Map of Costa Rica / Central Intelligence Agency / The World Factbook / Public Domain

Introduction

Although explored by the Spanish early in the 16th century, initial attempts at colonizing Costa Rica proved unsuccessful due to a combination of factors, including disease from mosquito-infested swamps, brutal heat, resistance by natives, and pirate raids. It was not until 1563 that a permanent settlement of Cartago was established in the cooler, fertile central highlands. The area remained a colony for some two and a half centuries. In 1821, Costa Rica became one of several Central American provinces that jointly declared their independence from Spain. Two years later it joined the United Provinces of Central America, but this federation disintegrated in 1838, at which time Costa Rica proclaimed its sovereignty and independence. Since the late 19th century, only two brief periods of violence have marred the country’s democratic development. On 1 December 1948, Costa Rica dissolved its armed forces. Although it still maintains a large agricultural sector, Costa Rica has expanded its economy to include strong technology and tourism industries. The standard of living is relatively high. Land ownership is widespread.

Government

Executive Branch

chief of state: President Carlos ALVARADO Quesada (since 8 May 2018); First Vice President Epsy CAMPBELL Barr (since 8 May 2018); Second Vice President Marvin RODRIGUEZ Cordero (since 8 May 2018); note – the president is both chief of state and head of government

head of government: President Carlos ALVARADO Quesada (since 8 May 2018); First Vice President Epsy CAMPBELL Barr (since 8 May 2018); Second Vice President Marvin RODRIGUEZ Cordero (since 8 May 2018)

cabinet: Cabinet selected by the president

elections/appointments: president and vice presidents directly elected on the same ballot by modified majority popular vote (40% threshold) for a 4-year term (eligible for non-consecutive terms); election last held on 4 February 2018 with a runoff on 1 April 2018 (next to be held in February 2022)

election results: Carlos ALVARADO Quesada elected president in second round; percent of vote in first round – Fabricio ALVARADO Munoz (PRN) 25%; Carlos ALVARADO Quesada (PAC) 21.6%; Antonio ALVAREZ (PLN) 18.6%; Rodolfo PIZA (PUSC) 16%; Juan Diego CASTRO (PIN) 9.5%; Rodolfo HERNANDEZ (PRS) 4.9%, other 4.4%; percent of vote in second round – Carlos ALVARADO Quesada (PAC) 60.7%; Fabricio ALVARADO Munoz (PRN) 39.3%

Legislative Branch

description: unicameral Legislative Assembly or Asamblea Legislativa (57 seats; members directly elected in multi-seat constituencies – corresponding to the country’s 7 provinces – by closed list proportional representation vote; members serve 4-year terms)

elections: last held on 4 February 2018 (next to be held in February 2022)

election results: percent of vote by party – PLN 19.5%, PRN 18.2%, PAC 16.3%, PUSC 14.6%, PIN 7.7%, PRS 4.2%, PFA 4%, ADC 2.5%, ML 2.3%, PASE 2.3%, PNG 2.2%, other 6.2%; seats by party – PLN 17, PRN 14, PAC 10, PUSC 9, PIN 4, PRS 2, PFA 1; composition – men 31, women 26, percent of women 45.6%

Judicial Branch

highest courts: Supreme Court of Justice (consists of 22 judges organized into 3 cassation chambers each with 5 judges and the Constitutional Chamber with 7 judges)

judge selection and term of office: Supreme Court of Justice judges elected by the National Assembly for 8-year terms with renewal decided by the National Assembly

subordinate courts: appellate courts; trial courts; first instance and justice of the peace courts; Superior Electoral Tribunal

Political parties and leaders

  • Accessibility Without Exclusion or PASE [Oscar Andres LOPEZ Arias]
  • Broad Front (Frente Amplio) or PFA [Ana Patricia MORA Castellanos]
  • Christian Democratic Alliance or ADC [Mario REDONDO Poveda]
  • Citizen Action Party or PAC [Marta Eugenia SOLANO Arias]
  • Costa Rican Renewal Party or PRC [Justo OROZCO Alvarez]
  • Libertarian Movement Party or ML [Victor Danilo CUBERO Corrales]
  • National Integration Party or PIN [Walter MUNOZ Cespedes]
  • National Liberation Party or PLN [Jorge Julio PATTONI Saenz]
  • National Restoration Party or PRN [Carlos Luis AVENDANO Calvo]
  • New Generation or PNG [Sergio MENA]
  • Patriotic Alliance [Jorge ARAYA Westover]
  • Social Christian Republican Party or PRS [Dragos DOLANESCU Valenciano]
  • Social Christian Unity Party or PUSC [Pedro MUNOZ Fonseca]

Economy

Since 2010, Costa Rica has enjoyed strong and stable economic growth – 3.8% in 2017. Exports of bananas, coffee, sugar, and beef are the backbone of its commodity exports. Various industrial and processed agricultural products have broadened exports in recent years, as have high value-added goods, including medical devices. Costa Rica’s impressive biodiversity also makes it a key destination for ecotourism.

Foreign investors remain attracted by the country’s political stability and relatively high education levels, as well as the incentives offered in the free-trade zones; Costa Rica has attracted one of the highest levels of foreign direct investment per capita in Latin America. The US-Central American-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), which became effective for Costa Rica in 2009, helped increase foreign direct investment in key sectors of the economy, including insurance and telecommunication. However, poor infrastructure, high energy costs, a complex bureaucracy, weak investor protection, and uncertainty of contract enforcement impede greater investment.

Costa Rica’s economy also faces challenges due to a rising fiscal deficit, rising public debt, and relatively low levels of domestic revenue. Poverty has remained around 20-25% for nearly 20 years, and the government’s strong social safety net has eroded due to increased constraints on its expenditures. Costa Rica’s credit rating was downgraded from stable to negative in 2015 and again in 2017, upping pressure on lending rates – which could hurt small business, on the budget deficit – which could hurt infrastructure development, and on the rate of return on investment – which could soften foreign direct investment (FDI). Unlike the rest of Central America, Costa Rica is not highly dependent on remittances – which represented just 1 % of GDP in 2016, but instead relies on FDI – which accounted for 5.1% of GDP.

Annual percentage GDP growth in Costa Rica from 1961 to 2018 / World Bank / CC BY-4.0
GDP of Costa Rica in current US dollars from 1960 to 2018 / World Bank / CC BY-4.0
Annual percentage growth of GDP per capita in Costa Rica from 1961 to 2018 / World Bank / CC BY-4.0
GDP per capita in current US dollars in Costa Rica from 1960 to 2018 / World Bank / CC BY-4.0
Annual percentage inflation (GDP deflator) in Costa Rica from 1961 to 2018 / World Bank / CC BY-4.0

Unless otherwise specified, the information above comes from the Central Intelligence Agency’s The World Factbook. All photos and text reproduced here are in the public domain. Last updated on March 18, 2020.