San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

State of the Nation: Guarded Optimism

Costa Rica stumbled through much of 2008 and the first half of 2009, but the country is still on its feet.


Thanks in part to a global recession that walloped economies across the globe, the government spent more than it made for the first time since 2003. And homicides per capita soared to record highs.


New calculations revealed that Costa Rica is leaving a larger ecological footprint on the earth than it has the capacity to erase. Poverty and unemployment are up, and the gap is widening among Costa Rica’s social classes.


Nevertheless, Costa Rica appears to be weathering the economic storm in better shape than most other countries in the region.


With graphs and statistics to support these national shortcomings, the Estado de La Nación (State of the Nation) program celebrated its crystal anniversary on Tuesday with the release of its 15th annual report.


Since its inception in 1994, the report (this year it’s 400-plus pages) has attempted to define Costa Rica in objective terms.


Themes have varied throughout the years and the contents of the reports have stirred debate over social, economic, political and environmental issues. The new 2008 version hinges on the global economic crisis that crippled national economies, and it  presents Costa Rica as a more diverse, but more unequal, country than it was in decades past.


Filling Gaps in Information


The State of the Nation program began as an independent, joint effort of Costa Rica’s four public universities and the national Ombudsman’s Office. Working together, the group sought to assemble a report that gauged the country’s evolution and bridged information gaps in the nation’s records.


The program and its annual report have been hailed by professors, professionals and  decision-makers as one of the few things that consistently work well and can be depended upon in a country where things can easily go awry.


“This was a dream that began 15 years ago when it became a reality for all the sectors of Costa Rica to fill holes in existing information,” said Rodrigo Arias, the representative of theUniversityofCosta Ricaon the National Council of University Rectors (CONARE). “For public universities, who have a social responsibility, the need to fill those holes was crucial. We realized that, for a brighter future, we had to come together and face this social responsibility.”


The report is broken into five chapters that discuss the core issues facing the country and its citizens with the goal of “furthering democracy, social participation and governability through rigorous academic exercise.”


This year’s effort includes more than 500 bibliographic references compiled by more than 50 academics and contains over 50 different pieces of analysis.


The research is organized by five topic coordinators into the book’s five main chapters.


The coordinators identify the major national and international events that contributed to the nation’s progress through the year and determine a theme for the report. Research teams are coordinated accordingly – made up of experts from Costa Rica’s universities, social institutes and think tanks – and a process of analyzing the country’s information begins.


The State of the Nation holds workshops and meetings with the research teams to discuss Costa Rica’s strengths and weaknesses and decide which statistics and information suit the edition for that year.


Technical teams with the State of the Nation use three basic premises to determine which facts will accompany the folio: Academic Rigor, Social Legitimacy, and Comprehensiveness. The three criteria are designed to pinpoint the most relevant, reliable and useful data.


“The principal idea of the State of the Nation is to produce a quality report about the reality of the society we live in,” said Miguel Gutiérrez, director of the program.


“Our goal is to get better at it each time and to create a richer, fairer, and more prosperous Costa Rica.”


Diversity and Inequality


This year’s report acknowledges some of the nation’s most recent historical successes, such as a decreasing high school drop out rate and an increasing number of citizens receiving coverage under the national Social Security System. But a more diverse culture and a growing gap between the lower and upper classes are the most important themes throughout the 2008 report.


The cover illustration, a painting by Rodolfo Stanley, shows a wedding party. Mothers and daughters, upper class and lower class people, tourists and farmers are all gathered around a table. The laborers and field workers, however, are the most distant from the table.


According to the report, the lower middle and working classes have seen little income increases during the past 21 years. In the meantime, the upper class’s income has almost doubled during that period.


“When they asked me to do the cover, we went over the information in the report and they said they wanted to emphasize the various social classes of the country,” Stanley said. “I said it would be nice to have all these people meeting at a social gathering like a wedding, but a low-level, low budget wedding, like those that are typical here. That’s why all these people are present – the newlyweds, families, young boys and girls, farmers, workers, tourists and, let’s say, easy Ticas. But the workers and the country people are in the background because they represent a sector that is sometimes forgotten by the system.”


And, while the report brings to light several shortfalls in Costa Rica’s aspirations for a fair and peaceful democracy, Gutiérrez reminded attendees at Tuesday’s event that changes must come from the readers of the report.


“What change de we hope to achieve? Well, I will leave it to all of you to answer that question,” he said. “We put together as real a picture of our society as we could. My recommendation to decision makers would be to invest in your people. Invest in your infrastructure. Emphasize a diverse society, not an unequal one. Don’t commit serious and brash errors during times of crises. And always tell the truth.”


For more information visit The printed version of this year’s report is available in bookstores.





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