Brief History

In 1502 When Christopher Columbus landed in what is now Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, it was inhabited with communities of Native American Indians. At that time, what is now Costa Rica, was part of a much a lager region that spanned portions of Honduras and the territories of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador.

After the news of Columbus' discovery, explorations for resources (gold in particular) were conducted to the area by the Spanish Crown. In 1524 the first Spanish settlement called Villa Bruselas, was established in Costa Rica's present day province of Guanacaste. In 1561, Spanish efforts to colonize the area were advanced by conquistadors Juan de Cavallón and Vásquez de Coronado. Unfortunately, many area natives were killed in resistance or died through new diseases such as smallpox. It was Coronado who founded Cartago as the area capital which would later be buried in 1723 as volcano Irazú erupted. Coronado, known for a diplomatic approach backed with force if necessary, would eventually become a respected leader over the Costa Rican region. Although he died in a ship wreck just after being named Governor, Coronado is recognized as a founding father of the nation.

Spain's dominance of the region stretched all the way to Mexico. Spain however was defeated by Mexico in the war for independence of 1821. Spain's loss meant freedom for the entire conquered region including Costa Rica. Two years later, when the cities of Heredia and Cartago desired to become part of Mexico, a civil war ensued with the cities of San José and Alajuela. Heredia and Cartago's defeat ushered in the formation of Costa Rica as a nation.

By the early 1800s, coffee was introduced from Cuba and would soon become the areas principal crop. By 1824 Juan Mora Fernandez was elected as the first head of state. Mora is known for initiating infrastructure including towns, roads, judicial systems, currency and the nation's first newspaper. Under him, the nation's capital was moved from Cartago to San José. It was Mora's land reforms that would unintentionally empower coffee barons who would overthrow a later successor, Jose Maria Castro. Castro actually served twice as President of Costa Rica, from 1847 to 1849, and from 1866 to 1868 both terms being cut short by coups. In 1852 Costa Rica received its first diplomatic emissaries from the United States and Great Britain.

Maria's successor was by Juan Rafael Mora a powerful member of the coffee aristocracy who united Costa Ricans to defeat the rogue and delusional William Walker of North America and his gang of 9,000 fighters in 1856. Though regarded as a hero for defeating William Walker, Juan Rafael Mora, would end up dead by a Costa Rican firing squad in a turn of events that brought about his coup d'état.

Coffee elites with military backers would fight for control over Costa Rica until General Tomas Guardia would seize control of the government in 1870. He is credited with needed reforms that advanced the nations military policy, education, and taxation.

General Federico Tinoco Granados was another notable dictator from 1917 to 1919 whose violent rule came to an end when he was forced into exile. It was Ricardo Jimenez and Gonzalez Visquez, who would alternate power over the next 12 years through a relatively calm period of the 1920s and '30s.

A historical account of Costa Rica is not complete without mentioning The United Fruit Company. Which began in the early 1900s and was based in the United States and grew principally as an importer of bananas from several Central American countries. By the 1930s The United Fruit Company had risen as Central America's largest employer with holdings of a large and diverse share of its businesses. Its reputation grew as being repressive to the Central American labor force maintained by influence and collusion with the regional governments. Some viewed The United Fruit Company as another sign of American imperialism. The dynamic gave rise to the pejorative "Banana Republic." When economic depression came to the region, the United Fruit Company found itself with diminished power, vying for influence against communism. Lessening financial incentives found Central American dictators shifting their alliances toward labor and away from The United Fruit Company.

In 1940, Costa Rica elected what was seen as a new kind of President, the socially conscious Rafael Angel Calderon. Notable events under the Calderon presidency included a declaration of war on Germany (even before the U.S.), and major initiatives to expand health care and labor rights, creating the Social Security system with benefits unique to the rest of Central America. This period further diminished the influence The United Fruit Company which would undergo significant reforms and wage increases.

In 1948, when Calderon lost the presidential election but opted to remain in power, a Costa Rican civil war erupted. The 44 days of violence and bloodshed left 2000 people dead. It was exiled Jose Maria (Don Pepe) Figueres Ferrer who became the hero and brought an end to the matter with his armed forces. Ferrer would become the founding head of the Junta, Costa Rica's new government. Under the popular Ferrer and Junta, a new constitution was formed, the military was abolished, women and blacks could vote, presidential term limits were established, the communist party was banned, banks were nationalized and a more pro business era began. Costa Rica was shaping itself as a nation of liberal democratic values.

By the 1960s, Costa Rica's troubled northern neighbor, Nicaragua, found itself in a revolution against its unpopular Samozan government. By 1979, with the help of the Soviets and Cubans, the Marxist-Leninist Sandinistas had toppled the Nicaraguan government and a new government emerged under Daniel Ortega.

Ortega's regime brought the seizure of business assets. It wasn't long before business leaders joined with remnants of the former Samozan National Guard to form the Contra Army and war was underway again. Seeing a growing Communist threat now in its “backyard,” the U.S. backed the Contras while the Sandinistas had continued Soviet and Cuban support. Through much of the 1980s, Nicaragua suffered a devastating war which at times spilled across the Costa Rican boarder and brought thousands of refugees. In 1987, with a thawing of U.S/Soviet relations, a peace plan was authored by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sánchez and signed by five Central American presidents. This brought a lasting cease fire and paved the way for a newly elected Nicaraguan government in 1990.

The peace in Nicaragua was credited as Arias' most famous accomplishment earning him the Nobel Peace Prize. Arias is also noted for transforming the nation's dependence on cash crop exports to what is now Costa Rica's largest economic driver, tourism. In 2006 Arias would again run for the Presidency and win. Under his leadership during this term, Costa Rica would terminate relations with Taiwan in favor of an intensifying relationship with China, a major foreign investor.

Succeeding the Arias presidency in 2010 was his Vice President and the nation's first female president, Laura Chinchilla Mirandais. Chinchilla's Development Plan for 2010-2014, focuses on social welfare, peace and security, environment and territorial planning, and innovation and competitiveness. Her plan includes targets of achieving an economic growth of 5-6 percent and an unemployment rate of 6 percent or less by 2014.