Costa Rica celebrates
198 years of independence, or maybe not,
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
This weekend the country celebrates 198
years of independence since leaving
Spanish colonial rule and the benefits of
self-determination that started back in
The Act of Independence of Central
America, also known as the Act of
Independence of Guatemala, is the legal
document by which the Provincial Council
of the Province of Guatemala proclaimed
the independence of Central America from
the Spanish Empire and invited the other
provinces of the Captaincy General of
Guatemala to send envoys to a congress to
decide the form of the region's
independence. It was enacted on September
15, 1821, as was recorded in the files of
the Organization of American States
Foreign Trade Information System.
At that time Costa Rica was part of the
Captaincy-General of Guatemala, an
administrative division established by the
Spanish Crown. Due to prior reforms that
were taking place, on September 15th the
Capitanía proclaimed itself independent
from the Kingdom of Spain, but it didn't
mean Costa Rica was independent right
The country still belonged to the
Government Headquarters of Léon, Nicaragua
and the Nicoya Party, according to Ana
Botey, a historian from the University of
"The document stating the Central American
Organization had declared independence
from Spain did not arrive in Costa Rica
until October, probably on a mule," said
Ms. Botey. "That's how difficult
communications were at the time."
Another historical impression many Costa
Ricans are taught during their school and
high school years is that Costa Rica
started its own way right off the bat once
independence was declared. In reality, it
took at least three years for local
authorities to begin developing their type
"At this time Costa Rica was still part of
the then independent Capitanía, and there
were internal divisions on whether the
country should join the Mexican Empire of
Iturbide," said Ms. Botey. "The latter
never happened, and we became part of the
Federal Republic of Central America from
1823 to 1839."
During all those times, Costa Rican
intellectuals worked hard to create their
legislation on almost anything but the
According to historian Ricardo Fernández
Guardia, in his book Costa Rica Historical
Booklet, upon independence, Costa Rican
authorities faced the issue of officially
deciding the future of the country.
"Two bands formed, the Imperialists,
defended by Cartago and Heredia cities
which were in favor of joining the Mexican
Empire, and the Republicans, represented
by the cities of San José and Alajuela who
defended full independence," said
Fernandez. "Because of the lack of
agreement on these two possible outcomes,
the first civil war of Costa Rica
occurred. The Battle of Ochomogo took
place on the Hill of Ochomogo, located in
the Central Valley in 1823. The conflict
was won by the Republicans and, as a
consequence, the city of Cartago lost its
status as the capital, which then was
moved to San José".
Ricardo Fernández Guardia (1867-1950) was
a historian, writer, and former Consul of
Costa Rica in 1945.
By this time, the country had found great
success in the production of coffee, which
provided the countries primary income.
"The Federation was falling apart but
Costa Rica had to leave the group to sign
export contracts with international buyers
such as England," added Botey.
In 1838, long after the Federal Republic
of Central America ceased to function,
Costa Rica formally withdrew and
proclaimed itself sovereign. The
considerable distance and poor
communication routes between Guatemala
City and the Central Valley, where most of
the Costa Rican population lived then and
still lives now, meant the local
population had little allegiance to the
federal government in Guatemala.
"From colonial times to now, Costa Rica's
reluctance to become economically tied
with the rest of Central America has been
a major obstacle to efforts for greater
regional integration," said Fernández in
Costa Rican history book.
And so, it wasn't until 1839 the country
started to work as a real independent
entity. However, Ms. Botey clarifies that
this idea could also be a false positive
from the historical perspective.
"Independence is an ongoing process, one
that has to be worked on constantly to
ensure the sovereignty of the people,"
said Ms. Botey. "I understand people need
a date to celebrate for cultural purposes,
but in fact, September 15 symbolizes the
start of a cycle that never ends."
Expats can enjoy the holiday weekend as
the entire country will open with marches,
concerts, and fireworks in celebration.
One should check with the municipality to
see what times the marches for
independence are in your community.
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