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.

Its original inhabitants came from a variety of tribes of shamanistic traditions. The leaders were known as the “Caciques” and they are nowadays honored by the fact most Costa Ricans know that “Cacique” is the name of an alcoholic beverage. Located smack dab between the Mesoamerican and Andean cultures (That is, Mayans and Aztecs North, and Incas South), the cultures of the tribes in Costa Rica became some sort of chilled out place where they could flee from the sacrificial frenzy of the heart-hungry Aztecs. There is a reference from Francisco Pizarro (conqueror or Peru, the heart of the Andean culture) where he mentions that every set amount of years, the leaders of the Inca would travel up north “To the country of the balls”.

Whether it made reference to the mysterious spherical orbs that UNESCO declared World Heritage, or the possibility of Costa Rica's natives being risk-taking berserkers, is left as yet another mystery in the history of the world.

The name “Rich Coast” came from Columbus himself, whom upon seeing natives with gold artifacts, immediately assumed that gold must be plentiful in the land. This alone started a tug of war between the much more established and easy to access Captaincy of Panama against the Viceroyalty of Guatemala. Assumptions proved to be a not quite liquid asset.

There weren't that many locals when the Spaniards appeared to colonize. Most locals died swiftly of the diseases carried by the settlers (the only ones who survived were tribes like the Bribri and the Boruca, which are still around today); that meant there weren't any people who could be 'cordially invited' to the 'forced labor party' the generals wanted to throw, 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 from Spain and part of the Federal Republic of Central America. But this didn’t solve the distance, and lack of infraestructure 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 Costa Rica was already the kid who came without a date on Prom Night and just stood on the corner all night long.

Costa Rica is famous for having no army. There was, however, a long period in its history where it had one. Like many nations, especially around the area, this made it particularly susceptible to military juntas, traitorous generals, and one or two invasions from the United States. William Walker, a “Pirate” to the pre-civil war United States' Northern states and a “Gray eyed man of destiny” to the pre-civil war United States' South established himself a puppet state in Nicaragua with the intent of making more slave states. Costa Rica's army decided they wanted none of this (According to some books, at the suggestion of Cornelius Vanderbilt) and went to fight his army of Prussian, French, and U.S mercenaries. They won, and the president is now remembered for having been kicked from his rule shortly after and unceremoniously executed by firing squad some time later. To the rest of the world, this event is not remembered at all.

More modern history in the nation would relate to the rise of BananaRepublics. 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 (including the abolition of the army). 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 one of the happiest places 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. It is a third world country). The phrase “Pura Vida” (“Pure Life”) condenses their way of thinking: A peculiar form of carpe diem that carries an implicit optimism of which Sebastian the crab from The Little Mermaid would be proud. Accordingly to the location and the history of the country, its culture is mixed as hell; there is for example, the Province of Limón, which is a Welcome to the Caribbean, Mon! vibe of place due to the fact the Spaniards brought slaves from Jamaica to that place given how few people they could find. It’s also a nice destination for medical tourism and (sadly) 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 Rican 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. Part of the reason why this was such, was as an aftermath of the Civil War that ended up abolishing the military: The contenders were two opposite political parties and they stuck after the war, with very visceral feelings from one against the other. After 2002, however, became more of a multi-party system, or more exactly a five-party system because currently five parties are the main political forces. These 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, similarly 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.