The exception that is Costa Rica


In the ongoing debate about immigration in the United States, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala are mainly in the news because many of the caravans and those crossing into the U.S. from Mexico are from these countries.

Illustration on the Costa Rican exeption to migrant trends by Linas Garsys/The Washington Times

Why isn’t Costa Rica experiencing a similar mass exodus?

Cal Thomas, a nationally syndicated columnist, wrote in The Washington Times, “I put the question to President Carlos Alvarado Quesada. In an email response, he writes in part, 8% of our GDP is dedicated to education and our main resource is the human talent and well-being of the people who live in our country.”


The majority of the Central Americans fleeing claims they are threatened by gangs and crime. Costa Rica has had a lower crime rate than Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, but that may be about to change.

The murder of two female tourists in two days last August and a third woman raped a week later in tourist hotspots like Tortuguero and Santa Teresa in August and the murder of Carla Stefaniak in December last year led to the government and tourism industry paying more attention.

Costa Rica is also experiencing its own immigration challenge. The socio-political crisis in Nicaragua that that began mid-April 2019, saw thousands of Nicaraguans fleeing their country, the majority landing on Costa Rica’s northern border.

As was reported here, “Costa Rica has the highest percentage of immigrants in Central America, according to the study Labor Market and Social Policies, of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Costa Rica has a good image internationally. Tourism is an economic driver for the country. Any perception it is unsafe to visit might cause serious harm.

The Heritage Foundation’s 2018 economic freedom ranks Costa Rica 61st under the category “moderately free”.

The Democracy Index by country 2018, an index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), an EU-based company, that measures the state of democracy in 167 countries, ranks Costa Rica 20th in democracies in the world.

While acknowledging The Economist’s ranking, Anthony Kim of the Heritage Foundation comments, “the country (Costa Rica) needs deeper institutional reforms for more dynamic development of a broader private sector. Despite progress, excessive government bureaucracy still discourages entrepreneurial activity, slowing the pace of privatization and fiscal reform. Widening budget deficits have put public debt on an upward trend, just to name a few economic policy shortcomings. Costa Rica can do more in terms of implementing pro-growth policies and needed economic reforms.”

Costa Ricans stay put. Costa Rica has the lowest emigration rate in Central America and one of the lowest in Latin America and the Caribbean. And though the unemployment rate is 9.3% and about 20% of the population lives in poverty, Costa Ricans stay put.

Part of the reason may be a new anti-poverty program introduced by the previous administration (2014-2018).

For the Alvarado administration (2018-2022), the goal is to become the world’s first decarbonized country, launching the “National Decarbonization Plan 2018-2050”, a plan to make the country one of the first in the world to completely “decarbonize” by 2050.

How a small country like Costa Rica can affect the globe’s naturally changing temperatures, especially when major polluters like China, India and, yes, the United States aren’t doing much to reduce carbon emissions, is never addressed.

Thomas writes in closing his opinion article, “Crime control and maintaining a vibrant tourist industry seem to be better and more attainable goals than changing the climate and same-sex marriage”.

 Adapted from The Washington Times article by Cal Thomas. Read the original here.