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Costa Rica (literally, rich coast) lies in Central America, with coastline on both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. The State is often described as a haven of peace and relative stability in a region blighted by civil war and violence, and has been governed as a democracy since before 1950. In many respects, the State has been a trendsetter with regards to human rights - it was the third country in the world to abolish the death penalty in 1877, and is one of only four Latin American states to have banned corporal punishment of children in all settings. But Costa Rica has also come under criticism for the widespread trafficking of children for sexual exploitation.
The Central American country of Costa Rica, which means “Rich Coast” in Spanish, is nestled between Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south and east. It has coastline on both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. The country's capital is San José.
More than 30 per cent of Costa Rica's territory is given over to national parks which, in addition to its swamps, beaches and tropical forests, makes Costa Rica one of the world's 17 “mega-diverse” countries. Costa Rica is touted as the greenest country on the planet. This is rooted in the fact that some 99 per cent of its energy comes from renewable sources. Its strong environmental record is partly due to the government's decision to combine its ministries of energy and the environment as far back as the 1970s. And in 2007, the government announced Costa Rica's plans to become the first carbon neutral country by 2021.
Population and Language
The population of Costa Rica is 46,398,000, and its people are known colloquially as “Ticos”.
The country is home to eight indigenous groups, according to the National University of Costa Rica: the Cabécares, Bribris, Ngabe, Térras, Borucas, Huetares, Malekus and Chorotegas in addition to people from other indigenous groups, such as the Miskitos in Nicaragua, who have migrated to work in agricultural production in Costa Rica. Indigenous peoples make up 1.7 per cent of the overall population, but in the province of Talamanca they constitute 60 per cent of the population. There is also a significant community of people of Jamaican descent living in Puerto Limón on the Caribbean coast.
Spanish is the national language, but six indigenous languages are also in use and English is spoken around Puerto Limón.
History and Politics
Costa Rica is a democratic republic with the President as chief of state as well as head of government. Costa Ricans elected their first female President, Laura Chinchilla, in February 2010. Voting is compulsory in Costa Rica although this obligation is not enforced.
Costa Rica is often described as a haven of peace for its relative stability in a region blighted by a past of civil war and violence. In fact, its 1949 constitution abolished the national army and former President Oscar Arias (2006-2010) won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in brokering a number of peace agreements in the region during his first term (1986-1990).
Costa Rica's legal system is based on the French Civil Code, with some influence from the Spanish civil law system.
Economically, Costa Rica is a middle-income country which follows moderate free market policies. Its biggest export is bananas; coffee and beef are also important exports. Tourism is the main source of foreign exchange and the country has earned plaudits for pioneering eco-tourism, but continues to battle against its reputation as a centre for child sex tourism.
Costa Rica is a member of a number of local free-trade agreements, including the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and has similar treaties with Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), among others.
Media and Civil Society
Reporters without Borders ranks the country 30 out of 175 (with one being the most free) in its latest worldwide index of press freedom. It commends the country's reputation as having the most respect for human rights and freedom of expression in Latin America, however, media offences relating to defamation require amendments, but the report notes that moves have been made to begin this process.
Human Rights and Children's Rights
On human rights issues, Costa Rica is one of three countries in the Americas – along with Venezuela and Uruguay - to ban the use of corporal punishment in all settings. It was also the third country in the world to abolish the death penalty in 1877. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has its seat in San José.
Despite an overall good record on human rights, Costa Rica still has some recurring issues - most notably with human trafficking, which remains a serious problem. While steps have been taken to rectify this, it continues to particularly effect women and girls, often in a context of sexual exploitation. In addition, concerns have been raised about unequal access to services such as health and education for indigenous and other minority children. As well as a violation of rights, this also contributes to issues such as the disproportionately high child mortality rate amongst indigenous groups.
- Energy Bulletin America: Renewable Energy Not Always Sustainable”, by Gustavo González (July 2004)
- UNDP Human Development Index 2010
- Centro de Conocimiento sobre / de Grupos Étnicos Índigenas Centroamericanos Los Grupos Indígenas Costarricenses
- Reporters without Borders Costa Rica page
- National Report for Costa Rica's Universal Periodic Review, December 2009
- Hauser Global Law School Programme, Globalex,"A Guide to Legal Research in Costa Rica" (updated version 2010)
- BBC country profile for Costa Rica
- TIME Magazine,"Costa Rica's President: It's Not Easy Staying Green"
- UNICEF: Costa Rica country profile
- Centro de Conocimiento sobre / de "Grupos Étnicos Índigenas Centroamericanos", 10 October 2009
- Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos
- Energy Bulletin, "Latin America: Renewable Energy Not Always Sustainable", by Gustavo González (July 2004)
- Population: 4,793,700 (UNDP, 2012)
- Population under 18: 1,405,000 (UNICEF, 2011)
- Number of internet users: 2,000,000 (43.1% of the population) (Internet World Stats, 2010)
- Human Development Index ranking: 62 (UNDP, 2012)
- Happy Planet Index ranking: 1 (Happy Planet Countries: Costa Rica, 2012)