Freedom Status: Free
Aggregate Score: 91/100 (0 = Least Free, 100 = Most Free)
Freedom Rating: 1.0/7 (1 = Most Free, 7 = Least Free)
Political Rights: 1/7 (1 = Most Free, 7 = Least Free)
Civil Liberties: 1/7 (1 = Most Free, 7 = Least Free)

Quick Facts

Population: 4,900,000
Capital: San José
GDP/capita: $11,260
Press Freedom Status: Free


Costa Rica has a long history of democratic stability, with a multiparty political system and regular rotations of power through free and fair elections. Freedoms of expression and association are robust. The rule of law is generally strong, though past presidents have often been implicated in corruption scandals, and prisons remain overcrowded. Among other ongoing concerns, indigenous people and other ethnic minorities face some forms of discrimination, and land disputes involving indigenous communities persist.

Key Developments in 2016:

  • The opposition National Liberation Party (PLN) won a majority of municipalities in February local elections, while the president's Citizens' Action Party placed a distant third.

  • In May, the Legislative Assembly elected Antonio Álvarez Desanti of the PLN as its president, confirming opposition control over the body for another year.

  • In an October ruling, the Supreme Court rebuked a state-owned bank for withdrawing advertising from a major newspaper over its critical reporting.

Executive Summary:

Opposition parties maintained control over the Legislative Assembly during 2016, complicating President Luis Guillermo Solís's attempts to pass legislation that would address the country's annual fiscal deficits. The deficit for the year was about 5.2 percent of gross domestic product, slightly better than expected, but significant tax and spending reform bills stalled in the legislature.

In a positive sign for transparency and accountability, President Solís compelled Labor Minister Víctor Morales to resign in March, just a day after the newspaper La Nación reported that the minister's niece had been hired by the ministry in violation of an ethics code adopted the previous year.

In July, La Nación accused the state-owned Banco Nacional of withdrawing official advertising as a means of penalizing the paper for a series of investigative reports on alleged irregularities at the bank. An October ruling by the Supreme Court confirmed the newspaper's claims, ordering the bank to adhere to its previous media spending plan and refrain from future attempts at indirect censorship.

The homicide rate continued to increase in 2016, reaching 11.8 per 100,000 residents; the figure was comparable to those in Costa Rica's immediate neighbors, but still far below the rates in the region's worst performers. A total of 579 murders were reported, compared with 566 in 2015. Overcrowding in prisons has been a chronic problem, and the courts intervened on several occasions during 2016 to force the government to ease crowding at specific facilities. Pretrial detainees account for less than a fifth of the prison population.

Explanatory Note:

This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Costa Rica, see Freedom in the World 2016.

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