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Costa Rica History and its gourmet coffee

Central America´s Beacon of Hope. 

In a context of revolutionary Violence, Costa Rica is a model democracy where issues are decided by ballots instead of bullets 

By David Reed (Reader´s Digest, 1981)

Around dawn each morning, the railroad station in Puerto Limón, a steaming tropical town on Costa Rica´s Caribbean Coast, suddenly springs to life. Passengers pile into wooden coaches. A whistle shrieks.  Soon the little train is climbing into the cordillera, the backbone of Central America. At 5000 feet of altitude, it tops the continental divide. Then the train descends into the central plateau and rolls into San José, the 3700 foot-high capital of a remarkable country.

Costa Rica is almost too good to be true. Unlike many other Latin American republics, it has no appalling social problems, no military dictator.  Instead, it is an oasis of democracy.  With two brief exceptions, Costa Rica has been a flourishing democracy for nearly a century...One looks in vain for that standard feature of many Latin American republics--the swaggering soldier with a submachine gun.  Costa Rica, however, abolished its army more than 30 years ago. Charasteristically, the national anthem has the memorable refrain: ¨Vivan siempre el trabajo y la Paz!--¨Long live work and peace.

ROOTS OF DEMOCRACY. Through it all, Costa Rica remains a place where issues are resolved by ballots instead of bullets.  When visitors to other parts of Central America ask people what sort of government they would like to see in their countries, the answer is usually: ¨Just like Costa Rica¨.  U.S. Officials similarly regard this tiny country (About the size of West Virginia ) as a beacon of hope.

Why is democracy so strongly rooted in Costa Rica?  From the start, the country was different from other Spanish colonies in the New World.   When Christopher Columbus landed on its Caribbean coast in 1502, he saw Indians wearing golden trinkets.  Thinking that there were vast riches in the interior, the Spanish named the place Costa Rica, the Rich Coast.  But the name proved to be ironic, for the country has little gold or minerals of consequence.   Nor was there a large population of Indians to exploit.  As a result, Costa Rica was largely ignored by the early Spanish empire builders.

Instead, the colony attracted hardy farmers from Spain.  By boat and oxcart they journeyed through tropical rain forests and mountains to reach the fertile central Plateau, where they carved small farms from the wilderness.  While the Spanish colonial governors elsewhere lived in splendor, one governor in Costa Rica was forced to till his own vegetable patch to keep from starving.  To this day, Costa Ricans have a strong sense of self-reliance, a feeling  that everyone is equal.  Even in colonial times, public issues were resolved at town meetings in which everyone had a say.

Most importantly, Costa Rica was spared the curse of large-scale land ownership and the system of peonage that breed revolutionary unrest.  In contrast with other Latin American countries, where one finds vast haciendas worked by impoverished peasants, Costa Rica remains a nation of farmers who till their own fields and live in trim stucco houses along a network of first-class paved roads.  Wealth is far more evenly distributed than in the rest of Latin America.  The result is a society with a strong middle class, the indispensable ingredient of democracy.

After Costa Rica became independent from Spain in 1821, a school principal was elected president.  By 1889, when most of the world languished under authoritarian rule and public ignorance, the government had introduced free elections and free primary education for all.  As one later president declared: ¨Liberty without education is an illusion.¨ Over the years, education proved to be as important as the pattern of small landholdings in guaranteeing the success of the nation´s democracy.

LEADERS AND CITIZENS.  As part of their frontier heritage, Costa Ricans have a strong work ethic and are much in demand for managerial positions in other Latin American countries.  But they remain staunch individualists.  Says a factory owner, ¨If you have an assembly line and a man comes in late, you don´t shout at him.  He´d quit on the spot.  You put your arm around him and say, ´Well, Juan, what happened?´¨

Costa Rica has also been blessed with good leaders and citizens who, though pacifist by nature, are ready to defend their liberty.  Costa Rica is the only country in Latin America that has abolished its army.  One reason this constitutional provision was made, in 1949, was to prevent future military takeovers.  Another was that Costa Ricans feel that money can be better spend on education and health programs.  Costa Rica devotes 32 percent of its national budget to education, 33 percent to health problems.  The country´s 7000 policemen, who handle  internal security--and who, in theory, would repel invaders--get just 2,6 percent of the budget.

NO HARD FEELINGS.  The frontier spirit of equality remains as strong as ever.  Costa Rica does not feel that it should pamper its presidents by providing them with official residences. Presidents live in their own houses and, when they stroll about San José, attract no special attention.  Indeed, one president was run over by a bicycle while walking to work.

Costa Rican presidents are accessible.  Citizens with grievances take the matter directly to el presidente-- and are ushered into his office.  To keep presidents from becoming too powerful, a constitutional amendment now limits them to one four-year term.

Few people take democratic processes as seriously as do the Costa Ricans.  Six months before election day, an electoral tribunal appointed by congress assumes full command of the national police; not even the president can countermand the tribunal´s orders.  As election day nears, a fiesta mood comes over the country.  Party flags appear on cars and homes.  Parades fill the streets.  Ballots are cast by more than 80 percent of the eligible voters.  Despite campaign passions, a sense of decency prevails once the votes are counted.  Remarks one Costa Rican, ¨We say, ´It´s over.  No hard feelings. Let´s have a drink.´¨

In recognition of Costa Rica´s achievements, the General Assembly of the United Nations has approved a plan for a University of Peace in San José.  the Assembly felt that no country could provide a more appropriate home for the University.  The institution is to have and international faculty and student body, with programs related to promoting world peace.   Costa Ricans hope that San José will eventually become another Geneva, a New World seat for meetings where nations will work out peaceful solutions to their quarrels.

Costa Rica´s scrupulous respect for the rights of its citizens has resulted in another honor.  In  San Jose an Inter-American Court of Human Rights, sponsored by the Organization of American States, hears complaints of human-rights violations by OAS member states.  The hope is that the court will play a major role in curbing abuses that ahve been widespread in many countries in the hemisphere.

Costa Rica has come a long way since the early conquistadores wrote the Rich Coast off as not worth the bother.  Today it serves as a golden inspiration to all freedom-loving people...

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Video Clip from CNBC about Don Evelio Coffee Farm Click here to see CNBC Coffee Story -by Karin Isdahl - about DON EVELIO COFFEE FARM, filmed in mid May 2006.

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Media Highlights

"Jorge Luis Umana, the owner of coffee grower Beneficio Don Evelio,...has set up a company site, So far he's the only grower to do so.." ADAM PIORE, LAUREN WOLLKOFF Newsweek Magazine Journalists, January 29, 2001 issue.

"Tarrazu coffee growers, who produce some of the world's finest, high-elevation promote their high-quality crop on the Internet at" CHRISTINE PRATT, The Tico Times,Aug 18th, 2000

Interview to one of our Costa Rica coffee farmers at Specialty Coffee Retailer Magazine

Coffee University: what you need to know about coffee - Wen Lee takes you to San Marcos de Tarrazu, Click here to see the videos:
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