By María Paz Massey Palma - Student of International Relations
Why has Costa Rica been internationally recognized as a beacon of peace and democracy in Central America? Since the establishment of the country’s democratic regime in 1869, Costa Rica has implemented numerous laws, policies, and strategies such as mandatory free education, environmental protection, individual and social guarantees for its citizens, human rights defense and protection, electoral mechanisms which guarantee the universal suffrage, and many others that have given the country and its citizens the stability and peace for which Costa Rica has been renowned. Additionally, the draft of a new constitution in which the abolition of the army was declared, as well as the solid permanence of the country’s democratic regime throughout history have placed Costa Rica in a position of leadership towards the establishment of more respectful and just societies, therefore, as a beacon of peace and stability throughout the region too.
First of all, it is important to analyze and highlight the role that the country's political and economic stability plays in building a peaceful society worthy of international recognition, as well as the factors that that led to its establishment. As the organization Anywhere Costa Rica explain: “Costa Rica is the only Latin country on a list of 22 countries that have been steadily democratic since 1950. Several factors have contributed to Costa Rica's stability, including enlightened leadership, comparative prosperity, flexible class lines, educational opportunities, and high social indicators. Also, because Costa Rica has no armed forces, it has avoided military involvement in political affairs, unlike other countries in the region.” (Anywhere Costa Rica, n.d.).
In addition to this, due to the openness to foreign investment, gradual trade liberation, high human development indicators due to the country’s education system, as well as Costa Rica’s environmental policies, the nation has developed a steady economic growth over the past two decades. As explained by The World Bank in Costa Rica (2021), “the combination of political stability, social contract and steady growth has resulted in one of the lowest poverty rates in Latin America and the Caribbean” (The World Bank in Costa Rica, 2021), which in addition to the aforementioned, contributes greatly to the citizenship development and the country’s stability. Hence, the placement of the Republic of Costa Rica as a leader nation in regard to economic, political, and social development leading to a steady growth and stability in the region.
Secondly, the peacefulness of Costa Rica plays a key role on positioning the country as a leader in this regard across Latin America, hence the importance of analyzing the path that this country has followed in order to achieve peace throughout history. In 2017, The Global Peace Index recognized Costa Rica as the most peaceful country in Central America, the second in Latin America, and the 34th in the world. This recognition was based on “peace indicators such as the homicide rate, the impact of terrorism, armed services personnel in the population, relationship with neighboring countries, violent crimes, access to weapons, and gives a comprehensive analysis on the state of global peace” (Alvarado, 2017). According to Berkley Center (2018), another relevant factor of Costa Rica’s peaceful ambiance, “compared favorably to other Central American countries that have problems with violence and gangs”, is represented in its nature and biodiversity, as it is seen as a more popular and safer tourist destination.
As explained in these paragraphs, even though crime does exist in Costa Rica, its nature, its political and economic stability, its commitment to the protection of human and individual rights through laws and policies, its citizens, its social development, and even the absence of the military, contributes to the country’s peaceful atmosphere, which is perceived by foreign and local people, and that is globally recognized too.
However, this political stability to which many countries aspire, and which has been discussed throughout the article, has been overshadowed in recent years by an increase in the rates of violence, crime and corruption in the country. Late corruption cases in Costa Rica have shown major fraud perpetrated by important corporations such as MECO and H. Solís working with government entities or senior government workers; although these cases of internal corruption do not affect foreigners directly, they definitely stain the image and credibility of the country before the world and, most importantly, before countries and international organizations that look up to the Costa Rican democratic, just, and stable regime. Additionally, crime rates have also increased during these past years and as it is explained by Costa Rica Guide’s website: “Since 2015 the murder rate has significantly exceeded the World Health Organization homicide epidemic… In 2016 the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security declared a high level of crime risk in Costa Rica. In 2019 the government of Canada issued dire warnings to “exercise a high degree of caution due to crime” and other dangers of travel in Costa Rica.” (Sue, R. n.d.). Unfortunately, and in addition to the problematics aforementioned, sexual harassment and assault have also been increasing, affecting mainly women, both locals and foreigners, and this of course is negatively affecting the country’s image across the world as well. Costa Rica’s corruption and criminal activity rates are still under the average of other countries across the region, however, if the increase in these rates continues, Costa Rica could possibly lose its leadership position in terms of peace and security, that if it has not lost it yet.
Analyzing both positive and negative aspects of Costa Rica’s current situation as a beacon of peace, democracy, and stability in Central America and other regions across the world, it is necessary to highlight some important aspects. As mentioned throughout the article, Costa Rica has been and still could be a beacon to other countries in the region in terms of democracy, political stability, protection of the environment, and human rights respect, protection, and defense. However, the weakening in the economic growth and stability, as well as the increase in corruption, criminal, and violence rates represent a threat to the process that Costa Rica has been accomplishing in terms of leadership in the region. The future of this country being seen as a beacon of peace and stability, and whether it continues to be a growing leader or becomes a shrinking one, depends on how authorities and the government address the economic, criminal, violence, and corruption issues that Costa Rica is currently facing. It is necessary to strengthen the republic’s political, judicial and social systems, as well as creating an action plan to combat and reduce crime, violence and corruption rates in order to keep the reputation that this nation has built internationally, to maintain a leadership position as a beacon for other countries in the region; worthy of international recognition and one of which Costa Rican citizens would feel proud.
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Alvarado, L. (2017, June 3). Costa Rica is the Most Peaceful Country in Central America and the Second in Latin America. Costa Rica Star News. https://news.co.cr/costa-rica-peaceful-country-central-america-second-latin-america/61736/
Anywhere.com. (n.d.). Is Costa Rica’s Government Stable? https://www.anywhere.com/costa-rica/questions/people-economy-and-government/is-government-stable
Berkley Center Berkley (2018, February 9). Costa Rica: A Land of Peace? Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs. https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/posts/costa-rica-a-land-of-peace
Sue, R. (n.d.). Costa Rica Guide. Costa Rica Guide. https://costa-rica-guide.com/travel/health-safety/crime/violent-crime/
The World Bank in Costa Rica. (2021, April 6). Overview. World Bank. https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/costarica/overview