Facts & Figures
Republic of Costa Rica
President: Luis Guillermo Solís (2014)
Land area: 19,560 sq mi (50,660 sq km); total area: 19,730 sq mi (51,100 sq km)
Population (2014 est.): 4,755,234 (growth rate: 1.24%); birth rate: 16.08/1000; infant mortality rate: 8.7/1000; life expectancy: 78.23
Capital and largest city (2011 est.): San José, 1.515 million
Monetary unit: Colón
This Central American country lies between Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south. Its area slightly exceeds that of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. It has a narrow Pacific coastal region. Cocos Island (10 sq mi; 26 sq km), about 300 mi (483 km) off the Pacific Coast, is under Costa Rican sovereignty.
Costa Rica was inhabited by an estimated 400,000 Indians when Columbus explored it in 1502. The Spanish conquest began in 1524. The region grew slowly and was administered as a Spanish province. Costa Rica achieved independence in 1821 but was absorbed for two years by Agustín de Iturbide in his Mexican empire. It became a republic in 1848. Except for the military dictatorship of Tomás Guardia from 1870 to 1882, Costa Rica has enjoyed one of the most democratic governments in Latin America.
In the 1970s, rising oil prices, falling international commodity prices, and inflation hurt the economy. Efforts have since been made to reduce reliance on coffee, banana, and beef exports. Tourism is now a major business. Óscar Arias Sánchez worked to simultaneously heal his country's economic woes and foster peace in Central America.
José Maria Figueres Olsen of the National Liberation Party became president in 1994. He opposed economic suggestions made by the International Monetary Fund, instead favoring greater government intervention in the economy. The World Bank subsequently withheld $100 million of financing. In 1998, Miguel Angel Rodríguez of the Social Christian Unity Party became president, pledging economic reforms, such as privatization. In 2000, Costa Rica and Nicaragua resolved a long-standing dispute over navigation of the San Juan River, which forms their shared border. A psychiatrist, Abel Pacheco, also of the Social Christian Unity Party, won the presidency in elections held in April 2002. In May 2003, several national strikes took place, by energy and telecommunications workers over privatization and by teachers over their salaries.
Nobel Peace Prize Winner Again Gains Presidency
Costa Rica has a reputation as one of the most stable, prosperous, and least corrupt Latin American countries. But in fall 2004, three former Costa Rican presidents (José Maria Figueres Olsen, Miguel Angel Rodríguez, and Rafael Angel Calderon) were investigated on corruption charges. In 2006, Óscar Arias Sánchez was elected president. Arias, who had served as president once before (1986–1990), won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for fostering peace talks that eventually ended the civil wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua.
The Costa Rican government voted in November 2008 to implement the Central American Free Trade Agreement that voters had approved in October 2007.
First Woman Elected President
In February 2010, Laura Chinchilla became the country's first woman to be elected president, taking 47% of the vote. She's a protégé of outgoing centrist president Oscar Arias. Due to Article 132 of Costa Rica's Constitution, Chinchilla was ineligible to run for a second consecutive term.
Luis Guillermo Solís was elected president in May 2014. A member of the center-left Citizens' Action Party, Solís easily won the presidency after first round runner-up, San José Mayor Johnny Araya Monge stopped actively campaigning.