A Brief Costa Rica History Timeline

About Costa Rica History Timeline 

As in other Central American countries, the history of Costa Rica during pre-Columbian times is full of questions. After Europeans discovered the New World, indigenous peoples were subdued and evangelized. However, in the mid-twentieth century Costa Rica radically departed from the dominant trend in the region by abolishing its army, diversifying its economy and installing a culture of peace, which paved the way to become the stable and environmentally friendly country it is today.

Costa Rica History Timeline
Costa Rica History Timeline

History On Costa Rica 

  • Total Area of Costa Rica: 51,060 km 2 (19,710 sq mi).
  • Capital of Costa Rica: San José is the capital and largest city of Costa Rica
  • Official Language of Costa Rica: Spanish is the official language of Costa Rica
  • Costa Rican Currency: Costa Rican colon
  • Continent of Costa Rica : North America

Religion Ratio of Costa Rica 

Religious Beliefs in Costa Rica

S. No Religion Religion (%)
1 Catholicism 57
2 Protestantism 25
3 Irreligious 15
4 Other 2
5 NA 1

Prehistory of Costa Rica Timeline 

The Lost Worlds of Ancient Costa Rica: The coastline and jungle of Central America have been inhabited for more than 10,000 years, but the ancient civilizations of what is now Costa Rica are the subject of great reflection. It is believed that the area was a backward strip straddling the two great civilizations, the Andes and Mesoamerica, with the exception of the Diquís Valley, where archaeological findings suggest that there was great commercial activity among the first inhabitants of Costa Rica and its powerful neighbors. On the eve of the discovery of America, it is estimated that present-day Costa Rica had about 400,000 inhabitants.

Unlike the huge pyramid complexes found elsewhere on the continent, Costa Rica’s ancient cities (with the exception of Guayabo) had a poorly organized structure and lacked ceremonial or governance centers. The cities fought each other, but they did not do it to expand their territory but to get slaves. Although the first inhabitants of Costa Rica have not passed to posterity for building structures that stood the test of time, they left behind some mysterious relics: the huge stone spheres of the Diquís valley.

Costa Rica Colonial Period

In 1502, the navigator Christopher Columbus, on his fourth and last expedition to the New World, anchored in the city of Limón, specifically on Uvita Island.

European settlements begin in 1522. During this period, the natives of the country are conquered by the Spaniards. Costa Rica, in turn, becomes the southern province of Spanish territory, which is now called New Spain. The capital of the province at the moment is located in Cartago. In 1513 Vasco Núñez de Balboa discovered the Pacific coast. Later Lake Nicaragua is discovered by Gil González Dávila, around 1560.

This territory continues to be explored by Juan de Cavallón and Juan Vázquez de Coronado. For the next three hundred years, Spain administers this region, as gold deposits are discovered by the captain general of Guatemala’s announcement, a military governor. Optimistically, Spaniards refer to the region as “Costa Rica” or “Costa Rica” for the gold valued and mineral deposits in it. Ultimately, since these lands are not so rich, since it was believed that first being, compared to other provinces, the settlers are mainly engaged in agriculture.

History Costa Rica A New World

It was not until the 1560s that the Spanish colonial structure in what is now Costa Rica was well established. Hoping to cultivate the fertile volcanic soil of the Central Valley, the Spaniards founded the town of Cartago on the banks of the Reventazón River. Although the new colony was extremely isolated, it survived under the leadership of its first governor, Juan Vázquez de Coronado. That first colonial government already presaged the current demilitarization: Coronado preferred to use diplomacy to arms to fight the Indians, and used Cartago as a base to explore the territories to the south, to Panama, and to the west, to the Pacific, not without taking the rents and ownership of the colony.

Although Coronado died in a shipwreck, his legacy endured: the territory that today is called Costa Rica officially became a province of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, comprising the Spanish territories in North America, Central America, the Caribbean and the Philippines.

For about three centuries, the Captaincy General of Guatemala (also known as the Kingdom of Guatemala), which included present-day Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and the present-day Mexican state of Chiapas, was an area without excessive control by the viceregal government. As the seat of the kingdom’s political and military government was in distant Guatemala, which in turn depended on the even more distant Mexico City, Costa Rica became a minor province, with little strategic importance without exploitable riches.

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Being a swampy and unusable territory, the region did not adopt the typical pattern with an elite of powerful landowners and an economy based on the encomienda. Instead of large farms, mining operations and coastal towns, in the interior of the Central Valley emerged villages of modest size, with small owners. In Costa Rica it is said that the stoic self-sufficient farmers became the backbone of a kind of “rural democracy”, a relatively egalitarian territory. On the other hand, the indigenous population was dramatically reduced: from the 400,000 inhabitants at the time of Columbus’ first voyage, it went to 20,000 in one century, and to 8,000 in another. Diseases were the main cause of the demographic collapse.

The inhabitants of the Central Valley were the first to be affected, although some groups managed to survive thanks to the protection of the jungle.

The Fall of an Empire

The costly War of Independence against France from 1808 to 1814, and the political turmoil, uprisings, and power vacuums it caused, precipitated the independence of almost all of Spain’s overseas possessions during the first third of the nineteenth century. By 1821, most of America had been constituted into independent republics after Mexico declared its emancipation and that of all of Central America. Subsequently, the Central American provinces declared themselves independent of Mexico. However, all these events hardly altered Costa Rica, which learned of his ‘release’ a month after it occurred.

The newly liberated colonies valued their possibilities: they could remain united in a United States of Central America or go their separate way. At first they opted for a middle way, the Federal Republic of Central America, although without central authority to create an army or collect taxes. Accustomed to a prominent role, Guatemala also tried to dominate the federation, leaving smaller regions in the background and accelerating its resignation. Subsequent attempts to unify the region would also fail.

Meanwhile, an independent Costa Rica took shape from the hand of Juan Mora Fernández, its first president (1824-1833), who promoted the construction of the nation with new towns and roads, the publication of a newspaper and the minting of currency. His wife even participated in the design of the flag. Life returned to normal, unlike the rest of Central America, where continuous civil wars broke out after independence. In 1824 the Nicoya-Guanacaste region separated from Nicaragua and joined the quieter southern neighbor, which defined the country’s borders. In 1852 Costa Rica received its first diplomatic emissaries from the United States and Great Britain.

History of Costa Rica Timeline
History of Costa Rica Timeline

Rich coffee

The riches promised by Costa Rica finally appeared in the nineteenth century, when farmers learned that the terrain and climate of the Central Valley were ideal for growing coffee. Costa Rica was the pioneer of its cultivation in Central America, which transformed the impoverished country into the richest in the region.

As soon as the possibility of exporting was guessed, the Government did not hesitate to give away young coffee plants to farmers. At first Costa Rican producers exported their harvest to South America, where they processed the grains and sent them to Europe, but in the 1840s, when local traders already had adequate facilities, they also learned to look for new markets. The big step forward came when they convinced the captain of HMS Monarch to transport several hundred sacks of Costa Rican coffee to London, marking the beginning of a thriving relationship.

Costa Rican coffee triumphed. The rapid effect of caffeine made it popular with working-class consumers in the industrialized north. The business possibilities attracted a wave of German entrepreneurs, who gave a new technical and financial boost to the sector. By the end of the century, more than a third of the Central Valley was devoted to coffee cultivation, which accounted for more than 90% of exports and 80% of the country’s profits in foreign currency.

The coffee industry developed in Costa Rica differently than in the rest of Central America. As elsewhere, a group of barons emerged, an elite that took the profits from export, but these barons lacked the land and the workers to cultivate them. Coffee production is labor-intensive, with a long and hard harvest season. Small farmers became the main producers, and barons monopolized processing, marketing and financing. The coffee economy in Costa Rica created a wide network of merchants and small-scale growers, while in the rest of Central America a small elite controlled large farms with tenant peasants.

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The wealth of coffee became a potent resource in politics. The traditional aristocratic families of the country were at the head of the sector. By mid-century, three-quarters of the coffee barons descended from just two families, themselves of colonial origin. The main exporter at that time was President Juan Rafael Mora Porras (1849-1859), whose lineage went back to Juan Vázquez de Coronado. Mora was overthrown by his brother-in-law after the president proposed creating a national bank independent of the big coffee growers. The economic interests of this elite would henceforth become a priority in Costa Rican politics.

The Banana Empire

Unintentionally, the coffee trade gave rise to the country’s next exporting vein: bananas. To bring coffee to international markets you needed a train that connected the central mountains with the coast, and the port of Limón was ideal for its depth. The interior was covered with dense jungle and insect-infested swamps, so the government commissioned the project to Minor Keith, nephew of a large American railroad entrepreneur.

The laying of the track was a disaster. Malaria and accidents killed many workers, at first Ticos; then, American, Chinese and finally Freed Jamaican slaves. To encourage Keith to move forward, the Government gave him 3200 km2 of land adjacent to the track and offered him a 99-year concession for the management of the railway. In 1890 the line was finally completed at great losses.

Keith had begun growing bananas along the tracks as a cheap food source for the workers. In an attempt to recoup his investment, he sent a few bananas to New Orleans to start a side business. It was a success: customers went crazy for the yellow fruit. In the early twentieth century, bananas overtook coffee as the most lucrative export, and the country became the world’s leading exporter of bananas. But, unlike what happened with the coffee industry, the profits of the banana ended up outside the country.

Costa Rica was transformed with the rise of Keith’s banana empire, which partnered with another American importer to found the United Fruit Company, known locally as Yunai, which soon became the largest company in Central America. Locals knew it as “The Octopus” because of the long reach of its tentacles, which affected the economy and politics of the region. United Fruit owned huge low-level land, much of the transportation and communications infrastructure, and controlled many bureaucrats and politicians.

The company attracted a surge of immigrants from Jamaica, altering the country’s ethnic composition and sparking racial tensions. In its various incarnations as the United Brands Company and, later, as Chiquita, Yunai opposed the unions and maintained control over its workers by paying them for many years with redeemable vouchers instead of money, vouchers that could only be used in the company’s own stores. In Costa Rica, some of the traces left by the company are still visible, including rusty train tracks and a locomotive in Palmares.

where costa rica located
Where Costa Rica located

The Birth of Costa Rica History

Costa Rica in which country?

Costa Rica a self-country:  At the beginning of the twentieth century, inequalities pushed the rise to power of José Figueres Ferrer, self-described farmer-philosopher. Figueres, son of Catalan coffee growers, excelled in school and studied engineering at MIT in Boston. Upon his return to Costa Rica to found his own coffee plantation, he organized the hundreds of workers on his farm into a utopian socialist community that he aptly dubbed “The Endless Struggle.”

In the 1940s, he became involved in national politics by openly criticizing President Calderon. While they were doing a radio interview, in full harangue against the president, the police entered the studio and arrested him, accused of being a philofascist, and he was deported to Mexico. During his exile he formed the Caribbean League, an association of students and democratic rebels from across Central America determined to overthrow the region’s military dictators. Upon his return to Costa Rica, the Caribbean League, which already had 700 members, accompanied him and participated in the protests against power.

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When government troops appeared on his farm with the intention of arresting Figueres and dismantling the Caribbean League, a civil war broke out. The time had come: the insignificant farmer-philosopher had become a crucial character. Figueres emerged victorious from the brief conflict and took the opportunity to put into practice his vision of social democracy for Costa Rica. After disbanding the Army, he quoted H. G. Wells: “The future of humanity cannot include the armed forces.”

As head of the provisional government junta, Figueres issued about a thousand decrees. He taxed the rich, nationalized banking, and built a modern welfare state. The 1949 Constitution guaranteed equal rights to women and minorities of blacks, indians and Chinese. Today, the Figueres regime is considered the foundation of Costa Rica’s unarmed democracy.

The American Empire

During the 1970s and 1980s, the sovereignty of the small countries of Central America was curtailed by their powerful neighbor to the north, the United States, which used dollar diplomacy, in addition to heavy-handedness and cannons, to end the socialist vagaries of the region, especially in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

In 1979 sandinista rebels overthrew U.S.-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza. Alarmed by the rebels’ ties to the Soviet Union and Cuba, president Ronald Reagan, a fervent anti-communist, decided that military intervention was necessary. The Cold War had reached the tropics.

The organizational details of the counterrevolution were handled by Oliver North, a junior officer who worked from the basements of the Pentagon. North helped the famous Contra rebels instigate the civil war in Nicaragua. Although both sides invoked the rhetoric of freedom and democracy, the confrontation was, in fact, just another Cold War skirmish.

Under intense pressure from the United States, Costa Rica became embroiled in the conflict. The Contra settled in the north of the country, from where it organized guerrilla attacks with the help of CIA agents and US military advisers. A secret airstrip was built in the jungle, near the border, to supply weapons and supplies. North is said to have used this secret supply network to traffic drugs in the area to obtain money for the rebels.

The war polarized Costa Rica. Conservatives called, sponsored by the Pentagon, to re-establish the army and join the anti-communist crusade. In May 1984, more than 20,000 people demonstrated in San Jose to call for peace, although the debate did not reach its climax until the 1986 presidential election. The winner was Óscar Arias Sánchez, 44, who, despite belonging to a wealthy coffee family, is a reformist intellectual in the style of José Figueras Ferrer, his political mentor.

Once in office, Arias reaffirmed his commitment to reach a negotiated solution and reaffirmed Costa Rica’s independence. He pledged to maintain the country’s neutral position and expel the Contra from the territory, perhaps causing the U.S. ambassador to suddenly leave his post. In a public ceremony, Costa Rican schoolchildren planted trees over the CIA’s secret airstrip. In addition, Arias became the promoter of the peace plan for Central America, which ended the Nicaraguan war and earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987.

In 2006 Arias returned to the presidency after winning the elections by a margin of 1.2% and later ratified the controversial Free Trade Agreement with the United States (Cafta), which entered into force in 2009.

When Laura Chinchilla became Costa Rica’s first president in 2010, she promised to continue Arias’ free-market policies despite the split caused by Cafta (approved in a referendum in 2007 by 51%). Chinchilla also pledged to fight the rise in violent crime and drug trafficking, which was on the rise as Costa Rica was used as a transit point by Colombian and Mexican cartels. Ironically, a month after discussing the cartel problem with U.S. President Barack Obama during his visit to Costa Rica, Chinchilla was embroiled in a drug-related scandal for using the private jet of a man who was being investigated by Costa Rican intelligence for his connections to international drug cartels.


History of Costa Rica – Lonely Planet

History of Costa Rica | Costa Rica Guides

US news from the Guardian | The Guardian


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