Background paper on Costa Rica

In spite of the economic and social policy successes of Latin America’s longest surviving democracy, corruption has become a major problem shaking Costa Ricans’ confidence in appointed and elected public officials. In response to the apparent rise in corruption since the start of the new millennium, governments have introduced new laws and created new agencies to combat corruption at all levels of society, with an emphasis on combating particularism by elected and appointed public officials. This report evaluates the apparent increase in corruption, the efforts to limit, expose, and prosecute corrupt acts, and the factors that have facilitated the rise in corrupt actions on the part of state officials and private citizens. In short, acts of corruption that may have previously gone unnoticed (at least unproven) are now exposed by a more aggressive media and prosecuted by new and/or stronger state anti-corruption agencies and laws in response to multiple major political corruption scandals of the early 2000s. State prosecutors show no deference in their investigations of corruption and/or illicit enrichment by public officials and private figures, no matter how powerful. The only limitation is the level of resources available to these agencies. The contemporary increase in the scope of corruption is not in the quotidian actions of low-level officials directly affecting the lives of ordinary citizens, but in influence trading and manipulation of formal processes. A separate, more recent and growing corruption problem comes from international drug cartels that have amplified their activities and money laundering in Costa Rica that some fear might outstrip the state’s capacity to keep corruption under control.

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