Costa Rica History

Costa Ricans have a colorful history that matches well their national personality.

Contributor Christopher Baker has been kind enough to grant permission to use an excerpt from his book, Moon Handbooks: Costa Rica, that gives a most excellent picture of the history of Costa Rica.  Reading this should give you some idea of why Ticos are very proud of their history and of their accomplishments. 

Moon Handbooks: Costa Rica is available to purchase here or in our Bookstore.

The History of Costa Rica

From his book Moon Handbooks: Costa Rica
By Christopher Baker 
@ 2005 Christopher Baker -Used with permission
About Christopher Baker


When Spanish explorers arrived in what is now Costa Rica at the dawn of the 16th century, they found the region populated by several poorly organized, autonomous tribes. In all, there were probably no more than 20,000 indigenous peoples on 18 September 1502, when Columbus put ashore near current-day Puerto Limón. Although human habitation can be traced back at least 10,000 years, the region had remained a sparsely populated backwater separating the two areas of high civilization: Mesoamerica and the Andes. High mountains and swampy lowlands had impeded the migration of the advanced cultures.

There are few signs of large organized communities, no monumental stone architecture lying half-buried in the luxurious undergrowth or planned ceremonial centers of comparable significance to those elsewhere in the isthmus. The region was a potpourri of distinct cultures. In the east along the Caribbean seaboard and along the southern Pacific shores, the peoples shared distinctly South American cultural traits. These groups--the Caribs on the Caribbean and the Borucas and Chibchas in the southwest--were seminomadic hunters and fishermen who raised yucca, squash, and tubers, chewed coca, and lived in communal village huts surrounded by fortified palisades. The matriarchal Chibchas had a highly developed slave system and were accomplished goldsmiths. They were also responsible for the fascinating, perfectly spherical granite "balls" of unknown purpose found in large numbers at burial sites in the Río Terraba valley, Caño Island, and the Golfito region. They had no written language.

The largest of Costa Rica's archaeological sites is at Guayabo, on the slopes of Turrialba, 56 km east of San José, where an ancient city is currently being excavated. Dating from perhaps as early as 1000 B.C. to A.D. 1400, Guayabo is thought to have housed as many as 10,000 inhabitants. The most interesting archaeological finds throughout the nation relate to pottery and metalworking. The art of gold working was practiced throughout Costa Rica for perhaps one thousand years before the Spanish conquest, and in the highlands was in fact more advanced than in the rest of the isthmus.

The tribes here were the Corobicís, who lived in small bands in the highland valleys, and the Nahuatl, who had recently arrived from Mexico at the time that Columbus stepped ashore. In late prehistoric times, trade in pottery from the Nicoya Peninsula brought this area into the Mesoamerican cultural sphere, and a culture developed among the Chorotegas--the most numerous of the region's indigenous groups--that in many ways resembled the more advanced cultures farther north.

In fact, the Chorotegas had originated in southern Mexico before settling in Nicoya early in the 14th century (their name means "Fleeing People"). They developed towns with central plazas; brought with them an accomplished agricultural system based on beans, corns, squash, and gourds; had a calendar, wrote books on deerskin parchment, and produced highly developed ceramics and stylized jade figures (much of it now in the Jade Museum in San José). Like the Mayans and Aztecs, too, the militaristic Chorotegas had slaves and a rigid class hierarchy dominated by high priests and nobles.


The First Arrivals

When Columbus anchored his storm-damaged vessel in the Bay of Cariari on his fourth voyage to the New World, he was welcomed and treated with great hospitality. The coastal Indians sent out two girls, "the one about eight, the other about 14 years of age," Columbus's son Ferdinand recorded. "The girls . . . always looked cheerful and modest. So the Admiral gave them good usage. . ."

In his Lettera Rarissima to the Spanish king, Columbus gave a different tale of events: "As soon as I got there they sent right out two girls, all dressed up; the elder was hardly eleven, the other seven, both behaving with such lack of modesty as to be no better than whores. As soon as they arrived, I gave orders that they be presented with some of our trading truck and sent them directly ashore."

The Indians also gave Columbus gold. "I saw more signs of gold in the first two days than I saw in Española during four years," his journal records. He called the region La Huerta ("The Garden"). The prospect of loot drew adventurers whose numbers were reinforced after Balboa's discovery of the Pacific in 1513. To these explorers the name Costa Rica must have seemed a cruel hoax. Floods, swamps, and tropical diseases stalked them in the sweltering lowlands. Fierce, elusive Indians harassed them maddeningly. And, with few exceptions, there was no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

In 1506, Ferdinand of Spain sent a governor, Diego de Nicuesa, to colonize the Atlantic coast of Veragua. He got off to a bad start by running aground off the coast of Panama and was forced to march north, enduring a welcome that was less hospitable than that of Columbus. Antagonized Indian bands used guerrilla tactics to slay the strangers and willingly burnt their own crops to deny them food. Nicuesa set the tone for future expeditions by foreshortening his own cultural lessons with the musket ball. Things seemed more promising when an expedition under Gil Gonzalez Davila set off from Panama in 1522 to settle the region. It was Davila's expedition, given quantities of gold, that nicknamed the land Costa Rica, the "Rich Coast."

Davila's Catholic priests also supposedly managed to convert many Indians to Christianity. But once again, sickness and starvation were the price: the expedition reportedly lost more than 1,000 men. Later colonizing expeditions on the Caribbean similarly failed miserably; the coastal settlements dissolved amidst internal acrimony, the taunts of Indians, and the debilitating impact of pirate raids. Two years later, Francisco Fernandez de Cordova founded the first Spanish settlement on the Pacific, at Bruselas, near present-day Puntarenas. It lasted less than two years.

For the next four decades Costa Rica was virtually left alone. The conquest of Peru by Pizarro in 1532 and the first of the great silver strikes in Mexico in the 1540s turned eyes away from southern Central America. Guatemala became the administrative center for the Spanish main in 1543, when the captaincy-general of Guatemala, answerable to the viceroy of New Spain (Mexico), was created with jurisdiction from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to the empty lands of Costa Rica.

By the 1560s several Spanish cities had consolidated their position farther north and, prompted by Philip II of Spain, the representatives in Guatemala thought it time to settle Costa Rica and Christianize the natives. By then it was too late for the latter. Barbaric treatment and European epidemics--opthalmia, smallpox, and tuberculosis--had already reaped the Indians like a scythe, and had so antagonized the survivors that they took to the forests and eventually found refuge amid the remote valleys of the Talamanca Mountains. Only in the Nicoya Peninsula did there remain any significant Indian population, the Chorotegas, who soon found themselves chattel on Spanish land.

In 1562, Juan Vásquez de Coronado--the true conquistador of Costa Rica--arrived as governor. He treated the surviving Indians more humanely and moved the existing Spanish settlers into the Cartago Valley, where the temperate climate and rich volcanic soils offered the promise of crop cultivation. Cartago was established as the national capital in 1563. The economic and social development of the Spanish provinces was traditionally the work of the soldiers, who were granted encomiendas, land holdings which allowed for rights to the use of indigenous serfs.

In the highlands, land was readily available, but there was no Indian labor to work it. Without native slave labor or the resources to import slaves, the colonists were forced to work the land themselves (even Coronado had to work his own plot of land to survive). Without gold or export crops, trade with other colonies was infrequent at best. Money in fact became so scarce that the settlers eventually reverted to the Indian method of using cacao beans as currency. After the initial impetus given by the discovery, Costa Rica lapsed into being a lowly Cinderella of the Spanish empire.

Thus, the early economy evolved slowly under conditions that didn't favor the development of the large colonial-style hacienda and feudal system of other Spanish enclaves. The settlers had to make do with clearing and tilling primitive plots for basic subsistence. A full century after its founding, Cartago could boast little more than a few score adobe houses and a single church, which all perished when Volcán Irazú erupted in 1723.

Gradually, however, prompted by an ecclesiastical edict that ordered the populace to resettle near churches, towns took shape around churches. Heredia (Cubujuquie) was founded in 1717, San José (Villaneuva de la Boca del Monte) in 1737, and Alajuela (Villa Hermosa) in 1782. Later, exports of wheat and tobacco placed the colonial economy on a sounder economic basis and encouraged the intensive settlement that characterizes the Meseta Central today.

Intermixing with the native population was not a common practice. In other colonies, Spaniard married native and a distinct class system arose, but mixed-bloods and ladinos (mestizos) represent a much smaller element in Costa Rica than they do elsewhere in the isthmus. All this had a leveling effect on colonial society. As the population grew, so did the number of poor families who had never benefited from the labor of encomienda Indians or suffered the despotic arrogance of criollo landowners. Costa Rica, in the traditional view, became a "rural democracy," with no oppressed mestizo class resentful of the maltreatment and scorn of the Creoles. Removed from the mainstream of Spanish culture, the Costa Ricans became very individualistic and egalitarian.

Not all areas of the country, however, fit the model of rural democracy. Nicoya and Guanacaste on the Pacific side offered an easy overland route from Nicaragua to Panama and were administered quite separately in colonial times from the rest of present-day Costa Rica. They fell within the Nicaraguan sphere of influence, and large cattle ranches or haciendas arose. Revisions to the encomienda laws in 1542, however, limited the amount of time that Indians were obliged to provide their labor; Indians were also rounded up and forcibly concentrated into settlements distant from the haciendas. The large estate owners thus began to import African slaves, who became an important part of the labor force on the cattle ranches that were established in the Pacific northwest. The cattle-ranching economy and the more traditional class-based society that arose persist today.

Some three centuries of English associations and of neglect by the Spanish authorities have also created a very different cultural milieu all along the Caribbean coast of Central America. On the Caribbean of Costa Rica, cacao plantations--the most profitable activity of the colonial period--became well established. Eventually large-scale cacao production gave way to small-scale sharecropping, and then to tobacco as the cacao industry went into decline. Spain closed the Costa Rican ports in 1665 in response to piracy, thereby cutting off seaborne sources of legal trade. Such artificial difficulties to economic development compounded those created by nature. Smuggling flourished, however, for the largely unincorporated Caribbean coast provided a safe haven to buccaneers and smugglers, whose strongholds became 18th-century shipping points for logwood and mahogany. The illicit trade helped weaken central authority. The illusion of Central American colonial unity was also weakened in the waning stages of the Spanish empire as interest in, and the ability to maintain, the rigid administrative structure declined.




Independence of Central America from Spain on 15 September 1821 came on the coattails of Mexico's declaration earlier in the same year. Independence had little immediate effect, however, for Costa Rica had required only minimal government during the colonial era and had long gone its own way. In fact, the country was so out of touch that the news that independence had been granted reached Costa Rica a full month after the event. A hastily convened provincial council voted for accession to Mexico; in 1823, the other Central American nations proclaimed the United Provinces of Central America, with their capital in Guatemala City.

After the declaration, effective power lay in the hands of the separate towns of the isthmus, and it took several years for a stable pattern of political alignment to emerge. The four leading cities of Costa Rica felt as independent as had the city-states of ancient Greece, and the conservative and aristocratic leaders of Cartago and Heredia soon found themselves at odds with the more progressive republican leaders of San José and Alajuela. The local quarrels quickly developed into civic unrest and, in 1823, to civil war. After a brief battle in the Ochomogo Hills, the republican forces of San José were victorious. They rejected Mexico, and Costa Rica joined the federation with full autonomy for its own affairs. Guanacaste voted to secede from Nicaragua and join Costa Rica the following year.

From this moment on, liberalism in Costa Rica had the upper hand. Elsewhere in Central America, conservative groups tied to the Church and the erstwhile colonial bureaucracy spent generations at war with anticlerical and laissez-faire liberals, and a cycle of civil wars came to dominate the region. By contrast, in Costa Rica colonial institutions had been relatively weak and early modernization of the economy propelled the nation out of poverty and lay the foundations of democracy far earlier than elsewhere in the isthmus. While other countries turned to repression to deal with social tensions, Costa Rica turned toward reform. Military plots and coups weren't unknown--they played a large part in determining who came to rule throughout the next century--but the generals usually were puppets used as tools to install favored individuals (usually surprisingly progressive civilian allies) representing the interests of particular cliques.

Early Liberalism

Juan Mora Fernandez, elected the nation's first chief of state in 1824, set the tone by ushering in a nine-year period of progressive stability. He established a sound judicial system, founded the nation's first newspaper, and expanded public education. He also encouraged coffee cultivation and gave free land grants to would-be coffee growers. The nation, however, was still riven by rivalry, and in September 1835 the War of the League broke out when San José was attacked by the three other towns. They were unsuccessful and the national flag was planted firmly in San José (see "San José--History" for more details).

Braulio Carrillo, who had taken power as a benevolent dictator, established an orderly public administration and new legal codes to replace colonial Spanish law. In 1838, he withdrew Costa Rica from the Central American federation and proclaimed complete independence. In a final show of federalist strength, the Honduran general Francisco Morazan toppled Carrillo in 1842. It was too late. The seeds of independence had taken firm root. Morazan's extra national ambitions and the military draft and direct taxes he imposed soon inspired his overthrow. He was executed within the year.

Coffee Is King

By now, the reins of power had been taken up by a nouveau elite: the coffee barons, whose growing prosperity led to rivalries between the wealthiest family factions, who vied with each other for political dominance. In 1849, the cafetaleros announced their ascendancy by conspiring to overthrow the nation's first president, José María Castro, an enlightened man who initiated his administration by founding a high school for girls and sponsoring freedom of the press. They chose as Castro's successor Juan Rafael Mora, one of the most powerful personalities among the new coffee aristocracy. Mora is remembered for the remarkable economic growth that marked his first term, and for "saving" the nation from the imperial ambitions of the American adventurer William Walker during his second term (which Mora gained by manipulating the elections). In a display of ingratitude, his countryfolk ousted him from power in 1859; the masses blamed him for the cholera epidemic which claimed the lives of one in every 10 Costa Ricans in the wake of the Walker saga, while the elites were horrified when Mora moved to establish a national bank, which would have undermined their control of credit to the coffee producers. After failing in his own coup against his successor, he was executed . . . a prelude to a second cycle of militarism, for the war of 1856 had introduced Costa Rica to the buying and selling of generals and the establishment of a corps of officers possessing an inflated aura of legitimacy.


The Guardia Legacy

The 1860s were marred by power struggles among the ever-powerful coffee elite supported by their respective military cronies. General Tomás Guardia, however, was his own man. In April 1870, he overthrew the government and ruled for 12 years as an iron-willed military strongman backed up by a powerful centralized government of his own making.

True to Costa Rican tradition, Guardia proved himself a progressive thinker and a benefactor of the people. His towering reign set in motion forces that shaped the modern liberal-democratic state. Hardly characteristic of 19th-century despots, he abolished capital punishment, managed to curb the power of the coffee barons, and tamed the use of the army for political means. He utilized coffee earnings and taxation to finance roads and public buildings. And in a landmark revision to the Constitution in 1869, he made "primary education for both sexes obligatory, free, and at the cost of the Nation."

Guardia had a dream: to make the transport of coffee more efficient and more profitable by forging a railroad linking the Central Valley with the Atlantic coast, and thus with America and Europe. The terrain through which he proposed to build his railroad was so forbidding that it gave rise to a saying: "He who once makes the trip to the Caribbean coast is a hero; he who makes it a second time is a fool." Fulfillment of Guardia's dream was the triumph of one man--Minor Keith of Brooklyn, New York--over a world of risks and logistical nightmares (see opposite page).

Guardia's enlightened administration was a watershed for the nation. The aristocrats gradually came to understand that liberal, orderly, and stable regimes profited their business interests while the instability inherent in reliance on militarism was damaging to it. And the extension of education to every citizen (and the espousal in the free press of European notions of liberalism) raised the consciousness of the masses and made it increasingly difficult for the patrimonial elite to exclude the population from the political process.


The shift to democracy was witnessed in the election called by President Bernardo Soto in 1889--commonly referred to as the first "honest" election, with popular participation; women and blacks, however, were still excluded from voting. To Soto's surprise, his opponent José Joaquin Rodriguez won. The masses rose and marched in the streets to support their chosen leader after the Soto government decided not to recognize the new president. The Costa Ricans had spoken, and Soto stepped down.

During the course of the next two generations, militarism gave way to peaceful transitions to power. Presidents, however, attempted to amend the Constitution to continue their rule and even dismissed uncooperative legislatures. Both Rodriguez and his hand-picked successor, Rafael Iglesias, for example, turned dictatorial while sponsoring material progress. Iglesias's successor, Ascension Esquivel, who took office in 1902, even exiled three contenders for the 1906 elections and imposed his own choice for president: Gonzalez Visquez. And Congress declared the winner of the 1914 plebiscite ineligible and named its own choice, noncontender Alfredo Gonzalez Flores, as president.

Throughout all this the country had been at peace, the army in its barracks. In 1917, democracy faced its first major challenge. At that time, the state collected the majority of its revenue from the less wealthy. Flores's bill to establish direct, progressive taxation based on income and his espousal of state involvement in the economy had earned the wrath of the elites. They decreed his removal. Minister of War Federico Tinoco Granados seized power. Tinoco ruled as an iron-fisted dictator and soon squandered the support of U.S. business interests. More importantly, Costa Ricans had come to accept liberty as their due; they were no longer prepared to acquiesce in oligarchic restrictions. Women and high-school students led a demonstration which called for his ouster, and Flores stepped down.

There followed a series of unmemorable administrations culminating in the return of two previous leaders, Ricardo Jimenez and Gonzalez Visquez, who alternated power for 12 years through the 1920s and '30s. The apparent tranquility was shattered by the Depression and the social unrest which it engendered. Old-fashioned paternalistic liberalism had failed to resolve social ills such as malnutrition, unemployment, low pay, and poor working conditions. The Depression distilled all these issues, especially after a dramatic communist-led strike against the United Fruit Company brought tangible gains. Calls grew shrill for reforms.




The decade of the 1940s and its climax, the civil war, mark a turning point in Costa Rican history: from paternalistic government by traditional rural elites to modernistic, urban-focused statecraft controlled by bureaucrats, professionals, and small entrepreneurs. The dawn of the new era was spawned by Rafael Angel Calderón Guardia, a profoundly religious physician and a president (1940-44) with a social conscience. In a period when neighboring Central American nations were under the yoke of tyrannical dictators, Calderón promulgated a series of farsighted reforms. His legacy included a stab at land "reform" (the landless could gain title to unused land by cultivating it), establishment of a guaranteed minimum wage, paid vacations, unemployment compensation, progressive taxation, plus a series of constitutional amendments codifying workers' rights. Calderón also founded the University of Costa Rica.

Calderón's social agenda was hailed by the urban poor and leftists and despised by the upper classes, his original base of support. His early declaration of war on Germany, seizure of German property, and imprisonment of Germans further upset his conservative patrons, many of whom were of German descent. World War II stalled economic growth at a time when Calderón's social programs called for vastly increased public spending. The result was rampant inflation, which eroded his support among the middle and working classes. Abandoned, Calderón crawled into bed with two unlikely partners: the Catholic Church and the communists (Popular Vanguard Party). Together they formed the United Social Christian Party.

The Prelude To Civil War

In 1944, Calderón was replaced by his puppet, Teodoro Picado, in an election widely regarded as fraudulent. Picado's uninspired administration failed to address rising discontent throughout the nation. Intellectuals, distrustful of Calderón's "unholy" alliance, joined with businessmen, campesinos, and labor activists and formed the Social Democratic Party, dominated by the emergent professional middle classes eager for economic diversification and modernization. In its own strange amalgam, the SDP allied itself with the traditional oligarchic elite. The country was thus polarized. Tensions mounted.

Street violence finally erupted in the run-up to the 1948 election, with Calderón on the ballot for a second presidential term. When he lost to his opponent Otilio Ulate by a small margin, the government claimed fraud. Next day, the building holding many of the ballot papers went up in flames, and the calderonista-dominated legislature annulled the election results. Ten days later, on 10 March 1948, the "War of National Liberation" plunged Costa Rica into civil war.

"Don Pepe"--Savior Of The Nation

The popular myth suggests that José María ("Don Pepe") Figueres Ferrer--42-year-old coffee farmer, engineer, economist, and philosopher--raised a "ragtag army of university students and intellectuals" and stepped forward to topple the government that had refused to step aside for its democratically elected successor. In actuality, Don Pepe's revolution had been long in the planning; the 1948 election merely provided a good excuse.

Don Pepe had been exiled to Mexico in 1942--the first political outcast since the Tinoco era--after being seized halfway through a radio broadcast denouncing Calderón. Figueres formed an alliance with other exiles, returned to Costa Rica in 1944, began calling for an armed uprising, and arranged for foreign arms to be airlifted in to groups being trained by Guatemalan military advisors.

Supported by the governments of Guatemala and Cuba, Don Pepe's insurrectionists captured the cities of Cartago and Puerto Limón and were poised to pounce on San José when Calderón, who had little heart for the conflict, capitulated. (The government's pathetically trained soldiers--aided and armed by the Somoza regime in Nicaragua--included communist banana workers from the lowlands; they wore blankets over their shoulders against the cold of the highlands, earning Calderon supporters the nickname mariachis.) The 40-day civil war claimed over 2,000 lives, most of them civilians.


Foundation Of The Modern State

Don Pepe became head of the Founding Junta of the Second Republic of Costa Rica. As leader of the revolutionary junta, he consolidated Calderón's progressive social reform program and added his own landmark reforms: he banned the press and Communist Party, introduced suffrage for women and full citizenship for blacks, revised the Constitution to outlaw a standing army (including his own), established a presidential term limit, and created an independent Electoral Tribunal to oversee future elections. Figueres also shocked the elites by nationalizing the banks and insurance companies, a move that paved the way for state intervention in the economy.

On a darker note, Don Pepe reneged on the peace terms that guaranteed the safety of the calderonistas: Calderón and many of his followers were exiled to Mexico, special tribunals confiscated their property, and, in a sordid episode, many prominent left-wing officials and activists were abducted and murdered. (Supported by Nicaragua, Calderón twice attempted to invade Costa Rica and topple his nemesis, but was each time repelled. Incredibly, he was allowed to return, and even ran for president unsuccessfully in 1962!)

Then, by a prior agreement which established the interim junta for 18 months, Figueres returned the reins of power to Otilio Ulate, the actual winner of the '48 election and a man not even of Don Pepe's own party. Costa Ricans later rewarded Figueres with two terms as president, in 1953-57 and 1970-74. Figueres dominated politics for the next two decades. A socialist, he used his popularity to build his own electoral base and founded the Partido de Liberacion Nacional (PLN), which became the principal advocate of state-sponsored development and reform. He died on 8 June 1990, a national hero.

The Contemporary Scene

Social and economic progress since 1948 has helped return the country to stability, and though post-civil war politics have reflected the play of old loyalties and antagonisms, elections have been free and fair. With only two exceptions, the country has ritualistically alternated its presidents between the PLN and the opposition Social Christians. Successive PLN governments have built on the reforms of the calderonista era, and the 1950s and '60s saw a substantial expansion of the welfare state and public school system, funded by economic growth. The intervening conservative governments have encouraged private enterprise and economic self-reliance through tax breaks, protectionism, subsidized credits, and other macroeconomic policies. The combined results were a generally vigorous economic growth (see "Economy," below) and the creation of a welfare state which had grown by 1981 to serve 90% of the population, absorbing 40% of the national budget in the process and granting the government the dubious distinction of being the nation's biggest employer.

By 1980, the bubble had burst. Costa Rica was mired in an economic crisis: epidemic inflation, crippling currency devaluation, soaring oil bills and social welfare costs, plummeting coffee, banana, and sugar prices, and the disruptions to trade caused by the Nicaraguan war (Costa Rica became a base first for Sandinista and then for contra activities, as its war-torn northern neighbor swung from rightist to leftist regimes). When large international loans then came due, Costa Rica found itself burdened overnight with world's the greatest per-capita debt.
In February 1986, Costa Ricans elected as their president a relatively young sociologist and economist-lawyer called Oscar Arias Sanchez. Arias's electoral promise had been to work for peace. Immediately, he put his energies into resolving Central America's regional conflicts. He attempted to expel the contras from Costa Rica and enforce the nation's official proclamation of neutrality made in 1983 (much to the chagrin of the U.S. government; see "Costa Rica And The Nicaraguan Revolution"). Arias's tireless efforts were rewarded in 1987, when his Central American peace plan was signed by the five Central American presidents in Guatemala City--an achievement that earned the Costa Rican president the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize, and for which the whole nation is justly proud.

In February 1990, Rafael Angel Calderón Fournier, a conservative lawyer and candidate for the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), won a narrow victory with 51% of the vote. He was inaugurated 50 years to the day after his father, the great reformer, was named president. Restoring Costa Rica's economy to sound health in the face of a debilitating national debt remains Calderón's paramount goal. Under the aegis of pressure from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, Calderón has initiated a series of austerity measures aimed at redressing the country's huge deficit and national debt.

Christopher Baker

Some interesting facts:

  • The national debt referred to in Mr. Baker's article has now bloomed to $10 billion, and has become a huge problem for Costa Rica.  To retire this debt would require a payment of almost $3.000 per person.  Servicing of this debt is so expensive that only a small portion of the country's income is actually being spent on maintaining Costa Rica.
  • Rafael Angel Calderón Fournier, President of Costa Rica from 1990-1994 is now in jail.  He is being investigated for possibly accepting payments from the French company Alcatel that was awarded a large cellular phone contract here in Costa Rica.
  • Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría, President of Costa Rica from 1998-2002 is also in jail on the same charges.
  • José María Figueres, President of Costa Rica from 1994-1998 is in Switzerland and has thus far refused to return to Costa Rica to answer questions from the prosecutor (fiscal) in the above two cases as to the "consulting fee of over $900,000 he admits receiving from Alcatel for the same cellular phone contract.


About Christopher Baker

Christopher Baker, author of the Costa Rica Handbook Christopher Baker was born and raised in Yorkshire, England. After receiving a B.A. in Geography at University College London (including two Sahara research expeditions and an exchange program at Krakow University, Poland), he earned Masters degrees in Latin American Studies from Liverpool University, and in Education from the Institute of Education, London University. Baker began his writing career in 1978 as a Contributing Editor on Latin America for _Land and Liberty_, a London-based political journal. In 1980, he received a Scripps-Howard Foundation Scholarship in Journalism to attend the University of California, Berkeley. Since 1983 he has made his living as a professional travel and natural-sciences writer, and has been published in over 150 publications worldwide. Baker is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and has received several awards for outstanding writing, including the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. He lives in Oakland, California.



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