Political Rights: 1
Civil Liberties: 2
Status: Free
Population: 4,200,000
GNI/Capita: $4,060
Life Expectancy: 79
Religious Groups: Roman Catholic (76.3 percent), Evangelical (13.7 percent), other (10 percent)
Ethnic Groups: White and Mestizo (94 percent), black (3 percent), Amerindian (1 percent), other (2 percent)
Capital: San José


Public support for President Abel Pacheco declined in 2003 over allegations of illegal funding of his 2002 presidential campaign by foreign business interests. While more than half of his cabinet had resigned by mid-year, Pacheco insisted that he would not resign. Meanwhile, an article in the country's constitution banning the reelection of presidents was removed.

Costa Rica achieved independence from Spain in 1821 and became a republic in 1848. The 1949 constitution bans the formation of a national army. In the 1994 elections, Jose Maria Figueres, son of the legendary president Jose "Pepe" Figueres, defeated Miguel Angel Rodriguez of the Social Christian Party (PUSC). The outgoing president, Rafael A. Calderon, Jr., of the PUSC had promoted neoliberal economic policies, and Figueres campaigned against them. Despite his campaign pledges, Figueres's last two years in office saw the passing of free market policies championed by his opponent in the presidential elections. In the 1998 elections, Rodriguez bested Jose Miguel Corrales of the National Liberation Party (PLN).

For many years there has been a consistent flow of Nicaraguans searching for employment in Costa Rica. Simmering tensions with the country's northern neighbor, Nicaragua, were exacerbated in 2001 when the Costa Rican government began to build a seven-foot-high fence along the Penas Blancas border crossing on the Pan-American Highway along the Pacific Coast. Claims that the wall was to control heavy goods traffic in a region that has become a favored route for drug smuggling were dismissed in Nicaragua. There are more than 400,000 Nicaraguans in Costa Rica, many of whom work without papers on farms where they are paid subsistence wages. In 1998, Costa Rica declared a temporary amnesty for these and other illegal Central American immigrants, and more than 200,000 Nicaraguans legalized their status.

After winning the 2002 presidential runoff elections, the government of Pacheco of the PUSC continued to make little progress in passing legislation. Improprieties in the financing of his election further tarnished his image. The 2002 elections were unusual in leading to a four-way draw. After increasing voter dissatisfaction with the two traditional parties – the PUSC and the PLN – two smaller upstarts, the Citizens Action Party (PAC) and the Libertarian Movement (ML), received significant support. Only 69 percent of the population cast votes.

In August 2003, allegations of the illegal financing of President Abel Pacheco's campaign by Panamanian, Nicaraguan, Salvadoran, Taiwanese, and Costa Rican business interests surfaced. Because Pacheco had campaigned on the issues of transparency and a fight against corruption, the existence of secret accounts and illegal financing received extensive media coverage. After claiming that his actions were no worse than those of his predecessors, Pacheco publicly denied in September that he would resign over this scandal. Public opinion support has steadily declined for Pacheco. By mid-year, over half of his cabinet had resigned, often after mass demonstrations were staged against privatization plans.

During 2003, the legislature was embroiled in squabbles over the composition of parliamentary commissions, delaying legislation. In April, the constitutional court voted to eliminate Article 132 of the constitution, which bans presidential reelection.

Despite the relative calm of Costa Rica, the increase in gang-related violent crime led Costa Rican public security forces to coordinate actions with its neighbors in September.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Democratic government change takes place with free and fair elections. There are guarantees for the right to organize political parties. In response to allegations of drug money financing the elections, new campaign laws have been passed to make party funding more transparent. The president and the 57-member Legislative Assembly are elected for a four-year term and are banned from seeking a second term.

The press, radio, and television are generally free. Ninety percent of the population is literate, and there are six major privately owned dailies. Television and radio stations are both public and commercial, with at least four private television stations and more than 90 private radio stations. Access to the Internet is free. Article 309 of the criminal code, which had allowed up to two years in prison for anyone damaging the reputation or insulting the rank of a government official, was repealed in February 2002. Other similar laws are still on the books, including one allowing people who feel that their reputation was impugned by an item of news to sue and get the author fined. Article 149 of the criminal code places the burden on journalists to prove their innocence, and Article 152 punishes anyone who repeats offensive remarks. A recent poll of journalists found that more than a third were threatened with prosecution. The assassination of a prominent journalist sparked protests around the country.

Freedom of religion is recognized, and there is complete academic freedom.

The constitution provides for the right to organize civic organizations. There are numerous nongovernmental organizations active in all parts of society and the country. Labor can organize freely, but there has been a noticeable reluctance to expand labor rights. Minimum wage and social security laws are often ignored, and the consequent fines are insignificant.

The judicial branch is independent, with members elected by the legislature. The legal system includes a Supreme Court, courts of appeals, and district courts. The Supreme Court can rule on the constitutionality of laws and chooses an independent national election commission. There are long delays in the justice system, partly as a result of budget cuts. Prisons are notoriously overcrowded, but generally meet international standards.

A 1994 Police Code and the 2001 Law for Strengthening the Civilian Police were designed to depoliticize and professionalize the police in order to create a permanent career path within the institution. The law replaced military ranks with civilian titles and required the police academy to develop a course and diploma in police administration. The Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of the Presidency share responsibility for law enforcement and national security. Several entities, including the Border Guard, Rural Guard, and the Civil Guard, were merged into a single "public force."

Independent rights monitors report increases in allegations of arbitrary arrest and brutality. Human rights complaints are investigated by an ombudsman who has the authority to issue recommendations for rectification, including sanctions against government bodies, for failure to respect rights. Corruption in the public security forces is not considered a serious problem and, when discovered, is usually dealt with in a decisive manner.

Illegal narcotics trafficking and money laundering have increased in Costa Rica. The country is a regional leader in the enactment of progressive antidrug statutes, including the use of wiretaps, controlled deliveries, and undercover agents. Financial institutions must report any transactions involving more than $10,000. In 1999, the Legislative Assembly passed legislation allowing for U.S. antidrug patrols to operate in Costa Rican waters.

Indigenous rights are not a priority.

The government is making significant efforts to combat human trafficking; Costa Rica is a transit and destination country for trafficked persons. Often, women workers are sexually harassed, made to work overtime without pay, and fired when they become pregnant. A law criminalizing sex with minors was passed in 1999 in an attempt to crack down on the country's growing sex tourism industry. Violence against women and children is a problem, although the government has shown concrete support for programs and policies to combat it.

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