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Country profile: Costa-rica
languages: Spanish (official),
English President: Oscar Arias
Republic of Costa Rica
Agriculture About 9.9% (505,000
hectares/1,248,000 acres) of the total land area
is used for crop production. Nearly half of all
farms average less than 10 hectares (25 acres)
in size. Over 327,000 persons, or about 20% of
the economically active population, were engaged
in farming in 1998.
Corn and sugar crops are usually sufficient to
meet domestic needs, but beans and rice must be
imported from time to time. Agriculture
accounted for about 9% of the GDP in 2001. The
principal cash crops are coffee, bananas, cocoa,
and sugar. Coffee and bananas together accounted
for 31% of exports in 2001, with values of
$163.4 million and $501.1 million, respectively.
Over 85% of coffee properties belong to Costa
Ricans. The banana industry has been producing
more than one million tons of bananas annually
since the 1970s. The principal marketer of Costa
Rica's bananas is Standard Fruit Co. Corn, rice,
potatoes, beans, sisal, cotton, citrus fruits,
pita (used to make hats, baskets, and mats),
yucca, vegetables, pineapples and other fruits,
tobacco, abaca (hemp), and vegetable oils
(especially African and coconut palms) are
produced primarily for domestic consumption.
Estimated crop production in 1999 (in tons) was
sugar (raw), 375,000; bananas, 2,101,000; rice,
262,000; coffee, 147,000; corn, 30,000; dry
beans, 17,000; and cocoa, 4,000. In 1999,
agricultural output was 26% higher than the
annual average during 1989-91.
For decades Costa Rica has stood out for its stability and has benefited from the most developed welfare system in the region.
It has no standing army, and its citizens enjoy one of the highest life expectancy levels in the Western hemisphere and better living standards than their war-torn neighbours.
The opening of a large computer chip plant in the late 1990s was a fillip to the economy, but its fortunes have been subject to the fluctuating world demand for microchips.
Tourism is Costa Rica's main source of foreign exchange. Its tropical forests are home to a profusion of flora and fauna, including 1,000 species of orchid and 850 species of birds, such as macaws and toucans.
The Caribbean coast with its swamps and sandy beaches is also a big draw. But Costa Rica is trying to shake off its reputation as a destination for sex tourists.
While relatively free of crime, Costa Rica has been used as a transit point for South American cocaine and there have been allegations that drug-tainted money has found its way into the coffers of the two main political parties.
Once dubbed the "Switzerland of Central America", the country's self-image was badly shaken in 2004 when allegations of high-level corruption led to two former presidents being imprisoned on graft charges.
Nobel laureate Oscar Arias defeated former minister Otton Solis in closely-fought presidential elections in February 2006 and took office in May. Mr Solis conceded after a manual count and a series of legal challenges.
Oscar Arias won re-election by a narrow margin
Oscar Arias promised to stabilise the economy and to clamp down on corruption in government. He says he aims to put Costa Rica on course to become Latin America's most developed nation.
The president champions the ratification of a Central American free trade pact with the US. Costa Ricans are divided over the proposed accord.
Mr Arias was president from 1986-90 and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his role in talks that helped to end two civil wars in the region.
In 2009, it was announced that he would be the lead mediator in efforts to resolve the political conflict in Honduras between ousted President Manuel Zelaya and the interim government installed after a military coup.
Born in 1940, he studied in Costa Rica and Britain. He is a divorcee and a father of two.
His predecessor, Abel Pacheco of the conservative Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), backed free market reforms. But he inherited a struggling economy and his privatisation and tax reform plans met with strong opposition.