Independence and Identity

An Independent Political State

Costa Rica avoided most of the bloodshed involved with becoming its own political state. The majority of the war for independence took place north of them, in Mexico, and it actually took two months after the Central American victory for new to reach San Juan. Small civil wars between the aristocratic and liberal populations of the main towns in the central valley were repeatedly won by progressives favoring independence over joining Mexico. Juan Mora Fernandez was chosen as Costa Rica's first Chief of State in 1824.

Improvements to the nation's infrastructure, and a growing coffee business, were not enough to keep everyone happy. Skirmishes continued to erupt over time and across Costa Rica. These developed into a full-blown "War of the Leagues" in 1835. Conservatives were yet again shut down and a benevolent dictator, Braulio Carrillo, took the political reins. His actions help to unify the country, and with the failure of the Central American enterprise, Costa Rica became solidified as an independent republic in 1848.

 

Rise of the Coffee-Presidents 

A new trade agreement with England made coffee into the staple of Costa Rica's economy. New cities grew with the number of plantations and farms coming together to use the limited space available for growing the beans. Landowners grew in power while laypeople and indigenous tribes were less fortunate. To avoid a major breakdown in the system, farmworkers were set up with what amounts to being shareholders in the crops they were helping produce. This helped create a smooth transition into the politically advanced world of democracy.

Several "coffee-presidents" were given the lead in the Costa Rican government. Landowners and businessmen knew the importance of having the right person at the top, so these appointments were not always selected justly. Costa Rica is lucky, though, and has had each of their top figures do good things. The first of these presidents, Juan Rafael Mora, helped to bring about the end of a major Central American historical conflict with the US: the William Walker incident. Juan Rafael Mora's army swiftly exiled the crazy American from their borders, but brought back a cholera plague that killed as many as 10% of Costa Rica's population. Mora was stripped of his title and sentenced to death by firing squad after trying to overthrow a subsequent president.

Real change began in 1870, when Tomas Guardia Gutierrez ran a successful coup against elected president Ramirez. Liberal agendas on education, public health, transportation infrastructure and economic advancement for all were promoted by Gutierrez and his subsequent leaders. Free market economy, driven in a capitalistic manner, was promoted as the path to being a successful country. It was an elaborate trick to keep the elite in power while keeping the poor happy. It seemed to work until after the turn-of-the-century brought major political unrest.