Costa Rica

About Costa Rica

Geography
History
Economy
Culture
Policy
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National Institutions
Parliament (Legislative Assembly)
President's office
Ministry of Agriculture and Cattle
Montevideo Research Institute Ministry of Foreign Affairs
National Biodiversity Institute
Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports
Ministry of Science and Technology
Ministry of Economics and National Strategy
Marine Biology Station
Energy Sources of Costa Rica
Ministry of Public Education
Ministry of Foreign Trade
Ministry of Justice
Ministry of Economy, Industry and Trade
Ministry of Defense and National Safety
Ministry of Healthcare
Ministry of Labour
Ministry of Finance
Ministry of Environment and Energy
Ministry of Social Welfare
Ministry of Transport
Ministry of Manufacture
National Biodiversity Institute
Institute of Agricultural Development
National Social Security Fund
National Council of Production
National Institute of Education
Postal Service
Directorate for Migration
Central Bank of Costa Rica
National Bank of Costa Rica
National Statistical Institute National Institute of Standardization (INTECO)
Political Parties
National Liberation Party
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Social Christian Unity Party
General Information
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Educational Institutions
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Technological University
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University of Costa Rica
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Touristic Information
Tourist Board
National Chamber of Tourism
Domestic Airliness
Information on Human Rights
Amnesty International Publications
Freedom in the World
Other Information
Human Development Report
Ethnologue: Languages of the World
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Costa Rica -- Geography --

Official Name: Republica de Costa Rica
Capital City: San Jose
Languages: Spanish (official), Makatelyu (regionally recognized)
Official Currency: Costa Rican colon
Religions: Roman Catholicism, Protestant, others
Population: 4,133,884
Land Area: 51,100 sq km
Boundaries and Relief: Costa Rica is bounded by Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the east and south, the Pacific Ocean to the west and south and the Caribbean Sea to the east. 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.
Land Divisions: Costa Rica is composed of seven provinces, which in turn are divided into 81 cantons, each of which is directed by a mayor.

Costa Rica -- History --

The first European explorer to encounter Costa Rica was the Great Navigator himself, Christopher Columbus. The day was September 18, 1502, and Columbus was making his fourth and final voyage to the New World. As he was setting anchor off shore, a crowd of local Carib Indians paddled out in canoes and greeted his crew warmly. Later, the golden bands that the region's inhabitants wore in their noses and ears would inspire the Spaniard Gil Gonzalez Davila to name the country Costa Rica, or Rich Coast. Archaeologists now know that civilization existed in Costa Rica for thousands of years before the arrival of Columbus, and evidence of human occupation in the region dates back 10,000 years. Among the cultural mysteries left behind by the area's pre-Columbian inhabitants are thousands of perfectly spherical granite bolas that have been found near the west coast. The sizes of these inimitable relics range from that of a baseball to that of a Volkswagen bus. Ruins of a large, ancient city complete with aqueducts were recently found east of San Jose, and some marvelously sophisticated gold and jade work was being wrought in the southwest as far back as 1,000 years ago. Some archeological sites in the central highlands and Nicoya peninsula have shown evidence of influence from the Mexican Olmec and Nahuatl civilizations. By the time Columbus arrived, there were four major indigenous tribes living in Costa Rica. The east coast was the realm of the Caribs, while the Borucas, Chibchas, and Diquis resided in the southwest. Only a few hundred thousand strong to begin with, none of these peoples lasted long after the dawn of Spanish colonialism. Some fled, while many others perished from the deadly smallpox brought by the Spaniards. Having decimated the indigenous labor force, the Spanish followed a common policy and brought in African slaves to work the land. Seventy thousand of their descendants live in Costa Rica today, and the country is known for good relations among races. Regrettably, only 1 percent of Costa's Rica's 3 million people are of indigenous heritage. An overwhelming 98 percent of the country is white, and those of Spanish descent call themselves Ticos. Of all the Spanish colonies, Costa Rica enjoyed the least influence as a colony. It was initially a tough and unpopular place to settle, with few valuable or easily exploited resources. The Spanish were far more interested in developing their holdings in Mexico and Peru, where vast amounts of silver and gold were being obtained. The early hapless settlers who came to Costa Rica were left largely to their own devices, and the first successful establishment of a colonial city was not until 1562, when Juan Vasquez de Coronado founded Cartago. When Mexico rebelled against Spain in 1821, Costa Rica and the rest of Central America followed suit. Two years later, a faction in Costa Rica even opted to become part of Mexico, sparking a civil war in the country's center between four neighboring cities. After the republican cities of San Jose and Alajuela soundly defeated the pro-Mexican Heredia and Cartago, sovereignty was established. The first head of state was Juan Mora Fernandez, elected in 1824. Best remembered for his land reforms, Fernandez followed a progressive course but inadvertantly created an elite class of powerful coffee barons. The barons later overthrew the nation's first president, Jose Maria Castro, who was succeeded by Juan Rafael Mora. It was under Mora's leadership that Costa Rican volunteers managed to repulse a would-be conqueror, the North American William Walker. Walker was a disgruntled southerner who thought that the United States should annex Central America and turn it into a slave state. He was a lunatic, and a dangerous rather than charming one. With a piecemeal army of about 50 men, Walker had earlier invaded Mexico, where he had been captured and then released back to the States. Not to be discouraged, he next invaded Panama, where he briefly seized control before being forced to flee--into Costa Rica. After his bid for despotic rule there was defeated by Mora's forces, the indomitable Walker turned his attentions to Honduras. The Hondurans, unlike their predecessors on Walker's list, captured him, and Walker was finally and summarily executed. Military rule has reared its head in Costa Rica from time to time, though it has not been marked by the sort of violent extremism that has occurred elsewhere in Central America. In 1870, when General Tomas Guardia seized control of the government, he made some of the country's most progressive reforms in education, military policy, and taxation. The Costa Rican civil war erupted in 1948, after incumbent Dr. Rafael Angel Calderon and the United Social Christian Party refused to relinquish power after losing the presidential election. An exile named Jose Maria (Don Pepe) Figueres Ferrer managed to defeat Calderon in about a month, and he later proved to be one of Costa Rica's most influential leaders, as head of the Founding Junta of the Second Republic of Costa Rica. Under Ferrer's leadership, the Junta made vast reforms in policy and civil rights. Women and blacks gained the vote, the communist party was banned, banks were nationalized, and presidential term limits established. Ferrer was immensely popular, creating a political legacy that firmly cemented Costa Rica's liberal democratic values. In 1987, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez garnered world recognition when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in ending the Nicaraguan civil war. During that conflict, both the Sandanistas and the Contras set up military bases in the northern area of Costa Rica, and Arias was elected under the promise that he would work to put an end to this situation. He was able to get all five Central American presidents to sign his peace plan, and Nicaragua is now experiencing relative stability.

Costa Rica -- Economy --

According to the CIA World Factbook, Costa Rica's GDP per capita is US$13,500 PPP (2007 estimate); however, this developing country still faces the fourth highest inflation rate in Latin America, lack of maintenance and new investment in infrastructure, over 16% of the people were below the poverty line (2006 estimate) and a 5.5% unemployment rate (2007 estimate). The Costa Rican economy grew nearly 5% in 2006 after experiencing four years of slow economic growth. Costa Rica is also the Latin American pioneer in the implementation of a modern welfare state. Its welfare spending is as high as that of Scandinavian countries. The central government offers tax exemptions for those who are willing to invest in the country. Several global high tech corporations have already started developing in the area exporting goods including chip manufacturer Intel, pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, and consumer products company Procter & Gamble. In 2006 Intel's microprocessor facility alone was responsible for 20% of Costa Rican exports and 4.9% of the country's GDP. Trade with South East Asia and Russia has boomed during 2004 and 2005, and the country is expected to obtain full Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC) membership by 2007 (the country became an observer in 2004). For the fiscal year 2005, the country showed a government deficit of 2.1%, internal revenue increased an 18%, and exports increased a 12.8%. Revised economic figures released by the Central Bank indicate that economic growth stood at 5%, nevertheless the country faced high inflation (14%) and a trade deficit of 5.2%. As of 2007, Costa Rica's inflation rate stands at 9.30%, Latin Americas 4th highest inflation rate. In recent times electronics, pharmaceuticals, financial outsourcing, software development, and ecotourism have become the prime industries in Costa Rica's economy. High levels of education among its residents make the country an attractive investing location. Since 1999, tourism earns more foreign exchange than the combined exports of the country's three main cash crops: bananas, pineapples and coffee. Coffee production has played a key role in Costa Rica's history and economy, and by 2006 was the third cash crop export. The largest coffee growing areas are in the provinces of San José, Alajuela, Heredia, Puntarenas, and Cartago. Costa Rica is famous for its gourmet coffee beans, with Costa Rican Tarrazú among the finest Arabica coffee beans in the world used for making espresso coffee, together with Jamaican Blue Mountain, Guatemalan Antigua and Ethiopian Sidamo. The unit of currency is the colón (CRC). On October 16, 2006, a new currency exchange system was introduced, allowing the value of the CRC colón to float between two bands as done previously by Chile. The idea is that by doing so the Central Bank will be able to better tackle inflation and discourage the use of US dollars. Since that time, the value of the colón against the dollar has stabilized. Costa Rica's location provides easy access to American markets as it has the same time zone as the central part of the United States and direct ocean access to Europe and Asia. A country wide referendum has approved a free trade agreement with the United States. In the referendum on October 7, 2007, the voters of Costa Rica narrowly backed the free trade agreement, with 51.6 percent of "Yes" votes.

Costa Rica -- Culture --

From the cowboy culture of the Guanacaste Province to the indigenous tribes of the Caribbean lowlands, an interesting variety of sub-cultures exist throughout Costa Rica. The country's mix of Mestizos (Spanish/AmerIndian), Spanish descendants, indigenous Indians and Afro-Caribbeans with the more recent immigrations of Asians, Europeans and North Americans create a unique blend of culture. Ticos are renowned for their gregarious nature which is quite apparent during the numerous fiestas, street fairs and carnivals celebrated throughout the nation. These celebrations are an excellent insight to the culture and cuisine of the country, as visitors can sample traditional food, enjoy Latin music or watch a Costa Rican bull fight where the bull is never harmed. Along the Atlantic coast, Afro-Caribbean cultures are apparent in the reggae beats, Calypso music and Patois spoken by the locals. While indigenous tribes now make up less than 2% of the country’s population, Indian arts and handicrafts are preserved in museums and are sold on reservation tours. San Jose, located in the Central Valley, became the cultural hub of the country with the construction of the National Theater in 1897. Within the past century, theater has become a favorite cultural activity among Ticos. The National Theater hosts a variety of operas, plays, ballet performances and orchestral symphonies. The fine arts have seldom flourished in Costa Rican history, but they have received some impetus from government support, particularly with the creation in 1970 of the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports. Painting, sculpting, 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 as independent thinkers in the fields of education and history, respectively. Fabián Dobles has attracted international attention as a writer of novels on social-protest themes. Costa Rica has developed the largest national park system of any Latin American country, relative to its territorial extent. These parks include a bewildering range of tropical ecosystems, such as tropical rain forest, cloud forest, dry forest, and elfin forest. Other parks include active volcanoes, turtle nesting sites, and coral reefs. The national parks are a major attraction for Costa Ricans, who flock to them on weekends and major holidays such as Easter Week, Independence Day (September 15), and the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. International tourists are also attracted by these parks, some of which are noted worldwide for their vegetation and wildlife. 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 the Editorial Universitaria Centroamericana are among the most prolific of the publishing houses. Both the number and variety of publications available in Costa Rican bookstores surpasses those of any other Central American country and some South American countries as well. La Nación, an independent but conservative daily, is the most widely read of Costa Rica's newspapers. It is balanced by La Républica and La Prensa Libre, independents that lean more toward reform ideas. There are several television stations, one of which is government-owned.

Costa Rica -- Political system, law and government --


The politics of Costa Rica take place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President of Costa Rica is both the head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the president and his cabinet. Legislative power is vested in the Legislative Assembly. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. Costa Rica is a republic with a strong system of constitutional checks and balances. The president, vice presidents, and fifty-seven Legislative Assembly delegates are elected for four-year terms. A constitutional amendment approved in 1969 limited presidents and delegates to one term, although delegates were allowed to run again for an Assembly seat after sitting out a term. The Supreme Electoral Body, the Office of the Comptroller General, the Office of the Procurator General of the Republic and the Office of the Ombudsman also enjoy a lot of independence. The Supreme Court is divided into 4 chambers, one dealing with Constitutional Law, one dealing with Criminal Law and two dealing with Civil Law, Merchant Law and the like. In April 2003, the constitutional amendment ban on presidential re-election was reversed, allowing Óscar Arias (Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 1987) to run for President for a second term. In 2006, Óscar Arias was re-elected in a tight and highly contested election, running on a platform of promoting free trade. He took office on May 8, 2006. 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.

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