Culture and Politics – Like No Other Country

Costa Rica has a culture and a politics that are distinctively different from anywhere else in the Americas, for sure, and that are probably unique in the world.
 
In some ways, tragedies and difficulties in Costa Rica’s past account for much of what makes the culture and politics of the country special. Because the indigenous people were so peaceful and welcoming to the Spanish invaders, there were almost all eliminated by disease or violence. 
 
The ethnic tension that colors so much of Latin America, the residue of conflict between the native Indian population and the invading European population, never really took hold in Costa Rica; the Spaniards had the place to themselves right away. Besides canceling much potential for racial conflict, this also meant that the invading Spaniards had no forced labor available to work the land. They had to do it themselves and it wasn’t easy. Consequently, the natural environment didn’t suffer the extremes of overuse and abuse that many other areas did.
 
Despite their rapid and tragic extermination, the peaceful, agrarian native people have left their legacy, perhaps reflected in the unofficial motto, greeting, and guiding principle of contemporary Tico (‘tico’ and ‘tica’ are how Costa Ricans refer to themselves) society and culture: the phrase, ‘Pura Vida’ – Pure Life. It is an affirmation of the goodness and even the sacredness of life as it is, as life is meant to be: pure, simple, sustaining and sufficient.
 
For most of its brief history, Costa Rica was left to its own devices. The centers of pre-Colombian culture were to the distant north and south. There is little if any evidence of the highly developed urban cultures found in the Mayan, Aztec or Incan lands.
 
Spanish commerce and government was centered to the north, in Antigua, in present day Guatemala. So even in colonial times, Costa Rica was relatively untouched. 
 
Costa Rica was the poorest part of Central America, and it was that poverty, the absence of resources to plunder the environment, that is responsible for the priceless natural bounty  - certainly the most important and precious national wealth – contained within it’s borders.
 
It’s fair to say that Costa Rica was and remains the pioneer of democracy in the Latin world. The constitutional elimination of the military following WWII – when a military junta took control of the government, installed democracy, and promptly eliminated itself forever – contributes to the description of Costa Rica as the ‘Switzerland of Latin America’. 
 
Someone once theorized that a population of 3-4 million was ideal for an independent state, a country. New Zealand and Ireland, for example, have about the same population as Costa Rica, and both, like New Zealand, have been innovators and pioneers in progressive national government. New Zealand led the way in female suffrage, and Ireland was an early, enthusiastic and successful EU participant. 
 
(Switzerland’s population is approaching eight million, but that’s another story!)