
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
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
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--Russell Frisbie
Political Counselor--Frederick Kaplan
Economic Officer--Whitney J. Witteman
Consul General--David Dreher
Management Counselor--Scott McAdoo
Public Affairs Officer--Laurie Weitzenkorn
Defense Representative--Chief-Commander Alwyn
Commercial Attaché--James McCarthy
Agricultural Attaché--Katherine Nishiura
Environmental Hub--Bernard Link
Regional 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) 220-3127.