... Costa Rica Today ...
by Infocostarica Staff
After the Civil War of 1948, the 1950's and 1960's were characterized by a sound political strategy by the Costa Rican citizens. The voters alternated electing candidates of the PLN or of the Social Christian parties, which were the two main groups that had been born from the Civil War. During these years, the welfare system and the public school institutions expanded greatly. By 1978, Costa Rica boasted impressive social data: life expectancy had reached 70 years, infant mortality was 20/1000, the literacy rate was 90%, the welfare system covered three quarters of salaried workers and unemployment was at a low 5%. This economic and social stability caused a demographic increase between 1953 and 1973.
Another factor that contributed to this economic growth, was the considerable profit made from the export of coffee. Coffee production had increased because of the use of pesticides and the price of the crop had risen tremendously in the international market. Between 1950 and 1970, the production of coffee tripled.
Other goods that favored from an increase of production and of market prices were: sugar, bananas and meat. The governmental and private infrastructure also grew due to the amount of personnel and infrastructure that could handle the international trade of these products. By 1970, 51,000 people worked in bureaucratic positions and they made up 10% of the total labor force of the country.
The period between 1950 and the late 1970's was a "golden era" characterized by impressive economic, social and demographic growth. This utopian period, however, couldn't last forever. In 1980, utopia gave way to crisis. The inflation, the "colon" (national currency) devaluation, the welfare system expenses and the decrease in prices of exports, destroyed the once grand economy of Costa Rica. The country found itself bound by a huge per-capita debt.
By the mid 1980's, the situation had improved somewhat. In 1986, President Oscar Arias Sanchez, concentrated on resolving belicose problems in the region. He formulated a peace plan that was signed by five Central American presidents in 1987, and which won him the Nobel Peace Prize. Another important happening during this decade, was the beginning of a serious tourist industry in the country. The 1990's have witnessed its growth and specialization through improvements made in the national parks and in the hotel infrastructure. In the present time, the two large tendencies in tourism are the arrival of large international hotel chains and the concentration on ecotourism.
After President Arias, three other presidents have been elected. An interesting fact about the elections that followed that of Arias, is that two of the candidates were sons of the main rivals during the Civil War of 1948. Calderon's son was president from 1990-1994, while Figueres' son ruled the country from 1994-1998. This illustrates the flexibility of the Costa Rican democracy, which allows the election of candidates that represent generations of rivalry, one after the other. The current president is Miguel Angel Rodriguez, who belongs to the Social Christian party, which has its origins with Calderon's followers, after the 1948 Civil War.
The decade of the 90's has witnessed a new tendency which threatens to dismantle the moderate socialism that has characterized most governments since the 1948 war: neo-liberalism. This philosophy insists in the privatization of state-run institutions, such as the ICE (national electricity company), the INS (national insurance institute) and RECOPE (oil and gasoline institute). These monstrous monopolies would definitely benefit from the efficiency and professionalism of private enterprises; however, the neo-liberal outlook sacrifices social welfare in favor of ideals such as efficiency and profit.
It's difficult to predict what all of the consequences of the neo-liberal approach will be, since it's just beginning to be felt in all aspects of Costa Rican life. However, it's obvious that the era of bureaucratic institutions and of social welfare programs, is reaching its end. As with any major change, a group of people will suffer, while another will benefit from it. Costa Rica's economic and political stability point to the fact that the majority and not the minority, will benefit from these changes.