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Country Facts

Area: 51,032 sq km; 19,652 sq miles
Population: 4.6 million (2009)
Capital City: San José (1.4 million as of 2008)
Languages: The official language is Spanish.
Religion(s): Roman Catholic 76%; Evangelical Protestant 14%; No religion 6%; Other 4%;
Currency: Costa Rican Colón (CRC). 1,000CRC = $1.98 USD (November 2011) or 1,000CRC = £1.30 (November 2011)
Leading Political Parties: National Liberation Party (Partido Liberación Nacional - PLN); Citizen’s Action Party (Partido Acción Ciudadana -PAC); ibertarian Movement Party (Partido Movimento Libertario -PML); Social Christian Unity Party (Partido Unidad Social Cristiana -PUSC)
Government: PLN
Head of State: President Laura Chinchilla Miranda (Costa Rica’s first female president).
Minister of the Presidency: Carlos Ricardo Benavides Jiménez
Foreign Minister: Enrique Castillo
Membership of International Groups/Organisations: Costa Rica is an active member of the United Nations (UN), the Organisation of American States (OAS), the Cairns Group at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Group of 77 at the UN (G77), the International Criminal Court (ICC), the Central American Integration System (SICA), the Rio Group, and the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI). Costa Rica has signed and ratified all the key international human rights instruments and pursues a pacific policy, having abolished its own armed forces in 1949.


Costa Rica has the highest social indicators (in health and education) in the region. The government has initiated many programmes to promote sustainable development. Costa Rica is cited as a good example of economic development and forest preservation. Around 25% of the country’s land area is in protected national parks or reserves. Nevertheless, despite Costa Rica’s strong environmental record, deforestation has been a serious concern, and insufficient funding is dedicated to enforcement. In 2007, the government announced its plans to become the first carbon-neutral country by 2021, but the current government has strongly hinted that this date is likely to be revised. Costa Rica still attracts immigrants ranging from North American retirees to Colombian asylum seekers, as well half a million Nicaraguans seeking work


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Life expectancy: Men 75.1 years, Women 80.5 years (2011)
Infant mortality rate: 9.45 per 1,000 life births (2011)
Costa Rica is a popular destination in Latin America for medical tourism. In 2010 it received 36,000 medical travellers, mainly from the United States and Canada.

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Basic Economic Facts

Total GDP: US$29.28 billion (2009), US$35.8 billion (2010)
Nominal GDP per capita: US$6,494 (2009), US$7,851 (2010)
Forecast growth 2011: 4.0(%)
Average Forecast growth 2011-2016 (%): 4.4
Annual Inflation rate: 5.7% (2010)
Main industries: microprocessors, food processing, medical equipment, textiles and clothing, construction materials, fertilizers, plastics and tourism.
Total Exports: US$9.4 billion (2010)
Total Imports: US$13.6 billion (2010
Free Trade Agreements (FTAs):
Costa Rica has FTAs with United States, Canada, China, Mexico, Panama, Chile, the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Other Trade Agreements that have also been signed but not yet ratified are those with Peru, the EU, and Singapore.

Although one of the smallest country in Central America in terms of population, Costa Rica is one of the most affluent on a GDP per capita basis. It also weathered the recent financial crisis reasonably well despite the decreased demand for traditional Costa Rican exports such as coffee, bananas and sugar by diversification. Non-traditional exports such as electronic components (particularly Intel microchips), medical supplies, textiles and tropical fruits, now play a much more important role. Tourism is now a significant part of the economy.
Costa Rica has suffered from very high levels of internal and external debt – with interest on this debt consuming as much as a third of the annual budget. In 2004, during the Pacheco Administration, a fiscal reform package designed to increase tax revenue and measures to regulate government spending failed to pass through the Legislative Assembly. In September 2011 Chinchilla’s government proposed a new fiscal reform package. This reform package is the second attempt, this year, to restructure the national tax system. The aim of the fiscal reform package is to cap and reduce the government deficit.

Costa Rica continues to attract foreign investment because of the basic stability and security of the country. Costa Rica places a high priority on attracting and retaining high-quality foreign investment. According to the Central Bank of Costa Rica, during the first six months of 2011, Costa Rica secured $1.06 billion in foreign direct investment. President Chinchilla has said she wants this level to be at $9 billion by the end of her presidential term in 2014.

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Pre-Columbian period - Costa Rica was at the crossroads of the 2 great areas of cultural influence: the Meso-American groups (including Mayans and Aztecs) and the South American groups. The territory did not belong directly to any of the major kingdoms and the populations were distributed in small disperse tribes with no important population concentrations. The descendents of these indigenous tribes exist today, the main ones being the Bri Bri, Cabecar, Brunca, Guaymi and Huetar people.

1502 - Christopher Columbus first sets foot in Costa Rica, (Rich Coast) on his fourth and last voyage to the New World, but disease and resistance by the local population delayed the establishment of a permanent settlement for nearly 60 years.
1561 - Spain's Juan de Cavallon leads the first successful colonisers into Costa Rica.
1540onwards - Costa Rica is part of the vice-royalty of New Spain.
1821 - Central America gains independence from Spain. A dispute ensues over whether Costa Rica should join an independent Mexico or a confederation of Central American states.
1823 - Costa Rica joins the United Provinces of Central America, which also embraces El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
1838 - Costa Rica becomes fully independent.
1849-59 - Under the leadership of Juan Rafael Mora, Costa Rica takes the lead in organising Central American resistance against William Walker, the US adventurer who took over Nicaragua in 1855.
1859 - Mora ousted in a bloodless coup.
1870-82 - Under the leadership of Tomas Guardia Costa Rica encourages intensive foreign investment in railways.
1874 - US businessman Minor Cooper Keith introduces banana cultivation and starts the United Fruit Company.
1917 - Federico Tinoco ousts the elected president, Alfredo Gonzalez, but is himself deposed 2 years later.
1940-44 - President Rafael Angel Calderon Guradia, founder of the United Christian Socialist Party (PUSC), introduces liberal reforms, including recognition of workers' rights and minimum wages.
1948 - 6-week civil war over a disputed presidential election result.
1949 - Jose Figueres Ferrer, co-founder of National Liberation Party (PLN), elected president and begins ambitious socialist programme, including introducing a social security system and nationalising banks. Armed forces abolished and replaced by Civil Guard.
1958-73 - Costa Rica governed by mainly conservative administrations.
1974 - Daniel Oduber (PLN) elected president and pursues socialist policies.
1978 - Rodrigo Carazo, a conservative, elected president amid a sharp deterioration in the economy.
1982 - Luis Alberto Monge (PLN) elected president and introduces harsh austerity programme. Meanwhile, Costa Rica comes under pressure from the US to weigh in against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.
1985 - US-trained anti-guerrilla force begins operating from Honduras and Costa Rica following clashes with Sandinista troops.
1986 - Oscar Arias Sanchez (PLN) elected president on a neutral platform.
1987 - Leaders of Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras sign regional peace plan devised by Oscar Arias Sanchez, who in turn wins the Nobel Peace Prize for the plan.
1990 - Rafael Calderon, of the centrist PUSC, elected president.
1994 - Jose Maria Figueres Olsen (PLN) elected president.
1998 - Miguel Angel Rodriguez (PUSC) elected president.
2000 - Start of the San Juan River dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
2002 - Abel Pacheco (PUSC) elected president.
2006 - Dr Oscar Arias Sanchez (PLN) elected President for a second term.
2007 - Costa Ricans vote in favour of the DR-CAFTA free trade agreement with the US in the country’s first ever referendum.
Costa Rica establishes diplomatic relations with China.
2009 - San Juan river dispute resolved through ICJ judgement.
2010 - Laura Chinchilla (PLN) elected Costa Rica’s first female president.
2010 - Isla Calero border dispute with Nicaragua

BBC News Country Timeline: Costa Rica (

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Relations with Neighbours

In recent years Costa Rica has been trying to improve its relationship with its northern neighbour Nicaragua. The number of Nicaraguans living and working in Costa Rica (mainly illegally) is estimated at about 500,000 (but some say it may be closer to 1 million). The relationship had been strained because of the territorial dispute over the right to free navigation of the San Juan River and in particular, the right of Costa Rican patrols to carry arms (a number of Costa Rican communities are only accessible from the river). The disagreement had been put on hold by the two governments and the case sent to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague for arbitration, who ruled in July 2009 that Costa Rica did have navigational rights but their police forces were not allowed to carry arms. The outcome was deemed a success by both sides. In October 2010 a new disagreement started between the two countries, this time about the dredging of the San Juan River, in the area of Isla Calero. ( Both parties agreed to refer the case to the ICJ to determine who the area belonged to. A final decision on the disputed area has not been taken, and the case is continuing in the ICJ.

Costa Rica is an active member of the Central American Integration System (SICA) but continues to play no part in the Central American Parliament - (PARLACEN). The recently established Central American Customs Union is progressing well with Costa Rican participation.

An FTA between Costa Rica and Caribbean Countries (CARICOM) was agreed in 2004 and ratified in 2005.. Costa Rica also acts as the depository for a Maritime Co-operation Agreement with the Caribbean countries and others to control drug trafficking.

Relations with the International Community

Costa Rica is an active member of the international community and supports efforts to protect the environment, promotes human rights and sustainable development, and advocates peaceful settlement of disputes. Costa Rica is host to a number of international institutions, including the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the UN University for Peace.
In May 2010 Christiana Figueres was appointed the new UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive secretary.

Negotiations on an Association Agreement with the European Union began in June 2007 in Costa Rica and Costa Rica led the negotiations, which finally resulted in an agreement in May 2010. This is likely to be ratified during 2012.

Costa Rica is an active member of the United Nations and represented the region in the UN Security Council from January 2008 until December 2009.

Relations with the UK

Bilateral relations were established over 150 years ago and have always been good. The UK helped to develop the market for Costa Rican coffee and the UK firm, Northern Railway, ran the railway service from the coast.

There have been high level visits in both directions. The most recent Ministerial visit was by the Minister of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Jeremy Browne, in October 2011. The UK's Ambassador to Costa Rica attended the inauguration of President Laura Chinchilla in May 2010.

Cultural Relations with the UK

At least 1 Chevening scholarship is awarded every year to Costa Rican students for study at postgraduate level at institutes of higher education in the UK. (See Chevening Scholarships: Costa Rica ( ) A private institution called the British Institute in San Jose offers courses and examinations of British educational Boards. For more information, see the Instituto Britanico ( . There is a privately-run British school in San Jose at which pupils sit GCSE examinations - British School of Costa Rica ( . The British Council in Mexico City has a watching brief in Costa Rica. For more information, see British Council ( .

Several prominent Costa Rican figures, including President Oscar Arias Sanchez, ex Vice President Kevin Casas and 2006 Presidential candidate Otton Solis, are ex-scholars of British Universities.

Recent Inward Visits

The former Costa Rican Foreign Minister, René Castro, visited the UK in Januray 2011 and met with the Minister of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Henry Bellingham.

In February 2011 a delegation of Costa Rican Parliamentarians visited the UK.

Recent Outward Visits

Jeremy Browne, the Minister of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, visited Costa Rica in October 2011.

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Costa Rica covers 51,060 sq km and is bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south-east. To the east lies the Caribbean Sea with approximately 200km of coastline, while to the west lies the Pacific Ocean with around a 1,000km of coastline. A volcanic mountain range extends the length of the country, splitting it in 2 from north to south. The Central Valley lies in the middle of these highlands which contain several active volcanoes, which is where most of the population live. On either side of the range lie coastal lowlands. 27% of the country is covered by national parks and have a great range of wildlife including turtles, sloths and jaguars. There are also many different species of birds.

Costa Rica is divided into seven provinces: Alajuela, Cartago, Guanacaste, Heredia, Limon, Puntarenas and San José.

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Trade and Investment with the UK

UK exports to Costa Rica in 2010 totalled £35.4 million. The main exports were: road vehicles (£9.1 million), beverages (£4.2 million), medicinal-pharmaceutical products (£2.4 million) and specialised machinery (£2.4 million). For the period January – September 2011, UK exports are £33 million, which is a 22% increase on the same 2010 period. UK imports from Costa Rica in 2010 totalled £204.9 million. The main imports are: vegetables and fruit (£177.5 million), construction machinery (£8.1 million), vegetable fats & oils (£6.1 million), coffee, tea & spices (£4.2 million), footwear (£3.5 million).

UK Development Assistance

Costa Rica benefits from a number of small Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) projects, administered by the British Embassy in San Jose. The British community in Costa Rica also collects funds annually for local good causes. But the bulk of UK development assistance for Costa Rica is channelled through the European Commission, of which the UK’s share is 16%, and the main project in 2012 is a €13 million project to support the construction of the new Police Academy. . In recent years the UK has funded a number of small projects focused on the environment and climate change issues but is now looking to change its focus to prosperity and security work.

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Costa Rican politics has traditionally been dominated by 2 main parties, the National Liberation Party (PLN) and Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), which have generally tended to succeed each other in power every 4 years. However, recent elections have shown the emergence of new parties, including the Citizens Action Party (PAC) and the Libertarian Movement (ML). The most recent elections, held in February 2010, saw the PLN retain power, but once again the PAC became the official opposition with the ML in third place (as per the elections in 2006). The PUSC, has been left very much as a minority party. They have been rocked in recent years by corruption scandals involving two former Presidents Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría (1998-2002) and Rafael Ángel Calderón (1990-94). In November 2009 Calderón received a sentence of 5 years imprisonment for his involvement in defrauding the state Social Security Institution (Caja) and in April 2011 Rodríguez was sentenced to 5 years in prison for his involvement in defrauding the Costa Rican Electricity Institute(ICE). President Chinchilla was inaugurated on 8 May 2010 and vowed to tackle crime and the growing drugs problems as well as improving the economic situation. She is also looking to improve Costa Rica’s relations with the region.

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As the seat of important regional institutions, including the Inter American Human Rights Court and Institute, Costa Rica enjoys prestige in the field of human rights and has made human rights a priority in the conduct of its foreign policy. It is currently a member of the Human Rights Council. However, Costa Rica is vulnerable to criticism on child prostitution and the growing problem of sex tourism, failure to recognise certain ILO conventions, and a judicial system which is painfully slow. Nevertheless, Costa Rica can still boast about its human rights credentials.

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Last Updated: January 2012

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