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History of Costa Rica

The earliest settlers in what is today Costa Rica were either Mayans (or people closely related) or the Andean peoples of South America, like the Incans. To the region's north were the Mesoamerican people like the Mayans and to the south the Andean peoples; who exactly controlled this region and for how long is somewhat debatable, however when the Spanish arrived in the 1500s the land was occupied by the Nahuatl people and the central and southern part of the country was occupied by the Chibcha people.

As a fairly mountainous region, when the Spanish arrived in the 1500s the land was sparsely populated. This population was decimated even more with the European diseases the people brought with them, killing much of the local population.

Costa Rica was first reached by Europeans in 1502 when Christopher Columbus arrived, but a true settlement by Europeans didn't occur until 1524 when the Spanish began a colony; later this region became a part of the greater Guatemala colony that the Spanish controlled.

Under Spanish rule the region suffered and quickly turned into a backwater with little attention paid to it. Being far from the Spanish center of Guatemala and with numerous trade restrictions the region fell into demise. Additionally, due to the lack of indigenous people in the region, rich Spanish settlers had little interest in the land as there was a lack of a cheap labor force, meaning most money and settlers from Europe settled in other regions.

Due to the lack of settlement in the region, there were few class or ethnic struggles under Spanish rule; perhaps the most noticeable difference in ethnicities was that many Spanish settlers moved to higher ground to avoid the intense heat of near the coasts. This blanket poverty also led to greater integration of the Spanish settlers and the local people, whether that be by intermarrying or simply in terms of better relations.

In 1821 Costa Rica, in addition to various other Central American regions claimed independence from Spain, but this solved few of Costa Rica's problems. As soon as these countries gained independence and formed a federation each fought with others over borders and power. Costa Rica also struggled in that there were still few people on the land and with little attention paid from Spain there was little infrastructure. In addition to this, there was a push from Mexico and Guatemala in 1822 to incorporate these Central American countries into Mexico. This was short lived though as Mexico received a new government the following year and gave the Central American countries the freedom to choose their futures. In 1838 this federation dissolved and Costa Rica gained full independence.

In the early 1800s Costa Rica developed their coffee growing industry, but lagged behind in terms of transporting this product. These issues were primarily settled by the mid-1800s as the country caught up to neighbors in the field of international trade. However another issue was knocking on their door as William Walker, an American who had taken over the country of Nicaragua invaded the country in 1856. The Costa Ricans won this war though and continued on their slow road of development.

In 1889 the country experienced the first elections that were considered fair as the people truly began ruling the country from this point forward. This democratic rule has remained largely intact since 1889 and this stability has led to great stride forward in the country. From this time until today the country has continued to focus on coffee growth and exports and more recently has stressed tourism as a great means of income.

However, this growth hasn't been without struggle, although relative to most of its neighbors Costa Rica has had few setbacks. From 1917 to 1919 Federico Tinoco Granados took power as a dictator; however the country quickly recovered from his rule. Then again in 1948 Jose Figueres Ferrer stormed power via a coup, however the people soon rejected his tactics and he abolished the army to restore democracy. His coup was not entirely unpopular as he then fairly won the next democratic election.

In more recent history the country has continued exporting coffee and welcoming foreigners in tourism sectors, however the country has also become a favorite destination for foreign investment due to its high level of education and long-lasting stability.

This page was last updated: March, 2013