U.S. Department of State 
Background Notes: Costa Rica, March 1998 
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 pop. 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 yrs., 
women 76 yrs.
Work force (1995, 1.2 million): Services--45%. Agriculture--22%. 
Industry--17%. Construction--6%. Transportation--5%. Banking and 


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: Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), National 
Liberation Party (PLN), Democratic Force (FD), Agricultural Labor Action 
Party (PALA), Costa Rican Renovation Party (PRC), Libertarian Movement 
(ML), National Integration Party (PIN).
Suffrage: Obligatory at 18. 


GDP (1997): $9.5 billion.
Real growth rate (1997): 3.2%.
Per capita income (1997): $2,900.
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, dairy products, vegetables, ornamental plants, and fruits.
Commerce and tourism (40% of GDP): Hotels, restaurants, tourist 
services, banks, and insurance.
Foreign trade (1996): Exports--$2.7 billion: bananas, coffee, beef, 
textiles and apparel, fruits, sugar, flowers and ornamental plants. 
Major markets--U.S. 42%, Europe 32%, Central America 16%, Japan 1%. 
Imports--$3.4 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 (March 1998): 247 colones=U.S.$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. 

In May 1997, President Clinton met with Costa Rican President Jose Maria 
Figueres and other heads of state from Central America and the Dominican 
Republic in San Jose. The leaders signed the Declaration of San Jose, 
pledging to strengthen democratic institutions and international 
cooperation. As a follow-up to the summit, regional Public Security and 
Justice ministers met with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, 
Attorney General Janet Reno, and National Drug Control Policy Director 
Barry McCaffrey in Washington in August to discuss cooperation against 
drug trafficking and other transnational crimes. In November 1997, Labor 
Secretary Alexis Herman met with Labor ministers from Central America 
and the Dominican Republic to discuss ways to strengthen labor 
ministries and promote greater respect for workers' rights.

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. 
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. 

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. 

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials 

AMB--Thomas J. Dodd
DCM--Richard L. Baltimore III
POL/ECON--Mark G. Davison
COM--Frank Foster
CON--Kathleen M. Daly
ADM--Arnold N. Munoz
RSO--Nace B. Crawford
PAO--Gary McElhiney
IMO--Janette M. Corsbie
ODR--Col. Mark Wilkins
AGR--Charles Bertsch
APHIS Region V--Chris Hofman
APHIS Region VI--Mark Knez 
Environmental Hub--Lawrence Gumbiner

The U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica is located in Pavas at Boulevard Pavas 
and Calle 120, San Jose, tel. (506) 220-3939. 


U.S. Department of Commerce
Trade Information Center
International Trade Administration
14th and Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20320
Tel: 800-USA-TRADE
Home Page: http://www.ita.doc.gov

Costa Rica American Chamber of Commerce
c/o Aerocasillas
P.O. Box 025216, Dept 1576
Miami, Florida 33102-5216
Tel: 506-22-0-22-00
Fax: 506-22-0-23-00
Email: Amchamcr@sol.racsa.co.cr


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 11 
presidential elections, the latest in 1998.


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.

Principal Government Officials

President--Jose Maria FIGUERES Olsen
Foreign Minister--Fernando NARANJO Villalobos
Charge d'Affaires--Jose Thompson
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 experienced. 

In the February 1998 national election, Social Christian Unity Party 
(PUSC) candidate Miguel Angel Rodriguez won the presidency over National 
Liberation Party (PLN) nominee Jose Miguel Corrales. President-elect 
Rodriguez assumes office May 8, 1998. The PUSC also obtained 27 seats in 
the 57-member Legislative Assembly, for a plurality, while the PLN 
gained 23, and five minor parties seven. Outgoing President Jose Maria 
Figueres has invited Rodriguez to accompany him to the Summit of the 
Americas in Santiago, Chile, in April.

Social Christian in philosophy, the PUSC generally favors free-market 
principles, conservative fiscal policies, and government reform. 
President-elect Rodriguez has pledged to reduce the country's large 
internal debt, attract additional foreign investment, impose greater 
control over public-sector spending, and promote the creation of jobs 
with decent salaries.


Costa Rica's economy emerged from recession in 1997 and is poised for 
relatively healthy growth in 1998. Preliminary national account 
statistics from Costa Rica's Central Bank indicate a 1997 gross domestic 
product (GDP) of 2.2 trillion colones (USD 9.5 billion at the average 
exchange rate for the year), up 3.2% in real terms (measured in constant 
1966 colones) from the year before, when GDP declines. Inflation, as 
measured by the Consumer Price Index, was 11.2%, less than the 12.5% 
that was forecast. The central government deficit decreased to 3.7% of 
GDP in 1997, down from 5.1% from the year before, but still above the 
3.0% target. Controlling the budget deficit remains the single biggest 
challenge for the country's economic policy makers, as servicing the 
accumulated public sector debt consumes approximately 30% of the 
government's budget and limits the amount of resources available for 
needed investments in 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 accessibility to North and South 
American markets and direct ocean access to the European and Asian 
continents. With one-fourth of its land dedicated to national forests, 
often adjoining picturesque beaches, the country has also become a 
popular destination for affluent retirees and eco-tourists.

The country has not discovered sources of fossil fuels (apart from 
minuscule coal deposits), but its mountainous terrain and abundant 
rainfall have permitted the construction of a dozen hydroelectric power 
plants, making it self-sufficient in all energy needs, except oil for 
transportation. Mild climate and trade winds make neither heating nor 
cooling necessary, particularly in the highland cities and towns where 
approximately 90% of the population lives.

Costa Rica has an extensive road system of more than 30,000 kilometers, 
although much of it is in disrepair. All parts of the country are 
accessible by road. The main highland cities in the center of the 
country are connected by paved all-weather roads with the Atlantic and 
Pacific coasts and by the Pan American Highway with Nicaragua and 
Panama, the neighboring countries to the North and the South. Costa Rica 
needs to complete the Pacific coastal highway (and repair large sections 
of existing highway), build a new road along the Atlantic coast, and 
possibly construct a coast-to-coast highway across the northern plains 
of the country. These are probably the most pressing infrastructural 
needs of the country.

Tourism, which has overtaken bananas as Costa Rica's leading foreign 
exchange earner, is once again growing after stagnating in the mid-
1990s. Earnings for 1997 from an estimated 812,000 visitors are reported 
at $750 million, up from $684 million the year before. The number of 
visitors in 1996 was 781,000. The numbers also show that tourists spend 
nearly $1,000 per person per visit. Based upon early projections from 
visitors arriving over the holiday season, the Ministry of Tourism is 
projecting a 4%-5% increase in arrivals for 1998.

Costa Rica is also aggressively pursuing investment in the high 
technology sector. Largely due to the personal efforts of President 
Figueres to attract new investment in the sector, Intel corporation 
began construction of a plant in 1997 to produce Pentium II microchips 
with an investment that will reach $200 million by the end of 1998. 
Intel's total planned investment is $400-$500 million over the next 2-3 
years. A number of other high technology companies were already present 
in Costa Rica, and more are expected to follow.

Reflecting the evolution away from agriculture, 1997 growth was strong 
in the construction sector (16.4%), in industry (4.5%), and in commerce, 
restaurants and hotels (4.0%). Agriculture declined by 0.7%. Preliminary 
statistics for 1997 indicate a widening of the trade deficit and an 
increase of the current account deficit from roughly 1.1% of GDP in 1996 
to 4.5% of GDP in 1997. During 1996, roughly 40% of total trade was with 
the U.S. As usual, bananas led the list of merchandise exports, but 
tourism earned more foreign exchange. However, despite the current 
account deficit, strong private capital inflows brought international 
reserves to over $1 billion, a level approximating three months of 

Costa Rica has sought to widen its economic and diplomatic ties, both 
within and outside of the region. Costa Rica signed a bilateral trade 
agreement with Mexico in 1994, and President-elect Rodriguez has begun 
discussions with Mexico's president on accelerating further the 
liberalization of trade between the two countries. On March 20, 1998, 
Costa Rica joined other Central American countries, plus the Dominican 
Republic, in establishing a Trade and Investment Council with the United 
States. Costa Rica is also actively lobbying for greater access to the 
U.S. market, be it by joining the North American Free Trade Agreement, 
through enhancement of the United States Caribbean Basin Initiative, or 
through negotiation of the hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americas, 
a process that the Costa Rican Government is chairing in preparation for 
the April 1998 Summit of the Americas in Santiago, Chile.


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. That term ended in 1997 with the 
South-South Conference held in San Jose. Since 1997, Costa Rica has 
occupied a non-permanent seat in the Security Council and has exercised 
a leadership role in confronting crises in the Middle East and Africa, 
as well as in the former Republic of Yugoslavia. 

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.


The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides 
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are 
issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel 
to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all 
countries and include information on immigration practices, currency 
regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and 
security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in 
the country.

Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate information 
quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term 
conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of 
American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by 
calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-
on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Travel Warnings and Consular Information 
Sheets also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page:  
and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). To access CABB, dial the 
modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set 
terminal communications program to N-8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop 
bit); and terminal emulation to VT100. The login is travel and the 
password is info (Note: Lower case is required). The CABB also carries 
international security information from the Overseas Security Advisory 
Council and Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs 
Trips for Travelers publication series, which contain information on 
obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, can be purchased 
from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, 
P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be 
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-

Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-
day a week automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m. 
to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-
225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate 
of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648).

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers 
for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 
(404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories, immunization 
recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water 
safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information 
for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is 
available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 
20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and 
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to 
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's 
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal 
Government Officials" listing in this publication). 

U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas 
are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country 
(see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this publication). 
Registering with the embassy may help you to replace lost identity 
documents or help family members contact you in case of an emergency.

Further Electronic Information: 

Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, 
DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy 
information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch, 
the official magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings; 
Country Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign 
service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at 

U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on an annual basis by 
the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the 
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of 
official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact 
the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. 
Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or 
fax (202) 512-2250. 

National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of 
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information, 
including Country Commercial Guides. It is available on the Internet 
(www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-
1986 for more information.


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