Costa Rica

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A small country on the Central American isthmus, between Nicaragua and Panama.


It has a Caribbean coast on its north-east and a Pacific coast on its south-west. While the coastal lowlands have a tropical climate, a range of volcanic mountains occupies the centre of the country, providing plateaux which have a mild climate. There are several peaks over 3350 m (11,000 feet).


The soil is very fertile and supports livestock farming and some of the finest coffee in the world. Bananas are grown and cattle-rearing is important. The chemical and textile industries also contribute to the economy.


Costa Rica was discovered by Columbus during his fourth voyage to the New World in 1502. Permanent settlement did not occur until 1564 when Juan Vásquez de Coronado, with settlers from Nicaragua, founded Cartago on the Meseta Central. The small Indian population fell victim to disease, leaving the ethnic make-up of the area mostly European. Costa Rica formed part of the captaincy-general of Guatemala until 1821, when it joined the independent Mexican empire (1821–23) and then the United Provinces of Central America (1823–38). In 1838 it became an independent republic. A policy of isolation and stability, together with agricultural fertility, brought considerable British and US investment in the 19th century. Apart from the brief dictatorship of Federico Tinoco Granados (1917–19), Costa Rica was remarkable in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for its democratic tradition. After World War II left-wing parties emerged, including the communist. The socialist Presidents Otilio Ulate (1948–53) and José Figueres (1953–58; 1970–74), tried to disband the army, nationalize banks, and curb US investment. A new constitution, granting universal suffrage and abolishing the armed forces, was introduced in 1949. Political tensions in the 1970s were aggravated by economic problems and by the arrival of many fugitives from neighbouring states. President Luis Alberto Monge (1982–86) had to impose severe economic restraint. In 1987 President Oscar Arias Sánchez (1986–90) put forward a peace-plan for Central America, to which President Reagan reacted by reducing US aid to the country. Severe economic difficulties continued, with an IMF-imposed austerity programme and widespread industrial unrest in the early 1990s. However, the economic position improved from the late 1990s.


San José


51,100 sq km (19,730 sq miles)


4,221,000 (2005)


1 Costa Rican colón = 100 céntimos


Roman Catholic 88.6%; other (mostly Protestant) 11.4%

Ethnic Groups:

White 77.0%; Mestizo 17.0%; Black/Mulatto 3.0%; East Asian (mostly Chinese) 2.0%; Amerindian 1.0%


Spanish (official); other minority languages

International Organizations:


Subjects: World History.

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