As the story goes, Christopher Columbus landed on a small island located by Limon in 1502, and “discovered” Costa Rica. Well, that may please Spanish history, but it is not actually what happened in this episode of Costa Rica history. In 1502, Christopher Columbus landed by Limon being lost. And Costa Rica discovered him! Costa Rica already existed. It was here all along. Costa Rica discovered Europeans in 1502! Limon became the first Spanish settlement in the region, and in 1522 the colonists named the land Costa Rica, meaning Rich Coast. All in the hope that they were going to find gold in its hills, which they didn’t. When it became apparent that the rich coast was poorer than its neighbors, the colonists switched their focus to agricultural development.
As the landowners were quite poor and isolated from the Spanish Colonial centers of Mexico, Guatemala, and the Andes, and because there were very few indigenous labor forces to help, the first Costa Rican settlers soon turned into an autonomous and individual agrarian society. By the beginning of the 19th century, the cultivation of Bananas brought in a lot of wealth, and coffee soon followed.
Independence day is an important part of Costa Rica History. On the 15th September 1821, following the Mexican war for independence, the Guatemalan authorities declared the independence of all the Central American provinces. Today, Independence Day’s still celebrated on the 15th September. Although technically, under the Spanish Constitution of 1812, it had been readopted in 1820, and Costa Rica and Nicaragua had become one big autonomous province with Leon as their capital. Then in 1838, Costa Rica declared itself sovereign.
These events followed by an era of peace and prosperity. Until 1917, when General Federico Tinoco Granados ruled as a military dictator for two years. Later in 1948, Jose Figueres started a civil war in which 2000 people died; the war only lasted 44 days and was the bloodiest event ever to take place in Costa Rica. The victorious junta, however, resulted in a constitution that gave way to free elections with universal suffrage and the total abolition of the army. Figueres became a national hero when Costa Rica disbanded its army in 1949. Since that day, Costa Rica has had 16 democratic presidential elections.