Costa Rica: Quest for Democracy

Costa Rica: Quest for Democracy

Costa Rica: Quest for Democracy

Costa Rica: Quest for Democracy


How did Costa Rica become Central America's first successful democracy? How does Costa Rican democracy work? How does democracy survive despite regional turmoil, foreign intervention, & economic crisis? Beginning with Costa Rica's history within the Central American context, John Booth traces democratic development in Costa Rica through its institutions, rules of the political game, parties, elections, & interest groups. After a review of socioeconomic & political forces, the author examines political participation & culture, political economy, & foreign affairs. The book's overview of Costa Rican politics is accessible & useful for students, scholars, & general readers.


This book is the product of a long love and admiration for Costa Rica. The object of such strong emotions has at times proven both rewarding and vexatious, both more and less than one might have hoped. Costa Rica has seduced me again and again with its beauty, its democracy, its institutionalized pacifism, and its scrappily egalitarian people. But its bureaucracy, inefficiency, pride of self, and intolerance have also sometimes driven me to distraction. Perhaps an anecdote can illustrate my point.

In August 1972 I entered Costa Rica for my first long stay driving a Volkswagen camper packed to the rafters with household goods. I had just had a weeklong intensive course in Latin driving and Mesoamerican customs and immigration practices. Of the passage through Mexico and three of Central America's four military dictatorships, I most recall the continuously unfolding physical beauty of lowland and highland tropics contrasted with the ugliness and fear of man-made poverty and repression. But when I entered the Costa Rican border station at Peñas Blancas, things changed. After being ordered to completely unload the car, I sighed and complied, expecting yet another meticulous search for guns or contraband or solicitation of a bribe to grease the bureaucratic wheels. But suddenly, without so much as a glance at our mounds of boxes and bags or our vehicle, the Costa Rican customs inspector said, "You are free to go." I repacked and left Peñas Blancas in a state of bewildered ambivalence -- irritated at having had to unload for nothing yet happily relieved at the absence of soldiers and petty corruption.

In the few feet between the Nicaraguan and Costa Rican border stations, I had passed into a different, far freer, and more open place. Over the ensuing year and a half living in Costa Rica, another year's residence there in 1979-1980, and during many shorter trips through Central America, the striking contrast between the liberty and stability of democratic Costa Rica and the turbulence, repression, and tensions in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua remains my most vivid impression of the region. This book explores and attempts to explain this essential uniqueness of Costa Rica -- its strong democracy and its striking stability.

In twenty-five years of studying Costa Rica, I have had hundreds of conversations and interviews and prevailed upon the time and generosity of many, many people. I could never begin to thank them all. Several Ticos (as the Costa Ricans call themselves), both native and adopted, I do wish to thank explicitly, however, and to ask their forgiveness if I have gotten some of it wrong: Fresia Muñoz Castro, Sonia Herrera Obando, Roberto de la Ossa, José Retana, Colón Bermúdez . . .

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