San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

ABCs Plus: A Directory of Costa Rican Siglas

Believe it or not, sometimes we speak in initials instead of words. Perhaps we are discussing a TV program about the FBI or the CIA, or we are watching an NFL or NBA game on NBC. Maybe we are worried about the IRS or our HMO. We may also use an acronym, a word like AIDS (SIDA in Spanish), formed from the initial letters of words in a phrase. It may even have become a real word, as in “scuba,” which stands for “self-contained, underwater breathing apparatus.” Obviously, we use initials and acronyms as abbreviations in both speech and writing.

It’s hard enough to learn another language without having to decipher what all the initials and acronyms – called “siglas” in Spanish – mean in that language. Of course, Costa Rica, being a socialist democracy, is replete with siglas designating government agencies.

The following is a directory in alphabetical order of some of the most important of these. Don’t think for a minute that this represents the whole lot – only the better known. Where the initials have become acronyms, I have tried to render the pronunciation in parentheses. Otherwise, the letters are uttered. Some of their functions are selfevident; others, I have briefly explained.

ARESEP (ah-reh-sep): Autoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos, Public Services Regulatory Authority, responsible for regulating prices of public services.

AyA (ah-ee-ah): Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, Costa Rican Water and Sewer Institute, responsible for all water services in Costa Rica.

CCSS: Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, Costa Rican Social Security System. Though CCSS is often written, it is always spoken of as La Caja. The word “caja” basically means “box,” but has taken on a variety of other meanings. It means “cash box,” so it also means “cash register,” “safe” and “fund.” Costa Rica’s concept of social security includes the entire state medical system: hospitals, clinics, salaries and drugs. It is also the institution that collects money for pension and disability funds. All employees have money deducted from their paychecks for this, and many independents, foreign and Tico, pay some $7 to $10 dollars a month to receive medical care and a pension.

CNE: Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias, National Emergency Commission, equivalent to the United States’ FEMA.

CONAVI (co-nah-bee): Consejo Nacional de Vialidad, National Roadway Council, part of MOPT (see separate listing), in charge of highway construction and maintenance.

EBAIS (eh-bice): Equipos Básicos de Atención Integral de Salud, literally Basic Teams for Whole Health Attention. This huge mouthful is the acronym for nothing more than the health service that the Caja provides to outlying areas.

EEUU: Estados Unidos, United States. These initials are often written but never said. They are doubled to avoid confusion with Estados Unidos Mexicanos.

ICE (ee-say): Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, Costa Rican Electricity Institute, responsible for electricity service in most urban and suburban areas, while various other agencies and co-ops handle other areas. Moreover, at the moment, ICE also handles all Costa Rican phone service, though the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA – another acronym! – or TLC, Tratado de Libre Comercio, in Spanish) may change that.

ICT: Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, Costa Rican Tourism Board.

IMAS (ee-mas): Instituto Mixto de Ayuda Social, Mixed Institute for Social Aid, is the government agency responsible for helping the poor. Basically, it is the institution responsible for social work and distributing funds for this purpose.

INA (ee-nah): Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje, National Training Institute, provides vocational courses to adults.

INS (eens): Instituto Nacional de Seguros, National Insurance Institute. As the name indicates, INS sells insurance, and currently is the only way to buy insurance in Costa Rica, though this will change under CAFTA. People who prefer private medical service in Costa Rica instead of using the Caja can buy insurance from INS at a reasonable price, by U.S. standards.

INVU (een-boo): Instituto Nacional de Vivienda y Urbanismo, National Institute for Housing and Urban Development, constructs housing developments for the clase media (which, here, is not quite what North Americans think of as the middle class).

MINAET (mee-nigh-et): Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones, Environment, Energy and Telecommunications Ministry. This used to be simply MINAE until last year, when the telecommunications part was added. What will they tack on next?

MOPT (mope): Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes, Public Works and Transport Ministry, regulates public transportation, as well as car and driver’s licenses. The traffic police (tránsitos) are also paid by MOPT.

OEA: Organización de los Estados Americanos, Organization of American States (OAS in English).

OIJ: Organismo de Investigación Judicial, Judicial Investigation Police. This is the agency of the federal police, equivalent to the FBI in the United States.

ONU: Organización de las Naciones Unidas, United Nations (U.N. in English.)

PANI (pah-nee): Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, literally National Childhood Patronage, what we call the Child Welfare Office.

RITEVE (ree-teh-veh): Revisión Técnica Vehicular, Vehicular Technical Inspection. All motor vehicles in Costa Rica must pass a technical inspection before they can have documents renewed. Don’t ask me why the acronym begins in “RI” instead of “RE.”

RECOPE (reh-co-peh): Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo, National Oil Refinery.

UCR: Universidad de Costa Rica, University of Costa Rica (located in the eastern San José suburb of San Pedro).

UNA (oo-nah): Universidad Nacional, NationalUniversity (located in Heredia, north of San José).

UNED (oo-ned): Universidad Estatal a Distancia, StateUniversity at a Distance, responsible for what we call “correspondence courses,” though a certain amount of participation is required for some courses.


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