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History of Costa Rica

The history of Costa Rica is discussed herein from when Columbus came to what is now Costa Rica on his fourth voyage to the New World. Columbus landed in what is now Puerto Limon. On this voyage to the New World, Columbus named the land Costa Rica, or "Rich Coast". Some say he chose the name because of the natural beauty he found there, and because he heard rumors of gold. What he was later to discover was that the gold only lies in the natural beauty of Costa Rica which has attracted settlers ever since the first colonization.

Brief Background

Puerto Limon 1504: Columbus in what is now Puerto Limon.  On this 4th voyage to the New World is where he named the land Costa Rica, Spanish for "Rich Coast".  Some say he chose the name because of the natural beauty he found there, and because he heard rumors of gold. What he was later to discover was that the gold only lies in the natural beauty of Costa Rica which has attracted settlers ever since the first colonization.

Nearly 60 years ago, Costa Rica amended a constitution that dismissed the establishment of an army and assured free elections every four years.  Over 90% voter turnout was achieved in the most recent presidential election, and the nation takes considerable pride in pointing out that Costa Rica has a literacy rate of nearly 94% (one of the highest in the world).

Throughout its history, Costa Rica, like the United States, has attracted the migration of peoples from around the world. The nation's population of approximately 4 million includes many Spanish, English, French, German, Oriental, and Italian surnames. In recent years, the nation has become a favorite retirement haven for foreigners, and over 50,000 U. S. citizens now make their homes here. Resident status is readily attainable and ownership of property is comparable to the United States. Property taxes are extremely low from an North American stand-point. Above all, Costa Rica is safe and friendly.

Beyond its political stability and pacifism, the nation is internally peaceful with a low crime rate. It is probably safer to walk the streets of San Jose, Costa Rica than the streets of any other city of equal size (population of over 1,000,000) in the United States. It is cultured and clean, boasting a number of fine theaters, museums, art galleries, international restaurants, parks, and athletic facilities.


Originally Costa Rican people were located in an area that was classified as the Mesoamerican, Andean and Isthmo-Colombian regions.

Christopher Columbus was the first reported European to land on the soil of Costa Rica in the year 1502. Following his discovery, the conquistadores tried to establish colonies without much success. The trade routes were difficult, creating a lack of goods, money and population. This isolation caused Costa Rica to be named as one of the poorest colonies within control of the Spanish Monarchy.

This allowed Costa Rica to run somewhat outside of the Spanish control, however, the Spanish influence remained. Also, with the new settlers came disease, which unfortunately killed of the majority of these indigenous inhabitants. The settlers were also notorious for mistreating the locals and forcing them to work, similar to slavery.

In 1821, Costa Rica collaborated with a few other Central American provinces and declared their freedom from Spain becoming a part of the Mexican Empire. Soon after they became their own state in the Republic of Central America. Possibly as an excuse for change, the capital was moved from Cartago to San Jose, where it remains today.

This new found alliance in the Republic was short lived. In 1838, Costa Rica separated and claimed its independence as a sovereign country.

Several years later, Costa Rica needed to jump start its economy and resolve some of the transport issues. One of the main reasons for the separation from the Republic was the distance from Guatamala City to the city of San Jose. So, Jamaican labor workers were brought in. In fact, almost all of the current day Afro-Costa Ricans have Jamaican ancestry. These people were brought in to work on the construction of the railways, spearheaded by a man named Minor C. Keith. Keith was granted large tracts of land, and a long term lease on the train route, in exchange for him finishing the railway. Keith's main reason for the railway, was to export bananas directly competing with the coffee export trade to the U.S. Ironically, one of today's biggest industries is tourism which could potentially be thought of as “importing” people from the USA.

The ties with the USA, in the modern era, have also helped keep Costa Rica peaceful, especially compared with other Central and South American countries. That is not to say there has been no violence in the country's history. In 1917, Fedrico Tinoco Grandos was overthrown as dictator and exiled. In 1948, the Civil War began. Jose Figueres Ferrer was named as the President at the head of a provisional junta after leading an uprising because of the dislike of a controversial presidential election. The civil war only lasted 44 days, but was the most significant event of violence in Costa Rica's history, because it is deemed the bloodiest. Following the bloodbath, the new regime abolished the military. Afterwards, Jose Figueres was elected in the first democratic election following the uprising, starting a trend of 13 presidential elections. Costa Rica has been very progressive with their elections and recently electing a female president.

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