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A Brief History of Costa Rica
The northwest of the country, the Nicoya Penninsula, was the southernmost point of Nahuatl cultural influence when the Spanish conquerors (conquistadores) came in the sixteenth century. The central and southern portions of the country had Chibcha influences. However, the indigenous people have influenced modern Costa Rican culture to a relatively small degree, as most of these died from diseases such as smallpox and mistreatment by the Spaniards.In Pre-Columbian times the Native Americans in what is now Costa Rica were part of a cultural complex known as the "Intermediate Area," between the Mesoamerican and Andean cultural regions.
The colonial period began when Christopher Columbus discovered the eastern coast of Costa Rica in 1502. Numerous subsequent Spanish expeditions followed, eventually leading to the first Spanish settlement, Villa Bruselas in Costa Rica in 1524.
During most of the colonial period, Costa Rica was the southernmost province of the Captaincy General of Guatemala, which was nominally part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain (i.e., Mexico), but which in practice operated as a largely autonomous entity within the Spanish Empire. Costa Rica's distance from the capital in Guatemala, its legal prohibition under Spanish law to trade with its southern neighbors in Panama, then part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada (i.e., Colombia), and the lack of resources such as gold and silver, made Costa Rica into a poor, isolated, and sparsely inhabited region within the Spanish Empire. Costa Rica was described as "the poorest and most miserable Spanish colony in all America" by a Spanish governor in 1719.
Another important factor behind Costa Rica's poverty was the lack of a significant indigenous population available for forced labor, which meant that most of the Costa Rican settlers had to work on their own land, preventing the establishment of large haciendas. For all these reasons Costa Rica was by and large unappreciated and overlooked by the Spanish Crown and left to develop on its own. The small landowners' relative poverty, the lack of a large indigenous labor force, the population's ethnic and linguistic homogeneity, and Costa Rica's isolation from the Spanish colonial centers in Mexico and the Andes all contributed to the development of an autonomous and individualistic agrarian society. Even the Governor had to farm his own crops and tend to his own garden due to the poverty that he lived in. An egalitariantradition also arose. Costa Rica became a "rural democracy" with no oppressed mestizo or indigenous class. It was not long before Spanishsettlers turned to the hills, where they found rich volcanic soil and a milder climate than that of the lowlands.
Costa Rica joined other Central American provinces in 1821 in a joint declaration of independence from Spain. After a brief time in the Mexican Empire of Agustín de Iturbide (see: History of Mexico and Mexican Empire) Costa Rica became a state in the Federal Republic of Central America. The capital was moved to San José in 1824, followed by a violent rivalry with Cartago. Although the newly independent provinces formed a Federation, border disputes broke out among them, adding to the region's turbulent history and conditions. Costa Rica's northern Guanacaste Province was annexed from Nicaragua in one such regional dispute.
Following independence, Costa Ricans found themselves with no regular trade routes to get their coffee to European markets. This was compounded by transportation problems - the coffee-growing areas were on the Pacific Coast, and before the Panama Canal was opened, ships from Europe had to sail around Cape Horn in order to get to the Pacific Coast. This was overcome in 1843, when, with the help ofWilliam Le Lacheur, a Guernsey merchant and shipowner, a regular trade route was established.
In 1856, William Walker, an American filibuster began incursions into Central America. After landing in Nicaragua, he proclaimed himself president of Nicaragua and re-instated slavery. He intended to expand into Costa Rica and after he entered Costa Rican territory, Costa Rica declared war. Led by Commander in Chief of the Army of Costa Rica, President Juan Rafael Mora Porras, the filibusters were defeated and forced out of the country. Costa Rican forces followed the filibusters into Rivas, Nicaragua, where in a final battle, William Walker and his forces were finally pushed back. Juan Santamaría, a drummer boy who lost his life torching the filibusters' stronghold, was killed in this final battle, and is today remembered as a national hero.
An era of peaceful democracy in Costa Rica began in 1889 with elections considered the first truly free and honest ones in the country's history.
Costa Rica has avoided much of the violence that has plagued much of Central America. Since the late nineteenth century, only two brief periods of violence have marred its democratic development. In 1917-19, Federico Tinoco Granados ruled as a dictator, and, in 1948, José Figueres Ferrer led an armed uprising in the wake of a disputed presidential election. In 1949, José Figueres Ferrer abolished the army; and since then, Costa Rica has been one of the few countries to operate within the democratic system without the assistance of a military.
With more than 2,000 dead, the 44-day Costa Rican Civil resulting from this uprising was the bloodiest event in twentieth-century Costa Rican history, but the victorious junta drafted a constitution guaranteeing free elections with universal suffrage and the abolition of the military. Figueres became a national hero, winning the first election under the new constitution in 1953. Since then, Costa Rica has held 13 presidential elections, the latest in 2010, when Laura Chinchilla, the first woman president, was elected. .
Once a largely agricultural country, the twin pillars of Costa Rica's current economy are technology and eco-tourism. Costa Rica's major source of export income is technology based. Microsoft, Motorola, Intel and other technology related firms have established operations in Costa Rica. Local companies create and export software as well as other computer related products. Tourism is growing at an accelerated pace and many believe that income from this tourism may soon become the major contributor to the nation's GDP. Traditional agriculture, particularly coffee and bananas, continues to be an important contributor to Costa Rica's export income.