Costa Rica

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Costa Rica

Costa Rica (kŏsˈtə rēˈkə), officially Republic of Costa Rica, republic (2020 est. pop. 5,094,118), 19,575 sq mi (50,700 sq km), Central America. It is bounded on the north by Nicaragua, on the east by the Caribbean Sea, on the southeast by Panama, and on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean. The capital and largest city is San José. In addition to the capital, other important cities are Alajuela, Heredia, Puntarenas, and Cartago.

Land and People

The coastal plains are low, hot, and heavily forested. Bananas, cocoa, and sugarcane are cultivated there. In the northwest is the Nicoya peninsula, a semiarid plain where cattle and grain are raised. A massive cordillera, with peaks over 12,000 ft (3,658 m) high, cuts the country from northwest to southeast. Within it, under the shadow of volcanoes such as Irazú, lies the Central Valley, with a perennially springlike climate. This valley is the heart of the country, where coffee is cultivated and most of the population and market facilities are located.

One of the most stable countries in Latin America, Costa Rica has a long democratic tradition and no regular military forces. The population is largely of Spanish and mestizo descent. The official language is Spanish, and English is also spoken. About 75% of the people are Roman Catholics; there is a large Protestant minority.

Economy and Government

Costa Rica is an agricultural country, although tourism and industry are being developed at a moderate pace. Industries include food processing and the manufacture of electronic components, textiles and clothing, construction materials, fertilizer, and plastics. Hydroelectric plants and other non-fossil-fuel facilities provide nearly all of the country's electricity. Bananas, pineapples, coffee, melons, sugar, and beef are exported, as well as manufactured goods such as textiles, electronics, and medical equipment. Raw materials, consumer goods, capital equipment, and petroleum are imported. The United States is the largest trading partner.

The country is governed under the 1949 constitution. The president, who is both the chief of state and head of government, is elected to a single four-year term. Members of the unicameral 57-seat Legislative Assembly are also elected for four years. Administratively, the country is divided into seven provinces.


Early History through the Nineteenth Century

Although Columbus skirted the Costa Rican coast in 1502, resistance by the indigenous inhabitants and disease prevented the Spanish from establishing a permanent settlement until 1563, when Cartago was founded. The region was administered as part of the captaincy general of Guatemala. Few of the native inhabitants survived, and the colonists, unable to establish a hacienda system based on slave labor, generally became small landowners. From Cartago, westward expansion into the plateau began in the 18th cent.

Costa Rica became independent from Spain in 1821. From 1822 to 1823 it was part of the Mexican Empire of Augustín de Iturbide. It then became part of the Central American Federation until 1838, when the sovereign republic of Costa Rica was proclaimed. In 1857, Costa Rica participated in the defeat of the filibuster William Walker, who had taken over Nicaragua.

The cultivation of coffee, introduced in the 19th cent., led to the creation of a landed oligarchy that dominated the country until the administration of Tomás Guardia (1870–82). In 1874, Minor Cooper Keith founded Limón and introduced banana cultivation. Keith also started the United Fruit Company. Later many tracts had to be abandoned because of leaf blight. Costa Rica's history of orderly, democratic government began in the late 19th cent.

The Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries

The orderly pattern was broken in 1917, when Federico Tinoco overthrew the elected president, Alfredo González. The majority of Costa Ricans, as well as the United States, opposed Tinoco, and he was deposed in 1919. Costa Rica cooperated with the United States during World War II and after the war joined the United Nations and other international organizations. Following the war, United Fruit started new plantations on the Pacific coast.

In 1948 there was a second breakdown of the political system. In a close presidential election Otilio Ulate appeared to have defeated a former president, Dr. Rafael Calderón. But the incumbent, Teodoro Picado, accused Ulate's supporters of fraud and obtained a congressional invalidation of the election. A six-week civil war ensued, at the conclusion of which a junta led by José Figueres Ferrer, a backer of Ulate, assumed power. Picado was exiled and the armed forces were disbanded, to be replaced by a civil guard. Forces from Nicaragua backed Picado, and the Organization of American States (OAS) was called upon to mediate between the two countries.

In 1949 a new constitution was adopted, and the junta transferred power to Ulate as the elected president. Figueres was elected his successor in 1953. In UN-supervised elections in 1958, Mario Enchadi Jiménez defeated Figueres's candidate. Politics remained stable in the 1960s. The Irazú volcano erupted in 1963–64 and caused serious damage to agriculture; another volcano, Arenal, erupted in 1968 for the first time in hundreds of years, killing many. Figueres was again elected president in 1970, and Daniel Oduber Quiros was elected president in 1974, but the ruling National Liberation Party (PLN) lost its majority in the legislature for the first time in 25 years. In the late 1970s the country entered a recession and found itself surrounded by increasingly unstable neighbors.

In the early 1980s the PLN returned to power. Oscar Arias Sánchez, the PLN candidate elected in 1986, worked to preserve his nation's neutrality. The economy continued to worsen, however, and in 1990 Rafael Angel Calderón Fournier of the Social Christian Unity party (PUSC) was elected to the presidency by a 3% margin. José María Figueres Olsen, the PLN candidate and son of José Figueres Ferrer, was elected president in 1994. In 1998, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría of the PUSC won the presidency; he was succeeded by fellow party member Abel Pacheco de la Espriella in 2002.

The country was shaken in 2004 by charges that Presidents Calderón and Rodríguez had received illegal kickbacks from government contracts and that, after leaving office, President Figueres had received large consulting fees relating to government contracts. Calderón was convicted of embezzlement in 2009; Rodríguez was convicted of instigating corruption in 2011, but his conviction was overturned in 2012. Former president Oscar Arias Sánchez was elected to a second term in 2006. In Oct., 2007, Costa Ricans approved joining the Central American Free Trade Agreement (signed in 2004), but its accession was delayed until after legislation was enacted (Nov., 2008) that brought the nation into compliance with the accord.

In Feb., 2010, Arias Sánchez's vice president, Laura Chinchilla Miranda, was elected president. A center-leftist who is conservative on many social issues, Chinchilla was Costa Rica's first woman president. Tensions flared with Nicaragua in late 2010 over a disputed island at the San Juan River's mouth when Nicaraguan troops were sent there; the troops were not removed despite the Organization of American States' call for both sides to withdraw. Costa Rica subsequently brought the issue before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and Nicaragua then countersued; a 2011 interim ruling called on both sides to avoid the disputed area. In 2015 the ICJ ruled that Nicaragua had violated Costa Rica's sovereignty and the ICJ's 2011 interim ruling as well and called for compensation to be paid, but it also ruled the Costa Rica had failed to fulfill obligations it had with respect to road construction. A further ruling in 2018 assigned the disputed island to Costa Rica, awarded it damages, and defined the sea borders between the two nations in the Caribbean and Pacific.

In the 2014 presidential election, Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera was elected unopposed after the second place finisher withdrew from the April runoff; a historian and former diplomat, Solís was the Citizen Action party candidate. In the early 21st cent. Costa Rica has found itself increasing beset by Mexican drug gangs that have used the country as a transfer point between Colombia to the south and Mexico and the United States to the north. The resulting increase in crime has led to a closer relationship between Costa Rican security forces and U.S. law enforcement agencies and military. Carlos Alvarado Quesada, the Citizen Action party candidate and a former minister of labor and social security, was in Apr., 2018, elected president, after a runoff.


See R. Fernández Guardia, History of the Discovery and Conquest of Costa Rica (1913); J. P. Bell, Crisis in Costa Rica: The 1948 Revolution (1971); H. D. Nelson, ed., Costa Rica, a Country Study (1984); C. Hall, Costa Rica (1985); M. Edelman and J. Kenen, ed., The Costa Rica Reader (1989).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Costa Rica


the Republic of Costa Rica (Republica de Costa Rica), a state in Central America. Bordered by Nicaragua on the north, by Panama on the southeast, by the Caribbean Sea on the east, and by the Pacific Ocean on the west. Area, 50,700 sq km. Population, 1,840,000 (1972, estimate). Capital, the city of San José. Costa Rica is administratively divided into seven provinces and the provinces into 65 cantons.

Constitution and government. Costa Rica is a republic. The present constitution was adopted in 1949. The head of state and government is the president, elected by the population for four years on the basis of universal and direct suffrage and secret ballot. The president has very broad powers on all major questions of administration. As head of government (cabinet of ministers) the president appoints the members of the government, who are responsible to him.

The highest body of legislative power is the unicameral Legislative Assembly, which has consisted since 1962 of 57 deputies elected by the population for four years. Individuals who are not members of a political party cannot be candidates in an election. The seats in the Legislative Assembly are distributed as follows: the National Liberation Party, 32; the National Union Party (in a bloc with others), 22; the Socialist Action Party (including the Communists), three. All citizens who have attained the age of 18 are granted the right to vote, and voting is compulsory. The provincial administrations are headed by governors appointed by the president. In the cantons the population elects municipal councils, which have limited autonomy. The highest body of the judicial system is the Supreme Court, whose 17 members are elected by the Legislative Assembly for a term of eight years. The Supreme Court appoints all the members of the lower courts for a term of four years and has the power of supreme constitutional supervision. There are four courts of appeal, a court of cassation, and provincial and local courts.


Natural features. The greater (interior) part of the country is occupied by the volcanic ranges of the Cordillera de Guanacaste and its continuation, the Cordillera Central, with the active volcanoes Irazu (3,432 m), Poas (2,704 m), and Miravalles (2,020 m). The volcanic Meseta Central, with elevations of 900 to 1,200 m, to the southwest of the Cordillera Central is fringed in the southwest by the towering Cordillera de Talamanca, in which is located the highest peak in the country, Chirripo Grande (3,820 m). There are lowlands in the north and along the seacoasts. The coast of the Caribbean Sea is flattened and swampy and has many lagoons; the Pacific Ocean coast is strongly jagged, with the bays of Papagayo, Nicoya, Coronado, and Golfo Dulce, as well as Nicoya and Osa peninsulas. Deposits of iron ore, sulphur, and bauxites and small silver and gold deposits were discovered in the 1960’s.

The climate is subequatorial. In the lowlands the average temperature is 23° C in January and 25° C in July. The annual precipitation is up to 3,000 mm or more in the east, where it falls throughout the year, and 1,000–1,500 mm in the west, where it falls mainly in the summer. The river network is quite dense. The rivers are mostly turbulent, tending to flood in the east, and navigable in the lower reaches (San Juan and Rio Frio). Forests cover almost two-thirds of the country. Evergreen humid tropical forests (palms, cedrela, mahogany, ebony, rosewood, and balsa) grow in the east up to an elevation of 650 m. Elevations of over 1,800 m are marked by oak forests with laurel undergrowth. The summits of volcanic cones (2,700–3,000 m) are covered with shrubs and meadows that are used as pastures. On the Meseta Central, with its fertile soils, almost all the forests have been cut down, and the land has been plowed. The Pacific coast is characterized by savannas with mimosas and forests that lose their foliage during the dry season. The rich and diversified fauna includes monkeys, pumas, jaguars, tapir, armadillos, and porcupines. The coastal waters are full of fish, such as the flying fish, swordfish, tuna, and sailfish.


Population. Most (80 percent) Costa Ricans are descendants of 16th- and 17th-century Spanish colonists; 10 percent of the population are mestizos, and 7 percent are Negroes and mulattoes—mainly West Indian natives and their descendants. The native inhabitants, such as the Bribrí and Boruca Indians, form less than 1 percent. Spanish is the official language, and Catholicism is the state religion. The Gregorian Calendar is official.

The country’s population is growing rapidly; it was 421,000 in 1920, 619,000 in 1940, 1,250,000 in 1960, and 1,740,000 in 1970. In 1963–71 the average population increase was 3.2 percent a year. The gainfully employed population amounts to 530,000 people, four-fifths of whom are men. Three-fourths of the population lives in the Meseta Central, which makes up one-tenth of the area of the country. In 1970 the urban population was 36.5 percent of the total. The main cities are San José (211,200 inhabitants in 1971), Limón, Turrialba, Alajuela, Puntarenas, Heredia, Cartago, and Liberia.

Historical survey. The territory of present-day Costa Rica has been inhabited since ancient times by numerous Indian tribes of the Macro-Otomanguean language family (Chorotega and others) and the Misquito-Chibchan family (Boruca, Guetar, and others). Hunters and fishermen lived on the coast. The Indians in the central mountainous regions engaged in slash-and-burn farming, knew how to cast gold and copper, and were familiar with the art of pottery. The majority of the tribes were at the primitive communal stage.

Costa Rica was discovered by Columbus in 1502 and named Nuevo Cartago (New Carthage; the present name, Costa Rica, which means “rich coast” in Spanish, was given to it in the middle of the 16th century). The Spanish conquest of Costa Rica began in 1513. In 1560 it was made part of the captaincy general of Guatemala. However, the Spaniards took possession of Costa Rica only in the 1560’s, because the warlike and freedom-loving Indian tribes fiercely resisted the conquistadores. The Spaniards destroyed the ancient Indian culture, founded their own plantations on lands expropriated from the Indians (using native labor there), and established cities. One of the first cities, Cartago, (mid-16th century), became the capital of Costa Rica. Small peasant farming began to develop in the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 18th century several more cities were founded, including Heredia, San José, and Alajuela. However, the population grew slowly, and by 1751 there were only 2,300 inhabitants in the central region of the country.

In the War for Independence of the Spanish colonies in America in 1810–26, the population of Costa Rica also rose against the Spanish rule and forced the Spanish governor to give up his power. The country’s independence was proclaimed on Sept. 15, 1821. This was followed by a struggle between those who advocated complete independence for Costa Rica and those who favored incorporation into Mexico. In 1822, Costa Rica joined Iturbide’s Mexican empire and, after its collapse in 1823, entered the United Provinces of Central America, which also included El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras. The same year San José became the capital of Costa Rica. The rise of political parties also took place in this period; the Conservative Party represented the landowners, and the Liberal Party represented the nascent, mainly commercial, bourgeoisie. The first Costa Rican constitution was adopted in 1825. In 1838 the country became an independent state. The country’s economy was growing stronger, especially because of the expansion of coffee plantations.

In 1854 a detachment led by the American adventurist Walker invaded Central America with the support of the US government, which was trying to gain this region as its colony. Costa Rican troops smashed Walker’s troops at Santa Rosa on Mar. 20, 1856, and at Rivas on April 11, thereby initiating the rout of the interventionists. A rapid upswing of the economy started in the late 1850’s, and production began of coffee and bananas for export. North American capital began penetrating into Costa Rica in the 1870’s. Individual enterpreneurs and companies received the right to acquire banana plantations, concessions for railroad construction, and the right of duty-free import and export. The powerful United Fruit Company took possession of huge plantations. Imposing one-sided agreements on the bourgeois-landowner governments of Costa Rica, the United Fruit Company grabbed about 10 percent of the country’s territory; since it had a virtual monopoly on the export of bananas, it began to influence Costa Rican politics. In 1915 the Costa Rican government granted to North American capital concessions on the prospecting and exploitation of petroleum. In 1921 the American imperialists provoked a clash between Costa Rica and Panama over the disputed Goto region (this conflict had been dragging on since the late 19th century). In its capacity as mediator, the USA brought about the transfer of this region to Costa Rica in order to strengthen its influence in the country.

In this period the national bourgeoisie was gathering strength in Costa Rica. In 1901 the National Republican Party was founded, which represented the interests of the bourgeoisie, bankers, and planters. Workers formed their own circles. In 1917 the workers of San José marked the world’s first socialist revolution in Russia with a meeting. A general strike in 1920 brought about the eight-hour workday for the workers. The Communist Party was founded in 1931. (Since 1943 it has been called the People’s Vanguard Party of Costa Rica, or PVP.) The 1933–34 period was marked by an upsurge of the strike movement of the workers on the United Fruit Company banana plantations. The rise of the popular movement forced R. Calderon Guardia’s government (1940–44) to enact several progressive policies in 1942. The Costa Rican constitution was amended with the chapter On Social Guarantees, which, among other things, established minimum wages and granted to the working people the right of trade union association, social insurance, and the right to strike. After the outbreak of World War II (1939–45) the government adopted several restrictive measures against Germans in Costa Rica who had profascist sympathies but held powerful economic positions in the sugar and coffee industries. In 1943 the Confederation of Workers of Costa Rica was founded, and the first labor code was adopted. In the 1944 parliamentary elections six PVP candidates were elected for the first time as deputies. Costa Rica established diplomatic relations with the USSR in May 1944 (but no embassies were set up).

The so-called new social policy of presidents Guardia and T. Picado (1944—48), although it did not go beyond bourgeois-democratic reforms, caused bitter dissatisfaction among the local reaction and the US monopolies that supported it. A civil war broke out in the country, and the Nicaraguan dictator A. Somoza moved his troops into Costa Rica. A government junta headed by J. Figueres (1948–49), which came to power, outlawed the PVP and disbanded the Confederation of Workers; at the same time, it abolished the regular army and replaced it with a civil guard and the police.

President O. Ulate Blanco (1949–52), who replaced the government junta, was compelled to leave in force some constitutional rights and guarantees. The activity of the PVP was gradually restored, and the trade union movement came to life again. The General Confederation of Costa Rican Workers was founded in 1952, with 36 affiliated trade unions. President J. Figueres (1953–58) tried to enact some measures to raise the living standards of the people and to limit the profits of foreign monopolies. To this end the government increased expenditures on public construction, established minimum purchase prices on agricultural products, stabilized retail prices, gave aid to farmers, raised the percent of deductions from the profits of the United Fruit Company, and nationalized the schools and hospitals owned by the company. On the other hand, Figueres encouraged the influx of foreign capital investments into the country and persecuted the left forces.

The following years, under presidents M. Echandi (1958–62), F. Orlich (1962–66), and J. J. Trejos (1966–70), were marked by an increase in foreign capital investments and a policy of close cooperation with the USA. But in this same period there was also a tendency toward establishing contacts with the socialist countries. Under the pressure of the democratic forces the Costa Rican government decided in 1967 to leave the Central American Defense Council, which was set up in 1965 to suppress the national liberation movement in the Central American countries.

In 1970, J. Figueres once more became president of Costa Rica. The Figueres government enacted several social and economic reforms in defense of the country’s national interests, such as the nationalization of the property of foreign railroad companies, and prohibited US petroleum trusts from prospecting for and exploiting petroleum on the coast; it also strengthened diplomatic, trade and economic, and cultural relations with socialist countries. In 1971–72, Costa Rica and the Soviet Union normalized diplomatic relations and exchanged diplomatic missions; Costa Rica established diplomatic relations with Hungary and Rumania in 1970, with Czechoslovakia and Poland in 1972, and with the German Democratic Republic in 1973.


Political parties, trade unions, and other social organizations. The National Liberation Party (El Partido Liberatión National) was founded in 1945. It is a socially heterogeneous party uniting the small, medium, and part of the big bourgeoisie and latifundistas, as well as part of the students, peasants, and workers. It is the governing party.

The National Union Party (El Partido Unificatión Nacional) was founded in 1965. It unites the big industrial and financial bourgeoisie and latifundistas connected with US monopolies and part of the intelligentsia. It is the chief opposition party.

The National Independent Party (El Partido Nacional Independiente) was founded in 1971. It is the most reactionary party, uniting the extreme right wing of the comprador bourgeoisie and latifundistas and is closely linked to US monopolies. The policies of this party’s leadership on the major questions merge with the policies of the openly profascist Free Costa Rica organization.

The Socialist Action Party (El Partido Action Socialista) was founded in 1969. It advocates profound democratic transformations in the country. In elections it has joined in blocs with the Communists.

The People’s Vanguard Party of Costa Rica (El Partido Van-guardia Popular de Costa Rica) was founded in 1931 under the name of the Communist Party and assumed its present name in 1943.

The General Confederation of Costa Rican Workers was founded in 1952. It had 10,000 members in 1975. It is a member of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU).

The Costa Rican Confederation of Democratic Workers, created on the basis of Rerum Novarum, a Catholic trade union organization, was founded in 1943 and had about 10,000 members in 1975. It is a member of the Inter-American Regional Organization of Workers and of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.

In addition to the confederation affiliated with the WFTU, the progressive trade union organizations include the United Federation of Workers of the Southern Pacific Coast, the National Association of State Employees, and the National Association of Teachers.

Other public organizations of Costa Rica include the Alliance of Costa Rican Women (founded in 1952, member of the Women’s International Democratic Federation) and the National Committee of Youth Organizations (which unites 12 big youth organizations and which advocates progressive policies).

Economic geography. Costa Rica is an agrarian country, and 45 percent of the gainfully employed population are engaged in agriculture (1970). Agriculture supplies industry with the bulk of the raw materials and provides 70 percent of the country’s currency receipts from export. In 1971 agriculture, hunting, and fishing provided 22.7 percent of the gross domestic product and industry, 19.9 percent. The per capita national income is $542 (1970). Foreign capital plays a great role in the economy; direct foreign investments are estimated at $110 million, including $80 million from the USA (1970). US capital is invested in agriculture, industry, transportation, and trade; British capital is in railroads and tobacco production; capital from the Federal Republic of Germany and France is in coffee plantations; and Japanese capital is in industry. The United Fruit Company and the Standard Fruit Company (USA) control the production and export of bananas and many enterprises of the food industry. The government runs the banks, the power industry, communications, the production of alcoholic beverages, a large part of the railroads, and several commercial and industrial companies.

Small and medium landownership predominates in agriculture. Cultivated lands cover 20 percent of the territory, meadows and pastures 27 percent, and forests about 50 percent. The chief export crop is coffee (on the Meseta Central); other export crops are bananas (in the coastal lowlands, mainly in the Pacific lowland), abaca (of which Costa Rica is the world’s third biggest producer, after the Philippines and Malaysia), cacao (in the Caribbean lowland), and sugarcane. Coffee is grown mainly on small and medium farms owned by local capital; bananas, cacao, and abaca are cultivated on the large plantations of foreign companies. The main food crops are corn (on the Meseta Central) and rice (in the lowlands).

Cattle is raised (1.5 million head in 1970–71)—mainly in the northwest of the country—as are swine (185,000), sheep, and goats.

The mining industry is poorly developed and accounts for only 0.5 percent of the people employed. It is represented by small-scale exploitation of gold and silver deposits, which are located close to the surface and do not call for big capital investments, and the extraction of salt from ocean water. The established capacity of the electric power plants is 244,000 kilowatts (1970), and the electric power output is 1.1 billion kilowatthours (1971).

The manufacturing industry was represented until the middle of the 1950’s by food, textile, leather and footwear, and wood-working enterprises. Subsequently, construction was under-taken, with the participation of foreign capital (chiefly US), of cement, metalworking, automobile-assembly, petroleum-refining, and chemical enterprises. The city of San José is the chief industrial center.

Costa Rica has 1,300 km of railroads (1972) and 20,600 km of vehicular roads (1971), of which 1,500 km are paved. The chief ports are Limón on the Caribbean Sea and Puntarenas on the Pacific Ocean. Air transport is handled by the American company Pan American Airways and the joint companies Lineas Aereas Costarricenses and Taca Internationales Airlines. There are two airports, the more important of which is the El Coco airport near the capital. Foreign trade ocean shipments are handled primarily by the fleet of the United Fruit Company.

In 1971 exports amounted to $225.4 million and imports, $349.7 million. Agricultural products account for over 80 percent of the value of exports and coffee for about one-third of the export value, followed by bananas, cacao, sugar, and meat. Since the 1960’s chemical products have taken a prominent place in exports, after coffee, bananas, and meat. Imports include manufactured goods, transportation means and equipment, fuel, and food products. The constant foreign trade deficit is covered by foreign loans. The major trade partners (1971) are the USA (48 percent of export value and 30 percent of import value), the Federal Republic of Germany (13 percent and 6 percent), and the countries of Central America (24 percent and 31 percent), chiefly El Salvador and Nicaragua. The monetary unit is the colón.


Health and social welfare. The birth rate (1970) is 33.8 per thousand and general mortality 6.6 per thousand; infant mortality is 67.3 per thousand live births. The average life expectancy is 66 years. The most common diseases are malaria, visceral leishmaniasis, Chagas’ disease, dengue, brucellosis, leptospirosis, poliomyelitis, amebiasis, anthrax, dysentery, and salmonellosis. Costa Rica is one of the few Latin American countries where a considerable proportion of the medical institutions are state financed, although a small fee has to be paid for hospital care. Physicians with a private practice also exist. In 1970 Costa Rica had 48 hospitals with 7,000 beds (four beds per thousand people). In 1969 there were 935 physicians (one per 1,900 people). A large part of the physicians and hospital beds are in state medical institutions. Physicians are trained by the medical faculty of the university in San José, which graduates about 30 physicians a year. In 1968 public health expenditures amounted to 1.3 percent of the state budget.


Education and cultural affairs. A law in 1944 established universal compulsory elementary education for children aged seven to 14; however, more than one-half of the school-age children have no opportunity to go to school. There are state and private schools on all levels of general education. Preschool institutions provide education for children aged five to six (6,412 pupils in 1967). Elementary schools have six or five years of instruction in cities and from one to four years in rural areas. Most elementary schools are state schools. There were 364,900 pupils in elementary schools in 1971. The six-year secondary school consists of two cycles of three years each. The first cycle provides general education; in the second cycle instruction is given according to an orientation (humanities, physics-mathematics, or chemistry-biology). There were 77,700 students in secondary schools in 1971. A considerable number of the private secondary schools belong to the church. Vocational schools charge tuition for instruction.

Costa Rica has five-year industrial and commercial colleges on the basis of the six-year elementary school. These colleges provide an abbreviated three-year course of the general-education secondary schools and two years of vocational training. There were over 7,000 students in vocational schools in 1971. Elementary school teachers are trained by two-year elementary normal schools on the basis of the five-year elementary school. These schools had an enrollment of about 20,000 in 1971. Secondary school teachers are trained at the university.

Higher education is provided by the University of Costa Rica in San José. It was founded in 1843 and has faculties of humani-ties, economics, law, agronomy, engineering, medicine, microbiology, pedagogy, fine arts, natural sciences, and philology. The university had over 7,200 students in 1971. Students must pay tuition.

Table 1. Area and harvest of major agricultural crops
 Area (in hectares)Harvest (in tons)
1Average per year 2Economic year 31970
Coffee ..........51 00023,20059,800100,000
Cacao2 ..........11 ,0004,6009,9003,400
Bananas ..........1600021 00024000434,000484,0001,100,000
Abaca ..........30001,0001.00034,7008001,0003
Sugarcane (raw sugar)221,00026,00040,00027,00098,000196,000
Corn ..........5800051 000660007700065,00090,000
Rice (unhulled) .........25,00052,00050,00035,00072,000101,000

San José is the site of the National Library (founded in 1888; 175,000 volumes), the National Museum (1887), and the Gallery of the university’s Faculty of Fine Arts.


The chief scientific center is the University of Costa Rica; its faculties conduct research in chemistry, physics, mathematics, geology, geography, agriculture, medical science, history, linguistics, and economics. A commission for the coordination of scientific research was set up at the university in 1964. Costa Rica has an academy of language and an academy of history, as well as several small research institutes and centers.

Press, radio, and television. Almost all the magazines and newspapers are published in San José. Of the major newspapers (1973), La Nación is a daily newspaper founded in 1946, with a circulation of about 60,000, which reflects the interests of the big industrial and financial bourgeoisie; La República is a daily newspaper founded in 1950, with a circulation of 35,000, which is linked with government circles; La Prensa Libre is a daily evening newspaper founded in 1889, with a circulation of 32,000, which reflects the interests of the bourgeoisie and commercial circles; La Libertad is a weekly newspaper founded in 1962, which is the organ of the People’s Vanguard Party of Costa Rica.

There are 54 radio stations (as of 1973), of which 33 are located in San José Province; 50 of the radio stations are commercial. Television broadcasting began in 1960. All four television stations are commercial, and two of them are in San José. The biggest television stations are the Televisora de Costa Rica and Corporatión Costarricense de Televisión.


Literature. The literature of the colonial period has been very little studied. Costa Rican literature as such began to develop after the proclamation of independence in 1821. The life of the people was first portrayed in the early 20th century by such costumbrista writers as J. Garcia Monge (1881–1958) and M. Gonzalez Zeledon (1864–1936), the author of short stories and novellas about rural life, and such playwrights as D. Urena (1876–1932) and E. Calsamiglia (1880–1918). In poetry national motifs were developed by the poets who published the collective work Costa Rican Lyre in 1890–91. Anti-imperialist themes appeared in the novels The Sick Tree (1918) and the The Fall of the Eagle (1920) by C. Gagini (1865–1925), the social novels The Cousin (1905) and The Sphynx on the Path (1914) by J. Cardona (1863–1930), and the work of Carmen Lyra (1888–1951).

A variety of trends mark the literature of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Decadent traits are typical of the prose writer M. Jiménez (1900–47) and such poets as R. Brenes Mesén (1874–1947), R. Cardona (born 1892), and J. Marchena (born 1892). The theme of social struggle is in the center of C. L. Pallas’ (1909–66) novels Mamita Yunai (1941) and Marcos Ramírez (1951), which became significant events in the literary life of Latin America. Social struggle is also central in the novels The Green Inferno (1935) and Pedro Arnáez (1942) by J. Marín Canas (born 1904), The Mangrove Thicket and Port Limón (1950) by J. Gutiérrez (born 1918), That Which Is Called the People (1942) and The Living Logs (1962) by F. Dobles (born 1918) and the collections Tata Mundo’s Stories (1955) and El Maijú (1957) by Dobles. In poetry the social theme is expressed in the works of J. M. Zeledón (1877–1949); G. Dobles (born 1904), author of the book Deep Roots (1956); A. Montero Vega (born 1915), author of the collections Evening Hour (1950) and My Three Red Roses (1955); and E. Jenkins Dobles (born 1926), author of the collections Suffering Earth (1951) and One More Day of Labor (1957). The short story writers J. L. Sánchez (born 1929), D. Gallegos Troyo (born 1930), and F. Durán Ayanegui (born 1939), author of the collection Two Reals and Other Stories (1961), describe the life of poor Costa Ricans. R. Sosa wrote the collection of poems The Poor (1969).


Architecture and art. The ancient art of Costa Rica developed under the influence of the civilizations of Mexico, Panama, and Colombia. Among the relics that have been preserved are stone altars with reliefs, gigantic heads, and figurines of men and animals; ceramic statuettes and multicolored and decorated bowls; and figurines and pendants of jadeite and a gold-copper alloy. Structures from before the 18th century have been destroyed by earthquakes and pirate raids. Churches from the 18th century have been preserved in Heredia and Orosí.

The cities have been planned in an orderly manner, and the wealthy sections are landscaped. The low houses of adobe and brick, with inner yards, are painted in bright colors. There are also many reinforced-concrete one-story houses; the outskirts of the cities are surrounded by barracks and shanties. The dwellings in the Indian settlements are huts made of palm leaves.

The fine arts appeared in the 19th century (the sculptors F. Gutiérrez and J. Mora González and the painter E. Echaudí). A local school has been developing since the 1920’s; the painters and graphic artists F. Amighetti, C. Brenes Argüelo de Rizo, M. de la Cruz González, and F. Góngora have created impressive portraits of the life of the people. The sculptor F. Suñiga has created sharply characteristic images of Indians. A number of artists show a tendency toward stylization, such as the sculptor and painter M. Jiménez, and modernism. The outstanding features of folk art are carving and bright painting on carts ( carretas), the making of multicolored patterned fabrics and rugs (among the Boruca Indians), and embroidery and weaving (among the Bribrí Indians).


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Costa Rica

Official name: Republic of Costa Rica

Capital city: San Jose

Internet country code: .cr

Flag description: Five horizontal bands of blue (top), white, red (double width), white, and blue, with the coat of arms in a white elliptical disk on the hoist side of the red band; above the coat of arms a light blue ribbon con­tains the words “America Central” and just below it near the top of the coat of arms is a white ribbon with the words, Republica Costa Rica

National anthem: “Noble patria, tu hermosa bandera” (first line: Noble Homeland, Your Beautiful Flag), lyrics by José María Zeledón, music by Manuel María Gutiérrez

National bird: Yiguirro (Turdus grayi)

National flower: Guaria Morada (Cattleya skinneri)

National symbol of work: la carreta costarricense (Costa Rican ox-cart)

National tree: Guanacaste Tree (Enterolobium ciclocarpum)

Geographical description: Central America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, between Nicaragua and Panama

Total area: 19,730 sq. mi. (51,100 sq. km.)

Climate: Tropical and subtropical; dry season (December to April); rainy season (May to November); cooler in high­lands

Nationality: noun: Costa Rican(s); adjective: Costa Rican

Population: 4,133,884 (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: European (including mestizo) 94%, African 3%, Amerindian 1%, Chinese 1%, other 1%

Languages spoken: Spanish (official), Caribbean Creole English dialect

Religions: Roman Catholic 76.3%, Evangelical 13.7%, Jeho­vah’s Witness 1.3%, other Protestant 0.7%, other 4.8%, none 3.2%

Legal Holidays:

Annexation of GuanacasteJul 25
Anniverary of Rivas BattleApr 11
AssumptionAug 15
ChristmasDec 25
Culture DayOct 12
Independence DaySep 15
Labor DayMay 1
New Year's DayJan 1
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.

Costa Rica

a republic in Central America: gained independence from Spain in 1821; mostly mountainous and volcanic, with extensive forests. Official language: Spanish. Official religion: Roman Catholic. Currency: colón. Capital: San José. Pop.: 4 250 000 (2004 est.). Area: 50 900 sq. km (19 652 sq. miles).
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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