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A Bicentennial Celebration in Costa Rica: The Case of a Singular Democracy

11 Jun 2021
By Rodolfo Solano
San José Capital of Costa Rica, photographer jconejo, sourced from

Costa Rica is celebrating its Bicentenary of Independence in 2021. After signing the 1821 Act of Independence, the country has been characterised from the start for its clear institutional vocation.

From its foundation, a guideline for conduct was expressly established in the developing Costa Rican state, a rule that is still current in both internal and international relationships. This standard determines that Costa Rica “recognizes and respects civil liberties, property, and other legitimate national rights of every person and any state or nation.”

Today, two hundred years later, this small but ambitious Central American country effectively proves to other nations that even with scarce economic resources and facing important threats and challenges, it is possible to live in peace, freely and democratically, while respecting the environment

Throughout its independent existence, Costa Rica has placed singular value on peace and harmony. This vocation for peace was confirmed in 1949 when the national army was constitutionally abolished. Another fundamental Costa Rican characteristic is its commitment to the rule of law. The country always seeks resolution in international law as the only valid mechanism for promoting and defending universal values that should be accepted by the entire international community. Costa Rica firmly believes in negotiation, arbitration and jurisdictional processes, and it has unrestrainedly supported the cause of disarmament, particularly in the nuclear context.

Early milestones such as the 1869 declaration of primary education as free and obligatory and the constitutionally recognised abolition of the death penalty in 1882 attest full respect for human rights, which characterises the country’s very existence. Costa Rica proposed creation of the Central American Court of Justice, the first permanent international court of Public International Law and the first international Human Rights Court in history that was inaugurated in the city of Cartago in 1908. Costa Rica was among the countries unconditionally adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and is party to the principal international instruments on this matter. The American Convention on Human Rights was signed in our capital city of San José, and the International Court of Human Rights has its seat there. Costa Rica has staunchly defended the cause for fundamental rights and liberties and actively promoted creation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Constitutional Court has even ruled that international human rights agreements are hierarchically above Costa Rica’s own National Constitution.

In recent decades and as host to great biological diversity, Costa Rica has also undertaken a serious commitment to protect the environment. National parks and protected areas constitute an important part of its national territory, and the country places great importance on the fight against climate change and environmental deterioration.  The High Ambition Coalition (HAC) for Nature and People was recently officially launched, with the goal of conserving 30 percent of the world’s land and marine areas by 2030, stemming massive species loss, and protecting ecosystems that are key to human welfare and that of nature as a whole.

All of the above have provided a solid foundation for Costa Rica’s foreign policy as a singular case of a demilitarised democracy, with strong institutions, and respect for the environment, a pioneer in human rights, and an internationally active proponent thereof, unique in the world.

Currently, the country is facing a special opportunity for projection of its values and principles that have served as a basis for its internal conduct and foreign policy. Costa Rica is head of two important examples for regional cooperation. It currently holds the rotational presidency of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the Central American Integration System (SICA).

At ECLAC, the Costa Rican presidency began in August of 2020. Since then, it has focused on the principles of international cooperation, solidarity and promotion of human rights, as well as concentrating on regional policy coordination and cooperation, cooperation with international financial institutions, support for the United Nations System, and protection of International Law and Human Rights.

For the SICA presidency, Costa Rica has determined that its priority actions will pivot around gender equality and human rights, particularly for the most vulnerable populations; economic and social post-pandemic recovery for the region, health, and food security; and promotion of science and technology, creativity, and innovation, with special emphasis on integrated risk management and the fight against climate change. Furthermore, Costa Rica considers that a greater and more effective integration among SICA member states will harness substantial benefits. Additionally, efforts are being made to revitalise the steps Costa Rica has taken with SICA observer countries and cooperative partners to promote creation of a special fund for regional recovery.

In these and other international organisations in which Costa Rica participates, the country has consistently adhered to the principles that have given a unique identity to its foreign policy. Convinced of the importance of multilateralism for peace and cooperative development to prosper among nations, the country has been very active in the multilateral scenario, proposing implementation of the World Health Organization (WHO) C-TAP (Covid-Technology Access Pool) initiative. This consists of a common repository for rights to technologies that countries have developed and that are useful for the detection, control, and treatment of the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to ensure equitable access to respond to the crisis.

Costa Rica proposes undertaking its third century of independent life contributing towards new initiatives that reflect these same values and also responding to the changing needs of our world and the importance of resolving those challenges that await us with enthusiasm, responsibility, and a sense of innovation.

Rodolfo Solano is the Foreign Affairs Minister of Costa Rica.

This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence and may be republished with attribution.