Costa Rica flag

PRESIDENT: Laura Chinchilla Miranda (May 2010 - 2014)

POPULATION: 4.2 million

KEY EXPORTS: Coffee, pineapples, bananas

Andrew Clem blog

Costa Rica

Costa Rica blog archives

Recent chronology

Feb. 1998Miguel Angel Rodriguez (economist, of PUSC) wins presidential election, after criticizing Pres. Figureres's financial "mismanagement" and pledging to privatize some state companies.
Apr. 2002Abel Pacheco (PUSC), respected former psychiatrist, poet, and clothing manufacturer, was elected president. His uncle was shot in the 1948 civil war.
Feb. 2003The ambassador to the U.N., Bruno Stagno, was ordered to resign after voting against the U.S., but was reinstated a day later after he promised to carry out pro-U.S. policy at U.N. Sec. Council.
Oct. 2004Former Pres. Miguel Angel Rodriguez resigned as General Secretary of the Organization of American States only two weeks after he took office. He allegedly took kickbacks from the French Alcatel company for a cellular telephone contract.
Dec. 2004U.S. and Costa Rica sign free trade agreement, part of CAFTA. Insurance and telephone sectors must be opened to foreign competition by 2011.
Feb. 2006Oscar Arias wins presidential election by very close margin, in spite of his pro-CAFTA stance.
Jan. 2005Eastern part of the country was hit by heavy flooding, causing damage to some national parks.
Feb. 2005Former Pres. Jose Maria Figueres (1994 - 1998) refused to return from Switzerland to Costa Rica to face charges of embezzling state funds.
Mar. 2005Nine people were killed in a bank shootout after a robbery attempt failed and hostages were taken, in the tourist town of Santa Elena, near Arenal volcano.
July 2006At least eighteen people died after a fire broke out in the Calderon Guardia Hospital in downtown San Jose.
Sept. 2005On Independence Day, Pres. Pacheco pleaded for national consensus to achieve economic advance, and declared the torch to be the national symbol, trying to rally nationalist spirit. Recent polls suggest that Costa Ricans are becoming deeply disillusioned with the political system.
Oct. 2005Severe flooding in the northwestern canton of Guanacaste. Ex-Pres. Rodriguez was released from house arrest after nearly a year.
Nov. 2005At least 10,000 people marched to the national legislature, protesting against the Central American Free-Trade Agreement.
Dec. 2005Relations between Nicaragua and Costa Rica have become tense because an old border dispute along the San Juan river.
Feb. 2006Presidential election is extremely close. Nicaragua lodged a formal grievance to the Interamerican Court of Human Rights (ICHR) over the case of Nicaraguan citizens who were mistreated in Costa Rica
Mar. 2006Ex-Pres. Oscar Arias was declared the winner over Otton Solis (who opposed CAFTA) after a several weeks of recounts.
May 2006Oscar Arias was sworn in as president of Costa Rica for a second time.

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Like its neighbors in Central America, Costa Rica is blessed with rich volcanic soil. The climate is milder in most of the country thanks to the high elevations in the central valley, where San Jose and most other cities are located. Travel is impeded by the rugged terrain. The railroad to the Caribbean port of Limon was damaged by an earthquake in the 1980s and has not reopened since then. The northwestern canton (province) of Guanacaste is flatter and has a drier climate than the rest of the country, much like Nicaragua, which has historical claims on that land. Costa Rica has several world-famous nature preserves and is a bird watchers paradise.


Costa Rica became independent after the Central American Confederation (founded in 1823) broke apart in 1838. Costa Rica was the first country in the region to cultivate coffee on a large scale. For many decades it had the strongest record of democracy in Latin America, but in 1948 a civil war broke out. The liberal side prevailed, and President Jose Ferrer abolished the Army in 1949, making Costa Rica the only demilitarized country in the Western Hemisphere. In 1986 Oscar Arias was elected president and worked hard at reaching a peaceful settlement in Nicaragua, on the country's northern border. He later received the Nobel Prize for his efforts. In 1986 Franklin Chang-Diaz became the first astronaut from Latin America, becoming a national hero. He made seven missions aboard the U.S. space shuttles before retiring as an astronaut in 2002.


Costa Rica has a smaller proportion of Indians than in most of Latin America. It is distinguished in having a tradition of independent small farmers who owned their own plots of land. There is a thriving peasant culture, noted for the intricately painted wagons reminiscent of pre-industrial Central Europe.


Iglesia de la Merced (Church of Mercy), in San Jose.

Democracy Plaza and National Museum, in San Jose.

Butterfly house at La Paz waterfall gardens.

Traditional painted ox-drawn cart.

The National Theater, in San Jose.


Costa Rica is one of the most ecologically diverse countries on the planet, and is a favorite destination for bird watchers.

Great kiskadee,
Blue-gray tanager,
Silver-throated tanager,
Red-footed honeycreeper,
Scarlet-rumped tanager,
Scarlet macaw,
Pacific screech owl,
In right center, a Coppery-headed emerald hummingbird.


Since the civil war of 1948, Costa Rica has been a model of democratic stability in Latin America. The National Liberation Party has dominated politics in the modern era, institutionalizing a European-style social democratic welfare state with widely available health care and education. Oscar Arias was one of the most successful of PLN presidents, overcoming resistance to freer trade policies within his party. He also took a leading role in pursuing peaceful conflict resolution in Nicaragua and throughout Central America. He won the Nobel Prize for his efforts in 1987. Since the 1980s, there has been more of a balanced competition between the parties, as the conservative-leaning Social Christian Unity Party won the presidential elections. Both former presidents Jose Maria Figueres (PLN) and Miguel Angel Rodriguez (PUSC) have been accused of corruption. Abel Pacheco overcame factional rivalries within PUSC to win the presidential election in 2002. He pursued free trade policies, in spite of strong opposition to his attempt to get the country to face globalization. His. The newly-inaugurated president Oscar Arias ran on a platform of supporting CAFTA and promoting free trade.

National Liberation Party (PLN) Citizen Action Party (PAC) Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) Libertarian Movement Party (PML)
Francisco Antonio Pacheco Otton Solis Lorena Vasquez Otto Guevara
25 18 4 6

NOTE: Width of each column shows each party's approximate strength. Colors and position (left to right) represent ideological leanings, which are often vague. Numbers show how many seats each party has in the unicameral Legislative Assembly. Minor parties are not shown.

SOURCE: CIA World Factbook