Like much of the Caribbean, Central America and the United States, Costa Rica was first “discovered” by that intrepid explorer, Christopher Columbus. Of course, Costa Rican history does not begin in 1502 with the arrival of a curious Italian working for Spain. As you would expect, there were indigenous people living in Costa Rica for years before Europeans ever set foot near the place.
The country was christened Costa Rica, or Rich Coast, by a Spanish explorer when he noted the gold headgear the Indians were wearing when they came to meet the visitors. Fortunately for you, Costa Rica was very much unlike its fellow Central American colonies in that it lacked both gold and a large Indian population. The Spaniards were interested in accumulating wealth as quickly as possible and Costa Rica just didn’t have the resources. This resulted in the country being far less exploited than its more endowed neighbours. It was settled by a relatively small number of farmers and the wealth and land was distributed evenly throughout the country.
Costa Rica was transformed in the nineteenth century by the introduction of coffee farms. The large quantity of tenable land gave the country a distinct advantage over its neighbours and the foreign investment and increased export revenues resulted in a solid infrastructure that is still in place today. The relatively small original Indian population was rapidly depleted by small pox when the Spanish first arrived so there was very little of the Indo-Latino tension that caused class wars in other Central American countries. This political stability is another characteristic that has lasted through the years.
Costa Rican politics hit a bump in the early years of the 20th century when coffee prices declined sharply. There was a contested election and a military dictatorship for a short while. Despite its illegality, the administration managed to stabilize the economy by introducing income tax, among other things.
When the Second World War began, Costa Rica once again proved that is was different from its neighbours who were flirting dangerously with Nazi Germany. In fact, the country declared war on Germany even before the United States did and froze the assets of many German investors. President Calderon Garcia wisely used his term to improve health care and labour laws as well as develop an extremely generous social security system; something that has yet to be equaled in the rest of Central America.
There was Civil War in 1948 but it lasted a mere five weeks and resulted in a democratically elected president, abolition of the army, suffrage for women and full citizenship for the black Costa Rican population.
The climate was relatively peaceful until the Nicaraguan revolution in the 1970s. The whole of Central America was in turmoil due in a large part to a misguided American foreign policy and Costa Rica was caught in the middle. It was the newly elected President Oscar Arias Sanchez who managed to diffuse the situation by refusing to do as the United States wished. Arias brought peace to Central America once again and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his efforts.
The collapse of the economy during the years of conflict was counterbalanced by the beginnings of the tourism industry. Hotels were built and infrastructure was put in place to facilitate the growth of the industry. The government is stable once again and although the social welfare state is coming to an end, the majority of the people earn a good wage and have a very high quality of life. Careful managing of its natural resources and farms will ensure that Costa Rica will continue to be a peaceful and prosperous paradise.