Costa Rica is located both geographically and culturally
between the high cultures of Mesoamerica and the Andean
region. Traces of Paleo-Indian hunters testify to settlement
9000–7000 BC As in other parts of southern Central America
(Lower Central America), the chiefdom of ceramics as well as
metal crafts and crafts of stone and gold were developed
here before the arrival of Europeans. Costa Rica received
cultural influences and migrations from Mesoamerica and
South America. The Swedish Carl V. Hartman performed
epoch-making archaeological excavations in Costa Rica in the
1890s. See also Central America (Prehistory).
The first Europeans arrived in Costa Rica in 1502 with
Columbus's fourth and final voyage. See
abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Costa Rica. Despite the name Costa
Rica, which means 'the rich coast', the country became one
of the poorest parts of the Spanish colonial empire. The
Native American population was neither numerous nor
particularly developed, no significant mineral deposits were
made, the terrain was difficult to reach, and the distance
to more important Spanish possessions great.
Costa Rica was developed as a community of poor Spanish
small farmers with scarce contacts with the outside world.
This poverty made the area an unusual colony, without large
goods but in return egalitarian and ethnically homogeneous.
In 1564, the first permanent city, Cartago, was formed.
Other cities, such as San José, were first built in the 18th
century on the pleasant Meseta Central. In the early 1800s,
Puntarenas, the first city on the Pacific coast, was
Influenced by the events in Mexico and Guatemala, Costa
Rica broke with Spain in 1821. From 1822 to 23 Costa Rica,
like the rest of Central America, was part of the Mexican
empire, then in the Central American Union. In connection
with the break with Mexico, Cartago in 1823 had to
relinquish his position as the nation's capital to San José.
After the disintegration of the Central American Union,
Costa Rica became an independent republic (definitely in
Coffee exports, which took off in the 1840s, began a
period of rapid economic expansion. The population grew, the
fertile land at Meseta Central was increasingly used, the
cities developed and some social differentiation arose.
However, communications were a major problem, and the
Atlantic coast was poorly developed. Railway construction
began in the 1870s and became of central importance.
The first train between Cartago and the port city of
Limón on the Atlantic coast went in 1890. The foreign
entrepreneurs who built the railways were given large
amounts of land and other privileges. Minor C. Keith built
significant banana plantations in the Province of Limón, and
Costa Rica soon became the world's leading banana exporter.
The workforce came mainly from Jamaica and gave rise to a
black minority on the Atlantic coast. Costa Rica's
relatively equal social structure already led to a political
development that was much calmer in the 19th century than in
the rest of Latin America.
During the 20th century, the country was ruled
democratically with the exception of shorter periods.
Political life, which until the 1930s was characterized by
the struggle between conservatives and liberals, then
changed in the social reformist direction. Economic
instability and social unrest paved the way for a new
radical party, Partido Nacional Republicano (PNR),
which won the 1936, 1940 and 1944 elections.
The 1948 election led to a brief civil war, when the
ruling PNR refused to surrender power to the victorious
opposition candidate Otilio Ulate. The uprising, led by José
Figueres, succeeded but about 2,000 people perished, making
the episode the bloodiest in Costa Rican history. The army
was dissolved, the Communist Party was declared illegal, a
new constitution was adopted (1949), women were given the
right to vote, blacks were granted full status and new
social and economic reforms were implemented. Figueres, who
became extremely popular, formed the Partido de
Liberación Nacional (PLN) and was elected president in
1953 and 1970.
Costa Rica has remained a country characterized by
political stability and moderate social reforms. Smaller
parties on the left, including the Communists, have been
allowed since 1970. The economy entered a critical period at
the end of the 1970s, caused by large external debt, growing
inflation, significant trade and budget deficits and falling
export prices. The economic situation caused harsh and
unpopular austerity measures.
In the early 1980s, the government implemented large
savings in public finances, but the economy did not pick up
and foreign debt grew. In the late 1980s, Costa Rica sought
the support of international lenders demanding further
economic reform, which led to major protests against the
Central America was characterized by instability during
this time as a result of the civil wars in El Salvador and
Nicaragua. Costa Rican President Oscar Arias devoted much
effort to brokering peace in neighboring countries when he
considered that the conflicts were one of the causes of the
economic crisis in the region. In 1987, Arias was awarded
the Nobel Peace Prize for her commitment.
The dissatisfaction with the policy pursued led to a
shift in power in 1990 when Christian Democrats candidate
Rafael Calderón won the election. He was the son of a former
president, Calderón Guardia. At the next election in 1994,
the PLN regained power through its candidate José Figueres
Olsen, also his son to a former president, José Figueres.
The economic reforms began to produce results in the form
of increased growth, falling inflation and reduced foreign
debt, but at the expense of social initiatives. Poverty
increased, living standards dropped and the social safety
net was largely dismantled. The combination of a weak
economy and family dynasties within the established parties
led to growing dissatisfaction with the political
establishment. Voter participation declined, protests
increased and new political movements were formed to
challenge the two-party system.
Dissatisfaction was compounded when several corruption
scandals were revealed. In 2004, the presidents Miguel Angel
Rodríguez and José Figueres were indicted and convicted of
receiving bribes from private companies. In 2006, former
President and Peace Prize laureate Oscar Arias was
re-elected with the hope of being able to wash away the
sunny stamp the country received following the corruption
scandals. Arias made new investments in welfare programs and
pushed through a free trade agreement with the United States
by a small margin.
In 2010, Costa Rica got its first female president
through PLN candidate Laura Chinchilla. She continued in
principle the same liberal economic policies as her
representative, but after the government suffered multiple
corruption scandals and Chinchilla failed to implement a
promised tax reform, both she and the party lost a lot in
In April 2014, Luis Guillermo Solís was elected President
of the Citizens Action Party (Partido Acción Ciudadana,
PAC). The PAC was formed by defectors from PLN who were
dissatisfied that the party was moving too far right on the
political scale. Solís promised a clean-up in the state
apparatus to tackle corruption and an economic policy with a
clearer social profile. However, his party PAC has only 13
of the 57 parliamentary seats and therefore needs the
support of its former party colleagues in the PLN, which
remains the largest party.
However, the PLN formed an alliance with other opposition
parties and managed to take control of several important
committees in Parliament as well as the post of President. A
growing budget deficit and increased government debt
prompted President Solís to try to push through a tax
reform, which was also called for by the opposition, but the
parties nevertheless failed to agree on the reform.
By the end of his term, support for Solí's popularity had
dropped significantly. Prior to the 2018 presidential
election, PLN's candidate was considered a favorite. In the
first round, surprising Fabricio Alvarado Muñoz from the
Christian Conservative Party National Restoration Party,
PRN, received the most votes with 25 percent. His support is
linked to a debate held in the country after the
Inter-American Court of Human Rights, headquartered in Costa
Rica, provided support for same-sex marriage which upset
many Catholic voters.
In second place with 22 percent of the votes came PAC
candidate Carlos Alvarado, which was also a surprise given
the low popularity of the incumbent president. In the second
round of voting held April 1, Carlos Alvarado won big with
61 percent of the vote. He took office in May 2018.