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The Independence Day of Central America in 1821, painting by Luis Vergara Ahumada.
- A.M. Costa Rica wire services photo -

Published Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Today is not the accurate Costa Rican
independence day, say historians

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today, the country celebrates 199 years of independence since leaving Spanish colonial rule and the benefits of self-determination that started back in 1821.

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 away.

The country still belonged to the Central government of Léon, Nicaragua and the Nicoya provinces, according to Ana Botey, a historian from the University of Costa Rica and author of “The History of Costa Rica."

"The document stating the Central American Organization had declared independence from Spain did not arrive in Costa Rica until October, probably on a mule," Botey said. "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 of legislation.

"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," Botey said. "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 Constitution.

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.

Fernández (1867-1950) was a historian, writer, and former Consul of Costa Rica in 1945.

"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," Fernández said.

"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," Fernández said. "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."

According to Botey's study, by this time, the country had found great success in the production of coffee, which provided the country's 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," Botey said.

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," Fernández explained in his Costa Rican history book.

And so, it wasn't until 1839 the country started to work as a real independent entity. However, Botey clarifies that this idea could also be false from the historical perspective.

"Independence is an ongoing process, one that has to be worked on constantly to ensure the sovereignty of the people," she said. "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."

Should the government establish the real Independence Day of the country according to the historical facts? 
We would like to know your thoughts on this story. Send your comments to


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