Costa Rica’s History and Its Colonial Past

In a region of political instability Costa Rica has demonstrated over the years a stable economy and the turbulence that often effects the other regions of Central America has fortunately avoided this country. Costa Rica translated from Spanish means rich coast and it was the Spanish who first colonized the country in the 16th century. Prior to this date it was inhabited by the indigenous people. It was for a short period part of the “First Mexican Empire” but gained its independence in 1847. After a brief civil war, it abolished its army in 1949 and still remains today without an army.

Although there is evidence of civilization in the country 10,000 years ago there are not real strong ties between the early native populations and the country. When the Spanish arrived in the region the main groups of local people were settled in the valley areas and they mingled very quickly into the Spanish population. The only remnants of the original population are only seen today with the small groups of Bribri and Boruca tribes, who are found in the Cordillera de Talamanca close to the Panama border.

The Boruca Tribe members at a festival

The name of Costa Rica was given by Christopher Columbus who sailed to the eastern shores of the country on his final voyage in 1502. Despite the grander of its name the most southern of all of Spain’s colonies suffered from a lack of mineral resources and trade which made it a poor region. In 1719 a Spanish governor described it as “the poorest and most miserable Spanish economy in all of America”.

A major problem for the settlers was there was a lack of local population to work the land, so the Spanish settlers had to do it for themselves. In time the hard work started to pay off and the rich soils started to produce high yielding agricultural lands.

The further the settlers moved inland the richer the soils became. The Spanish released their colonies from their rule in 1821, and in 1823 there was a civil war between the imperialists who wanted to be governed by Mexico and the Republicans who wanted full independence. The Republicans won the big battle at Ochomogo and their headquarters at San Jose became the country’s new capital. There then followed an uneasy relationship with the Federal Republic of Central Republic of which it was a member and it withdrew in 1838 to become a separate state.

Coffee boosted the exports of Costa Rica

Costa Rica always had poor trade relations with the rest of its close neighbours but in 1808 started to plant coffee. At the same time the drink was becoming popular in England and the imports of coffee from the region resulted in great wealth being brought in to the economy.

This kick stated development of the country with the transport links being built from The Central Plateau and the capital San Jose down to the main port at Limon. The completion of the rail road in 1890 was a real further boost to bringing economic development into the country.

The major economic backer of the project was the American Minor C. Keith who was given major areas of land and a lease on the train route. On the land he grew bananas and soon the banana trade started to rival the coffee exports, and the economic base of the country widened as more money was invested into the region by foreign investors. Since the army were abolished in 1949 there have been 14 democratically elected presidents. The country in this time has used the initial wealth it received from its agricultural projects to invest money into the service sector.

There is high quality health care and housing is affordable. It has a highly quality educational system, and this is reflected literacy rates by the highly educated work force. Costa Rica is one of the most successful Central American Nations.