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Costa Rica 

A tiny Central American country, Costa Rica is more or less the size of West Virginia and is over-brimming with natural beauty, ecological diversity and friendly people. What follows is a brief description of the government, economy, geography and climate to help familiarize you with the home of Ralmar Ecoforestry Corporation.Costa Rica A tiny Central American country, Costa Rica is more or less the size of West Virginia and is over-brimming with natural beauty, ecological diversity and friendly people. What follows is a brief description of the government, economy, geography and climate to help familiarize you with the home of Ralmar Ecoforestry Corporation.

Though Central America is well known for political unrest, civil wars, grinding poverty and racial and class divisions, Costa Rica is notable for its calm stability. The nation is a democratic republic with a government very similar to that of the United States:

·        It is divided into executive, legislative and judicial branches with complete separation of powers between them,

·        It is regulated by an intricate system of checks and balances.

·        The president and his cabinet head the executive branch, the National Assembly (a unicameral body roughly equivalent to the U.S. Congress) and its diputados (deputies, elected representatives like the congressmen of the U.S.) are the legislative power of the country.

·        The Supreme Court watches over the judicial system and its hierarchy of courts.

There are a number of political parties, but only two really count. The National Liberation Party and the slightly more conservative Social Christian Party have no major differences between their political platforms and more or less take turns selecting the president. Taken together, they also occupy over 90 percent of the seats in the National Assembly.

The government smoothly changes hands every four years in the national elections in which there is always a better than 80 percent voter turnout. Election day is so trouble‑free that school children are used to help control crowds at polling stations.

Politically, the country is divided into seven provinces: San Jose, Alajuela, Cartago, Heredia, Guanacaste, Puntarenas and Limon, each ruled by a governor appointed by the president. The provinces are divided into 81 cantones (counties) which are further divided into 421 distritos (districts). The provinces only real importance is as electoral districts for the National Assembly — the number of deputies for each province is determined by its population. The districts are ruled by municipal councils whose major responsibilities are such things as public lighting and road maintenance.

Costa Rica stands out from the rest of the world in that it has no army — it was constitutionally abolished in 1949 after a 40-day civil war ignited by an election scandal. Since then the country has been at peace internally and with its neighbors, and an active promoter of peace throughout the rest of Central America (Oscar Arias, president of Costa Rica from 1986 to 1990, won a Nobel Peace Prize for his untiring efforts to bring peace to Central America).

The Costa Rican economy is dominated by agriculture, although tourism has recently shouldered its way to the top of the country's list of money earners, with bananas and coffee following. Cattle, although not very profitable and never earning more than nine percent of Costa Rica's export earnings, occupy 45 percent of the nation's land area. 

Coffee is traditionally Costa Rica's most important crop and for more than 100 years it was the engine of the country's economy, the most stable and productive economy in Central America.  In   1978 world coffee prices plummeted, and that, combined with a sharp increase in oil prices the following year, dealt the economy a blow of which it has yet to fully recover. Since then, inflation has generally been above 10 percent, the colon (the national currency) has devalued and the foreign debt mushroomed.

The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the United States stepped in with aid programs to inject cash into Costa Rica's economy and restructure the country's debt while slashing government spending and stimulating economic diversification and competitive export industries. The results:

·        Tourism and nontraditional export items are bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars to bolster the economy.

·        The GNP has been growing steadily for ten years.

·        The government, with much foot dragging, is slowly restructuring itself into a more efficient entity.

The middle and upper classes have profited from these changes, but, sadly, the lower class (small farmers and menial laborers) has yet to reap benefits from the economic transformation.

Costa Rica is located on the land bridge between North and South America.  Nicaragua is to its north and Panama to its south, the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east. It is a pivotal region, separating two continents and two oceans that are vastly different in character. Although the country has only 19,700 square miles of land area, and is only 185 miles wide at its widest point, it has four mountain ranges that divide the country like a backbone, various volcanoes and 735 miles of coastline. So many mountains crammed into such a small land mass create extreme topography. All of this gives rise to an incredible diversity of terrain, weather conditions and life forms in this tiny country.

Christopher Baker, in his Costa Rica Handbook, gives an apt description of the natural beauty and diversity of Costa Rica: "Within a one‑hour journey from San Jose, the capital city, the tableau changes with dramatic effect through dense rainforest, airy deciduous forest and montane cloud forest which swathe the slopes of towering volcanoes, to dry open savannah, lush sugarcane fields, banana plantations, and rich cattle ranches set in deep valleys; and rain‑soaked jungle, lagoons, estuaries, and swamps teeming with wildlife in the northern lowlands. The lush rainforest spills down the steep mountains to greet the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, where dozens of inviting white beaches remain unspoiled by footprints and offshore coral reefs open up a world more beautiful than a casket of gems."

Costa Rica can be divided into four basic regions:

The Central Valley is the heart of Costa Rica, a plateau in the country's center surrounded by mountain ranges. It stands at an average elevation of 3,800 feet above sea level and contains the nation's capital, San Jose, and most of Costa Rica's major cities — along with almost two-thirds of its total population.

Guanacaste is the northwestern province of the country. It is a vast alluvial plain of rolling hills dominated by huge cattle ranches that reached from the Guanacaste and Tilaran mountain ranges to the Pacific Coast. Guanacaste is the hottest and driest part of Costa Rica, making its sandy beaches a prime tourist attraction.

The Caribbean lowland is pancake-flat and fills the area between the central highlands, the northern border with Nicaragua, and the Caribbean coast. Most of the country's banana production takes place here and Puerto Limon on the Caribbean coast is the center of the coastal area's black culture.

The Central and Southern Pacific coast is a diverse region, drier to the north where several popular resorts are located and getting progressively wetter as you move south where Costa Rica's largest national parks (Chirripo, Amistad and Corcovado) are located. This region's coast is famed for sport fishing and surfing and inland it produces everything from palm oil to pineapple. It also boasts the country's largest concentration of indigenous people.

The climate of Costa Rica is as varied as its relief, and it has at least a dozen distinct climate zones. Temperature changes are dictated by elevation, as seasonal variations are minimal. Mean temperatures on the central plateau are 72 degrees fahrenheit, average 82 degrees on the Caribbean coast and 89 degrees on the Pacific lowlands. In the highlands more than 5,000 feet above sea level the mean temperature is 50 to 55 degrees fahrenheit.  Atop Chirripo, the country's highest peak, the average temperature is 46 degrees.

The nation's rainfall averages nearly 100 inches annually, but it varies widely — from only 18 inches some years in the drier parts of Guanacaste up to 300 inches on some exposed eastern slopes of the Talamanca mountain range. The two seasons of Costa Rica are defined by precipitation: the dry season lasts from December through April and the rainy season from May through November.  Guanacaste has a slightly longer dry season and the Caribbean coast has no well defined dry season, although it is somewhat drier from January to April. 

During the dry season it rains very little, and during the rainy season it rains nearly every day, usually in the afternoon. Torrential downpours are not uncommon and can be expected any day of the rainy season, though they usually taper off to a steady hard rain or shower or even stop altogether. Sometimes morning showers (temporales) move in, and other days it may rain day and night or for several days without letting up.  Despite these seasonal extremes, the mornings are generally sunny.

Costa Rica's unique location and tropical setting, along with a great variety of relief and microclimates provides a vast array of habitats for plants and animals that migrated there from both the North and South American continents, along with various indigenous species. This Central American melting pot has produced one of the richest collections of biota on earth: There are more than 9,000 species of flowering plants, including 1,200 species of orchids; 850 species of birds (more than the entire North American continent contains), over 200 species of mammals and 370 species of reptiles and amphibians. 

It is estimated that there are between 500,000 to one million plant and animal species in Costa Rica, about half of which are insects, and only perhaps 20 percent of these have been identified. All of these life forms find a home somewhere in one of the ecosystems that range from tidal mangrove swamps to tropical rainforest to subalpine areas above the timberline and everything in between.