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In 1502, Christopher Columbus...
...on his fourth trip, arrived to the Caribbean coast to Cariari, what today is Limon. From that moment began a period of catastrophic conquest, not only in terms of exploitation and violence, but also because of the diseases that came with the Europeans, like smallpox, measles or the flu, to which many of the indigenous population succumbed.
The conquest was hindered by lack of political coherence of the indigenous people and the anarchy among the invaders. However, the spread of slavery and human commerce in all only reinforced the civil and religious control of the region. During this time, the Atlantic region kept control of its people and land, thanks to its remote location through the harshness of its climate and the fierce resistance of its people.
However, the conquest of this region was extremely arduous and violent. The plundering brought upon the indigenous people, friendly at first, created a determined resistance of “fierce indians”, as the historians say.
Around the 17th Century...
...Costa Rica was a country with a scant population. The 400,000 indigenous people who lived here at the start of the 16th century had been reduced to some 10,000 after the wars and epidemics. Compared to the other central colonies, Costa Rica was remote and poor. The Central Valley, closed in by mountains, far from the trade routes and ports, sheltered the most important settlement in the territory.
The economy depended on the exportation of consumable goods, like beans, salt, corn, certain materials like cloth and dye as well as cattle and pigs. All of these goods went to Nicaragua and communities to the north or far to the south: Portobelo, Panama and Cartagena. Later, the exportation of cocoa to the Caribbean opened whole new markets. Likewise, they also imported manufactured goods.
But the most influential commercial endeavor was the exploitation of the work force, particularly the work structure they set up. Basically a group of indigenous workers were assigned to an overseer to fill a labor need. In return for free labor, the overseer was supposed to educate and convert the natives to Christianity.
Due to the decreased numbers of indigenous people, the conquistadors were forced to look elsewhere for the "labor force", mostly in Talamanca.
The resistance in this area was strong against the conquerors, especially the port lead by Cacique (headman) Pablo Presbere, until he was killed in 1710.
The shortage of local manpower as well as the problems overtaking the locals opened the door to the importation of slaves, mostly black, from other parts of the Caribbean.
The Transformations of the 18th Century...
...were significant, especially since the start of production and farming practices. The population began to increase in the Central Valley: Heredia (1706), San Jose (1736), and Alajuela (1782) were the first cities to be founded.
Here, families were large and powerful, involved in commerce, trade, and finances, owning large pieces of land in the country where the exploitation of the slaves continued as before.
Production of tobacco and aguardiente (liquor) began to commercialize within the whole area.
In this century the supremacy of the Central Valley was cemented as the economic center of Costa Rica, where most of the population lived, where the integration of ethnic and cultural ideas was most consistent.
In 1821 Independence was Declared...
...by the Central American republics and this event changed not only political structure of Costa Rica, but also the economic and social structures. Mining and the harvest of Brazil wood, as well as the influx of foreign capital revitalized the economy, although the country wasn’t able to completely enter the world market.
Now, like an independent state, Costa Rica had to decide which place would be the seat of power. After some fighting and struggle (the Battle of Ochomongo and the War of the Liga), San Jose became the center of power, the axis of financial activity of the country.
The annexation of the Nicoya Peninsula in Guanacaste in 1824 consolidated the sovereignity of Costa Rica which successfully avoided the military confrontations and civil wars of the Federal Republic of Central America (1823).
In the Middle of the 19th Century...
...the panorama which Costa Rica offered began to separate itself from the other Central American countries: a flourishing economy, thanks to the coffee trade, whose plantations had extended to Heredia, Alajuela, and Cartago, combined with political and social peace.
The development of the coffee trade benefited the small and medium producers and stimulated international trade. The export of coffee also caused the growth of Puntarenas, both as a port city and urban center. The people who suffered as a result of this were the poor families and native people who were pushed out of the Central Valley, often to Talamanca.
The flourishing of this area has been dimmed by one event, when one side of the Nicaraguan civil war asked for the help of William Walker. This mercenary came to power and at once tried to annex all the Central American countries south of the United States.
Against this threat, the Costa Rican president Juan Rafael Mora formed an army made up of farmers and craftsmen, along with a small military force, in order to defend their country against William Walker.
This small army defeated Walker in the battles at Santa Rosa and Rivas. Juan Santamaria, a humble volunteer, whose sacrifice changed the course of events by burning an enemy inn, became a hero of the Costa Ricans.
The surrender in 1857 marked the end of the war, but the death toll only continued to rise. In addition to the numerous deaths caused by the war, a Cholera epidemic erupted and wiped out 10% of Costa Rica’s population.
The toll of the war and the plague sent the country into a crisis that it took years to recover from. During the next 20 years of public expansion and consolidation a group of intellectual reformers took to the task of modernizing the country and educating the working class and farmers.
At he end of this century, the cult to the Virgen of the Angels (located in Cartago) was extended to the rest of the country. Nowadays is the patrona of Costa Rica and every year, the second day of August, thousands of people walk to it site to honor her.
The Banana Enclave...
...was an indirect consequence of the development and exportation of coffee. This product had to travel to European ports through the Pacific because the Atlantic was inaccessible at the time due to the peculiarities of the geography. To gain access to the Atlantic, the government of Costa Rica contracted English businessmen to build a railroad, but this railroad, however, was never finished.
In 1884 the government signed a contract with Minor C. Keith, a businessman from the United States, who in exchange for operation of the railroad agreed to assume the debt to England. This businessman was given control over many of the operations involving the railroad as well as the ports. Keith settled the debt with England by exporting bananas to that country, a business that eventaully turned into the United Fruit Company, out of Boston. The company grew quickly and before long had monopolized all production around the banana tree.
The construction of the railroad attracted manual labor from other countries, especially Chinese, Italian, and Jamacian workers. Those workers that survived the harsh working conditions of the railroad eventually settled in the region and became the work force for the banana plantations.
The fact that this region was relatively closed off with many different ethnic groups in close proximity lead to racism. The Limon region near the Atlantic became a large settlement of black, protestant English speaking people, thus leading to racial strife with the other regions of the country as well as with the owners of the banana plantations, and sometimes leading to violence.
One of the great authors of national literature, Carlos Luis Faults, explores these issues in his most famous work "Mamita Yunai".
Did you know?
Most of the beaches in Costa Rica are backed by forests that contain a myriad of rare flora and fauna.
Costa Rica Pictures
Turrialba Volcano, Central Valley