Costa Rica History

Costa Rican history begins thousands of years ago with the indigenous populations who inhabited what is now Costa Rica.

The history of Costa Rica’s indigenous population starts with The Chorotegas, the dominant native group. The Chorotegas had an organized society with a hierarchical class structure. At the top was a figure that was known as the Cacique, who was both the ranking priest and the warrior chief. The Chorotegas left behind no written records or surviving language, but archaeological artifacts include many beautiful pieces of art and pottery. Much of what we know about Chorotega society comes from the diaries of the Spanish Conquistadors.

The history of Costa Rica continues with Christopher Columbus reaching –and naming – what is now Costa Rica in 1502. Costa Rica proved to be inhospitable for its Spanish conquerors, with its mountainous terrain, nearly impassible swamps, and apparent lack of mineral wealth. Nonetheless, by 1560 most of the native inhabitants were either dead, in slavery, or living in remote areas.

The next 250 years were hard times for the country. It was officially ruled as a colony of Spain, but with little economic success. For all practical purposes, Costa Rica was forgotten by most people during its colonial period. Natives were still held in bondage by Spanish landowners, and the country’s economy stagnated.

In 1823 Costa Rica, galvanized by the global trend towards revolutionary independence, fought the Spanish colonial rule and gained its independence at the battle of Ochomogo hills. This victory was followed by the rapid and lucrative development of the coffee trade. Coffee became an important export that helped bring some economic stability to the country. As the twentieth century rolled in, fruit production for companies like Dole and United Fruit proved to be a successful economic venture as well.

The modern era began with Costa Rica’s War of National Liberation in 1948. Led by Don Pepe Figueres against a corrupt and scandalous political system, the civil war led to the abolition of the Costa Rican army, extended suffrage to women, and granted citizenship to anyone born in Costa Rica. This set the stage for the peaceful and ecologically aware Costa Rica of today.

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