Costa Rica is an overall mid-performing democracy. Outside of Impartial Administration, in which it performs at the mid-range, the country exhibits high-range performance on all attributes. It also performs well above the Central American average across all attributes. Mid-range scores in Impartial Administration are driven by weaker performance in Absence of Corruption, which are nonetheless above the global average and similar to most countries in the region. In other indicators, it consistently scores in the top 25 per cent regionally and globally. In the past five years, Costa Rica has experienced significant declines in Civil Liberties (Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Movement). The country’s GDP per capita is the fourth highest in Latin America. Tourism and high-tech exports are the leading sectors in Costa Rica’s economy.
Costa Rica gained independence from Spain in 1821. In 1948, it became one of the few countries in the world without a standing army, choosing to instead invest resources in environmental protection, education and health. This decision has helped Costa Rica race ahead of the region with regard to several development indicators. This approach has contributed to improved public health and primary care in rural regions, with the implementation of a national health plan in the 1970s and the subsequent consolidation of a national health system. It is a leader in environmental protection, with 25 per cent of its land designated as protected national parks. It is also the first tropical country to have reversed deforestation. Since 1949, regular elections have taken place every four years, making Costa Rica one of the longest existing and more stable democracies in the Americas.
White and Mestizo Costa Ricans make up the majority of the country’s population (83.6 per cent), with Mulatto, Indigenous, and Black minorities. Eight Indigenous ethnic groups live in 24 Indigenous territories. While the 1977 Indigenous Act recognized the right to be governed through traditional systems, the imposition of “development associations” as a form of governance has been criticized as inadequate. Notwithstanding legislation to protect Indigenous territories, sometimes violent land disputes with illegal settlers remains a contentious, unresolved issue. Recently, migration has become another salient issue as migrants and asylum seekers (largely) from Nicaragua have strained Costa Rica’s asylum system and sparked a rise in food insecurity and xenophobic protests and disinformation.
Costa Rica has a comprehensive legal framework to ensure gender equality and address gender-based violence, yet the latter remains a significant challenge. Progress has been made in women’s representation in Congress, which nears parity, and in reducing adolescent pregnancy in the past years. In 2020, Costa Rica recognized marriage equality. Further, despite high levels of government social expenditure, inequality and poverty have increased since the mid-1990s, and were exacerbated during the Covid-19 pandemic, given the economy’s reliance on tourism.
April 2023 | President Chaves presents new security plan
On 19 April, President Rodrigo Chaves presented a new security plan that aims to curtail the rise in violent crime in Costa Rica. Government sources have stated that 2022 was the year that recorded the most murders in the country, and data from the first trimester of 2023 indicate a 40 per cent increase in homicides compared to last year. The plan includes measures to increase police presence in the streets, as well as reforms to impose stricter sanctions on illegal gun ownership, facilitate the extradition of violent criminals (even to those countries with which no extradition treaties exist), charge those under the age of 18 as adults in cases of for- hire killings, and restrict penitentiary benefits for those found criminally responsible for violent crime.
October 2022 | Constitutional Chamber determines press freedom violation from high-level officials
In a context of increasing confrontation between President Rodrigo Chaves and members of the press, the country’s Constitutional Chamber granted an appeal promoted by journalists from newspaper La Nación, against the closure of “Parque Viva”, an entertainment centre owned by the same group. Appellants had argued that the measure was taken after President Chaves had publicly vowed to take measures against the newspaper and other media outlets. The Chamber determined an indirect violation against freedom of press had been committed by the president and health secretary, and ordered the annulment of the measure. Days after the ruling, Chaves criticized the Court, claiming that it had favoured private interests to the detriment of the health and safety concerns his administration used to justify the closure. President Chaves has made public remarks undermining press freedom, particularly against outlets that have been critical and have reported on previous accusations of sexual harassment.