Costa Rica's Long, Incomplete Struggle Against Corruption

15 Pages Posted: 17 Feb 2016

See all articles by Bruce Wilson

Bruce Wilson

University of Central Florida; Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI)

Evelyn Villarreal Fernandez

Costa Rica Integra; Programa Estado de la Nacion

Date Written: July 14, 2015


This chapter uses process tracing to track Costa Rica’s long transition from a particularistic to a universal ethical society. We detail the origins of Costa Rica’s anti-corruption success compared to its regional neighbours, which began in the early 20th century along with its democratization process, and was followed by four subsequent tipping points that spawned new limits on opportunities for corruption and enhances prosecutorial capacity against corrupt acts. Each of these tipping points enhanced corruption-free governance through the devolution of political power across the branches of government, the decoupling the executive branch’s control over state accountability agencies, the creation of new and the expansion of existing state anti-corruption agencies, and the removal of legal impediments on the media to investigate and publish stories about corrupt officials. For the most recent period, we detail the central role played by the media as an anti-corruption watchdog and identify cases where the media successfully initiated investigations. The analysis draws on primary research and interviews with former and current public officials, magistrates, historians, and investigators.

Keywords: Costa Rica, corruption, anti-corruption, accountability agencies, media, civil society

Suggested Citation

Wilson, Bruce and Villarreal Fernandez, Evelyn, Costa Rica's Long, Incomplete Struggle Against Corruption (July 14, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Bruce Wilson (Contact Author)

University of Central Florida ( email )

4000 Central Florida Blvd
Orlando, FL 32816-1400
United States

Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) ( email )

P.O.Box 6033 Bedriftssenteret
N-5892 Bergen, 5006

Evelyn Villarreal Fernandez

Costa Rica Integra ( email )

Apdo. 1174-1200
San José
Costa Rica

Programa Estado de la Nacion ( email )

San Jose
Costa Rica

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