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San Jose (AFP) – Costa Rica, which elects a new president on Sunday, is a small country that thrives on ecotourism. Its neutrality, strong democracy and political stability have earned it the nickname of Switzerland of Central America.
Here are four facts about the country of over five million people:
beacon of peace
Independent since 1821, Costa Rica is considered a model of democracy in Central America.
A short civil war in 1948 led to the abolition of the army and helped establish political stability in the country.
In the 1980s, when several other Central American countries were mired in civil wars, neutral Costa Rica acted as a broker for peace, earning then-President Oscar Arias Sanchez , the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987.
It experienced a political shift in 2014, when the two right-wing parties that had shared power since the 1960s – the PLN and the PUSC – suffered a historic defeat when centrist Luis Guillermo Solis was elected president.
Outgoing President Carlos Alvarado is from the same party.
On the international scene, Costa Rica has fought for disarmament and for the total cessation of nuclear weapons and the strengthening of the non-proliferation regime.
In recent years it has seen an increase in organized crime, largely due to the drug trade that has plagued its neighbors.
With its stunning beaches on the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, lush rainforests and towering volcanoes, Costa Rica has become a green democracy and a world leader for its environmental policies.
Nature reserves cover a quarter of Costa Rica’s 51,000 square kilometers (19,700 square miles), a territory that is home to 5% of the world’s biodiversity.
It is one of the few countries to have banned blood sports and avoided exploitation by mining and oil giants, which are the main source of income for many Latin American countries.
Over the past decade, however, the environment has been strained by economic development, with poor management of protected areas, increased air, soil and water pollution, and damage caused by pineapple cultivation.
Costa Rica is the only tropical country that has succeeded in reversing deforestation, according to the World Bank.
It has invested heavily in clean energy, passing the threshold of producing electricity exclusively from renewable energy 300 days in one year, in 2017.
The nation has pledged to eliminate the use of fossil fuels by 2050.
decades of growth
Costa Rica has experienced 25 years of steady economic growth, thanks to openness to foreign investment and progressive liberalization of foreign trade.
Its main exports are bananas, pineapples and coffee. It is also the world’s largest exporter of butterflies.
GDP per capita has tripled since 1960, but in 2020 it contracted by 4.1% due to the Covid pandemic.
In 2021, growth is expected to reach 3.8%, according to the World Bank.
The poverty rate that year rose to 23%, according to official statistics.
Costa Rica has a top-notch social security system and has invested heavily in education.
It is ranked 62nd out of 189 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index.
The tourism sector accounts for 8% of GDP, but has been hammered by the pandemic.
A member of the OECD since 2021, the country is trying to attract digital nomads to boost its economy.
Land of asylum
More than 100,000 Nicaraguans, fleeing the violent repression of anti-government protests, have taken refuge in Costa Rica.
A conservative and religious country, but with a long tradition of opening its arms to asylum seekers, Costa Rica has welcomed hundreds of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who have been persecuted in their countries of origin in Central America. .
© 2022 AFP