Costa Rica: Quest for Democracy

By John A. Booth | Go to book overview

Costa Rica's great myth contends that democracy arose and persists because of high degrees of social equality, equality of land distribution, racial homogeneity, and a tradition of nonviolence.15 Through its first 300 years, the society was an agrarian democracy of families of mainly European stock. Costa Ricans were subsistence smallholders who lived isolated from each other and from the rest of Central America and the world. Egalitarian conditions and democratic values developed among early Costa Ricans, who resolved their conflicts peacefully and had little use for soldiers and armies. From this base evolved the culture, values, and institutions of modern Costa Rican democracy.

As we will see in the following chapters, some elements of the Costa Rican national myth are true or substantially so and do help us understand democracy there. Other aspects of the myth, however, are not true and require considerable demystification. Costa Rica is indeed distinct from the rest of Central America and Latin America in important ways, but it is far less different than either its myth or an uncritical first look might suggest. Democracy in Costa Rica is thus more complex -- and more paradoxical -- than the national myth would lead us to believe.


NOTES
1.
For more detailed histories, see John A. Booth and Thomas W. Walker, Understanding Central America ( Boulder: Westview Press, 1993), pp. 17-51; Ralph Lee Woodward Jr., Central America: A Nation Divided ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1976); Miles L. Wortman , Government and Society in Central America: 1680-1840 ( New York: Columbia University Press, 1982); Ciro F. S. Cardoso and Héctor Pérez Brignoli, Centroamérica y la economia occidental (1520-1930) ( San José: Editorial Universidad de Costa Rica, 1977); Héctor Pérez Brignoli, Breve historia de Centroamérica ( Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1985); and Deborah J. Yashar, Demanding Democracy: Reform and Reaction in Costa Rica and Guatemala, 1870s-1950s ( Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997).
2.
Panama, though on the Mesoamerican isthmus, was part of Colombia, and I will not include it in discussing the region unless I explicitly refer to it.
3.
Booth and Walker, Understanding Central America, p. 21.
4.
Ibid., pp. 61-115. For further discussion of the Nicaraguan revolution, see John A. Booth , The End and the Beginning. The Nicaraguan Revolution ( Boulder: Westview Press, 1985). On El Salvador, see Tommie Sue Montgomery, Revolution in El Salvador ( Boulder: Westview Press, 1982). On Guatemala, see Susanne Jonas, The Battle for Guatemala ( Boulder: Westview Press, 1991).
5.
Booth and Walker, Understanding Central America, pp. 117-127.
7.
Mitchell A. Seligson and John A. Booth, eds., Elections and Democracy in Central America, Revisited ( Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995).
8.
John Weeks, The Economies of Central America ( New York: Holmes and Meier), pp. 80-88.
9.
Nicaragua's population growth also slowed in the late 1980s because of war and a bad economy. See Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), Latin America After a Decade of

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Costa Rica: Quest for Democracy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Illustrations xiii
  • Acronyms xvii
  • Preface xxi
  • 1 - Latin American Democracy and Costa Rica 1
  • Notes 12
  • 2 - Contemporary Costa Rica In Central America 17
  • Notes 30
  • 3 - The Historical Development of Costa Rican Democracy 32
  • Notes 53
  • 4 - The Political Framework of Democracy 56
  • Notes 78
  • 5 - Social Structure and Civil Society 82
  • Notes 100
  • 6 - Political Participation 103
  • Notes 125
  • 7 - Political Culture 129
  • Notes 151
  • 8 - Political Economy in Transition 154
  • Notes 174
  • 9 - Costa Rica in the World 177
  • Conclusions 192
  • 10 - Analysi5 and Conclusions: Can Democracy Survive? 195
  • Notes 208
  • Appendix 211
  • Index 219
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