What is the Costa Rica Government Like?

Message from Nick Halverson

One of the first questions that is asked by prospective customers of ours is about the Costa Rican government. Typically one of the following is asked:

  • What type of government does Costa Rica have? Is Costa Rica a democracy? What is the Costa Rica government like?
  • Is the government stable?

The following information should give anyone who is interested in owning or investing in Costa Rica the peace of mind that it is a great place to own real estate, to visit or to retire in.

What type of government does Costa Rica have? Is it stable?  

costa rica flag

Costa Rica flag.

Costa Rica is a democracy. Their current form of government is based off the 1949 Costa Rica Constitution that was written in response to World War II and a small Civil War where 2,000 people died (or about the same number of shooting victims every year in Chicago, IL, USA). The Constitution of 1949 abolishes the military, provides public education, public healthcare and provides all the same rights to foreigners as citizens – including the ability to own fully titled property (unlike Mexico)!

In fact, because Costa Rica does not have a military (or air force), the government is free to spend more money on education. Costa Rican’s are some of the best educated people in the world with literacy rates over 95% and an increasing rate of bilingual (English and Spanish) citizens. I have noticed a big difference in the number of people who speak English over the past decade.

The people elect the President through a popular vote. This makes sense given the geographic size of Costa Rica (size of West Virginia) and its population ~ 5 million.

A piece of history: when the United States Constitution was signed in 1787, the population in the USA was around 4 million people.

Costa Rica is home to one of the longest lasting democracies in the world.  Costa Rica’s independence began in 1848 when Dr. Castro Madriz signed documents separating Costa Rica from the Central American Federation, and formed the Republic of Costa Rica.

The people of Costa Rica are proud of their democracy and their political party system is very fluid. Unlike the United States

Nick Halverson Rosibel Ramos Madrigal Hanz Cruz

Hanz Cruz, Diputada Rosibel Ramos Madrigal and Nick Halverson, inside Dpta Madrigal’s office at the Costa Rican Congress

where there is only two political parties that influence policy, in Costa Rica there are over a dozen. In fact, for the the 2018 federal elections, there are 16 political parties!!! This means that when the people of Costa Rica are frustrated with the policies being made, they don’t simply sit around and complain, they actively form new parties and then actively campaign for support.

Costa Rica has a unicameral Congress. This simply means they have one group of people in their Congress. By way of comparison, the United States of America has a bicameral Congress (two chambers in the legislative branch: Senate and the House of Representatives). Costa Rica’s Congress has 57 members (called ‘diputados’) and they are the highest ranking members of the legislative branch. I have visited the Congress several times and enjoy seeing democracy in action.

I have met two President’s of Costa Rica and the experiences were exactly what you might think they would be if you’ve spent any time in Costa Rica. Very relaxed, informal and pleasant. President Arias was at an inauguration ceremony where the government was opening a new water system for a community. I was invited by our Project Manager, Hanz Cruz, to the event who was there on official business as Vice-Mayor of the region. After the formalities, Hanz invited me to meet President Arias. I was nervous since I had never met a President of a country before, and I had seen plenty of videos of what it’s like simply shaking hands with the President of the United States in a public setting with all of the security in black suites keeping everyone away. In Costa Rica, it was just the opposite. President Arias was standing still, shaking

Nick Halverson Oscar Arias

Nick Halverson and President Oscar Arias when Arias was President.

hands and talking with constituents. There was one person next to him with a coiled wire leading to his ear (like you see in the movies) providing protection, but this one man couldn’t stop the hundreds of people that were there if something went wrong. Hanz moved me next to the President and introduced me in Spanish. They spoke for about 30 seconds and then President Arias turned to me and in perfect English asked, “What do you think of Costa Rica? Would you like a photo?”

We spoke for about 30 seconds, had a photo taken with him, and he moved on. I was amazed how accessible, easy going and friendly he and his team were. His English was perfect – he had taught at Oxford University after all.

The second experience I had was with a former President who I met at a restaurant during a private party. He didn’t have any security with him and if you didn’t know who he was, you would have thought he was just another patron. I love politics, so I took the opportunity to get a photo with him too!

Hanz Cruz Luis Guillermo Solis

Hanz Cruz (left), Costa Rica President Luis Guillermo Solis and Perez Zeledon Mayor Jefry Montoya meet to discuss growth plans for the region (2017)

Our Project Manager Hanz Cruz is currently (2017) the President of San Isidro del General, Perez Zeledon, San Jose, Costa Rica, ‘Consejo’ (City Council). In this capacity he routinely has meetings with high-ranking officials, and recently had a meeting with the current President of Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solis. During the meeting they discussed numerous topics, including tourism in the area.

Costa Rica is a wonderful place to live, with an extremely strong democracy, making a perfect place to own real estate.

Why Costa Rica does not celebrate Memorial Day

Why Costa Rica does not celebrate Memorial Day | Costa Rica, Real Estate, News, Travel.

One of the biggest holiday’s in the United States is Memorial Day. Memorial Day was started during the Civil War to honor the fallen soldiers of the Battle of Gettysburg. After the war, remembrances and recognition of the soldiers who died continued to grow. On May 5, 1868, three years after the end of the Civil War, General Logan (commander of the Grand Army of the Republic) issued the following order to take place on May 30, 1868 “for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion….” 
Since that time the United States, and just about every other country, has some form or day to honor their fallen soldiers. 

This brings me to Costa Rica and the answer to the headline. The reason Costa Rica doesn’t have such a day is that they currently do not have any active soldiers. There are, however, several thousand veterans still alive from the Costa Rican Civil War that took place in March 1948. It is tough to keep a tradition alive when the only ones who “qualify” are not asking for a special day and are dying off.

Costa Rica Civil War Veteran Israel Carvajal Zarate

War and fighting are not as prominent in this country of 4.3 million people as other places in the world. In fact, I have spoken with one of those Costa Rican Civil War veterans. I asked about his uniform and any medals he may still have. He simply laughed. He told me that during that time, they didn’t have uniforms and the soldiers were more concerned about eating since they were out in the country side with no food. A small group of soldiers in each group would be given a gun in the morning, but then they would have to return it in the evening. 

Here’s a brief review of the Costa Rican Civil War:
The Costa Rican Civil War started after the Presential election of 1948. The candidate who “won” the election was namded One of the candidates, man “won” the election Otilio. Calderon, one of Costa Rica’s previous president, did not accept the results. Jose “Pepe” Figures joined with a bunch of farmers in Santa Maria in the mountains. They armed themselves with guns that they and other farmers had. 

Nick Halverson standing next to the only memorial
to the Costa Rica Civil War.
San Isidro del General

Instead of attacking the army in San Jose, Pepe came through San Isidro del General, a large city with limited access to San Jose at the time, with his armed militia. To gain control of San Isidro he killed all of the policemen, hid himself in the area and waited for an airplane to land at the airport. They hijacked the airplane in San Isidro and flew to San Jose to gather more supplies/guns/etc and then they flew back to San Isidro.  They conquered the area and then decided to attack the Cartago region (near San Jose). 

Costa Rica’s only Civil War Memorial in
San Isidro del General
Photo (c) Nick Halverson

The official Costa Rican Army was based in San Jose. The Costa Rican government did not have a very large or organized military so they asked for help from Nicaragua, and Nicaraguan and Costa Rican soldiers joined forces to fight Pepe. Figures and his militia hid in the mountains near Cartago and waited for the now combined Costa Rican Army to march through – which they did. Pepe and his group killed many of  them. After  the attack, Pepe Figures took over the government for a little over a year, disbanded the military and then and gave power to Otilio and the Costa Rican constitution was re-written.  NOTE:That’s how the PLN political party in Costa Rica started.

Rumor has it that afterwards, Figures sent the plane and all of the weapons from the Army, to the people of Cuba. Those weapons were used by Fidel Castro in the revolution that took place soon after.  This information is not confirmed but the story is often times told by Costa Ricans.

Time Magazine Announces Chinchilla as Top 10 Female Leader

Original: http://www.ticotimes.net/daily_paid/dailynewsarchive/2010_09/090910.htm#story4

By Adam Williams
Tico Times Staffawilliams@ticotimes.net

Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla was recognized as one of the “Top 10 Female Leaders” by Time magazine on Wednesday. She was ranked No. 10 on the list, which appears on Time’s website, www.time.com.

Here is a link to the article in Time: http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2005455_2005458_2005480,00.html

Julia Gillard, the recently elected prime minister of Australia, topped the list, which also included Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia and Africa’s first female president. All 10 women on the list are either their nation’s president or prime minister.

Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla


A brief biography of each of those honored appears on the Time website. Chinchilla’s biography includes that she is the first woman president in the history of Costa Rica, follows Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias in office, took 47 percent of the popular vote in the February election and is a social conservative, and that the focus of her administration is limiting crime and enhancing security. The biography also mentions that Chinchilla opposes gay marriage, abortion and legalization of the morning-after pill.

In a statement released Wednesday night, Chinchilla said, “It is a great honor to be recognized in Time magazine, not only for me personally, but also for our country and its commitment to gender equality. It gives me great satisfaction, but it is also a great acknowledgement for Costa Rica and all of the men and women who have fought to make it possible for Costa Rica to have a woman president.”

More Info on Costa Rican Mystery Spheres

Original: http://www.ticotimes.net/daily_paid/dailynewsarchive/2010_08/081810.htm#story5

Ifigenia Quintanilla will shine some light on one of Costa Rica’s oddest mysteries Wednesday.

In the 1940s, hundreds of pre-Columbian stone spheres were discovered throughout the Southern region of Costa Rica and in the north of Panama. The creation of these almost perfectly round spheres and their purpose remains a mystery to archaeologists.

Quintanilla, a Costa Rican archaeologist who has studied the mysterious monoliths for 17 years, will explain what researchers know about these artifacts and what makes them so impressive at 3 p.m. on Wednesday at the Hotel Casa Roland in Rohrmoser, in western San José. The presentation is sponsored by the Costa Rican Association of Tourism Professionals (Acoprot).

“We have known about the existence of the spheres for many years,” said Patricia Duar, executive director of Acoprot. “But very few of us really know why they are there or their meaning.”

Quintanilla is one of the most knowledgeable experts on these stones. She’s researched for them for two decades and even wrote a book on the mystery called “Esferas Precolombinas de Costa Rica” (Pre-Columbian spheres of Costa Rica ).

The spheres can be as small several centimeters in diameter to massive 15-ton boulders. But all of them have an uncanny spherical shape. Some of the spheres have symbols sculpted on them.

Costa Rica stone sphere

Brent W. "tries" to push an ancient sphere in Palmar Sur's Central Park

In March, Costa Rica presented a bid to have the spheres included by th e United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on the list of World Heritage sites. Cultural or natural sites or monuments can make the list if UNESCO deems them to have “outstanding universal value,” according to the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (TT, March 15 ).

To reserve a seat at the conference send an e-mail to Mónica Monge atmonica@acoprot.org or call Acoprot at 2280-5375. Admission is free.

What: Ifigenia Quintanilla on the Mystery of Costa Rica’s pre-Colombian stone spheres
Where: Hotel Casa Roland, Rohmoser
When: 3 p.m.
Cost: Free

NOTE from Nick Halverson

Costa Rica stone sphere

Nick H. at Osa Municipality Building

These spheres are found throughout the entire southern pacific region of Costa Rica – especially in Palmar Sur. Palmar Sur’s “Central Park” has approximately 30 of the spheres – all at least one meter in diameter. It is not unusual to see these spheres in front of homes and restaurants in  Uvita, Ojochal, San Isidro del General and Palmar Sur/Palmar Norte.

The closest spheres to residents of The Village of San Buenas is at the municipality building in Cortez. Simply take a right at the fork in the road at the hospital turn off. Go straight approximately 2 km and the Osa Municipality building will be on your right.

Daughter of former Costa Rican president named ambassador to United States

Original: http://www.ticotimes.net/daily_paid/dailynewsarchive/2010_08/081810.htm#story3

By Chrissie Long
Tico Times Staff | clong@ticotimes.net

Muni Figueres, daughter of former Costa Rican President José “don Pepe” Figueres, will serve as Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United States, after being nominated by her government on Tuesday morning.

Figueres, who served as foreign trade minister in 1986 under then-President Oscar Arias, has also held high-level positions with the World Trade Organization and the Inter-American Development Bank. She is the daughter of Figueres’ first wife Henrietta Boggs and half-sister to recently appointed U.N. Climate Chief Cristiana Figueres and former President José María Figueres.

Muni Figueres was born in Costa Rica but was also a U.S. citizen because of her mother’s nationality. In order to accept the post in Washington, D.C., she was forced to renounce her U.S. citizenship.

President Laura Chinchilla said she saw Figueres’ former U.S. citizenship as an advantage to Costa Rica because, through her, Costa Rica “will have fluid access to all the doors we need to knock on in Washington.”

During a press conference Tuesday, Figueres said she was proud to be part of Chinchilla’s team and pledged to work on the implementation of the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States and security measures.

She said, “I don’t have a doubt that Costa Rica is one of the most popular and most loved countries in Washington. I have lived through times where (foreigners) confused Costa Rica with Puerto Rico. But now, there are few people who haven’t been to Costa Rica or don’t want to go to Costa Rica.  … It’s a country that, despite its size, has won many sympathizers.”

Asked about losing her U.S. citizenship, Figueres said that it “bothered her,” but after speaking with her mother, she was convinced that “to be Costa Rican is a privilege.”

“It’s an honor that I am going to carry with me the rest of my life,” she said.

Figueres will replace Luis Diego Escalante as Costa Rica’s ambassador in Washington D.C. Escalante was appointed by former President Arias.

Over 2 million march in annual pilgrimage

By Chrissie Long
Tico Times Staff | clong@ticotimes.net

By 5 a.m. Sunday, there was already a small trickle of marchers making their way through the streets of San José on their way to Cartago.

Within a few hours, the walkers were taki

Cartago's Basilica de los Angeles

Cartago's Basilica de los Angeles (photo Nick Halverson)

ng up one lane, and by late morning the trickle had become a flood.The procession, in which an estimated two million people participated, was largely absent of religious paraphernalia or Catholic ritual. And, except for a handful of people whispering rosaries or walking barefoot – and the huge turnout – it almost could have been any philanthropic walk.

It was only once walkers arrived at the plaza in front of Cartago’s Basilica de los Angeles that they swapped water bottles for plastic crucifixes and MP3 players for hymns of the church. At the threshold of the basilica, many fell to their knees and covered the last hundred meters on the ground and in prayer.

“It’s gratifying to be here,” said 33-year-old Paula Torres, as she sat with shoes off after making the long walk from Desamparados, south of San José. “Each year, we come to say thanks for a year of good health, work and family.”

The romería has taken place every year for the past 228 years, except for 2009, when it was cancelled due to the H1N1 flu virus.

The pilgrimage is made in honor of a small statue of the Virgin Mary, affectionately called La Negrita, which is said to have miraculous powers. Each year, thousands of Costa Ricans pay homage to this small statue in the hope it will bring health and happiness to their families.

Thirty-seven-year-old Leiner Zuniga, who was massaging his feet on a curb outside the basilica, said he made the journey for the first time because of a promise he had made relating to the health of his father and his eight-year-old son.

“They are doing well and I am here,” said Zuniga, who had walked from San José that morning.

Ana Julia Campos, 41, whose face still glistened with sweat from her trek from Heredia, north of San José, said she made the walk in honor of her mother.

“We came here slowly, but with strength,” she said. “It was painful, but we are here.”

Costa Rica Launches Aerospace Program

By Adam Williams
Tico Times Staff | awilliams@ticotimes.net
What the city of Houston, Texas is to space travel in the United States, the city of Liberia may soon be to Costa Rica.

On Sunday, President Laura Chinchilla announced that Liberia, located in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, will be the location for an initiative entitled “National Aerospace Development and Integration for the Central American Region in the Generation of New Technologies.” The presentation also included the unveiling of the Central American Aerospace Industry Chamber (CACIA), which will consist of numerous aerospace experts and companies in Central America. Chinchilla had mentioned further development of the national aerospace program as one of her priorities since her inauguration in May.

Liberia was selected as the site for the program’s launch because of its proximity to the headquarters of the Ad Astra Rocket Company, which was formed in 2005 by Costa Rican astronaut and rocket scientist Franklin Chang. Chang, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), spent many years working as a scientist and astronaut with the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Ad Astra is based in Houston, Texas.

The Costa Rican branch of the company, located 10 kilometers west of Liberia on the campus of EARTH University, focuses its research on the creation of the plasma rocket, known as the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR). Ad Astra in Costa Rica hopes to test one of their first plasma rockets in space by 2014.

“We want recognition for Costa Rica, so the country can enter this special industry,” Chinchilla said in May. “We hope that Costa Rica will be the first Latin American country (to enter the space industry).” (TT, May 14)

Of the various experts in attendance, several spoke on their ideas for the development of Central American aerospace, their plans to finance the projects, and explanations of how they will advance the use of plasma energy. According to Costa Rica’s foreign minister, René Castro, over 80 Central American companies have expressed interest in participating in the development of CACIA and the aerospace program.

Pre-Columbian Artifacts Coming Back to Costa Rica

By Chrissie Long
Tico Times Staff | clong@ticotimes.net
Spain may be bringing home the World Cup gold trophy this week, but Costa Rica’s bringing home something of its own from Spain.Thanks to an application sent to the court in Santiago de Compostela, Spain in 2008, the Central American country is recovering a pre-Columbian pot and a stone sculpture that have been held in Madrid’s Museo de América.

The artifacts are part of the “Colección Patterson,” which is composed of 1,500 pieces of pre-Columbian gold, jade and ceramic from a handful of Latin American countries. The items belonged to Costa Rican Leonardo Patterson, who resides in Germany and is accused in Spain of illegally trafficking the artifacts. He is believed to have 498 Costa Rican pre-Columbian artifacts in total.

Foreign Minister René Castro congratulated the actors in the recovery process, saying that “if a people do not care for and respect their history, they are certainly a citizenry without dreams and without future.”

Costa Rica has also submitted requests to repatriate items from Denmark (four pieces), Switzerland (8 pieces) and Italy (18 pieces). In June, Costa Rica achieved repatriation of 24 items, which are being held in the Costa Rican Embassy in Washington, D.C., awaiting transfer to Costa Rica.

The two Patterson pieces are now in the custody of the National Museum.