The History of Costa Rica: From Christopher Columbus to Nowadays

The official history of Costa Rica began in 1503 when Christopher Columbus landed on the coast of Puerto Limon and marked the beginning of the Spanish colonization of Central America. Before that Costa Rica like most of the Latin American countries had been inhabited by indigenous peoples who were hunters and gatherers. The territory they lived on is considered to be the rimland where Mesoamerican and Andean native cultures overlapped. The indigenous tribes were not that numerous, and their impact on modern Costa Rican culture has been relatively small as there was no strong native civilization like in Mexico, Peru, or Guatemala, for example. Therefore, most of the native population here assimilated into the colonial society, except for a few tribes who still live in the mountain region of the southeastern part of Costa Rica.

The name of the country was given to it by Christopher Columbus. It is believed that after he landed on its territory he saw the Indians wearing gold jewelry and enthusiastically named the land Costa Rica, meaning ​“Rich Coast”​. However, unfortunately for the conquistadors, there were no gold or silver mines, and the jewelry the Indians wore was supposedly acquired through trade. This fact made the land not very popular among the Spanish invaders and, on one hand, resulted in the colony's poverty at that time but on the bright side, contributed to its rather peaceful existence.

The first Spanish settlements appeared here around 1560, and in 1564 the first capital, the city of Cartago, was founded. Because of the lack of precious metals, agriculture became the main livelihood of the colony. Hence, the democratic system and the economy of Costa Rica were based on agrarian farming, not a feudal hacienda as it was in the rest of Central America. Since then, the main importing products have been cacao and coffee.

The colonial status of Costa Rica along with the other Central American countries ended without any use of military force in 1821. Afterward, the country and its neighbors faced the risk of becoming a part of Mexico, but it never happened. Instead, after the victory of the republican forces in a short Civil War in 1823, Costa Rica joined the newly founded Federal Republic of Central America. It had been its member for 15 years, but with the start of the civil war among Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, Costa Rica enacted the Aprilia Law, allowing itself to remain autonomous in 1838. This proves again the Costa Rican historical desire for peace. One of their presidents, Oscar Arias, even received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his effort to end civil wars in Central America. By the end of the 19th century, Costa Rica distinguished itself from other Central American states by controlling the military power and conducting peaceful elections between conservative and liberal parties. Throughout its whole history since the Pre-Columbian period, the country has witnessed only two Civil wars. The abolishment of the army in 1948 helped Costa Rica acquire the reputation of being one of the most peaceful countries in the world. It is worth mentioning that following the Spanish conquistadors several catholic priests arrived in Costa Rica in 1522. The emergence of this form of Christianity in the area resulted in Roman Catholicism being the dominant as well as the state religion in present Costa Rica. The Catholic faith is reflected in the names of many Costa Rican cities such as San Jose, San Isidro, San Nicolas, San Pablo, and many others. Moreover, this country is considered one of the most secular in Latin America. Catholicism here is mainly passed on from one generation to another and most of the population describes themselves as Catholics by birth. It is therefore not surprising that Christian values are present in many aspects of Costa Ricans' life and their culture as a whole.

Nowadays, Costa Rica is proud to have the highest standard of living, the most stable political structure, and the most highly developed welfare state in Central America. Its population is one of the most schooled and literate in Latin America, as since the abolishment of the army the country spends about one-third of the national budget on education. Approximately half of the population of Costa Rica still live in rural areas, whereas agriculture, especially the cultivation of coffee, sugar, and fruits, is still one of the country's main economic resources. It is interesting to note that the historical predominance of the agricultural sector in the process of the country's development may be reflected in the feeling of respect for the nature that most of its citizens have. It has been estimated that although Costa Rica covers only 0.03% of the surface of the earth, it is a home for 5% of the world's biodiversity. Today Costa Rica has 28 national parks, 58 wildlife refuges, 32 protected zones, 15 wetland areas, 11 forest reserves, and 8 biological reserves, as well as 12 other conservation regions that protect the distinctive and diverse natural habitats found throughout the country. Costa Rica is also known for practicing renewable electricity generation and other eco-friendly initiatives. In many schools here children have ecology lessons where they are taught how to take care of the environment. It is common practice for Ticos to work as volunteers to clean the beaches and protect the sea turtles' nests, and foreign tourists are also welcomed to participate in other similar ecological activities. No wonder that for the past several years the country's government has been investing in ecotourism that has been proven really beneficial.

07 July 2022
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