About Costa Rica

Area: 51,100 sq. km (19,730 sq. mi.) about the size of the states of Vermont and New Hampshire combined.
Cities: Capital–San Jose (greater metropolitan area pop. 2.1 million, the greater metropolitan area as defined by the Ministry of Planning and Economic Policy includes the cities of Alajuela, Cartago, and Heredia). Other major cities outside the San Jose capital area–Puntarenas, Limon, and Liberia.
Terrain: A rugged, central range separates the eastern and western coastal plains.
Climate: Mild in the central highlands, tropical and subtropical in coastal areas.

Nationality: Noun and adjective–Costa Rican(s).
Population (2011): 4,576,562.
Annual population growth rate (2011 est.): 1.308%.
Ethnic groups: European and some mestizo 94%, African origin 3%, Chinese 1%, Amerindian 1%, other 1%.
Religion: Roman Catholic 70%, Evangelical Protestant 16%, other 6%, none 8%.
Languages: Spanish, with a southwestern Caribbean Creole dialect of English spoken around the Limon area.
Education: Years compulsory–9. Attendance–99% grades 1-6; 71% grades 7-9. Literacy–96%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (2011 est.)–9.45/1,000. Life expectancy (2011 est.)–men 75.1 years, women 80.46 years.
Work force (2010 est.): 2.05 million; this official estimate excludes Nicaraguans living in Costa Rica legally and illegally.

Type: Democratic republic.
Independence: September 15, 1821.
Constitution: November 7, 1949.
Branches: Executive–president (head of government and chief of state) elected for one 4-year term, two vice presidents, Cabinet (22 ministers, two of whom are also vice presidents). Legislative–57-deputy unicameral Legislative Assembly elected at 4-year intervals. Judicial–Supreme Court of Justice (22 magistrates elected by Legislative Assembly for renewable 8-year terms). The offices of the Ombudsman, Comptroller General, and Procurator General assert autonomous oversight of the government.
Subdivisions: Seven provinces, divided into 81 cantons, subdivided into 421 districts.
Political parties: National Liberation Party (PLN), Citizen’s Action Party (PAC), Libertarian Movement Party (PML), Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), and other smaller parties.
Suffrage: Universal and compulsory at age 18.

GDP (2011 est., official exchange rate): $40.02 billion.
GDP (2011 est., purchasing power parity): $54.52 billion.
Real growth rate (2011 est.): 4.0%.
Per capita income (2011 est., PPP): $11,562.
Inflation rate (2011 est.): 5.3%.
Unemployment (2011 est.): 6.5%.
Currency: Costa Rica Colon (CRC).
Natural resources: Hydroelectric power, forest products, fisheries products.
Agriculture (6.9% of GDP, 2010 est.): Products–bananas, pineapples, coffee, beef, sugar, rice, dairy products, vegetables, fruits, ornamental plants, corn, beans, potatoes, timber.
Industry (26.1% of GDP, 2010 est.): Types–electronic components, medical equipment, textiles and apparel, tires, food processing, construction materials, fertilizer, plastic products.
Commerce, tourism, and services (67% of GDP, 2010 est.): Hotels, restaurants, tourist services, banks, and insurance.
Trade (2010 est.): Exports–$9.385 billion: integrated circuits, medical equipment, bananas, pineapples, coffee, melons, ornamental plants, sugar, textiles, electronic components. Major markets (2010)–U.S. 37.4%, European Union (27) 17.9%, China (including Hong Kong) 4.8%, Panama 4.8%, Nicaragua 4.2%. Imports–$13.57 billion: raw materials, consumer goods, capital equipment, petroleum. Major suppliers (2010)–U.S. 46.8%, European Union (27) 7.9%, China 7.1%, Mexico 6.4%, Japan 3.6%.

Unlike many of their Central American neighbors, present-day Costa Ricans are largely of European rather than mestizo descent; Spain was the primary country of origin. However, an estimated 10% to 15% of the population is Nicaraguan, of fairly recent arrival and primarily of mestizo origin. Descendants of 19th-century Jamaican immigrant workers constitute an English-speaking minority, about 3% of the population. Few of the native Indians survived European contact; the indigenous population today is less than 1% of the population.

In 1502, on his fourth and last voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus made the first European landfall in the area. Settlement of Costa Rica began in 1522. For nearly 3 centuries, Spain administered the region as part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala under a military governor. The Spanish optimistically called the country “Rich Coast.” Finding little gold or other valuable minerals in Costa Rica, however, the Spanish turned to agriculture.

The small landowners’ relative poverty, the lack of a large indigenous labor force, the population’s ethnic and linguistic homogeneity, and Costa Rica’s isolation from the Spanish colonial centers in Mexico and the Andes all contributed to the development of an autonomous and individualistic agrarian society. An egalitarian tradition also arose. This tradition survived the widened class distinctions brought on by the 19th-century introduction of banana and coffee cultivation and consequent accumulations of local wealth.

Costa Rica joined other Central American provinces in 1821 in a joint declaration of independence from Spain. Although the newly independent provinces formed a Federation, border disputes broke out among them, adding to the region’s turbulent history and conditions. Costa Rica’s northern Guanacaste Province was annexed from Nicaragua in one such regional dispute. In 1838, long after the Central American Federation ceased to function in practice, Costa Rica formally withdrew and proclaimed itself sovereign.

An era of peaceful democracy in Costa Rica began in 1899 with elections considered the first truly free and honest ones in the country’s history. This began a trend that continued until today with only two lapses: in 1917-19, Federico Tinoco ruled as a dictator, and, in 1948, Jose Figueres led an armed uprising in the wake of a disputed presidential election.

With more than 2,000 dead, the 44-day civil war resulting from this uprising was the bloodiest event in 20th-century Costa Rican history, but the victorious junta drafted a constitution guaranteeing free elections with universal suffrage and the abolition of the military. In 1949, Costa Rica dissolved its armed forces and Figueres became a national hero. He won the first election under the new constitution in 1953. Since then, Costa Rica has held 15 presidential elections, the latest in 2010. (Source: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2019.htm)