Thursday, February 11, 2010

Eight Little Known Facts About Costa Rica

The other day when I was writing about Jack Foley it made me interested in doing a little research on Costa Rica. I won’t tell you whether Jack makes it there in the end, but I will tell you something I learned. Some of you might laugh at my ignorance, but I am not afraid to acknowledge I still have plenty to learn.

The thing I discovered, and I am a bit embarrassed to admit it, was that Costa Rica is adjacent to Nicaragua on its northern border, and Panama to the south. The Panama part I knew, but the new thing was this. For some reason I had it lodged in my head that Honduras was to the south of Nicaragua, and El Salvador to its west. Wrong. So, the mental map in my head has been re-adjusted.


So, let’s see what else we know and don’t know about Costa Rica. Note: There will not be a quiz at the end.

1. The name Costa Rica means “Rich Coast.”

2. There is no army in Costa Rica, since 1949.

3. 80% of the 4.5 million people in Costa Rica are Caucasian. Again, I did not know that. I assumed that with Mexico (where we lived for a year) being so pervasively Mestizo (mixed) that all of Latin America was as such. Honduras and El Salvador are 90% Mestizo, Panama 70% and Nicaragua 60%. Makes one wonder how Costa Rica’s pattern is so reversed. There's probably a story here.

4. According to the Happy Planet Index, Costa Rica is the “greenest” country in the world.

5. The current president of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias, won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the civil wars that were creating so much instability in Central America in the 1980’s.

6. The country has an interesting religious stance. Roman Catholicism is the official state religion, but their 1949 Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. 70% of the population is Catholic, though about 45% practice their faith. Almost 14% are Evangelical Protestants.

7. The Economist ranks Costa Rica 35th worldwide in their Quality of Life Index, but the United Nations ranks the country 100th out of 126 for income equality, which means that Quality of Life might vary depending on who you ask. Average annual income is around $12,000 a year.

8. A key player in the reconstruction of Costa Rica as a stable force in the Central Americas was Jose Figueres Guzmin, who came to power in 1948 after a civil war. A “Junta Fundadora” was formed that held power for 18 months and implemented many reforms that helped the country economically and culturally, including
• abolishing the army (as a precaution against the militarism that has perennially thwarted or undercut democracy in Central America)

• enabled women and illiterates to vote
• put into effect basic welfare legislation
• nationalized banks
• outlawed the Communist Party
• directed the writing of their new constitution
• guaranteed public education for all
• gave citizenship to black immigrants' children
• established civil service to eliminate the spoils system in government.

Figueres was re-elected twice more to the presidency (once in the 50's and again in the 70's). In a 1981 interview he said, "In a short time, we decreed 834 reforms that completely changed the physiognomy of the country and brought a deeper and more human revolution than that of Cuba."

I've heard some nice things about Costa Rica lately. Now I know a little more than I did yesterday.

Primary source for these details: Wikipedia


Oasis of the Toucans said...

I looked at every other country on the globe when I planned my escape from the Police State, aka Empire, or Mpyre, as I refer to it.
I live in Costa Rica.
Pura Vida !
Chile was my second choice and Thailand came in third.

Ed Newman said...

Interesting. And where did you escape from?... Congrats on following through. Many people only complain and do not do anything about it.