History of costa rica


Costa Rica stands out in this hemisphere in many ways, but its biggest contrast is with its Central American neighbors. When you drive across the border into Costa Rica or when you step off ail airplane arriving from another Central American country, you know immediately that you are in a special place. Relative affluence stands out in contrast to the grinding poverty of most other Central American locations. People living in neighboring republics point to Costa Rica as an example of the kind of world they would hope to imitate. "If Costa Rica can be prosperous, democratic, arid free," the envious neighbors ask, "why can't we?" Clearly, there are light-years of difference between Costa Rica and the other Central American countries. How did it get that way? Why does Costa Rica have so much less poverty and so large a middle class in comparison with neighboring countries? The answers to these questions can he round in a series of historical events some accidental, some planned.

In 1502, when Columbus happened upon Costa Rica during his last voyage to this hemisphere, he anchored at present-day Limon and dispatched an expedition ashore. Chances are, Columbus himself waited on the ship for a report front his landing party. His explorers returned with news of an inhospitable jungle and impossible Swamps, plus ferocious natives who owned but a few paltry ornaments of thinly pounded gold. In short, the Limon Coast offered little to excite the imagination of these avaricious explorers. They quickly moved on without attempting colonization. According to legend, Columbus gave his new, discovery the name Costa Rica or "rich coast "Some historians think the name may have come from another explorer Fernandez de Cordoba, as he charted the Pacific side of the isthmus some thirty years later. Impressed by the magnificent forests, fertile lands, and abundant wildlife of the Nicoya Peninsula, he coined the term Costa Rica as he established a settlement in 1539.

The Caribbean Coast that Columbus discovered was left virtually untouched and ignored by Europeans for several centuries. Due in part to the isolation of this Pacific Coast settlement, and in contrast with the fast colonization of other parts of the Americas, Costa Rica grew very slowly. It was the custom for the Spanish Crown to grant huge tracts of land to the conquistadors as a reward for their services. Indians were considered a part of the land, and although not exactly slaves, they essentially belonged to the enormous haciendas they were forced to work as peons for the aristocratic conquerors. In places like Peru, Mexico, and Guatemala, the Indians meekly accepted their new rulers and continued working the same lands as before, paying tribute to new overlords. However, the Indians of Costa Rica (like their cousins in North America) proved to be determined, fierce fighters who resisted the idea of accepting the intruders as their superiors. Experts in defending their heavily forested lands, the natives simply withdrew farther into the jungle When defeated.

They clearly weren't interested in tilling fields for the pink faced intruders. Archaeological evidence suggests that at least some tribes were headhunters, possibly culturally related to the Jivaros of Ecuador, whose warriors dangled their enemies' shrunken heads around their necks as ornaments. In short, these people were unlikely candidates for being docile field laborers. This left the newcomers in a position they hadn't counted on. Instead of being lords over huge estates and overseeing gangs of laboring peons, the Spanish conquistadors were forced to work the land for themselves! This required hard manual tabor and a marginal existence on small, family-run farms. From the beginning all were equal in their struggle for existence. Even the royal viceroy had to raise chickens and tend his own garden to avoid starvation. Small wonder that many early settlers moved on to easier pickings-, others ignored the country completely Costa Rica's development got off to an inauspicious start, and the country remained a backwater of Spanish colonization, all but forgotten over the ensuing centuries. It grew in its own way, ignoring the ineffective Spanish governors sent by the royal court of Madrid.

Costa Ricans lived quiet lives, isolated and unaffected by events in other colonies. In fact, when Spain granted independence to the Spanish colonies in 182 1, Costa Rica was the last to know (and probably cared the least). For all practical purposes, it had always been on its own. Independence was no novelty. Fortunately, Costa Ricas first president turned out to be a progressive thinker, a visionary who wanted to see the country develop socially and economically He was convinced that growing coffee for export could be a major economic breakthrough, a key to modernization. Coffee profits could build roads, schools, and cities. But the country was scantily populated. More people were needed to grow coffee in order to fulfill the president's dream. Consequently, free land was offered to anyone willing to grow coffee plants. Since coffee production in Costa Rica is ideally suited to small farms, European families began immigrating to Lake advantage of Costa Rica's opportunities.

They came from Italy and France as well as from Spain, Instead of huge plantations owned by a few wealthy families, as in other Central American republics, hundreds of small farms sprang up, selling coffee beans to merchants who processed and exported the product. This resulted in a tradition of independence and equality with a preponderance of middle-class farmers and a few moderately wealthy, coffeeexporting families. The spread between rich, middle class, and poor was much narrower than anywhere else in the hemisphere and remains so to this day. Troubled times in Europe during the last half of the nineteenth century brought new waves of economic and political refugees to the Americas, seeking a chance to "start over." The standing offer of free land to grow coffee was irresistible. The ranks of small farmers grew even larger. These refugees, often imbued with contemporary Europe's liberal intellectual and political philosophy, contributed substantially to the notions of freedom, democracy, and individual rights that were already in place.

This is not to say that Costa Rica didn't develop a wealthy oligarchy of elite families whose position rested upon their control of coffee exports. But because of their tradition of being "self-made" families and their respect for hard work, their mentality was different from that of the arrogant Spanish conquistadors who worshiped royalty and privilege. Free and compulsory education was an early development, starting in 1869 and setting a tradition of literacy that ranks Costa Rica higher than most other countries of the world-including the United States. A university was founded in 1844, staffed in part by intellectuals who fled Europe's political and economic maelstrom. These and other modern European tradition developed in Costa Rica in stark contrast with the medieval, feudal heritage of Mexico and other Central American countries.

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