By Tim Lambert
At the beginning of the 16th century the indigenous people of Costa Rica were divided into tribes of farmers. They had created a sophisticated society. However on 18 September 1502 Christopher Columbus sighted Costa Rica. In the mid 16th century the Spanish gradually conquered Costa Rica. However it lacked gold. Its population was small and it was far less important than the other Spanish colonies. Furthermore the indigenous population was devastated by European diseases to which they had no resistance.
The first Spanish town was Cartago, which was founded in 1562. However for centuries Costa Rica remained poor and unimportant with few towns.
In 1821 Central America broke away from Spain and became independent although independence meant little to most people in Costa Rica. Juan Mora Fernandez became the first head of state in 1824. At first Costa Rica was part of a federation with other Central American states. However it soon broke up and Costa Rica formally became a separate state in 1838.
Meanwhile in the early 19th century coffee was grown in Costa Rica and a class of coffee barons grew up. Coffee brought new wealth to the country.
In 1889 the first democratic elections were held in Costa Rica. The early 20th century was generally peaceful in Costa Rica. However in 1948 a short civil war was fought following a contested election. About 2,000 people died in the fighting. However peace soon returned and inn 1949 a new constitution was published. The army in Costa Rica was abolished.
In the late 20th century Costa Rica gradually developed and in 1987 President Oscar Arias Sanchez was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 2010 Laura Chinchilla was elected the first woman president of Costa Rica.
Today Costa Rica is a relatively prosperous country with a well developed welfare system. Tourism is a growing industry. Bananas, coffee, sugar and beef are still important exports. However industry in Costa Rica is developing rapidly. There is reason to be optimistic about the future of Costa Rica. Today the population of Costa Rica is 4.8 million.
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Last revised 2017