The Republic of Costa Rica is a republic in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south-southeast. Unlike some of its neighbors, Costa Rica has been an exemplar of stability, peace, and democratic governance. Since the minor civil war of the late 1940s that brought President José Figueres Ferrer to power, the country has been free of violent political conflict. In fact, Costa Rica has a domestic police force, but lacks a military. The capital is San José.
Main article: History of Costa Rica
In Pre-Columbian times the Native Americans in what is now Costa Rica were part of the Intermediate Area located between the Mesoamerican and Andean cultural regions. This has recently been redefined to include the Isthmo-Colombian area, defined by the presence of groups that spoke Chibchan languages.
Pre-Columbian Ceramics from Nicoya, Costa Rica
The native people of the Mayans and Aztecs were conquered by Spain in the 16th century. Costa Rica was then the Southernmost province in the Spanish territory of New Spain. The provincial capital was in Cartago.
After briefly joining the Mexican Empire of Agustín de Iturbide (see: History of Mexico and Mexican Empire), Costa Rica became a state in the United Provinces of Central America (see: History of Central America) from 1823 to 1839. In 1824, the capital moved to San José. From the 1840s on, Costa Rica was an independent nation.
Costa Rica has avoided much of the violence that has plagued Central America. Since the late 19th century only two brief periods of violence have marred its democratic development. In 1949, José Figueres Ferrer abolished the army; and since then Costa Rica has been one of the few countries to operate within the democratic system without the assistance of a military.
Costa Rica (Spanish for "Rich Coast"), although still a largely agricultural country, has achieved a relatively high standard of living. Land ownership is widespread and tourism is a rapidly expanding industry.
Main article: Politics of Costa Rica
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 that includes one of the vice presidents. The president and 57 Legislative Assembly deputies are elected for 4-year terms. A constitutional amendment approved in 1969 limited presidents and deputies to one term, although a deputy may run again for an Assembly seat after sitting out a term. An amendment to the constitution to allow second presidential terms was proposed and also the constitutionality of the prohibition against a second presidential term has been challenged in the courts. In April 2003 the prohibition was officially recognized as anti-constitutional allowing Óscar Arias (Nobel Peace Prize, 1987) to run for President a second time in the upcoming 2006 elections.
Governors appointed by the president head the country's seven provinces, but they exercise little power. There are no provincial legislatures. Autonomous state agencies enjoy considerable operational independence; they include the telecommunications and electrical power monopoly, 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.
Main article: Provinces of Costa Rica
Costa Rica consists of seven provinces:
- Alajuela (central; north of capital San José)
- Guanacaste (north-west)
- Puntarenas (south-west)
- San José (Area around capital)
Main article: Geography of Costa Rica
Costa Rica is located on the Central American isthmus, 10° north of the equator and 84° west of the Prime Meridian. It borders both the Caribbean Sea (to the east) and the North Pacific Ocean (to the west), with a total of 1,290km of coastline (212km on the Caribbean coast and 1016km on the Pacific).
Costa Rica also borders Nicaragua to the north (309km of border) and Panama to the south-southeast (639km of border). In total, Costa Rica comprises 51,100 km,² of which 50,660 km² is land and 440 km² is water, making it slightly smaller than the U.S. state of West Virginia.
Main article: Economy of Costa Rica
Costa Rica's economy is dependent on tourism, agriculture, and electronics exports. The economy emerged from recession in 1997 and has since shown strong growth. Costa Rica's location in the Central American isthmus provides easy access to American markets as it has the same time zone as central US and direct ocean access to Europe and Asia.
The economy has been booming for Costa Rica because the Government had implemented a seven year plan of expansion in the high tech industry. They have tax exemptions for those who are willing to invest in the country. With their high level of educated residents, they make an attractive investing location. Several global high tech corporations have already started developing in the area exporting goods.
The unit of currency is the colón (CRC), which trades around 450-500 to the US dollar; currently about 600 to the euro.
Main article: Demographics of Costa Rica
In the central part of the country, few of the native Amerindians survived European contact. The indigenous population today numbers about 29,000, less than one percent of the population. In Guanacaste, a province bordering the Pacific Ocean and Nicaragua, most of the population descends from a mix of the Indians Chorotega, Manges, Diriangen and Bribri mixed Spaniards. Descendants of black 19th-century Jamaican migrant workers constitute an English-speaking minority and at three percent of the population number about 96,000. Costa Ricans of mestizo and European descent account for a combined 94 percent. Another one percent is ethnically Chinese.
Today there is a growing number of Amerindians who migrate for seasonal work opportunities as agricultural workers mainly in the south-eastern border region with Panama. The most important group of immigrants in Costa Rica are Nicaraguans, who represent ten percent of the population. Most of them were originally refugees from civil war during the late 1970s and 1980s, but after the Esquipulas Peace Agreement an increasing number of Nicaraguans continue to migrate into Costa Rica due to economic reasons. There is also a growing number of Colombian, Panamanian and Peruvian immigrants.
Main article: Culture of Costa Rica
Costa Rica boasts a varied culture. Costa Rica was the point where the Mesoamerican and South American native cultures met. The north of the country was the southernmost point of Mayan influence when the Spanish conquistadores came in the 16th century. The center and south portions of the country had chibcha influences. The Atlantic coast was populated with African slaves due to the practice of enslavement in the 17th and 18th centuries. During this time additionally thousands of Chinese families came to the country to work on the train railroads.
Costa Rican music includes a rhythm known as tambito as well a distinctive musical genre known as the punto. Two examples are the “punto guanacasteco", which hails from the Guanacaste province, and the "punto sancarleño", from San Carlos, in the Alajuela province. Most music and representative folklore in Costa Rica comes from the north (once under heavy Mayan influence) and the Atlantic coast (Afro-Caribbean culture).
In Costa Rica the locals are referred to as Tico or Ticos. Ticos are a very friendly, laid back, and environmentally aware people. The phrase that you will hear many Tico's say is "pura vida" which literally means pure life. As a friendly expression you will hear many Tico's say "pura vida."
Fauna and flora
Costa Rica is home to a rich variety of plants and animals. While the country has only about 0.1% of the world's land mass, it contains 5% of the world's biodiversity. Costa Rica has no military or navy, but an abundance of wildlife; it has been said that the soldiers are the leaf cutter ants, the pilots are the macaws and the navy ships are the whales. Over 25% of Costa Rica is composed of protected forests and reserves.
Tortuguero National Park is home to spider, howler and White-throated Capuchin monkeys, the Three-toed sloth, 320 species of birds (including eight species of parrots), and a variety of reptiles.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve hosts 2,000 plant species including numerous orchids. Over 400 types of bird can be found here, as well as over 100 species of mammal. Bananas are also a big industry in Costa Rica.
- Much of the material in these articles comes from the CIA World Factbook 2000 and the 2003 U.S. Department of State website.