Useful Notes: Costa Rica

Costa Rica, officially known as the Republic of Costa Rica (Spanish: Costa Rica or República de Costa Rica, meaning "Rich Coast") is a country of Central America. Due to its position in the isthmus, it was never really appreciated in its time.

There weren’t many locals when the Spaniards came to colonize, because of its location right between the Mezoamerican culture and the Andean culture. The few locals died swiftly of the diseases carried by the settlers (the only ones who survived were little tribes like the Bribri and the Boruca, which still survive today); that meant there just wasn’t any people who could be ‘invited’ to do forced labor, so they had to do it themselves. As a result, the society grew much more uniformly than in the neighboring countries.

Costa Rica at that time was part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala, but it was too far from its capital. This, along with the prohibition of commercializing with Panama (then part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada), turned the country into one of the poorest of the region.

After the Mexican War of Independence, Costa Rica (along with all the other countries of Central America) became automatically independent and part of the Federal Republic of Central America. But this didn’t solve the distance problem that made Costa Rica almost like an outcast in the nation. So, they decided to declare themselves independent in 1838. The other countries didn’t care, because it had the reputation of the loner.

Contrary of what one would expect, Costa Rica didn’t end up a Banana Republic. First of all, their main export was coffee, not bananas. Second, the worst thing they saw was a bloody civil war in 1948, which brought a radical change in the administration of the country. Since then, the country has been much more prosperous than its neighbors, enjoying a democratic rule until today.

According to the Happy Planet Index, Costa Rica is the happiest place on Earth,note  but that doesn’t mean it’s full of Stepford Smilers, but rather they enjoy life despite the economical problems (i.e. inflation). The phrase “Pura Vida” (“Pure Life”) condenses their way of thinking. Accordingly to the location and the history of the country, its culture is mixed as hell. It’s also a nice destination for medical tourism and sex tourism (this way even the tourists are mixed as hell!)

One last thing; after the civil war, the government abolished the military. Not only it was one the first countries to do it, but was for long time the only country in Latin America without military (no doubt that helped dodge the military rule of almost all the continent) until Panama and Haiti abolish their own armies. But what about the novel Jurassic Park, where the dinosaurs are destroyed by the Costa Rica Air Force? Well, that was just Michael Crichton not making enough research. Though that said, the country does maintain a public security force and even its own special forces division purely for self-defense and police work.

Costa Rica had a two-party system for decades, especially between 1982 and 2002 when the two dominating parties were National Liberation Party (PLN) and Social Christian Unity (PUSC) in a very similar dynamics than the Democrat/Republican system in the US. After 2002 became more of a multy-party system, or more exactly a five-party system because currently five parties are the main political forces. This are:

From right to left; Libertarian Movement (far-right liberals), Social Christian Unity (center-right conservatives and moderate liberals), National Liberation Party (Social-Democrat/Third Way/Socio-liberals and are center-right, center or center-left depending on who you ask), Citizens Action Party (generally considered Progressive/Social-Democrat/Socio-Liberal center-left, similary but much more to the left than PLN) and Broad Front (Left). There’s also like a dozen of small testimonial parties with no real influence or possibilities of winning an election.

The political position of these parties about different topics may vary strongly from their counterparts in other countries. For example, PUSC is a Social Christian party but is in favor of recognizing same-sex couples, but is not in favor of same-sex marriage while Libertarian Movement had establish that LGBT-topics are not their priority contrary to most liberal parties. The only main party that endorse same-sex marriage is Broad Front, but PLN, PAC and PUSC all support same-sex couples legal recognition trough other legal figure.

The electoral performance may vary strongly from election to election depending on the candidate. For example, Broad Front was one of the less voted parties in 2010 with its uncharismatic candidate Eugenio Trejos, while with the very charismatic candidate young Congressman Jose Maria Villalta appears as second –and sometimes first- in polls even at same level that PLN’s candidate Johnny Araya (something previously unheard off for the Left), while PAC may have a very different performance depending on the candidate it was second more voted in two elections (2006 and 2010). PLN is still the largest and oldest party with a decade’s long loyal base, but can suffer also from the unpopularity of some governments and the fact that most non-PLN sympathizers tend to be anti-PLN so is almost impossible for PLN to catch new voters. PUSC is the smallest of the “Big Five” (partially because of a series of corruption scandals) but is generally included as the “Big Five” for historical reasons (achieve power three times in its history).

Do not confuse with Puerto Rico, which is not even a nation, but some weird pseudo-independent thing of the United States (more like a state, actually).

The Costa Rican flag
The flag retains the blue/white color scheme of the Federal Republic of Central America, but with a red band added as reaction to the 1848 Revolution in France, which advocated the "right to work". The blue band stands for the sky, opportunities, idealism and perseverance; white for peace, wisdom and happiness; and red for sacrifice, warmth and generosity. At the center-hoist side is the coat-of-arms, showing an allegorical landscape of three mountains between two seas, each with a boat sailing by, symbolizing Costa Rica's geographic position, and crowned by seven stars which stand for the provinces of Alajuela, Cartago, Guanacaste, Heredia, Limón, Puntarenas and San José.