Book chapter

Costa Rica's Historical Development and New Age of Progress (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

Costa Rica has historically faced many of the same challenges as its Central American neighbors, but to a less dramatic extent. This has put the country on a unique path of political and economic development. Even today, it outperforms its neighbors, often including its more developed neighbors, like the United States, in essential measurements of human development, happiness, lack of corruption, and economics. Many Costa Rican scholars have concluded that the nation benefitted from its time as a colonial outcast and from a lack of exploitable resources like gold and silver. The common misbelief that Costa Rica was settled without the destruction of natives, that the country gained a peaceful independence, and that it somehow avoided all the pitfalls of Latin American development is now met with resistance, and a better understanding of Costa Rican history has emerged. Although Costa Rican development has not been without its complications, issues, and bloody epochs, it has been far less extreme and far more open to change, democracy, and progress. Costa Rica was able to gain a semi-peaceful independence, form a strong republic, and endure the "lost decade" better than many other countries in the region. Since 2008, this tiny country has progressed rapidly. It joined CAFTA-DR, elected its first female president, ended 70 years of two-party dominance, survived national-level scandal, legalized gay marriage, and elected a progressive leftist president in 2018 despite a global shift to the right for political leaders. Yet along with progress comes continued struggles. Costa Rica faces new challenges in the 21st century. In the new millennium, it confronts issues of social injustice, rising crime rates, economic dependency on international monetary institutions, corruption, and human rights, to name a few.