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Costa Rica is an amazing place, whether looking at the extraordinary biodiversity or the remarkable efforts made by the people and government there to protect the amazing flora and fauna. Panama, while perhaps not as well known for protecting the natural world as Costa Rica, has vast biodiversity in the its coral reefs and tropical rainforests. But it is important to know some background information about the countries if one plans to visit.

Costa Rica (Republic of Costa Rica)

Economy
• Compared to neighboring countries, Costa Rica has a fairly high standard of Male photographer, photo by Emily Flaimliving. Income on average is $5,800 USD/year.
• In 2007, the central government and the public sector had fiscal surpluses.
• Because 25 percent of Costa Rica is preserved in national forests, it is a popular eco-tourist destination.
• 13 percent of the work force works in agriculture; 22 percent works in industry; 64 percent works in services.
• Agricultural exports include coffee and bananas, with pineapples becoming an increasingly important export commodity.
Two men playing xylophone, photo by Emily Flaim• The U.S. is Costa Rica’s most significant trading partner. It accounts for nearly half of the country’s exports, imports, and tourism. The U.S. also accounts for over two-thirds of Costa Rica’s foreign investment.
• Trade, in both directions, between the U.S. and Costa Rica surpassed $8 billion in 2007.
• Public infrastructure has suffered in Costa Rica due to a lack maintenance and investment. Roads make much of the country accessible, but they are in poor condition.
• 20 percent of the population lives below the poverty level.

Demographics
• The population of Costa Rica is approximately 4.25 million, according to a 2009 estimate. Half that number resides in the capital, San Jose.
• Most Costa Ricans are of Spanish descent, and Spanish is the official language.
• The literacy rate is 96 percent (higher than all other Latin American countries.)

Customs
• Costa Rican diet consists mostly of rice, beans, bread, tortillas, and fresh fruit.
• 76.3 percent of Costa Ricans are Roman Catholic.
• Costa Rican National/Religious Holidays:
      - New Year’s Day (Jan. 1)
      - Feast of Saint Joseph (Mar. 19)
      - Anniversary of the Battle of Rivas Against Walker (Apr. 11)
      - Semana Santa (Holy Week)
      - Easter
      - Labor Day (May 1)
      - Annexation of Guanacaste to Costa Rica (July 25)
      - Central American Independence Day (Sept. 15)
      - Columbus Day (Oct. 12)
      - Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8)
      - Christmas Day (Dec. 25)

History and Government
• Costa Rica gained independence on September 15, 1821.
• The Costa Rican government is a democratic republic.
• There are two vice presidents and more than 20 cabinet members.
• Presidents are not allowed to run for re-election until two terms (eight years) have passed since their presidency.
• Costa Rica does not have any type of military. Close up of castle rook, photo by Jessica Tischer
• In 1993, the Costa Rican government declared permanent neutrality.
• Costa Rica has been very involved in foreign relations and is an icon for its stance on peace. The government officials have been active in assisting El Salvador and Nicaragua and are advocates in issues of peace and democracy.
• In 2007, the U.S. reduced Costa Rica’s debt in exchange for protection and conservation of forests under the Tropical Forest Conservation Act.
• In January of 2009, Costa Rica signed the CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement).

Panama (Republic of Panama)

Economy
• Services, including the Panama Canal, finance, insurance, health and medical, transportation, telecommunications, Woman and man sitting next to each other; woman checks the pulse on a man's wrist, photo by Emily Flaimtourism, etc., make up for 77.6 percent of GDP; agriculture makes up 6.2 percent of GDP.
• The work force works mostly in services at 67 percent; industry makes up 18 percent of the work force; and agriculture makes up 15 percent.
• Major exports include bananas, petroleum products, shrimp, sugar, coffee, and clothing.
• 29 percent of the population is below the poverty level.

Demography
• The population of Panama is about 3.36 million as of 2009.
• Spanish is the official language of Panama. 
• Literacy rate: 92.6 percent.
• The majority of the population of Panama is mestizo (mixed African, Amerindian, and European ancestry).
• More than half of the population of Panama resides in the Panama City-Colon metropolitan area.

History and Government
• Panama was part of the Spanish Empire for 300 years.
• Panama gained independence from Spain on November 28, 1821 and joined a union along with Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela, known as the Republic of Gran Colombia. When the union disbanded in 1830, Panama remained part of Colombia. Panama gained independence from Colombia on November 3, 1903.National police sign, photo by Jessica Tischer
• From 1968 to 1989, Panamanian government was controlled by the military. Through Operation Just Cause, the last of the military leaders surrendered to U.S. forces, including the then president, General Manuel Noriega.
• Panama does not currently have a formal military. The military was abolished on February 10, 1990. Security forces include the Panamanian National Police (PNP), the National Air-Naval Service (SENAN), and the National Border Service (SENAFRONT).
• In 1994, a constitutional amendment was made prohibiting the creation of a standing military, but temporary special police units may be established to deal with acts of “external aggression.”
• The Panamanian government now consists of a constitutional democracy.
• The Panamanian branches of government are similar to the United States. The executive branch has a president and, as of May 2009, only one vice president. The legislative branch consists of a National Assembly and the judicial branch is the Supreme Court.

Works Cited and for additional information
Costa Rica
U.S. Dept. of State. < http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2019.htm >. (updated January 2009).
CIA World Fact Book. < https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/cs.html >. (updated April 23, 2009).
Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Dept. of State. < http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1093.html >. (updated March 18, 2009).

Panama
U.S. Dept. of State. < http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2030.htm >. (updated March 2009).
CIA World Fact Book. < https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/pm.html >. (updated April 23, 2009).
Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Dept. of State. < http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_994.html >. (updated March 18, 2009).

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