Social Organization. Ticos are oriented primarily to family, village, and neighborhood. Their community activities center around church, school, and sports. Informal groups for solving immediate problems are common, but Costa Ricans also cooperate through boards and committees, clubs, charity organizations, and community-development organizations. Registered associations for different purposes numbered more than 8,000 in 1991. Costa Ricans, however, are not characterized as joiners; individualism is said to be a trait of their national character, as is localism. Other values attributed to Tico culture are formal education, equality, democracy, freedom, peace, moderation, compromise, conformity, conservatism, caution, amiability, and courtesy.
Political Organization. Presidents are elected by direct popular vote every four years, as are fifty-seven congressional representatives. Citizens of both sexes over eighteen are required to vote. The president appoints the ministers. Each of the provinces has a governor, also appointed by the president. The eighty townships elect their municipal councils. The constitution is highly respected. Reelection of presidents is not allowed. The Supreme Court of Justice is composed of seventeen magistrates chosen by the legislature for eight-year terms. The fourth power is the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. Government is characterized by a well-developed system of checks and balances.
Social Control. Informally, the strongest social control is fear of what others will say. Gossip and choteo (mockery) keep people in line without violence. Choteo ranges from friendly to prejudicial statements. It may be done with humor or with unpleasant ridicule. The importance of making a good impression is another check on behavior. Religion is also widely regarded as such a check. Rates of crime, theft, burglary, narcotics offenses, and corruption have increased with cosmopolitanism. Police corps and the courts handle these problems.
Conflict. Ticos tend strongly to avoid overt conflict in interpersonal relations. Decision making implies constant bargaining in an effort to avoid conflict. When inevitable, domestic conflict (e.g., abandonment of children, alcoholism, child abuse, battering of women) is referred to special agencies that cope with the situation at family and community levels. Communities take collective action against immoral teachers or priests; they may set up road blocks to protest government inefficiency or lack of response to their needs. Everywhere in the country, some moderate political and religious rivalry may be observed. There is a free press in which problems and policies are discussed. Conflict is handled formally, through the judicial system. The dejensoría de los habitantes (office for the defense of the inhabitants) controls or checks the exercise of public power. Its basic task is the defense of fundamental human rights. An administrative organization whose recommendations may be taken into account by the judiciary or other branches of government, it has access to all official files except state secrets.