U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Costa Rica, November 1996
Released by the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs

Official Name: Republic of Costa Rica



Area:  51,032 sq. km. (19,652 sq. mi.) -- about twice the size of the 
state of Vermont.
Cities:  Capital -- San Jose (metropolitan area population of 1.2 
million).  Other major cities -- Alajuela (250,000), Puntarenas 
(300,000), Limon (150,000), Cartago (150,000).
Terrain:  A rugged, central range separates the eastern and western 
coastal plains.
Climate:  Mild in the central highlands, tropical and subtropical in 
coastal areas.

PEOPLE (July 1995)

Nationality:  Noun and adjective -- Costa Rican(s).
Population:  3.3 million.
Annual growth rate:  2.4%
Ethnic groups:  European and some mestizo 94%, African origin 3%, 
indigenous 1%.
Religion:  Roman Catholic approx. 85%, Evangelical Protestant approx. 
15%, Others:  Less than 1 %.
Languages:  Spanish, with Jamaican dialect of English spoken around 
Puerto Limon.
Education:  Years compulsory 9. Attendance nearly 100%. 
Literacy -- 94%.
Health:  Infant mortality rate -- 13/1,000.  Life expectancy -- men 72 
years, women 76 years.
Work Force (1995, 1.2 million):  Services -- 45%, Agriculture -- 22%, 
Industry - 17%, Construction -- 6%, Transportation -- 5%, Banking and 
finance -- 4%.


Type:  Democratic Republic.
Independence:  September 15, 1821.
Constitution:  November 7, 1949.
Branches:  Executive -- President (Head of Government and Chief of 
State) elected for one four-year term, two Vice Presidents, Cabinet (19 
ministers).  Legislature -- 57-Deputy unicameral Legislative Assembly 
elected at four-year intervals.  Judicial -- Supreme Court of Justice 
(22 magistrates elected by Legislative Assembly for renewable eight-year 
Subdivisions:  Seven provinces, divided into 81 cantons, subdivided into 
421 districts.

Political parties:  National Liberation Party (PLN), Social Christian 
Unity Party (PUSC), Democratic Force (FD) Agricultural Union Party of 
Cartago (PUAC), National Agrarian Party (PAN).
Suffrage:  Obligatory at 18.


GDP (1995) $9.3 billion.
Real growth rate (1995) 2.5%.
Per capita income (1995): $2,964
Natural resources: Hydroelectric power.
Industry (22% of GDP): Products-food processing, textiles and clothing, 
construction materials, fertilizer, petroleum refining.
Agriculture (19% of GDP): Products--bananas, coffee, beef, sugarcane, 
rice, vegetables, ornamental plants, and fruits.
Commerce and tourism (40% of GDP): hotels, restaurants, tourist 
services, banks and insurance.
Foreign Trade (1995): Exports - $2.6 billion: bananas, coffee, beef, 
textiles and clothing, fruits, sugar, flowers and ornamental plants.  
Major markets -- U.S. 42%, Europe 32%, Central America 16%, Japan 1%.
Imports--$3.3 billion: machinery, vehicles, consumer goods, chemicals, 
petroleum products, foods, fertilizer.  Major suppliers -- U.S. 48%, 
Europe 28%, Japan 15%, Central America 5%.
Currency Exchange Rate: (Aug. 1996) 210 colones = $1.


The United States and Costa Rica have a history of close and friendly 
relations based on respect for democratic government, human freedoms, 
and other shared values.  During the crisis in Central America in the 
1980s, Costa Rica and the United States worked for the restoration of 
peace and the establishment of democracy on the isthmus.  Costa Rica 
works cooperatively with the United States and other nations in the 
international fight against narcotics trafficking.

The United States is Costa Rica's most important trading partner, and 
over 200 American companies produce a variety of goods in Costa Rica.  
The two countries share growing concerns for the environment and want to 
use wisely 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, 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 development.  
The Peace Corps has some 100 volunteers, who provide technical 
assistance in the areas of environmental education, natural resources, 
management, small business development, basic business education, urban 
youth and community education.

As many as 35,000 American private citizens, mostly retirees, reside in 
the country, and an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 American citizens visit 
Costa Rica annually.

There have been some vexing issues in the U.S.-Costa Rican relationship, 
principal among them long-standing expropriation and other U.S. citizen 
investment disputes, which have hurt Costa Rica's investment climate and 
produced bilateral tensions.  During the first two years of the Figueres 
government significant progress has been made in resolving some 
expropriation cases. However, several important cases remain 
outstanding.  Land invasions from organized squatter groups who target 
foreign landowners have also 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 allowed U.S. citizens to be 
threatened and their land taken without timely compensation, and the 
Figueres government has promised to address the matter.


AMB:  Peter Jon de Vos
DCM:  Richard L. Baltimore III
POL:  Mark Davison
ECON:  Ben F. Fairfax
COM:  Frank Foster
CON:  Kathleen M. Daly
ADM:	  Arnold N. Munoz
RSO:	  Nace B. Crawford
PAO:	  Gary McElhiney
IPO:	  Howard R. Charles
ODR:	  Gayland Muse
AGR:	  Charles Bertsch
APHIS Region V:  Eric Hoffman
APHIS Region VI:  Mark Knez

The U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica is located in Pavas at Boulevard Pavas 
and Calle 120, San Jose.
Telephone: (220) 39 39. 


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.  Few of the native Indians survived 
European contact; the indigenous population today numbers about 29,000 
or 1% of the population.  Descendants of 19th century Jamaican immigrant 
workers constitute an English-speaking minority and -- at 3% of the 
population -- number about 96,000. 

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 wealth.

In 1821, Costa Rica joined other Central American provinces 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 

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 army.  
Figueres became a national hero, winning the first election under the 
new constitution in 1953.  Since then, Costa Rica has held 10 
presidential elections, the latest in 1994.


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 19-member Cabinet (that includes one of 
the Vice Presidents).  The President and 57 Legislative Assembly 
Deputies are elected for four-year terms.  A constitutional amendment 
approved in 1969 limits Presidents and Deputies to one term, although a 
Deputy may run again for an Assembly seat after sitting out a term.

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 eight-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 country's seven provinces are headed by Governors appointed by the 
President, but they exercise little power.  There are no provincial 
legislatures.  Autonomous state agencies enjoy considerable operational 
independence; they include 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.


President:  Jose Maria FIGUERES Olsen

Foreign Minister:  Fernando NARANJO Villalobos

Ambassador to the United States:  Sonia PICADO Sotela

Ambassador to the OAS:  Fernando HERRERO

Ambassador to the UN:  Fernando BERROCAL

Costa Rica maintains an Embassy in the United States at 2114 S. Street 
NW, Washington, DC 20008
(tel. 202-328-6628)


Costa Rica long has emphasized the development of democracy and respect 
for human rights.  Until recently, the country's political system has 
contrasted sharply with many of its Central American and Caribbean 
neighbors; it has steadily developed and maintained democratic 
institutions and an orderly, constitutional scheme for government 
succession.  Several factors have contributed to this tendency, 
including enlightened government leaders, comparative prosperity, 
flexible class lines and 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 some neighboring countries have 

In the February 1994 elections, center-left National Liberation Party 
(PLN) candidate Jose Maria Figueres was elected President, succeeding 
Rafael Angel Calderon of the center-right Social Christian Unity Party 
(PUSC).  Figueres, the son of former President Jose "Don Pepe" Figueres, 
defeated PUSC rival Miguel Angel Rodriguez in one of the closest 
elections in Costa Rican history.  By winning 28 of 57 seats, the PLN 
regained a plurality in the legislature -- which in 1990 it had lost for 
the first time in more than 30 years.  The PUSC won 25 seats, while 
minor parties took the remaining four.

Social Democratic in orientation, the PLN generally has been the 
dominant party in Costa Rica since 1948,  when "Don Pepe" reestablished 
democracy and abolished the military in the wake of the short-lived but 
violent civil war.  The PUSC is aligned with Christian Democratic and 
conservative parties in the Western Hemisphere and Europe.  Costa Rican 
governments have tended to alternate between moderately conservative and 
moderately liberal as the PLN and various anti-PLN coalitions have 
traded control of the presidency, although in 1974 and 1986, PLN 
candidates succeeded PLN incumbents.


Despite trying to remain neutral, Costa Rica was affected adversely by 
regional political turmoil in the late 1970s and the 1980's.  
Instability in neighboring Nicaragua and Panama discouraged new 
investment and tourism in Costa Rica. Many 
displaced Nicaraguans and Salvadorans sought refuge there, further 
burdening the country's educational and health facilities. An oil shock 
and debt crisis also made economic recovery difficult.

Following an economic crisis in the early 1980s, Costa Rica made 
significant progress toward macroeconomic stability, structural 
adjustment, and growth through increasingly diversified exports. Gross 
domestic product (GDP) growth has averaged 5% since 1987, non-
traditional exports and tourism have increased rapidly and now account 
for almost 60% of foreign currency earnings, and official unemployment 
declined to 4% and inflation, to 10 percent in 1993.  A debt-buyback 
program under the U.S. "Brady Plan" was completed in May 1990, enabling 
Costa Rica to repurchase 60% of its commercial bank debt and to 
stabilize its foreign debt servicing.

However, Costa Rica still faces macro-economic problems because of 
serious fiscal deficits exacerbated by pressures to increase government 
spending linked to the four-year cycle of presidential, legislative, and 
local elections.  The deficit is compounded by a bloated public sector, 
unsustainable wage and pensions, increases, mushrooming internal debt, 
and the lack of effective competition due to remaining public sector 
monopolies. The fiscal deficit ballooned from 1% of GDP in 1993 to about 
8% in 1994, but was cut to 3.8 % in 1995.  1996 should see further 
progress in cutting the deficit and inflation from over 22% to about 
15%.  The stabilization program slowed economic growth to 2.5% in 1995 
and increased unemployment from 4.2 to 5.2% in 1995.

The Government of Costa Rica announced establishment of a high-level 
commission to resolve the problem of internal debt, which in 1996 rose 
to the equivalent of $2.3 billion in local currency and required about 
one-third of the government's budget for servicing.   

Programs of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Inter-
American Development Bank, and the U.S. Agency for International 
Development (USAID) have aimed to maintain stability and promote trade 
and investment liberalization.  Such programs have had success; USAID 
closed its bilateral Costa Rican mission in 1996 since Costa Rica 
achieved "advancing developing country" status.  Further liberalization 
of Costa Rica's trade and investment regimes, resolution of the internal 
debt problem and passage of legislation expanding private sector 
investment in energy, telecommunications, roads, ports, and airports 
would boost opportunities for foreign and local investors and increase 
Costa Rica's prosperity.

Costa Rica has sought to widen its economic and diplomatic ties, 
including outside the region.  In April 1994, Costa Rica signed a 
bilateral free trade agreement with Mexico.  The United States and Costa 
Rica are negotiating a bilateral investment agreement to increase 
protection for foreign investment.  Costa Rica has maintained 
connections with the European Union, along with the other Central 
American states, through periodic ministerial consultations;  The 
country is a founding member of the World Trade Organization and has 
actively participated in the followup to the Summit of the Americas, 
including working groups to bring about the Free Trade Area of the 
Americas by the year 2005.


Costa Rica is an active member of the international community and, in 
1993, proclaimed its permanent neutrality.  Its record on human rights 
and advocacy of peaceful settlement of disputes give it a weight in 
world affairs far beyond its size.  The country lobbied strenuously for 
the establishment of the United Nations 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.

In 1987, then-President Oscar Arias authored a regional peace plan 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.

With the establishment of democratically elected governments in all 
Central American nations by the 1990s, Costa Rica turned its focus from 
regional conflicts to the pursuit of democratic and economic development 
on the isthmus.  It was instrumental in drawing Panama into the Central 
American development process and participated in the multinational 
Partnership for Democracy and Development in Central America.

Regional political integration has not proven attractive to Costa Rica.  
Under former President Calderon, the country debated its role in the 
Central American integration process.  Costa Rica has been a cautious 
partner -- looking for concrete economic ties with its Central American 
neighbors rather than political institutions -- and has not become a 
member of the Central American Parliament.  Current President Figueres 
has promoted a higher profile for Costa Rica in regional and 
international fora.  In 1995, Costa Rica gained election as President of 
the Group of 77 in the United Nations.

Costa Rica broke relations with Cuba in 1961 to protest Cuban support of 
leftist subversion in Central America and has not renewed formal 
diplomatic ties with the Castro regime.  In 1995, Costa Rica established 
a migration office in Havana.

Costa Rica strongly backed efforts by the United States to implement 
United Nations Security Council Resolution 940, designed to facilitate 
the departure of Haiti's de facto authorities from power.  The country 
agreed to contribute civilian medical personnel to the Multinational 
Force, which restored the democratically elected Government of Haiti in 
October 1994.

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