What images would you associate Central America with? It would be rather unusual that endless jungle ambushes between narco-guerillas do not reel off. And how would you appreciate the findings of New Economics Foundation, a think-and-do tank, that the region also boasts a country with the happiest people in the world? Costa Rica, dubbed the Switzerland of Central America, does indeed top the "Happy Planet Index" which aggregates happiness, longevity and environmental impact. It is unfortunate that Mauritius is not among the 143 nations surveyed.
By contrast with its war-torn neighbours, Costa Rica dissolved its armed forces in 1949 and instead invested heavily in education. Not only have Costa Ricans become more conversant in English language - the global lingua franca -, their country is also a leading exporter in micro chips. In addition, the far-sighted leadership has converted its gorgeous lush environment into a competitive asset.
A carbon tax was introduced in 1997 and Miravelles geothermal power plant became operational in 1994. The Environmental Performance Index, compiled jointly by Yale and Columbia Universities, places Costa Rica at No. 5 in the world. Mauritius ranks 58th. Costa Rica is an eco-tourism pioneer which is now cashing in on its pristine beaches and national parks. The "greenest" country in the world is also a reputed medical hub.
Another aspect of Costa Rica's breakthrough that deserves kudos is how remarkably policies implemented have contributed to close the gender inequality gap which is a critical component in national empowerment, welfare and stability. World Economic Forum's gender gap index ranks Costa Rica at the 28th position, above 51st France for instance despite all its posturing, while Mauritius trails at No. 85. Currently, 40% of the members of Costa Rica's Legislative Assembly are women.
Costa Rica is not heaven on earth. Even if it has done relatively well in terms of containing poverty it urgently needs to curtail its gaping income inequality and reverse its inflationary economic expansion. Cross-country comparisons rarely do not trigger heated debates. However, Costa Rica's experience proves yet again that hallucination is the refuge of short-termist politicians while vision is the hallmark of truly great leaders.