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Costa Rica country profile

Map of Costa Rica

For decades Costa Rica has stood out for its stability and has benefited from the most developed welfare system in the region.

It has no standing army, and its citizens enjoy one of the highest life expectancy levels in the Western hemisphere and better living standards than most of Central America.

Overview

Traditionally dependent on coffee, banana and beef exports, Costa Rica has diversified its economy. The opening of a large computer chip plant in the late 1990s was a fillip to the economy, but its fortunes have been subject to the fluctuating world demand for microchips.

AT-A-GLANCE
A local Costa Rican unloads bananas
Politics: Costa Rica's first female president, Laura Chinchilla, succeeded elder statesman and nobel laureate Oscar Arias on 8 May 2010
Economy: One of Central America's most affluent countries; Costa Ricans voters narrowly approved a free trade deal with the US in 2007

Tourism is Costa Rica's main source of foreign exchange. Its tropical forests are home to a profusion of flora and fauna, including 1,000 species of orchid and 850 species of birds, such as macaws and toucans.

The Caribbean coast with its swamps and sandy beaches is also a big draw. But Costa Rica is trying to shake off its reputation as a destination for sex tourists.

Costa Rica has been used as a transit point for South American cocaine and there have been allegations that drug-tainted money has found its way into the coffers of the two main political parties.

Once dubbed the "Switzerland of Central America", the country's self-image was badly shaken in 2004 when allegations of high-level corruption led to two former presidents being imprisoned on graft charges.

Facts

  • Full name: Republic of Costa Rica
  • Population: 4.7 million (UN, 2011)
  • Capital: San Jose
  • Area: 51,100 sq km (19,730 sq miles)
  • Major languages: Spanish (official), English
  • Major religion: Christianity
  • Life expectancy: 77 years (men), 82 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 Costa Rican colon = 100 centimos
  • Main exports: Coffee, bananas, sugar, textiles, electronic components, electricity
  • GNI per capita: US$6,810 (World Bank, 2010)
  • Internet domain: .cr
  • International dialling code: +506

Leaders

President: Laura Chinchilla

Laura Chinchilla won a landslide victory in February 2010 to become the country's first woman to be elected president. She took up office in May 2010.

Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla
President Laura Chinchilla

Ms Chinchilla is a career politician who was born into a political family and served as public safety minister, congressional deputy and most recently as vice president and justice minister in the cabinet of her predecessor, Nobel peace laureate President Oscar Arias.

She promised to continue Arias's moderate free-market policies and expand Costa Rica's web of free trade agreements. She has also backed liberalization of Costa Rica's state-controlled electricity and telecommunications sectors.

Married with a teenage son, Ms Chinchilla is a social conservative, opposing gay marriage, abortion and any change to Roman Catholicism's position as the state religion. Supporters regaled her with rosaries during her campaign, including one she wears constantly for good luck.

During her election campaign she promised to boost education spending as well as increase funding for law enforcement and create an anti-drug czar to oversee the growing struggle against drug smugglers who are using Costa Rica as a transit route.

The election of Ms Chinchilla follows an increasingly common trend in many Latin American countries: Nicaragua, Panama, Chile and Argentina have all elected women as presidents.

In the simultaneous parliamentary polls, Ms Chinchilla's centrist National Liberation Party failed to win a majority in the 57-member Congress, making the forging of alliances a necessity.

"Dialogue has to become a permanent instrument for the exercise of power," Ms Chinchilla commented after her victory.

Media

Costa Rica enjoys a vibrant media scene, with nine major newspapers, private and public TV stations and a busy FM radio dial. Cable TV is widely available. Media ownership is highly-concentrated.

Press freedom group Reporters Without Borders describes the country's media as "fairly free". Libel laws and a law which ensures the right of reply for individuals criticised in reports are in force.

There were 2 million internet users by June 2010 (Internetworldstats).

The press

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A GUIDE TO THE AMERICAS

 

 

Compiled by BBC Monitoring

SEE ALSO
Court rules on San Juan River row
08 Mar 11 |  Latin America & Caribbean
The stone spheres of Costa Rica
29 Mar 10 |  Science & Environment
Costa Rica elects female leader
08 Feb 10 |  Americas
Costa Rica: happy and green?
07 Feb 10 |  Americas
Costa Rica bids to go carbon neutral
11 Aug 08 |  Americas
Costa Rica's battle for popularity
20 May 06 |  From Our Own Correspondent

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