This small Central American country has a history of relative political stability, supported in part by a tradition of egalitarianism, strong democratic practices and constitutionally mandated neutrality. Costa Rica generally enjoys higher living standards, literacy rates and other development indicators relative to its neighbors. However, despite strong nationalist identifications with a unique heritage and political system, Costa Rica has many economic, social and environmental issues common with its neighbors.
Lay of the Land: Costa Rica, “the Switzerland of Central America,” lies between Panama and Nicaragua and has both a Pacific and a Caribbean coast. Between the coastal lowlands is a volcanic mountain range with peaks over 12,000 feet high. Costa Rica's Pacific coastline is deeply indented with bays and river outlets. In the mountain plateaus, the weather is spring-like all year; the lowlands, however, are steamy and tropical.
Relations between the United States and Costa Rica have historically been close and friendly, circumventing much of the surrounding turmoil of controversial U.S. military and economic policies in the region. Costa Rica has mostly supported U.S. policies; it broke ties with Cuba in 1961 and has been a critical force in bringing U.S. neoliberal economic reform to Central America.
Former President Abel Pacheco supported the U.S. invasion in Iraq, despite traditional (constitutional) neutrality, while former President Arias, who came to power again in 2006, was a strong vocal critic of the war.
About 42% of Costa Rica’s land is cultivated for agriculture and livestock, while about 38% is jungle, forest or natural vegetation (National Protected Areas constitute about 22 % of total land area and are an increasing ecotourism draw). Faced with decreasing export value and the liberalizing market reforms of the 1980s, the country shifted its agriculture-export-based economy (coffee and bananas) to include development in other sectors, such as manufacturing. Since the 1990s, tourism has been the second-largest industry, after bananas. Given its political stability, Costa Rica is seen as the most attractive Central American environment for foreign investors.
Costa Rica is home to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and was the first country to recognize its jurisdiction.
Appointment: Mar 29, 1853
Note: Commissioned to Central America; declined appointment. Commissioned during a recess of the Senate.
Muni Figueres was appointed as Costa Rica’s Ambassador to the United States in August 2010.