History

The peaceful and democratic Costa Rica represents one of the most prosperous developing nations.

Its incredible biodiversity has placed it at the center of international attention today. Historically, Costa Rica has avoided armed conflicts that have involved neighboring nations.

 

Colonial times

The roots of many “Ticos”, as Costa Ricans call themselves, date back to the colonial Spanish families and their fellow indigenous peoples. The conquistadors explored a country with extremely rugged topography and small populations of indigenous peoples.

Costa Rica was the poorest colony of the Spanish Empire, which in the long run resulted in a boon for the country; due to the absence of precious metals and indigenous workforce, the Spanish did not introduce semi-feudal institutions from the Iberian Peninsula to the province.

The majority of natives escaped slavery by fleeing toward the Talamancan mountains, where they perished in the resistance wars, epidemics, and battles among rivaling tribes. Other indigenous peoples were integrated into colonial society. The rest maintained their cultural identity because they lived and still live in isolated mountainous regions.

The extermination and the assimilation of indigenous peoples resulted in a more homogenous population. A society of small farms was developed, which laid the foundation for the great middle class of our days. The pronounced differences among social classes that still exist in other Latin American countries never developed here.

 

Coffee and bananas

Without any fanfare, Costa Rica became independent from Spain in 1821. The Spanish in Costa Rica were surprised at the letter that announced the liberation of the country, which took a month to arrive from Guatemala.

At the end of the colonial epoch, coffee started being produced in Costa Rica and was exported for the first time in 1820. The first Chief of State, governor of the independent state of Costa Rica, wanted to find a commercial crop for exportation, as the country had had a subsistence economy up to that time. He promoted the coffee crop, offering free land and seeds to all farmers willing to cultivate it. This policy of granting land for its cultivation transformed the Costa Rican society into a nation of small farmers and landowners.

In the decade of the 1830s, the Costa Ricans began to grow coffee in its highest lands to export it to Europe. The small farmers sold their crops to central processing plants known as “beneficios” and the wealthy owners of the “beneficios” exported the coffee. This is a process that continues today. In the 1870s the Costa Rican government wanted to build a railroad to the Atlantic coast and hired construction companies from the United States in exchange for the concession of lands on both sides of the railroad.

While the railroad was under construction, the Americans began to cultivate and export bananas. During the time the railroad was being built (which at that time only functioned on some routes) the banana had converted into the number one national export crop. The banana industry that consisted of enormous farms belonging to the gigantic United States company Dole (formerly United Fruit Company) and other companies, and the small Costa Rican farms that sold to these giants continue today.