Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
COSTA RICACosta Rica is a longstanding, stable, constitutional democracy with a unicameral Legislative Assembly directly elected in free multiparty elections every 4 years. Jose Maria Figueres of the National Liberation Party won the presidency in the February 1994 elections, in which approximately 80 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. The Government respects constitutional provisions for an independent judiciary. The 1949 Constitution abolished the military forces. The Ministry of Public Security--which includes specialized units such as the antidrug police--and the Ministry of the Presidency share responsibility for law enforcement and national security. In 1996 the Government combined several police units within the Ministry of Public Security, including the Border Guard, the Rural Guard, and the Civil Guard, into a single "public force." Public security forces generally observe procedural safeguards established by law and the Constitution. The market economy is based primarily on agriculture, light industry, and tourism. After a 1 percent decline in 1996, economic growth was projected at 1.5-2 percent. Government fiscal difficulties continued, with the public sector deficit projected to amount to 4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). The Constitution protects the right to private property; however, domestic and foreign property owners encounter considerable difficulty gaining adequate, timely compensation for lands expropriated for national parks and other purposes. The law grants considerable rights to squatters who invade uncultivated land, regardless of who may hold title to the property. Citizens enjoy a wide range of individual rights and freedoms. The Government generally respects the human rights of its citizens, and the law and judiciary provide effective means of dealing with individual instances of abuse. Nonetheless, the judicial system moves very slowly in processing criminal cases, resulting in lengthy pretrial detention for some suspects. Citizens reported 11 instances of physical or verbal abuse by police to the Ombudsman of the Republic. The Government has identified domestic violence as a serious problem and sponsored a public awareness program to deter such abuse. Abuse of children also remains a problem. Traditional patterns of unequal opportunity for women and racial minorities remain, in spite of continuing government and media efforts to advocate change.