Costa Rica History
On his fourth and final voyage,
Christopher Columbus happened upon what is known today as
Costa Rica, or the rich coast. He set anchor off shore on
September 18, 1502 and stayed for 17 days.
Although it lacks the remnants of the great civilizations
that are found in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, archaeologists
believe that civilization in the region dates back 10,000
years before Columbus’ arrival.
An estimated 400,000 indigenous people occupied the area and belonged
to a number of major indigenous tribes, most notably the Caribs
on the east, and the Borucas, Chibchas and Diquis in the southwest.
As with other regions colonized by Europeans, the indigenous population
dwindled either because they fled, died of foreign disease or were
forced into labor. After nearly obliterating the population, the
Spanish followed the then common practice of bringing African slaves
to work and build the land. Today, only 1 percent of Costa Rica’s
3 million people are of indigenous descent.
Despite the shortage of historical ruins, evidence of Costa Rica’s
pre-Columbus culture still exists. The major archeological site
can be found at Guayabo, where an impressive aqueduct system served
tens of thousands of inhabitants hundreds of years before the arrival
of Europeans. Initially, Costa Rica did not flourish as quickly
or as prominently as other Spanish colonies. Mexico and Peru were
abundant in precious metals, and the Spanish focused their attention
on developing those regions instead of settling the more difficult
and less-resourceful Costa Rica. Four years after Columbus set anchor
off shore, King Ferdinand of Spain sent Diego de Nicuesa to colonize
the region and act as govenor. Although they were faced with an
unfamiliar and treacherous jungle, tropical diseases and bands of
native indians who protected their land fiercely, Spaniards eventually
were able to colonize the land. This did not happen until 1562,
when a Spaniard named Juan Vasquez de Coronada founded Cartago and
successfully developed the country’s first colonial city.
In 1821, Guatemala declared independence from Spain for all of
Central America and Mexico, too, rebelled against the empire. Two
years later, Costa Rica became part of the Central American Federation
and it was then that modern borders were established. Juan Mora
Fernandez was elected the first head of state in 1824.
Although Costa Rica has been spared the civil violence that has
plagued other Central American countries throughout their history,
it has experienced some unrest. A civil war erupted in 1948 after
the United Social Christian Party and its leader, Rafael Angel Calderon,
refused to give up power after losing the presidential election.
The opposing forces were led by Jose Figueres Ferrer, who defeated
Calderon after a month of warfare. Ferrer led the government for
a year and half until the presidency was handed over to the rightful
victor, Otilio Ulate.
Costa Rica’s current president is Abel Pacheco, a former
psychiatrist and television commentator. His presidency was briefly
marred by a finance scandal in 2003, when he allegedly accepted
foreign donations. Although his critics and opponents demanded his
resignation, Pacheco was able to overcome the scandal and will run
again in the 2006 election.